Submission for Bondage Lovers

While active in the conservative church, I learned lots about submission and accountability, a surveillance and monitoring system that rivals that of Homeland Security.

My pastor always kept an eye on his flock, not only for our welfare, but also to gauge our allegiance to him and his church. By being accountable to my pastor, I regularly informed him of my struggles, foibles, sins and doubts. He knew all my business.

At Love in Action (LIA) I learned that submission and accountability are the cornerstones for a successful “ex-gay” life. Each participant in the program was assigned a staff member to whom we privately confessed our daily sins–including masturbation. (When I first entered LIA, we admitted our masturbatory setbacks during the Tuesday night “Rules Rap”, but this stimulated fellow participants leading to yet further masturbation.)

Since we had lived shady gay lives for so long, staff instructed us to be honest and bring our current struggles to the light during our accountability sessions. Initially I felt refreshed and relieved by the freedom of confession. Suddenly I had nothing to hide; I could bring my deepest most shameful secrets and desires to a trusted leader and receive compassion, support, advice–accountability.

Of course this leader had a leader over him to whom he reported not only his shortcomings but also all of mine. Ultimately, I learned that in the “ex-gay” movement, honesty is not the best policy. After two years of intensive dehomosexualization, I was expected to be better–less gay, less attracted to men, more in control of my urges. In some ways I was, but my carefully stitched together “ex-gay” existence barely held together no matter how much I trusted in the Lord and my spiritual leaders.

I confessed one sin too many, and I was ratted out. The chain of command issued a directive to cut me loose before I unraveled in front of everyone.

Many “ex-gay” leaders and workers, often the products of “ex-gay” programs themselves, live under this kind of constant surveillance. They carefully confess their sins one to another in an elaborate code, with the fear that the powers that be will one day find them out. Isolated in a climate of cover-up, surrounded by operatives who can turn them in, these “ex-gay” leaders fight the good fight desperate to share their struggles and questions, but terrified at the consequences.

With a word, they can be cast out of their positions, lose their most intimate relationships and their church membership only to then become prey to a gay media who often ruthlessly dives on the fallen then picks the “ex-gay” bones clean as they hold the fallen up to the spotlight.

Sometimes I think that “ex-gay” leaders must be the loneliest people on earth.

This post has 15 Comments

  1. Boo on November 17, 2005 at 4:09 pm Reply

    Sounds like the “self-criticisms” Chairman Mao was so fond of.

  2. Christine on November 17, 2005 at 6:25 pm Reply

    Wow. This made me incredibly sad. Sad for folks caught up in this (who might not even realize, while in the middle of it, how sad it really is). But sad also for those of us who have lived this and are trying to come out the other side.

    I think that honesty in relationships is good, and honesty about hopes, dreams, failures and so on is good with trusted friends, but there’s something very different about the accountability/submission model as is played out in many ex-gay groups.

  3. mudd on November 17, 2005 at 8:20 pm Reply

    What you describe is almost Orwellian. In 1984 everyone lived in fear of being spotted. The risk came from the ever-present cameras, fellow travellers, internal spies, etc. You describe a same situation. Other clients could expose you. Your counselors (‘outer party members’) could report you to their superiors (‘inner party’) while still trying to protect their own interests and secrets. The overt goal leading you to love Christ (BB).

    The end result though is a society fearful to express any independent thought or initiative–a society of automatons.

  4. Jennifer on November 18, 2005 at 3:24 am Reply

    It sounds kind of like being under surveillance by the CIA or FBI, having someone watching your every action, and not being able and allowed to do things that you would ordinarily do on a regular basis. Freaky.

  5. Bob Painter on November 18, 2005 at 4:14 pm Reply

    Well written, Peterson…

    I am reminded of a friend of mine who is a former LiA client (as I am) who almost confessed too much. He was given an ultimatium after his last confession to staff about an area in which he struggled: fall again, and you will be kicked out of the program.

    After two years of hard work, he determined not to share any other pitfalls with staff. The isolation from honesty caused many more falls, but he graduated from the program a few months later on the staff’s good side.

    Some may say he graduated under false pretenses. I say he only did what he had to do to survive. One more confession would have wiped out his entire reason for moving to Memphis as well as all that he had accomplished since arriving–leaving him empty and alone. He decided rather to play the cards staff dealt him.

    I can’t recall not confessing my stuff to staff, and the only consequence of my “righteousness” was to become a cocky graduate. But I suppose “healthy” spiritual pride and dominance over those less holy than me aren’t really sins…All I can say is that I was indoctrinated by the best…

  6. Ann on November 18, 2005 at 10:33 pm Reply

    I so appreciate your awarenesses about those in ex-gay leadership as well as most anyone in conservative evangelical circles who “struggles,” questions or steps out of line.

    Sincere wrestling, doubts (spiritual fertilizer), paradox, and healthy resistance are often pegged as back-sliding, lack of faith or outright rebellion. That leaves little room for vulnerability and openness. Why would anyone risk it? Just look through recent history where someone dared to be honest. The names Tony Campolo, Clark Pinnock, Philip Yancey, Brennan Manning, and most recently, Mercer University come to mind. As one who has slowly turned on the spit of conversative evangelical fire, there’s much to be said for keeping one’s thoughts to oneself.

    When I first started attending a “welcoming and affirming” American Baptist church, I was wondering. Wondering shouldn’t I be attending such a church since coming to the conclusion that the church was to be a place of open doors. Still I circled the parking lot twice that first morning before I could screw-up the courage to stop. I was filled with fear. What if I was wrong? Was I headed down the road to ruin or worse, liberalism? At some point, I sensed God or hoped it was God telling me I needed to put up or shut up. So I went in wondering.

    Like Peterson, I was ratted out. (I did know that it was best not be be too open about one’s wonderings.) I was accused of wandering. Wandering from the faith, the truth, submission and wandering into godlessness, deception and sin… I was accused of sleeping with a whole host of women, much to my great surprise and I imagine theirs as well. My salvation was questioned, my testimony removed from LiA’s website, and my God-given calling and prophetic voice “withdrawn” according to leadership. Someone even pointedly asked why I didn’t just move to San Francisco.

    Now at that time, I had drawn no conclusions about homosexuality and sin, s/s relationships, gay marriage, gay (or even women) ordination, or much of anything for that matter. Yet no one is going to ask you if that’s “your final answer” because you had already stepped in it by asking the wrong questions. That there would be a cost for questioning, I expected. The violence of the reaction suprised me. It shouldn’t have though. A hit dog always yelps the loudest and bites the hardest.

    It makes for quite the conundrum for ex-gay leadership and I suspect, many a conservative evangelical, where accountabilty, submission to authority, and obedience are heralded. “What if I stumble…what if I fall…what if I make a fool of us” go the lyrics of an old DC Talk song. Often it played through my head in those days. It felt as though a lot rested on my shoulders and yet, I believed there was no one with whom I could be fully honest. Isolation. While I didn’t “fall” or even really struggle sexually then, it was only because I evolved into “The Ice Princess.” She was affirmed, but she could never risk really being known by or knowing anyone. She mostly conformed, gave the right answers and passed the litmus test. She did, however, struggle with still feeling second class, as a woman and an ex-gay Christian. You in the big house, but you still a slave. And she struggled with not being truly herself (whoever that was) and no one really caring as long I wasn’t a lesbian.

    Isolation sets one up for repeated cycles of “failure” and repentance, hypocrisy, double lives, shame and just an overall feeling of unnamed guilt. Truly I fear some in ex-gay leadership maybe the loneliest ones of all. Those same leaders might ask, as one woman did, “what if you are wrong?” At this time, I would answer them as I answered her. I may be, but I am following the Shema…the Summary of the Whole Law, not perfectly, but as best I can discern God’s leading me.

  7. Robert on November 18, 2005 at 10:53 pm Reply

    This is not meant to be facetious, but Mr. Toscano’s account of life in the Outer Party, and observations of the Inner Party’s behavior, reminds me of a fictional cult described in the F. Paul Wilson novel “Crisscross”.

    At the very highest levels, cult members allegedly acquired near-supernatural powers (which they were forbidden to demonstrate in front of others). UNLESS, of course, they hadn’t really acquired the spiritual gifts their rank would indicate, in which case they were subject to losing their powerful positions.

    The cult leader had written this into the holy book, knowing quite well that he’d wind up with henchmen motivated by absolute terror that others would discover that they weren’t really ‘of the elite’ after all. They’d do anything to maintain the illusion, knowing that they were colossal frauds but not realizing that everyone else was as well.

  8. Willie Hewes on November 19, 2005 at 9:51 am Reply

    Wow, great stuff, in the post and in the comments.

    I’ve long wondered, being no stranger to submission in the deviant/unGodly/perverted sense, why LiA would choose that word as one of their ‘themes’. I guess I understand better now. Thanks, Peterson.

    I can’t help but frown at the kind of submission described here. Submission in the context of a sexual game is based on trust; trust that the person you’re submitting to won’t hurt you, will stop when you tell them to, and certainly won’t rat you out!

    This chain of submission and “accountability” (I knew there was something sinister about that word) seems based on a need to control rather than freely offered trust. The idea that the people living in this submission can be cut loose simply for failing is disturbing to me.

    When you allow someone to submit to you you take on responsibility for them. You are supposed to take care of them, not drop them like a hot potato when the game doesn’t play out the way you planned it. To cut someone loose when they are already made vulnerable because they have failed to lead up to their leader’s expectations is so wrong, it’s shocking.

    I don’t know much about God, but I can’t believe a benevolent being would want that, or even want to put up with it.

    Is that how God does things, too? If those who submitted to him don’t do well enough, do they believe he just drops them?

    Wait… that’s it, isn’t it? I guess they do believe that. How else could they do it themselves? So sad…

  9. Brad on November 19, 2005 at 8:07 pm Reply

    Wow, great post and comments!

    I once had an “accountability partner” and told him that I was gay. He never spoke to me again.

    I currently have friends who praise the benefits of accountability groups, and I actually thought about joining a Wednesday night “mens group” next semester. I’m so glad that I read this post first.

  10. Bob Painter on November 20, 2005 at 5:18 am Reply

    fuelguysd,

    Not all accountability is wrong. (Peterson still has an accountability group I believe…) I think you have to ask yourself why it is you are doing what you’re doing, do you believe strongly that the good of accountability outweighs the bad of your struggles, and most importantly do you trust your accountability partners?

    I tried shortly after leaving LiA to start a men’s accountability group at my church. To distance myself from other ex-gays and embrace my new “heterosexuality,” I chose four heterosexual guys who knew why I had moved to Memphis.

    Each man in my group agreed that it was wrong for me to masturbate…because my fantasies involved other men.

    However, one man had an affair at work. (This became a very ugly confrontation from the rest of us toward him.)

    Another man purchased porn to stimulate his sex life. (It was merely for “educational purposes” according to him.)

    Still another man (my Sunday school teacher at the time) would masturbate when away from home (he was an airline pilot) while he thought of his wife. This was okay because she was the center of his fantasy.

    And the final man had no sex with his wife because she wasn’t interested in his self-focused ram-it-in, get-it-off, go-to-sleep attitude toward sex. So he masturbated because he wasn’t getting any, but that was okay, too.

    So I became the group scapegoat. Their sexual frustrations–because the were heterosexual in nature–were less wicked than mine and therefore much more easily rationalized.

    Regarding another accountability situation earlier in my life, I had a neighbor who discovered I was gay. (I had shared my homosexuality with a girlfriend who attended his church and asked prayer in a small group for me and my struggle. He happened to be in that group.)

    He wanted to help. Having long been a “Promise Keeper” and the leader of a Promise Keeper’s small men’s accountability group, he knew how to love me through my struggles.

    This included offering to buy me a “Playgirl” magazine and discussing his sexual encounters with other men in his accountability group…

    Be careful…

  11. Bob Painter on November 20, 2005 at 5:22 am Reply

    And, Ann…

    BRAVO!!! I remember the night at Starbuck’s that you shared some of the information you shared in this blog, and I wished others could hear your heart and your comments.

    Thanks for exhibiting great courage in sharing these experiences. No one can really know the depths of LiA’s core like those of us who have been there and survived to tell their tales.

  12. Peterson Toscano on November 20, 2005 at 9:10 pm Reply

    Bob P, in regards to “accountability” in my life, you are correct in part. I do meet once every 4-6 weeks with three members of my Quaker meeting. They form my support committee.

    Bill and Bobbie are a heterosexual couple in their 70’s with a gay son. John, is a 40 year old heterosexual man who does lots of peace activism. (I don’t know why I’m giving you their “stats”; besides there is SO MUCH MORE to these folks than the labels I just used to describe them).

    As part of Quaker process, people considering a “ministry” can ask for a clearness committee to help gather insight and clarity into the leading one feels. In the past three years I’ve had two different clearness committees to help me figure out what I should do with my Homo No Mo play and with the direction of my activism.

    Once I determined that I needed to go full-time into the work that I do, I asked my meeting to help me form a support committee.

    Their role is to support me (emotionally, spiritually and even in some ways practically) in the work I do. I submit a written report to them a few days before we meet to let them know how things are going, what is in the works and any issues I would like to discuss.

    Unlike the accountability relationships I’ve had in the past, my support group has no agenda except to help me better understand my role in the world and to help me figure out what I need and how to get it. They ask me about my health, family, relationships, needs for when I travel, concerns, etc. They don’t really offer advice; rather they are careful listeners who help me hear what is going on inside of me and around me.

    Also, unlike other accountability I’ve had, there is no hierarchy. They do not “report” to anyone about our meetings. It is just a gathering of Friends who worship together and spend time focusing on my life and work. Really it is a very affirming supportive time. It helps me to not feel alone in the work I do as they give me an opportunity to process my performances, concerns and dreams.

  13. Bill Ware on November 21, 2005 at 9:40 pm Reply

    ***ALERT***

    Ex-gay ATTACK. I need everyone’s help over at Family Scholar’s Blog start at post #188 ( November 21st, 2005 at 3:47 pm ).

    Any assistance would be appreciated.

  14. Bruce Garrett on November 22, 2005 at 3:09 am Reply

    He was given an ultimatium after his last confession to staff about an area in which he struggled: fall again, and you will be kicked out of the program.

    Let me ask a rhetorical question here: Does he get his money back then?

    See…if they’re about Helping people overcome their homosexuality, then where’s the friggin’ compassion when somebody ‘falls’ back into it? Where’s the ‘okay…let’s pick them back up again, and get them back on track again’ mentality? I mean…if somebody is still being open and honest about their struggles, and I was really about helping them, then I’d take that continuing openness and honesty as a sign they were still trying, and still wanted help.

    Forgive my reflexes here…I haven’t been through what most of you have…but this strikes me as just further evidence that they’re really not about helping people to actually change, in the sense of changing desires, or even learning how to manage them. You can’t impose this kind of Tell Us What We Want To Hear regimen on someone without knowing, at least at some level, that you’re more concerned about the appearance of change, then actual change. Isn’t it staringly obvious that you don’t make people afraid to be honest with you, unless you really don’t care if they’re honest or not, so long as they keep up an appearance?

    Now I am not saying here that there is anything wrong with being a homosexual, or being in love, body and soul with a same sex lover. I don’t believe that. I reject the idea that there is any sin to same sex love, and I don’t buy into any of the anti-gay rhetoric I hear from the ex-gay ministries. But doctors don’t throw people out the door if they have a relapse. And preachers, actual men and women of the pulpit, don’t turn their backs on the sinful, and especially not the ones asking for help.

    So how do these groups do that? I don’t think you can, unless you really don’t care about all that. It isn’t about loving God, it isn’t about what’s in your heart, it’s not even about homosexuality, so much as it’s about allegiance to the tribe. Are you with us, or against us?

  15. Ann on November 23, 2005 at 8:38 pm Reply

    Bruce-

    You have captured well the craziness of it all. It’s a Frankenstein of philosopy and methodology. An integration of bad theology and hodge-podge psychology gone wrong. So no one could ever ask for their money back b/c they are never wrong. If it doesn’t work…it’s my fault. I wasn’t working my program. They won’t work harder than me. I’ve gone back to addictive patterns. (psych reasoning). I haven’t enough faith. I’m running from God. I am in rebellion. I just want my own way (theo reasoning).

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