To Hell with Masks: An Ex-Gay Survivor Speaks Out

Jeff Harwood, who I first met back in 1996 when we entered the Love in Action ex-gay program in Memphis, TN, has done a lot of good work in coming out and in detoxing from those years of de-gaying himself. He has shared some of his story on my blog here. Every time I have the privilege to see him when I am in Memphis, he comes out more and more as himself.

Over at Facebook he wrote a note about Masks and his ex-gay experience. I asked if he would post it over at the Beyond Ex-Gay Community Site and if I could repost it here. He generously agreed.

To Hell With Masks
by Jeff Harwood

As part of my Stage Movement class we are required to keep a journal. Our instructor gives us a quote and then a question/statement based on the quote and we are supposed to write a response to it. Below is one of the more recent quotes/statements. The response went in a quite a different direction for me personally. While I was writing it, I felt the need to post the note here and tag people from all the different areas of my life and to get your response to it. Thanks.

QUOTE:
“The heart of clowning, to me, is how to get yourself into dilemmas. I don’t have to for them they come my way.” – Bill Irwin

QUESTION:
The mask that you personally wear everyday…talk about those masks and those situations in which you wear them and hide your true self.

RESPONSE:

Detail at entrance of Drill Hall, London

BLEAH! I hate talking about the masks that I wear everyday, because I believe that I’ve grown up enough to throw away any pretense. I’ve come through a lot in my life and I believe that I really have learned to be genuine with others and with myself.

When I think of masks, I think of my entire time that I spent in the ex-gay movement. (In case you don’t know, the ex-gay movement is a religious therapeutic movement that attempts to “cure” LGBT people and make them straight.) That was a time of masks and hiding, a time of constant fear that someone might find out who I really was. I was coerced and manipulated into putting on masks so that I would fit what is hetero-normative, what is “proper and normal” for my gender.

I am now almost ten years outside of that repressive and destructive environment. It took several of those years to come to tear away all those life-destroying encumbrances that were put on me and that I made a part of myself. That process hurt like a son-of-bitch. I still feel sadness and pain when I think about it.

If there is one that I have learned from it is that masks will kill you. They destroy who you are. You get to a point where you can’t distinguish between your masks (lies) and you. God! That is such a pitiful life.

I honestly don’t believe that I function with masks anymore. I can’t begin to explain how freer I am since I’ve thrown off all that crap that was pushed down on me. I was given the liberty to explore all aspects of who I am…the good, the bad, the taboo, everything. I have found parts of me that I didn’t know existed and I love them. You know, I even love the part of me that is still fucking pissed off at the church, at religion and at all the evil that was done to me and others in the of name of god and jesus. Why do I love it? Because it’s me! It’s part of me that I wasn’t allowed to have.

So now, I say what I think. If I have a question, I ask it. Who cares if someone thinks it’s stupid? If I want to hold my partner’s hand across the table in a restaurant, I do. If I need to speak out against something, I speak out. If I don’t say just quite the right way, I don’t care.

If someone gets all bent out of shape and uncomfortable because they don’t like who I am…this new me, it’s not my problem. The funny thing is that I find more acceptance, love and respect from others now than before. Since I have embraced everything—and I mean everything—about who I am, I don’t have to worry or be frightened because there are no more secrets. There is nothing for me to be frightened of.

Those who are bent out of shape and uncomfortable are the ones who are still living behind their own masks. They are afraid. I don’t believe that they are afraid of what others might think or how others might react. I believe that they are afraid of themselves. I believe that they are afraid of the secret parts inside that they have been told, “This is part of you, but you CAN’T HAVE IT.” That part stays locked up inside and it becomes a secret compounded with lies for the sake of some false sense of propriety.

You know, sometimes I think I see that fear on the faces of some of my friends. I just want to go up to them a rip the mask off and tell them, “Who cares if you’re beautiful or ugly? Who cares if that little part of you doesn’t fit what people tell you should be or what is acceptable?” I see it hold them back and it hurts because the truth is that little secret part of them is beautiful just because it is them.

Have me put on a mask, real or imagined, to play a character. That’s fine. I can handle that. It’s no lie. But tell me that I have to put on a mask to live from day to day and I will fight you tooth and nail.

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This post has 5 Comments

  1. GreenEyedLilo on December 3, 2009 at 1:13 am Reply

    Wow. This is amazing. I’m sure it’s not at all what the instructor expected, but it was wonderfully bracing to read anyway. That’s the thing that angers me most about the promotion of ex-gay ministries (and, to be honest, conservative Evangelical Christianity in general.) They want people to wear masks *all* *the* *time.* I think it’s why you don’t find a lot of Emmy and Oscar winners among their ranks–they’re playing the roles of their lives, quite literally, every day and have nothing for anyone else.

    • p2son on December 4, 2009 at 9:39 am Reply

      Bracing–good word for it. It clears the brain quite nicely.

  2. Jeremy Markls on December 3, 2009 at 11:12 am Reply

    Thank you so much Jeff Harwood for this brilliant piece “To Hell with Masks”. I totally agree – although I think this problem exists with many evangelical Christians across the board, not just in ex-gay programmes. A straight church leader visiting our group in the UK (an ex-ex-gay ministry) told me, when visiting one of our meetings, “It is amazing, but I feel I can be compeltely myself here!” To which I could not resist asking, “So who are you when you are in church?”

    • p2son on December 4, 2009 at 9:38 am Reply

      Jeremy, great to see you pop up here. Thanks for the comment. How all is well w/ you in the UK.

  3. Jane on December 4, 2009 at 1:03 pm Reply

    I know the work of removing masks is hard, painful, but so powerful and freeing. Jeff, you have done amazing work! Thank you for sharing with us.

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