Category: identity

Half In / Half Out

Over the weekend I got to thinking about some people I know who are partially out as LGBT. They have a few on-line friends who know they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and maybe one or two non-net friends who know. Many of the most significant people in their lives do not know. Perhaps that is the best way for them right now, but I have found that living too long like that can drain us of life.

As I prayed about that I wrote the following poem.

We speak riddles to ourselves,
proclaiming,
in whispers,
“I am OK”

But strapped to our backs
We bear a wardrobe,
the opposite of that portal to Narnia,
a closet that dumps us into a smaller world,
a cramped, musty place of shadows.

“I don’t want to upset my mother.”
“My brother will never understand.”
“No need to flaunt it.”
“It’s only a tiny
part of me.”

A part muffled in a velvet-lined padded valise,
Jammed in the back of a wardrobe,
besides dusty boxes of dreams and desires,
A place where we speak riddles to ourselves.

Change really is Possible

Change is Possible!

For years that’s been the major slogan of the ex-gay organization Exodus. Of course for people weighed down with the expectation that they must be straight at any cost, the vague promise of change lured them to seek a cure from being gay.

Once in the doors, they learned that an actual change in orientation was not a realistic goal for most, yet leaders dangled other vague promises before desperately hopeful strugglers.

“If you stick with it, you will find that some of your same-sex attractions will actually diminish just like they did for me.” (statement replete with photo of ex-gay leader accessorized with wife and some children).

People should feel free to live the lives they desire. If someone who experiences primarily same-sex attractions wishes to explore a heterosexual life, no one should hold them back. But if “growing into” that life requires years of counseling, weekly support groups, hundreds of hours of prayer, annual conferences, straight mentors, and a library of books, perhaps the person needs to face reality. That change is not for them.

The pressures to conform to the traditional heterosexual model and the adherence to society sanctioned gender normative expressions drive people to the point of madness. They throw away common sense and ignore modern science. I totally understand the drive though. I look back now at the nutty and even dangerous things I did in order to straighten myself out and wonder how I could have been so misguided.

Over and over again I bowed to teachings that insisted that I could not be gay and Christian. Ministers and ex-gay leaders taught me that the “gay lifestyle” included only reckless behavior, loneliness, and ultimately a life apart from God. No wonder it took me nearly two decades to come to my senses.

And then I changed–not my orientation–rather I changed the ways I viewed myself. I no longer viewed myself as a sick, degenerate, rebellious sinner, but as a normal human being with the same desires as most everyone else in the world–desires for love, for adventure, for accomplishment, for wholeness.

I began to see that being gay was not a curse or a sickness or a weakness. It was just part of how I was wired. And as I grew to accept myself and no longer conformed to the patterns that people in the church and the world laid out before me, I began to grow thankful for being gay.

Yeah, I thank God that I am a man with a homosexual orientation. Even though I chose to plow through decades of confusion, false hopes and despair seeking a change, I now feel grateful for how I am wired, how God wired me.

Being gay remains only a part of me. I have much more going on that defines me, but being gay has affected the way I view the world. It has both toughened and softened me in the best ways possible.

I can’t speak for most people, but some flee the gay life out of fear. Fear of disease. Fear of hell. Fear of letting other people down. Fear of an empty lonely life.

Fear breeds confusion. Literally neural pathways in our brains shut down, and we cannot think clearly or rationally.

We need not live under all that fear; change is possible.

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.

Former Exodus Missionary Speaks Out

Jose Luis Maccarone lived as an ex-gay for over 10 years. I first met him during my time at Love in Action when he came for a visit to the US to share his testimony around the country.

In 2000 he moved from his home country of Argentina to Madrid, Spain and become Exodus Interational’s first missionary. After serving as an ex-gay missionary for a few years, he came out gay.

Last week Jose Luis and I spent a day together, and he wanted to tell some of his story. In this series of videos, Jose Luis shares some of his ex-gay survivor narrative, what it was like to live as an ex-gay, the good and the bad that came of his experience, his recovery and a message to his former clients.

Jose Luis shares some of the reasons why he became ex-gay.

In this video Jose Luis talks about life as an Exodus leader and missionary

What good, if any came of your ex-gay experiences and how were you harmed?

Jose Luis talks about his recovery from the ex-gay movement and speaks to the people who he had ministered to as a missionary and ex-gay leader

UPDATE:
Shortly after I posted this entry, I received the following e-mail from Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International.

Please make sure to note and clarify that Jose was a missionary with the Exodus International that now is called The Exodus Global Alliance. He was not affiliated with the ministry Exodus International that I represent. Though there is a connection to the two ministries, he was not one of our representatives.

Thanks,

Alan

The Many Flavors of Gays

When I lived in Quito, Ecuador as a missionary and then later when I volunteered at Exodus’ Latin American headquarters, I ate a lot of ice cream. I was not a vegan then, and freshly made ice cream they sold along the Avenidas tasted better than Bryer’s ® ever did.

Oh, and the flavors they offered! Fruits I never heard of before like Mora and Naranilla. Tropical flavors–mango, pineapple, avocado and even tomato.

Most of my life I only had three flavors: chocolate, vanilla and my favorite, mint chocolate chip. But that all changed in Ecuador.

Back in my missionary days I believed there was only one kind of gay–the sick pervert who engaged in sex anywhere and with anyone. He carried diseases, always tried to seduce straight men, and had no regard for God or any sort of moral code. At Christian college I would go with a group into Greenwich Village in NYC to tell gays that unless they repented of their evil homosexual lifestyles, they would burn in hell far from the presence of God.

I was the biggest homophobe I knew and of course I turned the loathing onto myself more than any other person.

But then after nearly two decades of fighting off my same-sex desires (often unsuccessfully) I accepted myself as gay and began the long hard work to heal my battered sense of self–a work that continues.

About a year after I accepted myself as gay, Rev. Timothy Meadows of Holy Trinity Community Church in my then home of Memphis, TN, asked me to write poem about the Memphis LGBT community for the mother of Matthew Sheppard who was coming to speak. He had me interview scores of queer people–all types, all flavors.

Lesbian moms, senior citizens both single and partnered for years, Black gay male professionals, bisexual grandparents, gay athletes, transgender Christians, queer teens getting ready for the prom, all types, sizes and backgrounds. Many lifestyles and so much health and well-being.

Meeting all those folks was one of the first teps to replace the lies I harbored about myself & others.