Shame and Loathing

This week in my memoir writing I have focused on events that took place at the Love in Action ex-gay residential facility. Back in 2003 I could not speak directly about a lot of what happened there, even with friends. Instead I wrote a one-person comedy, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! In this farce I gave the audience a tour of the facility which attempted to straighten out gays. I highlighted the zaniness of the place, and then added some poignant touches. To accomplish this, I had to do it all in character using other voices, other personalities. It was too hot to touch directly. Indirectly I exposed the foolishness and the awfulness of the place and the process to de-homosexualize oneself.

Time passed and by 2008 I felt I could no longer perform the play. In many ways I had moved on and began to focus on transgender issues and less on anti-ex-gay activism. But I knew I was not done at all with talking and writing about these experiences. For one there is a large and growing group of ex-gay survivors, and we find that peer support is critical for working past much of the damage that comes from ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy (going to a properly trained and skilled therapist may also be essential for many of us.) In addition to connecting with others who have experienced the misery and the confusion around ex-gay treatment, including trying to figure out what to do with the good stuff we picked up along with all the poison, I knew I needed to explore my own experiences in writing. I tried back in 2003 before I wrote the play but decided to lay it down for a time. Last year while touring in the UK, I picked up the manuscript, judged it inferior and started over again.

As I have written this week about the structure of the Love in Action program and revisited my frame of mind during that time, I have begun a mourning process. I feel regret in a fresh new way and anger and sadness over what happened to me and what I allowed happen to me Yes, I can think about all the good things that emerged as a result, but I do not wish to invalidate the destruction those experiences caused me and others. I struggle to face it, to feel it, but I also have a courage and a determination to stare that pain in the face, to sit in it for a spell, to record it.

Lots of people in the media like to poke fun at the ex-gay experience. “These people think you can change, now look at the ridiculous methods they use…” with a cut-away to the infamous ex-gay therapist Richard Cohen smacking the snot out of some couch cushions while ranting about his mother. Ha ha, look at the foolish, deluded nut. Yeah, it is funny. Ridiculous. It is also terribly tragic. I guess that is what I am trying to capture in my writing these days–the silly and the sublime aspects of the ex-gay experience.

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This post has 7 Comments

  1. me on July 8, 2010 at 6:50 am Reply

    I’m keen to read it

  2. Amy E. Hall on July 8, 2010 at 10:51 am Reply

    Thank you for doing this exhausting, important work, Peterson!

  3. Dharma Kelleher on July 8, 2010 at 11:37 am Reply

    You said: I feel regret in a fresh new way and anger and sadness over what happened to me and what I allowed happen to me Yes, I can think about all the good things that emerged as a result, but I do not wish to invalidate the destruction those experiences caused me and others.

    As a recovering alcoholic, there is much about my past that I wish I had done differently. Though my out-of-control drinking, I put myself in situations that allowed people to hurt me and one time it led me to be gang-raped.

    Years later, I was meeting with my AA sponsor and the subject of the rape came up. She said it was time I forgave the men that raped me.

    I was shocked. “Why the f*** should I let them off the hook?” I replied.

    “It isn’t about letting them off the hook. It’s about letting you off the hook. What happened then was awful but it’s over. By holding on to your resentments toward them and yourself, you force yourself to relive it over and over again for years.”

    She was right. I had to make a choice. Pain or peace. I couldn’t hold on to the anger and bitterness if I wanted serenity.

    What you went through in your ex-gay experience was awful. And you’ve acknowledged that. But Peterson doesn’t have to live there any more. Holding on to the shame and bitterness doesn’t help you serve others who have been through it. Let go of everything that isn’t love and you will be more powerful in your work with those who have suffered.

    Remember the line in The Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. It is a reminder that holding on to resentments and shame (towards ourselves or others) does not serve our higher purpose.

    Be willing to let go of everything that isn’t love. Open that part of your past to the healing of your Higher Power. You are worth loving.

    Peace out,
    Dharma

    • p2son on July 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm Reply

      Dharma, thank you for this and thanks to Amy and Lesbianneurotica too. It is a process of letting go, and part of it is to feel the pain, but it will not last forever, or mostly it won’t. There will always be vestiges of pain and regret, but that is part of living.

  4. Anonymous on July 14, 2010 at 10:24 am Reply

    Thanks for all you write Peterson i enjoy reading it immensely.

    After reading @Dharma wrote i felt i needed to respond. As I found the same power in forgiveness. As a young child i was continually physically abused by a Psychopathic stepfather who eventually attempted to murder my mother and was committed to Carstairs secure Hospital.

    For years i thought i had dealt with my abuse. I worked as a Qualified Psychiatric nurse for many years also i was a voluntary Trained Samaritan and thought i had exercised my demons but alas this was not the case as i found out when my young wife died of ovarian cancer and i developed a huge drug and alcohol problem and almost died. God came in to my Life as you already know and the healing process began and for me it was being able to slowly starting to let go and forgiving, its not easy but it works. But yes there will always be vestiges of pain just to remind us we are human.

    Peace and Love to you all.

  5. stephen gladstone on July 14, 2010 at 10:26 am Reply

    That was my comment above. Missed the name email box 😉

  6. Jane on July 14, 2010 at 2:53 pm Reply

    My beautiful friend Peterson,
    You are fierce! I will hold you in prayer as you sit with these things. I know the pain; I have more of my own sitting to do. You are not alone.
    Much love,
    Jane

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