Category: healing

When Your Husband is Gay

One of the number one key word searches that bring people to both my English and Spanish blogs has to do with questions from women who want/need to know what to do when they find out their husbands are gay. That or simply the question, How do I know if my husband is gay? Is my husband a homosexual?

I have a blog entry, My Gay Husband—A Spouse Speaks Out, (and a similar one in Spanish) which is my most visited entry. Women have added their own stories and questions in the comments section. Yesterday I received another comment that I want to share. Wives with similar experiences, feel free to offer whatever support you can over at the original thread. I feel at a loss as to what to say, but I have seen you comfort and support each other in marvelous ways.

Thank goodness I found this site. I have been married 38 years and I have asked my husband if he is gay or bi but he always said no. Two days ago I found out that he is and it explains so much. Of course I feel betrayed, that our marriage is a fraud and a sham. My sons are young adults now and I worry what they will think. At least I know the reason he always came to bed later and avoided any kind of affection and sex became non existent no matter how hard I tried. It seems that my whole adult life has crumbled into nothing. He was my first and only love..he promised to grow old with me, he gave me sons, the one person that I always trusted and thought never lied to me.

If you are currently living a lie like this with a woman, please, stop it now before you crush her completely. Do not let your selfishness hurt so many lives.

Just found out and words can’t express how devastated and alone I feel. There is no one that I can talk to as I do not want to tell our sons (he should do that) or his family, I do not want to hurt him by telling friends or coworkers. It is like a tsunami has come through my life without warning and destroyed my entire world.

One excellent resource is the Straight Spouse Network. I know some people have had problems getting a response from them, but I was told that they have since changed their protocol and say that they will respond to every e-mail they receive.

Ex-Gay Journey: What Made You Do It? What Did it Cost You?

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay we have posted several narratives of ex-gay survivors. Many of these include lots of details about the struggle over faith and sexuality which compelled the struggler to pursue change and to receive help from reparative therapists and ex-gay ministers.

I think about how I used to tell my story assuming that the primary motivation to aspire to a non-gay life was my faith struggle. After years of unpacking the story, answering many many questions about my experiences, I have grown to understand that the faith issue stood among several key factors that influenced my 17-year quest to be ex-gay.

A friend recently submitted his ex-gay survivor narrative to me. He writes well about his experience as a missionary and in the church as well as in various ex-gay ministries. I will gladly post it as is, but I also know that the writing process gives us an opportunity to unearth more about our histories. The primary goal I see is that by telling our stories, we will understand them more. Secondly they can serve as a witness and a warning to others.

Below is my response to my friend with some key questions that many ex-gay survivors with a faith background might find helpful to ponder.

Hi there. Your article looks good in many ways. I do have a few questions for you to consider.

You attempted to change your sexuality. How did that affect you? Help you? Harm you? I have an article that looks at various types of harm you can check out to get some ideas.

You write your story well. My only reservation is that it is very faith-based, which I know is a big part of your journey and many people’s journeys. The issue is that I get more and more e-mails from people who feel alienated by all the faith-based stories at bXg. It makes me wonder if some of us have to dig deeper. I mean why was the gay thing such a big deal for many of us? What other pressures, perhaps more subtle and hidden, influenced us to pursue change.

For instance, I cannot separate the sense of shame that led me to pursue change with the reality that I had been sexually abused as a child. Perhaps as an outgrowth of that abuse I had grown sexually compulsive in my teens. Sure the conservative churches I attended hammered in me that it was wrong to be gay, but also my life was out of control. I felt like filthy dirty sinner all the time and felt I needed to be fixed. I had genuine problems–unresolved sexual abuse, deep shame, and sexual addiction issues. Add to that the constant barrage of messages I received from society about admirable and normal heterosexuality. In my case religion served as a cover for the other pressing issues that weighed heavy on me.

I put that out there for you to consider any way you might rework your piece so that someone who never was Christian can relate to the struggle you faced. Also, it may help you to better understand why the quest to change had such a hold on you.

Rest, Recovery, and Reflection

What a tremendous weekend in Memphis! All the events for Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art far exceeded my expectations. Loads of people turned out to everything, but more than the quantity of people was the quality of the exchanges we had and the depth of learning and sharing and loving. Bruce Garrett shares how the weekend moved him and posts some photos here.

We did stand in front of Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out event for a few hours on Saturday morning. We held up clear, positive signs with messages like Christian & Gay, We Know You Love Your Children, Integrity Changes Lives, Change at What Cost? Some ex-gay survivors also went into Central Church to present gifts to the people at Love Won Out, framed collages about our experiences (designed by Christine). But this was a tiny part of weekend. We were not there to protest rather the weekend showcased the creative, strong LGBT community in Memphis.

I spoke with a neighbor today who casually asked, “So what did you do for the weekend?” In my mind I scanned the many events and magical moments over the past few days. The Ex-Gay Survivor Art Show that Christine Bakke curated. The preview of Morgan Jon Fox’s film, This is What Love in Action Looks Like, the wonderful party at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center, The bXg Mid-South Regional Gathering, a press conference where some ex-gay survivors spoke out for the very first time, the official retirement performance of Homo No Mo, the Memphis premiere of Transfigurations, a talk on Art, Activism and Spirit at the Quaker Meeting House. So MUCH.

Too much to convey in a casual conversation while waiting on line at the bank. I felt as if I had been a character in A Wrinkle in Time or one of the Narnia books, where I got transported to another time and place, spent months only to return to find out it was really just a long weekend. I replied to my neighbor, “This past weekend? I went to see some friends in Memphis.”

Needless to say I feel exhausted physically and emotionally. Spiritually I feel charged up and renewed. Seeing ex-gay survivors who are not victims, who have creatively reclaimed their lives, encouraged and cheered me.

But I have depleted my resources for now and need some days to recover and rest and reflect on what I experienced. For any survivor, we need to know our limits and take care of ourselves, especially after we have stirred up difficult memories. What we do at Beyond Ex-Gay is complicated personal work that has a public component to it. Unpacking and deconstructing our ex-gay experiences serve multiple purposes. We stand as a witness and warning to the harm that can come because of reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries. Some pro-ex-gay people have begun to listen and think more deeply about their assumptions about the ex-gay option.

Our work though also serves as a tool for healing and recovery. Connecting with fellow survivors helps us as we try to make sense of what we did to ourselves and what we allowed others to do to us. It helps us to see our ex-gay experiences in light of the broader anti-gay cultures that nurtured self-hate, shame and fear. We listen to each other. We recognize that others hear us and know what we are talking about, perhaps for the first time ever since we came out. All good work, but hard work.

As activists, ministers, angelic troublemakers (as Bayard Rustin puts it), our work begins with ourselves. The next few days I will visit my dad where my cell phone does not work and I have no wi-fi (not even dial up). I will help look after him as he recovers from his heart surgery. I will also walk in the woods, cook, watch silly TV, read good fiction, sit in silence, rest, recover and reflect.

So if you don’t hear from me for a few days, please don’t take it personally.

Emotionally Dependent Relationships

Some of you may shudder when you see or hear the words Emotionally Dependent Relationships. This is especially true if you attended an ex-gay program that warned against the perils of emotional dependency.

Today I received a voice mail from a friend who attended Love in Action with me over ten years ago. Just the other day when we spoke on the phone he sounded chipper with a wonderful attitude about himself and life in general, but on the recorded message his voice sounded desperate. If I hadn’t understand the words in his message correctly, I would have inferred from his tone of voice that he had spent the night strung out on crack cocaine engaging in multiple unprotected sexual encounters. He sounded defeated and demoralized. What terrorized him? It wasn’t a “sexual fall,” as we called it back at Love in Action. No, he encountered the specter of emotionally dependent relationships.

Now this is a guy who has not really had sex with another guy in his whole life. Like some who come to a place like Love in Action, he pretty much always had sexual feelings for guys, but he was much more interested in a romantic relationship than in hooking up. The staff drummed it into him that his drug of choice came in the form of intense relationships with other guys. Explicitly and more subtly they stressed that such relationships were unhealthy, abnormal and sinful.

For many of us, the results of these teachings exacerbated our feelings towards the object of our affection along with the toxic feelings of shame and fear. Ex-gay ministers taught us to distrust strong feelings towards anyone, especially anyone of the same-sex even if that person was not gay or lesbian.

Christine Bakke recently wrote about this topic and did some art work which she shares in her blog post In Mesh. She writes,

The biggest problem I still face is fear of close relationships with others – especially women. Fear of “emotional dependency” or “enmeshment.” Fear of needing someone. Fear of…I don’t know. Just fear, and now just a consistent inability to wholly participate in friendships with others.

I know that it’s not true – that while some relationships can be unhealthy, most are not. And closeness and yes, even at times emotional dependency should not be demonized. There are times when we all need others, and to be shamed for relationships that we had while ex-gay, those that others deemed unhealthy; relationships that may have been getting us through some of the tougher moments in our ex-gay process…it is a great harm and a great disservice to us at a time when we were the most vulnerable, and the most laid bare, needing others around us.

Those ex-gay providers who expound on the hazards of enmeshment and emotional dependency most often target lesbians with these teachings, but gay men also fall under the sway of these misguided ideas. The fear and shame-soaked lessons about emotionally dependent relationships gave us false and dangerous guidance that still affect some of us today years after we left the ex-gay world.

We may not always be conscious of it, but today some of us still hold others at bay not allowing them to get too close lest we form some sort of negative bond with them. We secretly hold the beliefs that we are emotionally broken, flawed, dangerous. We live independent lives without deep and intimate connections with others. And when we begin to feel a drawing closer to a person, so often doubts and fears seem to come out of nowhere, and before we know it, we squash the blossoming attachment.

The reality is that humans need intimate, meaningful relationships.

It is not good for man or woman to be alone.

The concept of a single person is an abnormal modern construct. Up until recently most of our people lived in family units of some kind. The lone hermit was viewed as the rare saint or more often the town crazy person. Not everyone lived with a romantic and sexual partner, but they lived in families made up of all sorts of configurations. Modernity created the single person who so often lives detached from other humans except for business transactions, work, and long-distance family ties that tenuously hold people nominally responsible for each other.

Not that I want to bash the single life; I am single myself. But many of us long for something more. That longing comes from legitimate need—a human need, just like we as humans need physical touch. Without it we begin to grow depressed, to detach, to fade.

All sorts of research has been conducted that highlights the positive affects of skin to skin touch. After I have spent extensive time with someone who loves me, and we held each other, cuddled and touched, I felt joy even weeks afterwards when we were physically far away from each other. I’m not even talking about sex here (not that there is anything wrong with sex), but simply the human need for touching, holding, being physically present with another.

Jesus and the disciples created deep relationships among each other that were dependent and full of physical intimacy. (Look in the Gospels yourself, and you will find plenty of examples). From my time in the Mediterranean and parts of South America and Africa, I witnessed wonderful expressions of physical same-sex intimacy among friends. Physical and emotional intimacy and dependence can be healthy and healing.

Some ex-gay teachings on intimacy and relationships run counter to our natural, healthy human needs. They instruct us to divorce ourselves from reality, from our genuine needs as well as from our sexual orientation. They demand that we live lives devoid of physical intimacy except for the rare cases when ex-gays marry someone of the opposite sex. Other than that all relationships and forms of intimacy remain suspect and taboo. They allow us to be intimate with the Spirit of God, but we need to avoid physical and emotional connectedness with other humans.

no, No NO! We need to live in reality. As a Christian and lover of God, I know this to be true–God desires truth in the inmost part. We need each other. We need deep and meaningful relationships and that human touch—emotionally and physically. We need to depend on friends and lovers and loved one and have them depend on us to supply each other with the things only humans can give to each other.

As a Christian I recognize that this is how God set it up. Sure ultimately I know that God supplies all my needs, but just like God supplies my nutritional need through healthy veggies, legumes, fruits and grains, I receive God’s love through other people. God provides me so much of what I need from the emotional and physical intimacy I share with others.

In fact, in regards to these teachings, I see the ex-gay movement as an Ex-Human Movement. In some ways it mirrors what the modern world pushes on us, that we can make it all on our own, except instead of God, the modern world provides us with materialism.

No, we need each other, and when we don’t have our emotional and physical needs met, we mourn, we feel the loss and the pain of detachment, of emotional solitude. At those times I need to acknowledge reality and express my need to myself, to God and to others. It is not a matter of whining (and yeah some of my friends get tired of hearing it), it is a matter of being present in the pain of unmet need and then putting into words, images, prayers, sighs, and groans what we long for, what we need. We ask, we seek, we knock.

The false ex-gay teachings on emotionally dependent relationships rest on a faulty foundation. They overlook reality and in turn paralyze people and force them into a stagnant way of life. The best way I can think to counter lies like these is with simple, rational, truth. Then I can begin to detox from the noxious teaching that enabled me to be an emotional stranger for so long.

Then Jesus said, “Lazarus come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them “Take of the grave clothes and let him go.”

Even MORE Ex-Gay Survivors

Just this week I have heard several new stories of ex-gay survivors in the press and on the blogs. They are just coming out all over.

There is the story of Scott Harrison who was interviewed for the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report. He spent time in the Desert Stream/Living Waters program, an ex-gay group that often flies under the radar but maintains an international reach and some of the more bizarre practices regarding evil spirits and homosexuality. Although Exodus says they do not endorse such practices, they still refer people to Desert Stream/Living Waters programs

Harrison recounts one of the deliverance sessions he endured,

It was very intense, dramatic, group prayer. It lasted at least three hours. At the end, I was drenched in sweat. There were some real areas of psychological wounding. All I can really describe it as — because of how it happened and the incorrectness of the theology — is that it felt like a spiritual rape to me.

Another ex-gay survivor, James Stabile, recently appeared in the news (well CBN’s 700 Club) as having experienced a miraculous deliverance from homosexuality. Turns out there is more to this story. Stabile’s father, Joseph reports that they support their son with his same-sex attractions and explain how he fell prey to praying Christians after Stabile went off his medications for bipolar disorder.

Joseph Stabile said he’s fully accepting of his son’s sexual orientation and believes being gay is neither a choice nor a sin. Joseph Stabile said James left home to go out that Friday night and never returned. Joseph said James, or ‘B.J.’ as his parents affectionately refer to him, is bipolar and had stopped taking his medication. James called a few days later and told his parents he was moving out, and that he’d be back to get his stuff. James apparently had moved in with some folks from Heartland. After that, it would be some time before James’ parents heard from him, as his church friends reportedly advised him not to contact them. Joseph Stabile said the Heartland folks also may have advised James to throw away his medication, telling him that God would cure his bipolar disorder, too. Joseph’s parents said James has a tendency to be less than truthful, especially when he’s off his medication, and that he loves attention. They said they don’t believe he’s ever questioned his sexuality, but that the folks from Heartland manipulated and exploited him for publicity.

hat tip to Towleroad

Finally, in catching up on YukiChoe’s excellent blog that explores ex-gay issues in Singapore and other parts of Asia, I read a moving account of Patrick Lee, who spent 14 years as an ex-gay. His tale includes conversion, deliverance, marriage, and electroshock therapy. It is a rich blog post and includes Lee’s reflections of what he learned from his experience.

So many ex-gay survivors have recently come forward to share their stories revealing that for them ex-gay experiences caused more harm than good. Not only do they appear in the press and in the blogs, but also in so many creative ways. You can see some new art by ex-gay survivors over at the Beyond Ex-Gay art gallery. Vincent Cervantes, an ex-gay survivor and theatrical performance activist who has posted a number of YouTube video, reports that he performed some of my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, for his scene class, which opened up a discussion about the ex-gay movement.

Most ex-gay survivors I meet do not go public with their stories for lots of good reasons. Weekly I speak with folks who choose to engage in the work to undo the damage they allowed others to do to them and that they have done to themselves and their loved ones through ex-gay experiences. The power of someone’s narrative, especially when s/he choses to be vulnerable and is well supported, can bring healing to the individual sharing their experiences. When people go public, their accounts also serve as a witness and a warning to the wider world.

Tis a Gift to Be Different

The old Shaker Hymn proclaims, Tis a Gift to Be Simple. (I doubt they mean in the head, rather simplicity in one’s lifestyle.)

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a friend in the UK with a question about being different. The question soaked in on me until I found myself writing back late late in the night. She referenced a talk she heard by a trans woman named Carol who discussed the Two-Spirit people of some Native American tribes, people who possessed the spirit of male and female and were often elevated to places of honor in the community as shamans and leaders.

She then asked,

But how much more hopeful would the stories be for us if we could see stories in our history where God’s purpose for people lay in the fact that their cultures celebrated their difference and their role was uncovered in this positive context? Carol gave me hope that historically people’s difference have made them stand out as positive examples of a rich and diverse creation – some hope therefore in creation itself and not ‘just’ the redeeming power of God after we have messed up creation.

Does that make sense? Are there any examples in your rereading of the Bible where God has named and a used a person because of their difference where they have been honoured by their peers for their difference?

This got me thinking and I responded,

I am so glad you heard Carol speak. I want to know more about her. Yes, I have heard of two spirit people, in fact, in Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,C’s I have my wise Professor Meadow speak about them:

But when these Native Americans discovered one of these queer two-spirit people among, they didn’t make fun of them or drive them out or make their lives miserable. No, they welcomed them as gifts to the community.

In response to your question about the Bible and people being honored for their differences, usually the people in the stories do not honor the “different” person while God clearly does. Look at the prophets who were continually misunderstood, under appreciated and despised. A big part of it was that they saw the world differently from those around them, and as a result, they lived differently.

I also think of wonderfully different Deborah in the book of Judges. She is a judge, a poet, a prophetess– and she is honored by God and as far as we can tellby man and woman but of course that may have been after all the success of saving the nation. Who knows what sort of grief she experienced before that.

But the message I see mostly in the Bible is that those who are different, are honored by God, chosen by God for special purposes, but first it often requires overcoming the reactions and rejections of the “normal” people around them. That is part of the preparation for great works. And then these “different” people turn around and do something marvelous and save everyone to boot.

That is what excites me about the Joseph story (which in the play I tell through the perspective of his Uncle Esau, the uber manly man.) It takes Esau to the end of the story to see that Joseph did what no man of his clan or generation could do. He loved his family like a mother and a sister would and through that love, saved them all.

I continued with my answer but it was all too personal to share in this context. I will share though that one of the key elements to being different in a world that does not appreciate the difference we possess, is that we then experience the gift of rejection. Yeah, strange gift, one that I would prefer to return unopened, but it doesn’t come with a proper receipt. We experience systematic and institutional rejection that can be cruel, unfair and irrational. Rejection from church, family, society. Rejection from friends.

For someone like me–white, male, middle class–this can be such a gift. It can jar me out of my blindness and soften me to other rejections in the world and other rejected people, people who are also different from the mainstream and different from me.

Embracing the rejection, seeing how it most often comes out of poverty and ignorance and not love and understanding, and letting it soak into us and tenderize our hearts and cause us to seek out knowledge about topics, issues and people who are mostly hidden from the mainstream, makes both the rejection and our differentness a gift. We may never fully understand another’s difference ,and their systematic and institutionalized rejection may be much more severe than anything I experienced, but it can still make us kin and make us allies.

Ex-Gay Harm–What Does it Mean for You?

Last week I posted a blog entry outlining the various types of harm ex-gay survivors may experience. In Ex-Gay Harm–Let Me Count the Ways I listed nine categories of areas where people who attempted to live ex-gay or were coerced to do so might experience harm:

  • emotional
  • psychological
  • spiritual
  • relationship
  • financial
  • career
  • physical
  • sexual
  • developmental

One commenter, John, suggested a 10th category of intellectual harm. Many people commented so far giving specific examples of how they experienced harm in one or more of the categories.

Reading these accounts I imagine many people feel moved by the pain and suffering ex-gay survivors have endured and still endure. I also find it encouraging that survivors have also found ways to recover and reclaim their lives.

In this post I want to address specific groups of people–Ex-Gay Survivors, Current Ex-Gays, Ex-Gay Providers, and Allies. I ask the query, But what does this mean for you?

Ex-Gay Survivors
Seeing the categories of harm, reading the descriptions and then the specific examples, what does this mean for you? We are all in different places of our recovery. For some we packed our ex-gay experiences away in the closet as we exited it. We’ve never mention it again partly because it feels painful and even embarrassing.

First thing we need to create safe spaces for ourselves. Facing the ex-gay harm alone may cause us to get traumatized all over again. We need to break the cycle of isolation find safe people who will compassionately listen without offering tons of advice, but instead will hear us. I know some people live in remote places, and it seems they have no one. One of the great advantages of the Internet is that we can connect with people far away and build a supportive community that way. Having someone nearby may be ideal, but not always practical. Through safe on-line communities and in your actual communities, build friendships where you turn for the support and comfort and validation you need as you unpack your ex-gay experiences.

Secondly tell your story. It may only be to one person or anonymously on-line or to a whole crowd, but the process of telling our stories, honestly and vulnerably,becomes a healing process. Seeing the expressions on people’s faces as they listen to your struggles, knowing that someone else bears the burden with you, lightens the load.

We can tell our stories in so many ways. Some have already done so through leaving comments at my recent blog post. Others have also expanded their comments and republished them on their blogs and web sites. You can read what Eric and Barry James Moore posted. Some, like Christine turned to art to process the pain and the pieces of the story that might get stuck with words. For me the art process helped me dig deep and grapple with my ex-gay past as I explored it through theater and comedy and storytelling. You can create a short film about your ex-gay experiences like Vince Cervantes has been doing. Others have submitted their narratives to bXg.

The important thing to keep in mind is that we tell our stories first for ourselves. Sure our narratives will help others in many ways, but first and foremost they will serve as part of our recovery process.

Ex-gay survivors may not be ready to face their ex-gay pasts, the damage they experienced and caused others. You may have far too much on your plate right now. That is fine. You can place your ex-gay experiences on the shelf and come back to them another day. They will be waiting for you, and you may find you have the courage, strength and resources to address them at a future date.

Finally, to ex-gay survivors I encourage you to pursue professional help when needed, especially if you are feeling depressed. After having “therapists” harm us in the ex-gay setting, I know it can be challenging to open up to someone again, but it may be the very help you need. Some have turned to churches and other faith communities. This can be helpful, but it can also create problems for some, especially those deeply wounded by the faith communities they loved and lost. You may find that going to a different style of church or faith community, one that you have not known before, may help in keeping you from experiencing post traumatic stress and such. Some former Evangelicals find comfort in an Anglican or Catholic service. I have found that the Quakers, with the stripped down silence, to be especially helpful for me.

Current Ex-Gays
I know that thoughtful blogging ex-gays have asked, “Well if you are an ex-gay survivor, what does that make me?” I know the term ex-gay survivor can be difficult for some current ex-gays to accept in describing ex-ex-gays, but for many of us we cannot think of a better term to illustrate our experiences.

What does the list of harm I outlined mean to those of you who currently identify as ex-gay (or some other term that you prefer)? When I lived ex-gay for 17 years, I was oblivious to any harm I may have brought on myself. I found myself in the midst of a spiritual battle and considered any feelings of depression or confusion or loss as part of the struggle to break from the world as I died to myself and crucified myself with Christ.

In the midst of it, I could not see the harm to my personality and even my relationship with God. I could not afford to see it. But God desires truth in the inmost part. Living in a way to avoid certain realities kept God’s grace at bay. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and perhaps taking stock of our lives in light of potential harm we may have introduced may be an act of humility.

The reality is that the vast majority of same-sex attracted people who attempt to live free of their attractions or to label them as sinful and therefore off-limits, something to be nailed down and healed, will find that such a life does not work for them. It becomes unhealthy and unnecessary. Even Alan Chambers, current president of Exodus International, in stating that Exodus has a 30% success rates, in a backwards way acknowledges that there is at least a 70% failure rate. From the folks I’ve know, I see that this “failure” doesn’t come from lack of trying or sincerity. For many it comes after much soul-searching and agonizing in prayer and it comes with fears and doubts and concerns.

You may not be ex-gay for the rest of your life. And if you should come to the place where you see that an ex-gay life is unworkable, it is not the end of the world. You can live a healthy, holy and peaceful life.

Now as you receive ex-gay ministry or treatment, or simply maintain your ex-gay walk after receiving care, consider how to best protect yourself and your loved ones from harm. Do not lightly walk into a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Do not fracture your life into those times of doing good and those times of doing poorly. See your life as a whole. Too often I would struggle and fall, get back up, wipe myself off and begin anew, not realizing that I lived in a fixed pattern. The progress I desperately wanted to see was illusionary at best.

Take note of your mental, emotional, psychological and physical well-being. Sometimes our bodies sends us important messages that our minds cannot see. If you become depressed, emotionally exhausted, isolated or even chronically ill with no apparent cause, consider how your ex-gay experiences may affect your health.

Do not be afraid to pursue professional help. How many times did ex-gay providers tell me that I need to avoid secular help? But we need to realize that many of the ex-gay ministers and counselors have limited education and may overlook something that requires the attention of a professional, particularly when it comes to psychological distress.

Ex-Gay Providers & Promoters
After the launch of Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg) and this summer’s Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, I felt surprised and baffled by the insensitive and dismissive tone many ex-gay leaders and promoters took towards the stories of ex-gay survivors. I know it can be challenging to consider how something you do to help others might harm them, but the defensive and snarky reactions revealed to me that some of these ex-gay survivor narratives struck a nerve.

Christine and I did find a tiny handful of current ex-gay leaders who agreed to listen to some of the survivors share their stories over dinner, but we also heard from eye-witnesses at the Exodus Conference that senior leadership discouraged people from attending the dinner and even misrepresented it.

To those who provide and promote ex-gay ministries and therapies, I believe that most of you mean well. You genuinely want to help LGBT people and believe that the ex-gay route is the best route. Lots of gay activists may question this, but I have met enough of the ex-gay leaders personally to know that one of their major motives for offering ex-gay services is a sincere quest to help those who they feel would be lost otherwise. I believe they have other motives too as none of us do anything with a single, pure motive.

But what baffles me is that when you have someone under your care, you minister to them, encourage them and walk with them, how is it that once they leave your care and your way of thinking that they become “the other” and in many cases “untouchables”? But more importantly, how can you discount their experiences?

I can’t buy a cup of soy latte these days without having to fill out some sort of form or evaluations asking me to describe my caffeine experience? Yet people can spend months, even years and many dollars in an ex-gay program, yet once they leave their opinions do not count.

Perhaps they do at some of the smaller ministries, but since 1999 I have heard from people who have tried to communicate with Exodus about harmful practices at specific Exodus programs, but have barely gotten a hearing and then told that nothing can be done. Dismissed. Invalidated. Ignored. It is a bad business practice. It seems unethical. It runs counter to the ministry model I see in the New Testament, particularly the ministry of Jesus.

For people who run ex-gay ministries, provide ex-gay counseling, promote ex-gay experiences and refer to people to ex-gay programs, to folks who, like Warren Throckmorton, are trying to come up with therapeutic guidelines for those who want to suppress their sexual orientation, you need to sit down, shut up and listen.

I don’t mean to be rude, but too many of you have immediately gone on the defensive and shut your ears. Warren Throckmorton, Alan Chambers, Jason Thompson*, PFOX and Focus on the Family have each publicly downplayed the harm that ex-gay survivors say they experienced. Some say that no scientific proof exists that harm occurs. That is because no one has taken the time and the care to effectively study the harm. The recent study by Yarhouse and Jones fails miserably.

But these many stories that have emerged the past six months speak volumes. They reveal the role the church, society, family as well as ex-gay practices and theories play in damaging people who have come to you for help.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we’re not making this stuff up. We speak out as a witness and a warning. For those of you who provide and promote ex-gay experiences and theories, what does this mean to you? How willing are you to sit and listen at length over the next year to these people who once were under your care? Yes, it may mean you will have to rethink some things. You may experience pain and grief. You may also grow in grace and knowledge and love.

UPDATE 10/23/07 9:00 PM
[*I mistakenly placed Jason Thompson in with a list of people who “have each publicly downplayed the harm that ex-gay survivors say they experienced.” Actually Jason Thomson is one of the few who have publicly acknowledged possible harm and showed some compassion towards ex-gay survivors. In his August newsletter he writes,

The day of their conference I went with two other leaders to visit them. They were grateful we stopped by. A great sadness and a measure of confusion came over me. What happened to these men and women? In what ways do our ministries contribute to their pain? What are we saying or not saying, doing, or not doing that we can learn to do differently. Obviously, our foundational understanding of God’s truth is different than theirs and these differences can never be reconciled. At the same time, we in Exodus ministries don’t always do everything right. There is room for us to learn.

I had read the newsletter when it was published after Jason e-mailed me about it, but since then in writing this post, I remembered only the part where he gave his definition of ex-ex-gays, a definition that seems both simplistic and inaccurate of the ex-gay survivors who attended our conference. He wrote:

(If you are a little confused, “ex-ex-gays” are men and women who sought change but then found the journey to be too painful and now are content being gay as well as speaking out against the message of freedom).

Jason also acknowledged harm in the form of a public comment he left on Ex-Gay Watch. In prefacing a point about Ex-Gay Watch he states, “It is evident that ex-gay ministries have harmed many.”

Although Jason and I can disagree on several items, he has publicly shown his willingness to consider the harm that ex-gay survivors say they experienced. I apologize for overlooking Jason’s previous comments.]

Allies, Friends, Family and Partners of Ex-Gay Survivors
Thank you for being there. You may have no firsthand knowledge of what what ex-gay survivors experienced, yet you listen, you try to understand. In reading our narratives I hope you can gain insight into some of the challenges that some of us have in forming intimate relationships with you. You may bump into a wall and wonder if you have done something wrong or if there is something wrong with you. The wall may be one erected years ago through ex-gay therapy and ministry designed to keep us from experiencing intimacy and acceptance. It may be a wall of shamed piled high over time. It may be a wall of fear that we will get rejected once again.

Sometimes the ex-gay survivor in your life may not wish to talk about his or her experience. Too painful. But one of the best gifts you can give is a listening ear, let their stories sink in and simply be there for the person. No need to offer advice, just listen and hear and reflect back what you hear. What a gift. Express your shock and your sadness over what your loved one has to share. Let them know they are safe with you. And even though the ex-gay experience is not one you have encountered, assure them that you want to understand it and more importantly you desire to understand them.

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are

On the road I meet loads of people who live partially out of the closet. They do have some queer friends, especially on-line. They may have someone in their lives “who knows” but they tell virtually no one on their job, in their family, or in their place of worship that they may be lesbian or gay or bisexual. (I don’t mention transgender people because I can understand many of the healthy reasons to be silent about the trans experience).

And I can see why many LGB folks silence themselves about their orientation. I get the e-mails and talk to folks who perceive that to come out would be mean loss–colossal loss of relationships, jobs, housing, financial support for college, and even expulsion from precious faith communities. In most states in the USA, one is not protected on the job in regards to sexual orientation (and it is worse for trans folks).

Then there is the physical danger. Even in parts of liberal NYC, to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex provokes violence–verbal and physical.

So yes, we experience real impediments to coming out, some external, but for most of us the biggest obstacles remain internal. Through years of living under the weight of homophobia and in a society that insists that heterosexuality is the ideal norm, we build up storehouses of shame and fear and self-loathing. We may even express disgust at what we view as “the gay lifestyle” mirroring what our oppressors say about us.

The Coming Out process takes time. It takes courage. It takes building a network of safe people. It means that our lives may turn upside down, or even more surprising, that things won’t really change that much at all.

When we walk around with shame about who we are, we send out the message that it is okay to treat us shamefully. When we embrace the depth and beauty and uniqueness of who we are, even if people do not like us, they will treat us with respect.

People often remark to me that when I speak in public about my life, one of the things that sticks out for them is how comfortable I appear in my skin. They say it disarms people the way that I express my contentment with who I am as a gay man, as a Christian, as a Quaker, as a vegan, as ME. I don’t see it myself with all of the various insecurities I carry, but I do know that the coming out process for me has contained much more than simply announcing “I’m here, I’m queer, get over it!”

The process has become more than just coming out gay. Rather it has meant coming out as ME. In a world that claims to celebrate individuality and uniqueness, we experience tremendous pressures to conform, be it in the conservative church, the gay party boy culture, the Quaker meeting house, the lesbian drum circle or a thousand other groups that draw us.

The act of self-discovery, leading to a fearless willingness to truly be ourselves, creates conflicts and challenges for those around us. But with the potential difficulties, it also brings much needed wholeness and health.

I became a born-again Evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, Republican Christian at the age of 17 (even though I presented as a flaming homosexual without even trying). That is when I went to war with parts of myself. At the same time I began to suffer lower back problems with my back going out almost every six months, sometimes for as long as a week at a time. The problem continued and grew worse. It happened the week before I got married. I ultimately developed a herniated disc that hurt so much, I could only lie down or sit for 20 minutes at time before having to stand or walk to relieve the pain. I never got surgery for it and just endured the pain for six months until it began to heal.

Once I came out and worked through years of gunk I piled on myself, my back stopped going out. My body sent me a message all those years. Something is out of whack. My body mirrored the imbalance inside me. Today even with all the plane travel and the many different hotel beds, my back stays solid and has not gone out in over seven years.

Today is National Coming Out Day. At his blog Journeyman notes how dark the closet can be. Even if you can’t imagine fully coming out and you feel you must keep a foot in the closet (or more) turn on some light and invite someone into your life. As the 1980’s AIDS activists taught us Silence=Death. And we experience death in the closet in thousands of ways. Similarly waiting for us outside we will discover thousands of ways to live.

Autumn Musings

It would be a perfect autumn day if it weren’t so darn hot and if the trees had actually begun to change color. Usually Columbus Day Weekend (a dreadful commemoration of genocide and greed) is the “peak” weekend for seeing the trees. With the high temperatures and lack of rain, the trees remain green, or simply turn brown and quickly drop to the ground.

I just put up some more performances over at my performance schedule. Others are in the works, but I don’t have enough details to post them yet. I purposely have cut back on my presentations this autumn, in large part because I have begun to work on some new projects and need more time at home to dig into them.

One of these is my Transfigurations play, which looks at the lives and stories of transgender, genderqueer and gender-different in the Bible and the world today. I shared some of this material at Greenbelt and received an enthusiastic response. Ultimately I hope to turn the piece into a musical. I am scheduled to do a version of it on November 19 at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. (I did Homo No Mo there last year and fell in love with the folks at the Stonewall LGBT Resource Center).

In addition to Transfigurations, I have begun researching two other projects which may very well influence my life for the next couple years. I see a time of transition ahead. I already announced that I will retire Homo No Mo in winter of 2008 (just talked to a film director/editor about a DVD version!) Since the summer with the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and all, I feel I have finally purged my system of the ex-gay movement (it’s taken about 10 years). Time to move beyond ex-gay and to embrace the life I stopped living at age 17. What do I want to be when I grow up? Do I want to grow up?

Of course I will continue to tell my story and support ex-gay survivors, but I cannot go my whole life as the “Homo No Mo Guy”. That would not be healthy for me. So much more to me and so many other passions. Plus so many other survivors are coming forward, I am quickly becoming joyfully redundant.

A year ago my mother died, and her life and lessons inform me so much each day. In fact, a decision she made 25 years ago helped me out tremendously the other day. Since her passing, I feel so much strength, comfort and support. I also have grown closer to my dad. I feel my mom left me many gifts, but she left me probably the greatest gift a parent can leave, should they choose to do so–the gift to love me unconditionally woven together with her belief in me to live my life well. The love and faith sustain me and give me courage.

So the trees are not their normal brilliant colors and the birds don’t know what to do with themselves and we continue an autumn heatwave, but I feel like my life moves along at the right pace and the right season.

Star Queen–She’s Back!

Through a recent comment left on my blog, I discovered the blog I, Star Queen, which highlights words and images and video about the amazing performer, Star Queen. (You can even see some footage from the documentary about Star Queen in which I appear briefly as a talking head.) I had heard “she” had retired, so I feel thrilled to see her new site and to hear about her recent visit to see Lady Bunny.

I first experienced Star Queen in Memphis at a club called Backstreet. I had been out as a gay man for about five months and it was my first venture in to a gay bar to see a drag performance. My friend David Christie RAVED about Star Queen, but I walked in filled with all sorts of judgment and doubts. That was until Star Queen hit the stage and did a number to a Blossom Dearie tune. I adore Blossom, and I immediately saw so much intelligence in the humor and delivery and choices that Star Queen made.

Over the next few years I got to know Star Queen and more importantly the man behind the makeup. We became friends and spent some good times together. I was still coming to grips with myself and felt very tentative about opening up to the people in my life. Friends at that time experienced a wall I erected that I thought kept me safe. My attitude was that enough people had messed with me in the church and the ex-gay movement; I was going to keep myself from getting hurt again.

Looking back at photos from that time (like the one to the right where I am bearded and Star Queen looks fierce!) and thinking about it, I see what a powerful and wise friend Star Queen (and her everyday self) was in my life. We have since grown apart from each other, something that I hope can be fixed some day.

Thinking about the harm of ex-gay experiences, I consider what it does to relationships post-ex-gay life. How often I second-guessed people’s motives and my own fearing that I was getting involved in a emotionally dependent relationship, something that ex-gay therapists and ministers suggested was as bad as gay sex.

During those first few years I emerged emotionally shell-shocked and wounded. Hurting people hurt people, and in my case, I see how that was true some of the time.

I wish I could remember some of the wonderfully outrageous toasts that Star Queen would raise so that I could toast her back. I wish Star Queen and the man behind the makeup all the best on the journey as an artist and a wonderful human being.