Special Orders

Anyone remember Burger King’s big ad campaign a few years back?

Hold the pickle.
Hold the lettuce.
Special orders don’t upset us.

In their attempts to position themselves in the fast food market, BK encouraged customers to “have it your way.”

Being a vegan, I am the queen of special orders. Restaurants in the US, Canada, Europe and the UK have accommodated me with my non-animal product-based diet, sometimes begrudgingly and with attitude.

When I attended the Love in Action residential ex-gay program in Memphis, TN, I needed to suspend my vegetarian lifestyle. Each participant took turns cooking the evening meal. With a budget of sometimes less than $20 for 14 people, participants served lots of casseroles filled with greasy ground beef. Although no one ever challenged the inappropriateness of it, at least twice a month someone served up corn dogs (which looked strangely like a dick on a stick).

I stayed away from the beef and hot dog products, and for my turn most always prepared a vegetarian dish (my baked ziti was a house favorite). If someone wanted a special diet, they had to finance it themselves. With monthly fees of $950 per month (which was A LOT of money in Memphis 10 years ago) no one had extra cash on hand. And if we did somehow make it happen, no doubt someone in the house would challenge us and the special diets for being, well, special.

The unwillingness to accommodate participants extended to other issues beyond the kitchen. One young man came to the program from a Christian faith tradition that worshiped on Saturdays (technically the Sabbath). He felt morally and spiritually convicted to find a similar church in Memphis. The staff forbade it. One could not go to a church of one’s own choosing until at least the fourth phase of the program (which back then could take up to two years to attain).

The staff demanded all participants to attend Central Church, an Evangelical mega church with its own fitness center and congressman. No matter if you were Catholic, Adventist or Methodist, the program required each participant to assimilate into the white Evangelical Church semi-Charismatic tradition. We dressed in business casual attire to blend in with the gender norms of the church. We joined the righteous band of Promise Keepers with our straight male mentors in tow to show us the way.

Not that the church was necessarily a safe place for an ex-gay. One Sunday morning a Love in Action participant got cruised by a teen (of legal age but just barely) in one of the many restrooms in the big church. Over the next few weeks he routinely met up with the young man for sexual trysts. (Subsequently the participant, weighed down by the guilt and shame of failing in his program, attempted suicide and barely survived. The young cruiser’s parents eventually shipped their son off for ex-gay treatment at Love in Action. Um, after how they witnessed the program in action, did they really think that was the best place for their kid???)

Conform. Assimilate. No special orders. No regard or respect for a participant’s convictions. In order to get freed, they placed us in straight jackets. In order to get saved, we had to lose much of ourselves.

The closet holds much more than just our orientation. Whole parts of our personalities, preferences and expression get stuffed in there next to our dreams and desires. That we emerge and reclaim our lives is nothing short of miraculous. That I choose to be part of a faith community today after having one imposed on me so aggressively, I find hard to believe. But I have emerged and integrated my life after years of living a fractured existence. You see, change is possible. And special orders are welcome.

This post has 8 Comments

  1. kurt_t on April 11, 2008 at 4:12 pm Reply

    I can’t imagine feeding 14 people for 20 dollars, even ten years ago. Maybe I could make pizza for that much if I already had some dough starter and didn’t have to buy yeast.

  2. Bose on April 12, 2008 at 1:45 am Reply

    for kurt t… that sounds like my dream game show: feed 14 people with a 20-dollar meal, win $50,000. No easy task, but I’d be up for it.

    hey p…

    The closet holds much more than just our orientation. Whole parts of our…

    yup, yup, yup…

    That I choose to be part of a faith community today after … I find hard to believe

    totally.

    But I have emerged and integrated my life after years of living a fractured existence.

    sweet, artful, wonderful…

    and, at the same time, I resist the absolute nature of Amazing Grace — ’twas lost, but now am found — ‘cuz that sort of absolute-ness has never been real for me.

    Do we get to say, honestly, objectively, that we have emerged? But, as an alternative, can we find peace in saying that we are forever emerging?

    I don’t have the answers to those questions… I dabble in wanting something absolute, as well as fighting it.

    Queen of Ambivalence? Yeah, that’s me.

    –Bose

  3. grace on April 12, 2008 at 1:15 pm Reply

    Whoa. A++++++

    Well-written, full of insight, and absolutely gripping at times. I’m not being facetious…this is a beautifully written and integral part of your story Peterson. Thanks for sharing it.

    Goodness.

  4. Buffy on April 14, 2008 at 4:39 am Reply

    My fiance and I joined Wayne Besen and others this weekend to protest a LWO symposium. We encountered a number of participants who stated they weren’t experiencing any form of coercion or hate-speech. I’ve also seen a couple of blog posts on the event from the Christian perspective that insist LWO uses only love and positive techniques.

    I have to wonder if the Mountain View symposium strayed from the usual methodology or perhaps the symposiums vary from the longer-term programs. I also considered the possibility, though remote, that the people we talked to and the Christian bloggers were not entirely honest (whether entirely volitional or not).

    I never would have considered the idea before, but now I’m tempted to attend one of the symposiums as opposition research so I can discover for myself what goes on. Granted I’m still waiting for the blog posts and YouTube videos of a gay couple we encountered (they were from a gay Christian group and there to see what the thing was all about). But I’d still like to have a first-had account of what they say and do in there…

  5. paul on April 14, 2008 at 12:26 pm Reply

    “In order to get freed, they placed us in straight jackets. In order to get saved, we had to lose much of ourselves.”

    Peterson,

    I was thinking along similar lines this morning. One of the things ex-gay therapists will throw out when you question the cure is “you haven’t tried long enough.” I came to look at the ex-gay approach as prison. How many straight guys have sex with guys while in prison?

    Make the walls high enough, the “straight jacket” tight enough, and you can coerce some gay guys into straight type activities just to get a semblance of acceptance.

    I think the true test of the ex-gay movement would be, remove the prison walls, the straight jacket, and see what happens. Every “ex-gay” should ask, “if I had permission to be gay, would I fight it?”

  6. boredbeyondbelief on April 16, 2008 at 2:49 am Reply

    Dear God in heaven, I just realized this was cross-posted on Pam’s House Blend. Will your efforts at self-promotion never cease?

    And how many times must I tell you to hold the lettuce every time I see you?

    Did I tell you I love you (again) yet?

  7. Anonymous on April 16, 2008 at 10:45 pm Reply

    Petersen,

    Perhaps alongside your own experience and emergence, as powerful and important as they are, is the pursuit of a loving God who transcends the sorry mess of rules and religion that those in his name perpetuate.

    As a person of Christian faith, your post causes me to weep in repentance on behalf of the people of God who can seem to be driven by fear rather than freedom.

    Even for those of us who have experienced our own hurt and harm at the hands of Christians, if we name the name of Jesus, we somehow join in the repentance as we cry out, “Maranatha!” Lord come quickly – deliver us from others,ourselves and the mess we make.

    Not that I’m trying to sound the “total depravity” trumpet per sae, but rather perhaps struggle and stumble to articulate the humility which, in itself, brings us to our knees in repentance, worship, and fervent hope for God to fully restore all that is perfect and good.

    For the ways you have emerged to experience restoration in your relationship with God and to know his love – I am deeply grateful and rejoice with you.

  8. Jennifer on April 17, 2008 at 1:19 am Reply

    Shalom,

    I appreciate what you are doing Peterson. I want to suggest that the LWO conferences feel loving because of the lack of biblical scholarship many Christians, hetero and non-hetero, all prey to. The vulnerability and trust given to those espousing a “strong hold and conviction on the truth” does not feel harmful. What is harmful are the messages that God does not create some of is children to be non-heterosexual, as if we as human beings can know the mind of God. Also, the group Homosexuals Anonymous teaches to be non-heterosexual, GLBT, is to be in a process addiction. So if you are in an ex gay program and have a slip in sobriety (or the natural God designed attraction for a person based on love that happens to be of the same gender), then an ex gay person has permission to act out with the future victim because after they act out with them sexually, the discard them as if they were merely a chemical substance interfering with their connection with God. I believe those who are survivors of sexual abuse and GLBT are the ones who remain loyal in ex gay ministries for the structure, rules, and sense of safe family they provide.

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