Not sure if you got to watch yesterday’s episode of the Montel Williams Show, Homsexuality–Is There a Cure? , but like most of these shows, they tape more than they use, then things get cut. You can see YouTube video of it here and here. For instance, they did a little video of me that was maybe one minute long for the actual show, but the taping of it two weeks before took over three hours. I would hate to be an editor and have to figure out what to keep and what to cut.
During the show, Montel displayed a strong and clear opposition to gay reparative therapy. This came as no surprise to me since he demonstrated the same during the February 20, 2007 program. That particular show briefly touched on reparative therapy and the ex-gay movement which, according to Montel, moved him to do the show that aired yesterday.
I don’t presume to know what he was thinking or feeling, but at times Montel acted downright angry at what he articulated to be wrong–people feeling compelled (or worse yet forced) to submit to reparative therapy or an ex-gay ministry.
One thing that got cut during Montel’s interview of ex-gay survivor Lance Carroll was Montel’s reaction to Lance’s story of being forced by his parents to attend Love in Action/Refuge. Montel stopped Lance, pointed to the American flag folded up behind them, and said something like, “I fought for this country for the right of all Americans, not just straight Americans.” No doubt Montel is opinionated, but as a quirky queer guy seeing that from backstage, I felt affirmed and, well, American.
Montel lost his patience when talk of the Bible or Christianity came up. I found this to be true during the taping of the previous show I did. During that February 20th show, I stressed to him that I am still a Christian today.
(Note: if you ever are a guest on Montel’s show, you will have to assert yourself and press in to tell your story. Like most talk show hosts, he gets carried away and likes to talk. This was true during the February 20th show that also touched on Hip Hop. Some could say that he was intolerant and overbearing towards rappers who rapped about sex and violence. During yesterday’s show I thought Lance did an excellent job of holding his own, correcting Montel when he did not have the details straight.)
At one point during the taping of the show, Montel had an outburst about the Bible. I am not surprised it got cut. He expressed frustration with something someone said about the Bible and homosexuality. Exasperated Montel blurted out, “The Bible?! if People are so concerned about doing what the Bible says, why is there so much God-d*mn racism!”
An insightful question indeed. Why don’t we hear much about white Evangelicals addressing racism and skin privilege in the US and the world?
Donna and Tom Cole, a married couple and ex-gay ministers, never appeared in the final cut of yesterday’s program. During the taping, after Lance’s interview, the Coles sat on the stage with Montel. First Montel showed a video of the Coles telling the story of their relationships, their gay/lesbian pasts and where they are today. To me the film showed them in a favorable light, as a sweet and sincere couple. They looked great together on screen and seemed genuinely happy.
In fact, as I watched backstage, knowing that I was slated to go on right after them, I wondered how I would respond to their story. My own marriage ended terribly, something that I feel much pain and regret over to this day. I wish I could have achieved what it seems the Coles have accomplished instead of causing my wife, myself and our families so much hurt.
As the video ended, the camera turned to Montel and the Coles to begin the interview portion. Donna leaned in and spoke quietly to Montel. He listened a bit, then said to them aloud, “Let’s go backstage and talk about this.” They exited the set and spoke together backstage.
I happened to be backstage at the time, waiting in a partitioned area next to where they met. As a result, I heard most of the exchange (it is a not a big set; everything looks bigger on TV. I looked big, right?).
Donna expressed that Montel was not giving them a chance to tell their story and that he was heavy-handed against ex-gays. I wondered to myself at the oddness of the conversation as the Coles were just about to tell their story and had every chance to counter Montel’s words. The whole thing confused me, but then it is a scary thing to stand up and share your personal life in front of a bunch of strangers, particularly if you feel like the tide may be against you.
The Coles then left. I did not hear the final part of the exchange, and suspect only Montel and the Coles did, but they did not return to the set, which caused the producers to bring Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International on as the next guest.
As the show progressed, Montel seemed to get more and more frustrated. He kept going back to the wording on the Exodus site. It was only some moments before that Lance had shared his story and we heard about the hypocrisy of the Ted Haggard story. Montel seemed focused, maybe even fixated with the message of the web site, unsatisfied with the answers he received.
With military men in my family, I have seen something similar like this around the dinner table. Be it about politics, family drama or the firmness of the pasta, they can project a rigid sense of right and wrong then get impatient with anything they perceive as waffling or invalidating their conclusions. (My Marine dad expressed these very feelings during and after yesterday’s show).
I understand that there is a huge difference between Exodus and NARTH and JONAH and the International Healing Foundation and People Can Change and LIFE Ministries and the Glory Tabernacle of the Holy Ghost Explosion’s Sword of Truth Ex-Gay Immersion Program (okay I made that one up), but to many of us who desperately sought help from our unwanted same-sex attractions, we would go anywhere and to anyone. Some of us have endured exorcisms, electro-shock therapy, touch therapy, hug therapy, residential care, 12-step programs, family counseling, aversion therapy, Christian counseling and discipleship programs.
As a result, some of us have experienced a great deal of loss and pain at the hands of people who we thought could help us. For many of us, our ex-gay experiences caused more harm than good. When some people hear me share some of my experiences, I have been surprised at the outrage and indignation they express at what they perceive as just plain wrong. I often have to remind angered loved ones, how I believe (hope?) that many of the program leaders and counselors who ministered to me, did so mainly out of love and an earnest intent to help others.
From backstage I witnessed the taping of the the show get nuttier by the minute as people in the audience also got involved, both at Montel’s prompting and on their own. At one point Montel sought for an unbiased audience member to read the text from the Exodus web site with which Montel took issue. He struggled to find someone. The audience consisted of a mixture of people, some from off the streets, ex-gay supporters (from PFOX and JONAH I think), folks from the LGBT community and others who were “gay-friendly”. To me it felt that tensions were high and growing, but of course I was a nervous wreck backstage as I prepared to go on.
That and I felt exhausted. I had been on the red-eye from LA to NY the night before, arrived at 8:00 AM and only had about four hours sleep (my eyes looked puffy, right?) I just turned 42 last month and that sort of travel wears me out! By the time I sat onstage, I struggled to get my story out. I felt rushed and got cut off at the end by some disruptions from the audience.
Yesterday sitting with my Dad, my little sister and her two sons during the airing of the show, I squirmed a bit at how vulnerable I allowed myself to be and how much personal information I shared. I don’t think I shared too much, but for all the performance and speaking I do, I feel private about some matters. I don’t care what side of the issues you fall on, it feels raw to share some of that stuff.
I felt relieved when the show finally ended. It had been a LONG day, a roller coaster. I think afterwards all of us guests trudging backstage looked like we had just run a marathon. So much effort expended on a short TV program that does not and cannot capture the complexity of an issue that has been at the center of some of our lives for decades.