Ex-Gay Survivors–Christian, Post-Christian & Beyond

Since first connecting with ex-gay survivors in 2003, I grew to understand that many of us come down on one side or another of what would seem to be a great and even potentially combative divide. While many ex-gay survivors come from Protestant Evangelical Christian traditions (but by no means all–we have also been in Mormon, Catholic, Christian Science and other faith traditions including Jewish, Muslim and still others), many no longer ascribe to Evangelicalism and have become post-Evangelical. Some of us have moved onto other Christian traditions (I transitioned from Evangelical to Anglican to Quaker) or to other religious/spiritual traditions–Buddhist, pagan, etc–or none in particular, identifying as non-theist, atheist, agnostic, and the list can go on and on.

Yet some of us have remained in our Evangelical Christian traditions or after a period of struggle reclaimed our place inthem and now feel joyful and proud to be Christian. For my part I am a Christian, not Evangelical; I am follower of Jesus within a particular Quaker tradition that practices a group mysticism of sorts. Christine Bakke, my fellow co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay is not Christian. We have much admiration, affection and respect for each other and find that our differences in regards to faith and religion do not hinder us from being close friends and effective co-facilitators of Beyond Ex-Gay.

Recently we started a community site for ex-gay survivors, a place for ex-gay survivors to connect with each other specifically around our former attempts to de-gay ourselves through diverse methods. We are committed to keeping this space ONLY for ex-gay survivors, so that we can connect with others with similar experiences as we unpack what we did, why we did it, and how we have or are finding recovery from the harm we may have experienced as a result of our ex-gay efforts and those others imposed on us.

Many of us have been deeply wounded by religion and particularly by Christians and Christian institutions (including Bible schools, ministries, and para church organizations.)  Since coming out, some of us have continued to suffer, even at the hands of gay Christians.

On Facebook I asked my friends,

Many ex-gay survivors are either Christian OR Post-Christian. How can we create & maintain a respectful & helpful community & dialog?

Jacobus from the UK wrote:

I imagine many of the Christians are evangelical (since that’s the type most likely to feel the need to go into ex-gay programmes). They are, by definition, most likely to want to bring the ex- or post-Christians “back into the fold”.

The ex- and post-Christians are likely to find that kind of talk at least annoying if not hurtful. They would most likely have left the faith to protect themselves from further hurt or after making a series of rational decisions based on an increasingly skeptical view of the nature of the bible. Some of them might be “evangelical” in their desire to see the Christians escape from their perceived religious prison.

Unless both groups take an “each to their own” approach, antagonism and rancour will be the result.

In ex-gay survivor gatherings I have seen fellow Christians, enthusiastic about their faith, end up saying things in such a way as to silence or shame those ex-gay survivors who no longer ascribe to Christianity. Some non-Christian ex-gay survivors say they walked away with hearing that they are double-failures–failed at being ex-gay and now the suggestion they are failures for not holding on to the very faith that for them turned out to be toxic. (I guess the same sort of shaming/silence can happen from post-Christians towards Christians, but I have not yet experienced this in ex-ex-gay settings.)

Steve, a gay Christian from the US writes:

I think it’s only difficult if *we* are actively trying to be recruiters, healers or promoters. It’s a lot easier if we are just respectful, welcoming neighbors.

So much of it about communication–finding a common language. There are also amazing benefits for me as a Christian to communicate my experiences without using religious language. I have benefited directly from changing up the way in which I talk about my past. When lecturing at academic conferences among non-religious scholars, as I first spoke about my mostly religious-based ex-gay experiences, I suddenly better understood what happened to me in the church & ex-gay programs. The process helped me to unearth the many non-religious reasons I went ex-gay, reasons that had been swallowed up by the religious rhetoric I used as a second-language.

So what does this mean for the bXg Community site? For many of us, the ex-gay experience was so deeply couched in the religious experience that even after we have left it, we struggle to talk about it without drawing on religious language and imagery. In so doing though we may inadvertently undermine the discussion for those who can no longer comfortably communicate with religious language. The reality is that no matter how we identify today, most of us experienced a form of religious violence and abuse in our churches and ex-gay programs, often by people who seemed to be or may have been very sincere and loving but woefully misguided people. Such language can be a trigger for folks and may hinder us from gaining understanding for ourselves.

Among ex-gay survivors both on-line and in our gatherings like the upcoming one in West Palm Beach,  we have a wonderful opportunity to experiment communication beyond our religious differences in part because of our shared pasts. By doing so we may foster a process that gets to the heart of our ex-gay experiences and avenues for recovery.

Many ex-gay survivors are either Christian OR Post-Christian. How can we create & maintain a respectful & helpful community & dialog?


This post has 7 Comments

  1. GreenEyedLilo on September 17, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    I’ve never really been ex-gay, thank the Gods. However, I probably would have tried it had L’Ailee not crossed my path first, which is why I think about this movement. (I am also alarmed that they are beginning to notice young bi women, as I was. I know how horribly I was served.)

    When I left the Assemblies of God church, I literally knew no other way to be Christian. I drifted, and then I became Wiccan, which has led me to an eclectic form of Paganism. I remember when I first read the writings of people who’d made their peace with both Christianity and their own queerness. I felt like I was just a quitter who’d done what was easy, though there have been a million little complications for me since becoming Pagan. (Getting time off for holidays, peoples’ reactions to my pentacle, that kind of thing.)

    I had to really think about it. When I was a little girl, I was strongly attracted to Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. I wished I really could worship Athena and Isis, and had to restrain myself from thanking Poseidon on a good ocean day. (“No, Jesus, I mean thank You, Jesus!”) I remember crying through a smile and feeling like I came home when I read my first Witchy book (Marion Weinstein’s Positive Magic, and I wrote a tiny bit about that here). I think my two years of agnosticism was a break and an opportunity to clear my mind so I could be more receptive. So I realized, I wasn’t a quitter. I’d found another path, is all, and I could be happy for the people who had found peace in Christianity, too. Ironically enough, I think I had to be pretty firmly entrenched in Paganism, to have enough of an outside view, in order to gain some objectivity and not just automatically shudder at words like “church.”

    I think there needs to be people inside and outside in order to have reform. And I think people need to be encouraged to trust themselves and do what’s best for themselves, especially since ex-gay ministries discourage that sooo much.

    I don’t have suggestions, really, expect to respect that others will make the decision to leave Christianity and understand that not everyone wants to hear “God talk,” but you know that well enough already. Sometimes I think of religion like my egg allergy–what’s nutrition for many others is poison for me, and vice versa. The decision to leave Christianity isn’t a sign of damage, it’s a sign that a person has their mind back and is really getting to know themselves. But also, the decision to stay within Christianity isn’t a sign of masochism, it’s a sign that a person has their mind back and is really getting to know themselves, too.

  2. Jarred on September 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I think that this is where something Joe Moderate said in a recent post and the resulting comment discussion is relevant: Not all of us who left evangelical Christianity or Christianity in general did so solely based on the fact that we were gay. As part of the coming out process, some of us began to look out our theology in general and realized that theologically, we belonged someplace else.

    Personally, I didn’t leave Christianity simply because of the conservative stance on homosexuality held by many. I also left because my understanding of the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and the nature of the very universe was simply Pagan in nature.

    I appreciate that some gay people are still Christians and even evangelical Christians. I also appreciate that they want people like me to “return to the fold.” But the stance on sexual orientation isn’t what draws me to my path. So the Church becoming more inclusive isn’t going to draw me back in. And some gay Christians need to understand and respect that.

  3. Steve F. on September 17, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Peterson, I wouldn’t blame anyone who’d experienced rejection from the various so-called Christian churches if they ran away screaming. Nor would I blame them if they flash-rejected otherwise sane, loving, accepting fellow GLBTIQ folks who wore the Christian label.

    When I think of anyone who would encourage GLBTIQ folks (and especially ex-gay survivors) to Christianity, I’m reminded of the scene in LOTR where Gandalf, having escaped Saruman’s imprisonment, returns to the White Tower to demand Saruman’s surrender. Saruman invites Gandalf in to parley, and Gandalf delivers a line which I am probably messing up: “One who has escaped by the roof will think twice before entering again by the door.”

    I find that accepting *the person* – faith or no faith, whatever color or creed or background – is where I have to start. Learning their stories – and seeing where there is commonality between our stories – is (to me) the foundation of building trust. I find that labels (Christian, post-Christian, ex-this or that) only messes up the process.

    I hope that my story – whether it matches another’s or not – conveys the old line: “I once was lost, but now am found.” Whether I “am found” in the same tradition as you shouldn’t be a divisive issue, but (as you say) simply a part of getting to know oneself – and one another.

  4. p2son on September 17, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Steve, wow, thank you for this. Very insightful.

  5. p2son on September 17, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    I love Joe Moderate. Yeah, I know that the process for me of questioning the sexual teachings helped me to look deeper into what I believe, the history of the Bible, alternative forms of Christianity. My faith is VERY different today than it once was, and I am better off for that.

  6. p2son on September 17, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    thank you thank you thank you. I appreciate how you draw on your own experience to deepen the discussion. And when are we going to hang out 😛

  7. Kenneth Blake on May 27, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    If only I had a dollar for every time I came here! Incredible post!

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