Over at the FAQ page of Beyond Ex-Gay we have the question, What is an Ex-Gay Experience? with the answer:
It can be as simple as gay guys trying their hand at football and lesbians sitting in on a Mary Kay Makeup makeover to something as serious and severe as electroshock therapy.
The idea is to find change from unwanted same-sex desires and gender differences. In some cases the experience is religious-based, but not always. It can also be done within a group, in one-on-one sessions or solo.
An ex-gay experience seeks to change desire, behavior and/or gender presentation. People have tried multiple methods including
- counseling (with a trained counselor or pastoral counseling with a minister)
- attendance in an ex-gay support group or a residential program
- dating (or marrying) someone of the opposite sex in hopes of experiencing change in desire
- dressing and acting according to the gender normative standards in one’s society
- reading books and narratives by people who say they changed
- attending ex-gay conferences
- submitting to prayer, fasting, exorcism, aversion therapy, hug therapy, same-sex heterosexual mentoring, and twelve-step programs.
Lots of people have had ex-gay experiences even though they never attended an ex-gay program. The theories of the Ex-Gay Movement get spread through books, radio programs, men’s and women’s groups, pulpits and in counseling sessions. But even non-gay people who do not conform to gender norms who who may be transgender can be affected by the pressure to “change” or fit in with the norms and demands around them instead of being pursuing a path of authenticity.
I hear from lots of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who never once stepped foot into an ex-gay program, yet they can say that they have been negatively affected by the ex-gay movement, especially because of their faith background.
Ray Boltz, a well-known contemporary Christian singer, came out publicly yesterday via an interview with the Washington Blade. In the article he references the Ex-Gay Movement.
It got to the point by the early-to-mid ’00s that keeping his homosexuality hidden had become an increasingly wearying notion.
“You get to be 50-some years old and you go, ‘This isn’t changing.’ I still feel the same way. I am the same way. I just can’t do it anymore.’”
There was some exploration of “ex-gay” therapy though Boltz never attended an “ex-gay” camp or formal seminar.
“I basically lived an ‘ex-gay’ life — I read every book, I read all the scriptures they use, I did everything to try and change.”
As with many ex-gay surivor narratives, Ray was not the only one affected by ex-gay experiences. The interview mentions Ray’s wife, Carol, and their children.
One of the challenges that many of us who have been in “mixed orientation” marriages face is how to be honest about ourselves and the marriage while seeking to validate both the good and the difficult aspects of the relationship. Some have called these unions between a gay man and a straight woman (or the other way) “sham marriages,” but for many of us who had been in these marriages, they contained genuine partnership on many levels. Yes, we hid a part of ourselves that we struggled with privately, often apart from our partners, but that does not invalidate the years of relationship building, of loving, of growing and giving.
Realistically these marriages often need to end for both parties to move on and continue to grow and live a healthy life. At the end of these marriages, just like at the end of an ex-gay journey, we often need to find creative ways to mourn the loses of dreams we once held dear. As we get beyond our ex-gay experiences, we will find a new found freedom, hope and even joy, but it comes mixed with regrets and even damage from what we’ve gone through, damage from which we may never completely recover.
My hope is that as people like Ray step forward to tell their stories that others will make better informed choices about their own lives and loved ones so that they can avoid the destructive nature of false promises.
If you are a praying person, pray for Ray and Carol and their family as they publicly step into the light and may have to face some ugliness from folks who feel threatened and challenged by the realities that the Boltz family reveal. Many have come forward in support of them and their courage. May the Boltz family find love in every quarter.