In September I met Drew, a fellow ex-gay survivor attending the progressive seminary where I performed my transgender Bible play. Like me, Drew once enrolled himself into the notorious ex-gay residential program Love in Action (LIA.) What I call the Homo No Mo Halfway House–gay rehab where gays try to get straightened out in Jesus’ name.
Drew attended the program for a time in the late 1980’s when it was housed outside of San Francisco while I spent two years in the program a decade later under a harsher regime in LIA’s new home in Memphis, TN.
As we spoke about our experiences, Drew insisted that his time was far less severe than what I went through. Compared to the rules and madness of the Memphis-based LIA, his was a holiday camp of sorts. At one point in the conversation Drew almost seem to defend the LIA program and staff even though he had since come out gay. I have seen some ex-gay survivors side with ex-gay programs at times when they feel that the media, activists, and other ex-ex-gays paint a dishonest portrait of the programs.
I understand that no two ex-gay programs are alike. One may advocate “casting out homosexual demons” while another would NEVER condone an exorcism and instead uses a bastardized version of the 12-Steps in hopes of curbing the gayness in clients. The methods may differ, but the primary beliefs are the same–they insist and infer that it is wrong to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and you must annihilate your sexual orientation, queer identity, and gender differences.
Something else these programs have in come is the potential harm they bring to their clients. Facing that we were harmed and still may suffer from the damage is difficult and painful. It is an acknowledgment of abuse for some of us.
Drew purchased a copy of my DVD Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, a one-person 90 minute comic exposé of my time in LIA including scenes I reenact of my mom and dad at the now infamous Family and Friends Weekends. (You can see a trailer here)
Yesterday Drew posted a review of my play over on a Facebook note which immediately caught the eye of a famous ex-gay who was once a poster child of the movement until he was caught hanging out at a Washington, DC gay bar. First here is some of Drew’s review:
I watched Peterson Toscano’s Doin’ Time at the Homo Nomo Halfway House tonight. It was difficult to watch, challenging and delightful and heart-rending all at the same time. And although it wasn’t “totally” reflective of “my own” personal experience of Love in Action (mine seemed to be a much “kinder” and “gentler” version when it was in San Rafael, CA under the auspices of Frank Worthen and supported by a small church called the Open Door in comparison and before the ministry was absorbed into a mega-church with lots of fundamentalist money), it really opened my eyes to what the ex-gay movement turned into after I was outcast in the late 80’s/early 90’s, put God on the shelf and swore like Norma Desmond that “if I was going to be a homosexual, then by God, I was going to be a HEALTHY homosexual” (although at the times in my heart I still wondered if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms).
Looking back, and due to Peterson’s marvelously crafted work, I can now see just what kind of bad fruit the seeds of an idea that we witnessed planted in our time (Love in Action 1988) manifested into a ravenous beast sucking the life and joy out of, and even causing the deaths of many of, my brothers and sisters.
As Peterson states at the end of the DVD, our stories need to be told and we need spaces, opportunities and platforms to tell them.My prayer tonight is that God would liberate all those who toil under the weight of an oppressive theology that denies them the happiness of an abundant and fulfilling life. Bring them freedom in all aspects of their humanity and in every act and expression of their divinity. May we find ourselves becoming more and more ourselves and more fully responsive to the God within as S/He is manifest. And may we resoundingly give voice to the call of that Spirit to once again return to the garden; naked and unashamed…After all…We are the only expressions of God upon this earth.
Thank you Peterson for having the courage to tell your story.
I am so glad I decided to use art and comedy to tell my story. Good art can move people in so many different ways.
Within the hour a well-known ex-gay chimed in. He has long since lost his position as a national spokesperson, but he comments from time to time about the issue. I was shocked by his comment:
WOW….I had no idea you felt that way, Drew. It’s ironic how you and I went through the exact same program, the same year, led by the same people and our impressions and outcomes ended up so differently. I am happy, content with my life and choices, marriage of almost 20 years, three sons, and a life that is fulfilling and at peace.
I reeled at the hubris and insensitivity of his statement. In response I wrote:
WOW, you sound like the skeptical sibling when a brother or sister admits that a parent had been abusing them throughout childhood. “But I grew up in the exact same home as you?! Look, I turned out okay, and you really need to not be …so hard on dad.” I am sure you are aware that the vast majority of people who attended LIA ultimately came out gay. Many of these had to work hard to recover from the damage done. I will not invalidate your happiness. If you are genuinely happy lving a straight life, great for you. But for the majority of us, such a life was not possible or healthy. The theories and teachings of Exodus programs caused many of us psychological, emotional, and spiritual harm (as well as tampered with our relationships, development, and finances.) My story should not invalidate yours. Neither should you experience invalidate the experiences of the majority of people who claim ex-gay treatment caused more harm than good.
To help deepen the conversation, Anthony Venn-Brown, the excellent LGBTQ rights activist and ex-gay survivor from Australia suggested the famous ex-gay take a look at Anthony’s article about Situational Heterosexuality, which includes a section about homosexuals in heterosexual marriages.
There is lots of news going on right now about the Ex-Gay Movement including a petition for Apple to dump an Exodus International iphone app. Lots of people get confused about the Ex-Gay Movement, and ex-gay leaders do not help. They massage their message for the public so they almost sound like they are doing gays a favor. But they are not. They insist that heterosexuals and heterosexuality are superior to anything else. I argue that they are straight supremacists. And sadly their efforts to “help struggling homosexuals” has mostly hurt us.
Need to laugh? Need to cry? Need to better understand the ex-gay world? Check out Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House for yourself.