The Ex-Gay Survivor Movement–What’s It All About?
On the blogs and in the media folks are still wrapping their heads around the many ex-gay and ex-ex-gay events that took place last week. Many of these events were organized by Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg) and Soulforce, the most notable being the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, the public apology by three former Exodus leaders and a private dinner attended by three people from Exodus and four ex-gay survivors.
Those of us involved in planning the events of last week are still catching our breath from it all. After nearly a year of planning, it felt stunning to see our dreams and thoughts come to life. Christine and I (with tons of help from our friend Steve Boese) launched bXg in April. Shortly after that we announced the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference that we co-hosted with Soulforce and the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine.
Anyone who has spent any time looking at the bXg site can get an idea of what Christine and I are about and what some of our goals are. There we post narratives of fellow ex-gay survivors, and resources such as poetry, art work and articles.
We don’t seek to bash people who identify as ex-gay or invalidate their experiences. Instead we wish to create a space to tell our own. The primary reason being for our own well being and recovery. Too often we shoved our ex-gay experiences in the closet believing that people in the LGBT community may just mock us for spending so much time, money and energy seeking to alter our sexuality. Some can be insensitive to personal and spiritual struggles that filled so much of our lives.
In looking at the events of the past week and the exposure they generated, some people have asked what we hope to achieve. They suspiciously wonderr if we wish to see groups like Exodus diminished, dismantled, and destroyed. In a politically charged debate I can see how they can raise these questions.
This weekend we saw the birth of the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement. It is a movement without a manifesto or agreed upon goals. Instead we have created a venue for people, who desperately sought to change and suppress their sexuality, an opportunity to unpack their experiences and to ask the essential questions–
Why did I pursue change? What was I looking for? What did I do to myself and let others do to me? What good came of the experiences I had? What harm came of it? How can I recover from these experiences and move on?
These are hard questions to face both by survivors and by those who advocate reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry. For 4 1/2 years I have asked myself these questions and wrestled with them on this blog and through my performance work. Looking at these questions initiates a grieving process for many of us. But in looking at these questions we get past the rhetoric to the heart of the matter–not Is change and suppression of same-sex attraction possible?–but Why is it so highly desired and what are the costs in pursuing it?
It also raises the question about the responsibility of those who advocate gay reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry. What happens once people leave your care? Do you know? Do you care?
Some want to know what the purpose is of setting up meetings between ex-gay survivors and proponents of ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy. For me the primary goal is truth sharing. Where it goes from there depends on the people at the table. For it to be true dialog we need to be open to listen.
In the ex-gay discourse there has been an imbalance in the information sharing. Those of us who attended ex-gay ministries and received reparative therapy know intimately what these leaders have to say. In some cases we sat for years under their teaching carefully paying attention, writing notes, reading the books assigned, attending the lectures, listening to the tapes. We know that side of the story. We know firsthand that many of the people who advocate ex-gay ministries and reparative therapies do so out of a sincere desire to help people.
The imbalance comes in that many of these ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists do not know the other side of the story. Most (in fact I know of none) have any organized aftercare program or follow-up. They don’t even send out a survey asking, “How was your ex-gay experience? What can we do differently to make it more beneficial to you?” There are stories and truths that they do not know, and part of the work is to create venues where we can share these narratives with ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists.
bXg provides such a venue for those willing to come and spend some time at the site. The dinner provided another such venue. The press conference outside of NARTH’s offices where three survivors shared their stories and presented beautifully designed and framed collages offers yet another venue. Through documentary films, radio and TV interviews, letters, blogs and personal conversations, we seek to tell the other side of the story. (Daniel Gonzales just posted some more video over at Box Turtle Bulletin)
Do the ex-gay survivors want to see the end of all ex-gay ministries? You will have to ask each one of us individually. We have different opinions about this. We do not need to have a unified message because we understand these issues are complex. The process of institutional change is an organic process, a dynamic process and one that depends on who is willing to come to the table and what attitudes, assumptions, fears and hopes they bring with them.
The Ex-Gay Survivor Movement–What’s It All About? It is about speaking the truth in love. It is about seeking to tell our stories as honestly and vulnerably as possible. It is about telling our stories for our own well being. It is about telling our stories as a witness to the harm we see from a church and a world that insists that to be anything but straight is not good enough and what happens to the people who passionately follow that line of reasoning.
This movement is a radical departure from what some people expect. Even some gay activists are caught off guard by it and do not understand why many of us don’t feel bitter and angry. Some conservative Christian groups, who do not know firsthand about the ex-gay struggle yet they insist it is the only route for same-sex attracted people, seem to feel threatened by the gathering of a handful of people who are willing to care for each other, listen deeply to each other and publicly tell our stories.
There is a mysterious power in telling our stories, and one thing is for sure, the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement is about standing up and telling our stories. I hope that the Church, ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists have ears to hear, and that they don’t haggle over words and ultimately miss the point.