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.