Many lesbian, gay and bisexual folks live with internalized homophobia. We grow up in a society that insists that heterosexuality is the approved norm, and anything other than it is not only “less than” but actually a perversion. Even when we did not hear bad things said about gays, lesbians and bisexuals, we have almost exclusively heard good things about heterosexuals while virtually nothing positive about people not heterosexual. We experienced heterosexual lives, loves, and desires prominently celebrated in pop songs, romantic comedies, religious services and billions of images. We got the message that non-heterosexuals were not fully human.
I do not understand why the weight of heterosexism and homophobia affects some people more than others. Some of us actually have taken an aggressive stance to rid ourselves of our same-sex attractions and gender differences. We went to war with a part of ourselves. We called that part of ourselves Our Enemy. We demeaned it, hated it and resolved to destroy it.
For me I turned to the ex-gay movement as well as the conservative Church for the arsenal I needed to wage this war against my gay orientation and my less than masculine presentation. I reveled in the warfare analogies found in Paul’s epistles. I allowed myself to believe that I wrestled not against flesh and blood but actual spiritual principalities and powers who fought over my very soul. Seeing myself in the midst of a colossal cosmic struggle for my salvation and sanctification filled me with holy purpose and an inflated sense of self.
In reality I did wrestle against flesh and blood, my very own. I bullied God and demanded that God drive his sword into my being to sever me from my own flesh and blood, to execute a violent surgery on my personality.
Not too long ago I spoke with an ex-gay survivor who grapples to understand the difficulties in his life and why it remains so hard for him to move beyond his ex-gay experiences. He wonders why it cannot be a simple recovery without all the pain and difficulty he suffers.
After we go to war against ourselves, we find ourselves in the midst of the carnage. We sliced up our hearts. We slandered ourselves daily and did all manner of cruelty to ourselves. Aided and abetted by an anti-gay Church and world, we can now find our souls sliced and diced and in bleeding tatters.
I went to war against myself. Actually I joined someone else’s war, recruited to drive out a part of myself even though that part of me did nothing wrong. After I stopped the battle, I assessed the ruin. I remember the first few years before I began to process my ex-gay experiences and the damage they brought to my life. I felt angry and bitter, cheated and deceived while still battered by daily onslaughts of guilt and doubt and fear. No wonder it took me nearly 10 years to begin to feel good about myself again.
Bob Loos, an out gay man and licensed therapist, attended some of our ex-gay survivor activities we recently held in Memphis. After being among some survivors Bob wrote,
My immediate impression of the survivors I met was that they are at once happy and injured, vigorous and in pain, empathic and seeking strength, and perhaps most of all, capable of loving and deserving utmost love.
He touches on the complexity that many of feel as we face the reality of our pasts and begin to undo the damage. I feel hope that we find clarity and recovery, but I do not doubt that the work can be a chore. It would be easier to stuff our ex-gay pasts in our now abandoned closets. Easier but not helpful long term.
I spent nearly 20 years in pursuit of a fantasy. I coveted my straight neighbor’s life. I have long forgiven myself for the missteps I took and completely understand why I did what I did growing up in the US when I did. I have begun to forgive those people who promoted and provided a false and faulty product.
I do not desire revenge, rather, I long to see ex-gay providers take a fearless and thorough look at their practices and the lives negatively affected by them. It is not enough that they meant well, which I know some of them believe to be true and may cling to as an amulet to ward off reality.
Society provided gay, lesbian and bisexual people (and transgender folks as well) with negative messages about ourselves, messages that some of us ingested and turned inward. The Ex-Gay Movement then provided us with the tools and weapons to go to war against ourselves.
The vast majority of people who have tried the ex-gay way discovered that it was not possible or healthy. Now in our post-ex-gay lives, post-war, we do the hard work to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Fortunately we do not have to do it alone.