How Sexual Abuse Made Me Ex-Gay

Lots of “ex-gay” proponents claim that one of the causes of same-sex attraction is childhood sexual abuse. I don’t think they are lying; they truly believe it. In fact, I imagine that the majority of people who attend their programs have been sexually abused, so in their logic they have concluded that sexual abuse + other factors (family, gender confusion, etc) = GAY.

Instead of searching for the elusive root causes of same-sex attraction, I wish they would ask themselves, “Why do our programs attract same-gender loving people who have also been sexually abused?”

I think of my own story. I was sexually abused as a young boy. Age seven. That abuse filled me with shame and guilt, partly because it was a much older boy who perpetrated it, and I actually enjoyed some of it. I was already gay before I was abused–I felt an attraction towards other boys.

Filled with shame and guilt, I grew up in a decidedly homophobic society that proclaimed that being gay was a sickness, an aberration, a sin, an abomination. Because of the abuse I suffered as a child, I felt dirty, evil, shame-filled and unloveable. (These feelings are common for many who have experienced sexual abuse.)

These negative feelings made me a target for the Evangelical church which promised that I could be a child of the King, a holy servant of God and a new creation with robes washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. I jumped right in!

After becoming a born-again Christian, I still felt dirty; the blood of Jesus did not wipe away the shame from the abuse I suffered. I then discovered Exodus and Life Ministries’ “ex-gay” program in NYC.

They promised wholeness and freedom from homosexuality. With my poor self image and mountain of shame, I felt lured into the loving family they offered and the “ex-gay” lifestyle. (Yes, there is an “ex-gay lifestyle–but more about that in another post).

Like many people who had been abused, I was vulnerable to even more abuse. I let these “ex-gay” leaders impose their sexuality and their theories on me. I have no question they meant well, but they still did harm, and I let them.

Ultimately I ended up in Love in Action, the Memphis-based “ex-gay” residential rehab program. I still felt dirty. I still felt shame. I still felt unwanted–spoiled goods.

And in a wonderful paradox I found freedom from the shame of sexual abuse through the ministry of Love in Action. Through counseling, writing, and rap sessions, I acknowledged for the first time in my life that I suffered genuine abuse, and more importantly that I did not cause it. I learned that there is a difference between being gay and being abused. I separated my same-sex attractions from the toxic feelings I felt from being abused.

Shortly after I exited the program, I came OUT. Having addressed the horror of the childhood abuse, the angst, confusion and dissatisfaction with myself melted away. I understood that I had been fighting the wrong battle all those years in the “ex-gay” programs.

Many lesbians, gays, transsexuals, bisexuals and other queer folks never dream of entering an “ex-gay” program. Their sense of self is untarnished from childhood abuse, and in spite of the effects of societal homophobia, they feel comfortable in their skins. The “ex-gay” leaders rarely meet these folks, but they too exist.

Having been sexually abused did not make me gay; I was gay anyway. But living with unresolved childhood sexual trauma made me the perfect candidate for the dehomosexualization process.

But I learned the truth, and that truth set me free.

This post has 16 Comments

  1. Bob Painter on October 25, 2005 at 9:18 pm Reply

    Peterson,

    As we have already discussed, I was not sexually abused as a youngster. My shame and guilt were based wholly upon my homosexuality and the church’s stance on God’s loathing of that part of me.

    I do think abuse, however–whether sexual abuse or emotional abuse (which I suffered in many different ways)–was the overwhelming burden that brought me to Love in Action as well.

    I really appreciate your comment about the paradox of finding the freedom to be the real gay you by attending LiA. I feel the same way! Until I was able to believe that I was significant in God’s eyes regardless of my homosexual attractions, I was bound by intense regret and anti-social behaviors.

    I have had this concept you mentioned float through my head from time to time, but you really nailed the idea into reality. So I suppose I must say, “Thanks LiA for helping me embrace my homosexuality…”

  2. Jennifer on October 26, 2005 at 2:54 am Reply

    What a powerful and heartfelt blog entry.

  3. Peterson Toscano on October 26, 2005 at 3:03 pm Reply

    Bob P., thanks for writing. It is interesting when we look at abuse, it comes in different forms. Sounds like you experienced Bible Abuse. The Bible was used to condemn and oppress you and fill you with shame. That’s a heavy burden.

    The weight of homophobia in society in another form of abuse. Daily as a child I heard all sorts of negative messages about gay people, HIV/AIDS and the evil gay agenda. Homophobia soaked into me until I became auto-homophobic (no, not only in my car). I began to oppressed myself more than anyone else in my life.

    But then you know about this sort of abuse from your own experience. Thanks for posting your comment. You always add more light and depth through your wirting.

  4. Ann on October 28, 2005 at 10:55 pm Reply

    As we’ve discussed privately, there were others of us involved in the ex-gay movement who were not sexually abused, but felt we must have been to fit the formula of “causes of homosexuality.” Recently, I found among my papers a survey I completed for Anne Paulk and Focus on the Family. She was doing a book on lesbianism. One of the questions asked about sexual abuse and family members. I had marked “two,” responding that I had been abused twice by family members before a certain age. I looked at that thing and thought, “What in the heck was I talking about?” While I had no memory of any abuse nor any reason to believe I had been, as Justin experienced from David Kyle Foster, there are those who would insist that you WERE abused and had repressed it. One staff member at LiA called my father an abuser and I came to believe him. I did theophostic prayer, went to a nut of “counselor” and cried out to God to please bring up my “memories” of abuse. They never came b/c they never existed. It grieves me to say that I did infer in my testimony finally that my daddy had abused me…and in that, I abused his name and reputation. Was I lying? No, I just really believed I had been and was simply in denial. When I did a theatre piece for a LiA fundraiser, I implied for the first time publicly that my daddy had sexually abused me. I remember the glee in a staff member’s eyes afterward when he said, “Is that really your story…I never knew that about you.” He wasn’t a bad sort, but he needed me to fit the formula.

  5. Anonymous on October 29, 2005 at 8:59 am Reply

    I wasn’t abused as a kid, but I sure wish I could have figured out out how to seduce two fellow classmates when I was in high school in the 1960s.

    Believe I am kidding? No, I am not.

    “Abuse” is a term of art. Nobody knows what it means. With a five year old, probably. With a 15, 16 or 17 year old, highly questionable. If a 16 year old has consenual sex with a 15 year old, is that abuse? I tend to doubt it, but I’ll leave it for you to decide. Similarly, if a 40 year old has consensual sex with a 16 year old, is that abuse?

    Note, I haven’t listed the sexes of the people involved in the respective scenarios, but I could envision the likely interpretation. It is probable that most people would envision the male predator vs. the female or young male victim.

    –raj

  6. JJ on October 29, 2005 at 1:53 pm Reply

    I have often wondered if the reason that ex-gay ministries insist on the abuse theory is because they attract people who have been abused — people who naturally feel shame about their sexuality (even straight victims of sexual abuse feel shame about their sexuality).

  7. Anonymous on October 29, 2005 at 6:49 pm Reply

    I have also wondered the same Raj because when I was 14-17 I had attractions not only to classmates, but to men who where 20 and 30 years old. I do not think for once that a 16 should be doing anything with a 30 year old but I do not think I would have resisted it at age 16. I also ran into some gays who had relationships at really young ages with much older people that generally turned out to be abusive . I wonder how many of the ex-gays act on those teenage attractions with older people then feel guilty or angery about it.

    I also wonder what other issues tend to go with abuse. The gays I know who were abused (as opposed to acting on teenage desires) tended to have all sorts of other issues such as setting boundaries and sexualizing everything about the relationship.

    I know that I am thankful that the people who I did have attractions to did not take advantage of me despite the fact that they knew I was attracted to them. As for why ex-gay programs don’t search for the reason why so many abused gays are drawn to them. They can’t do so honestly because that would require them to look deeper at the issues of homosexuality. At a level beyond the bible says it is wrong. In order to do so they would have to be open to the possibility that they might be wrong.

    If homosexuality is wrong then something negative must have caused it(abuse ect….). If you can find homosexuals who have had great relationships with same sex parents, reasonability good childhoods, and have not been abused then a theory that presumes that homosexuality is caused by those events is in deep trouble.

  8. Regan on October 30, 2005 at 12:40 am Reply

    One doesn’t have to look far at what the dominant society has done to other people, regardless of how natural and normal they are.
    One’s standards of a lot of things is another person’s profit.

    Look at all the old pictures of black entertainers, how many of them have straightened hair?
    Look at the flocks of women who get boob jobs…people of Jewish decent getting their noses bobbed?

    With the same caution I look that whose beauty standards all these people have spent money to get burned and cut up for…it’s no less different for gay young people to go through this same self loathing to fit in.
    The expense and emotional dread and burden that’s placed on their backs by people who don’t give a shit about the damage, but are there to exploit those who carry that weight.

    As a hetero black woman, I can’t can’t speak for being gay.
    But I can speak for the blows ALL our identities take.
    And the Bible was held up as license to abuse those who are NOW the new normal.

    I know the rage to hold onto or redeem your OWN identity is righteous and valid.
    It’s YOURS to have and to hold, it was given to you with the same intelligence and validity as any heterosexual got theirs.
    Indeed, there is no ‘root cause’ of homosexuality.
    No more than a cause for heterosexuality, anyway.
    Anyone that says differently is selling something…and once you get a chance to catch a whiff of what’s being sold..you’ll recognize it as crap.
    Gay people need conversion like an a A cup woman needs a boob job.
    You can be TOLD you need it until you’re convinced…but the point is-changing isn’t really for YOUR benefit at all.

    Why pay someone to tell you what you’ve got isn’t enough?

  9. Anonymous on March 20, 2006 at 10:46 am Reply

    Anonymous because I want to be and I don’t have anything to say except thank you so very much for writing this, because I can really identify. (also, Regan, if you’re around? Word.)

  10. brittanicals on July 3, 2006 at 7:58 pm Reply

    This is kind of an old post, so I don’t know if anyone will see this comment or not, but I wanted to thank you for your openess regarding your abuse. It helps others of us feel safe enough to come out of the shadows.

  11. Anonymous on September 29, 2006 at 9:27 am Reply

    hi there being brought up in pure african way of life i had ful life as a child. We played together with other children and i really enjoyed the company of my group. Well being gay to me i cant blame to anybody i think may gay people have bee told young people who wre abused alway would be gay but i think is just the blame culture of human being not accepting who they are.

  12. Anonymous on October 2, 2006 at 11:56 pm Reply

    I firmly believe heterosexuality and homosexuality is a “choice” although it may not feel like a “choice” to most gay people. Gays and lesbians have poor sexual boundaries and “sexualize” their feelings for the opposite sex. There are two sexes, not four, something psychological is going on. It is psychodynamic in origin.
    It is not genetic as evidence by “identical” twins where one is heterosexual and the other is homosexual.

  13. dR on November 22, 2006 at 2:33 am Reply

    I’m just shooting in the dark here…

    I think some of the ex-gay people blame sexual abuse for homosexuality because it seems so neatly isomorphic. Someone casting about for answers for “why am I this way” can latch onto childhood abuse as a seemingly easy answer.

    I once knew a person who had been sexually abused as a boy, by men. He wasn’t gay in the least–he was a flaming heterosexual who paradoxically hated women. I think he hated sexuality at some level. I think maybe some of this dynamic is at work with gay victims of sexual abuse. However much they may like sex, they also may hate it as a means of their early betrayal. Combine that with societal disapproval of homosexuality and there’s a nasty combination.

  14. Peterson Toscano on November 22, 2006 at 5:03 am Reply

    dr, great insight and observations. I once heard the term “sexual anorexia”

    “sexual anorexia is an obsessive state in which the physical, mental, and emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one’s life. Like self-starvation with food or compulsive dieting or hoarding with money, deprivation with sex can make one feel powerful and defended against all hurts.”
    from http://www.sexhelp.com/what_is_sex_anorexia.cfm

  15. Scar x on April 20, 2007 at 4:14 pm Reply

    I was abused mentaly and sexually for over 6 years when I was a child. I have to say I hold nothing but anger for the church and religion that I know my partner does not understand. I could never enter any of these groups, I can barly maintain politness when I speak to someone who is devoutly religous, i want to scream at them that they are fools. I think these types of groups and the people who run them are beyond sick. Even writing this I can feel the anger welling up in me, strange, over 12 years later that Im still so angry.
    Not everyone who doesnt join these groups had a happy upbringing.

    Anyway, It was nice to read and its nice to know some people can learn to accept their past, I hope one day I can say that to.

  16. Topics: on February 9, 2008 at 3:16 am Reply

    Peterson,

    I am Jack Lochleighis, and thank you very, very much for your site. We need as much honesty, truth, and movement as we can get. We grow and change as we go forward on our path to wholeness. My story is at jacklochleighs.blogspot.com

Leave a Comment