Time to Listen–Time to Speak

As one wise person wrote, there is a time and season for everything. Listening and speaking–they flow in and out of each other, like breathing. There are times when I have to be still and listen to that still small voice within. That voice may bring comfort or guidance or may point out something that is out of whack inside of me that needs to be sorted.

I also have times when I need to sit and listen to others, to those stories that I often do not get to hear in the mainstream media and the queer press. The stories of trans men and women. The stories of Black lesbians. The stories of gay men with physical disabilities. The stories of senior citizens–queer or straight. The horrors of war in Darfur.

As a white gay male in America, I can easily live with a curtain blocking my view of humanity. Distracted by the buzz of American Idol and Anna Nicole Smith and Britney’s meltdown (or not), I can become bloated on non-news leaving me no room for reality.

In speaking with some ex-gay leaders recently, I see the desperate need they have to hear some of our stories. Never once has an ex-gay program I attended ever done any sort of follow-up. I mean I can’t buy a soy latte these days without having to fill out a survey about my coffee experience. Yet folks can spend tens of thousands of dollars on reparative therapy and nothing–no aftercare, no reflections on what worked and what didn’t work.

I think ex-gay leaders can be like folks with lots of credit card debt. The debt exists and it keeps growing, but as long as we keep all the statements separate and never add up all that we really owe, we can ignore reality. We may even be sucked into getting yet another credit card.

But the ex-gay movement needs to take an accounting of its activities. They need to sit and listen to the stories of the majority of people who have been through their programs only to come to the understanding that change is not necessary, particularly in the way it was promised.

They need to hear how many of our lives grew worse as a result of our ex-gay experiences. They need to hear about our faith journeys, our loss of faith communities, our doubts of God and God’s love and the ways that some of us have been able to reclaim a spiritual life and how many have not.

They need to hear about the ways some of us went into the programs sexually naive only to exit armed with far too much information about where sex addicts get their fixes. They need to hear about our earnest desire to do the right thing and the utter discouragement and failure we have often felt after spending all the time and energy to “get right with God”.

They need to hear about the healthy lives we have miraculously been able to create for ourselves, the healthy relationships and new direction, the forgiveness we have been able to extend and the freedoms that we have achieved.

They need to stop listening to their own testimonies and start listening to our stories. And when they refuse to do so, they reveal something that they may not even acknowledge to themselves. That at the end of the day, they care more about issues and their constituents than they care for us.

Jesus made it clear that he cared more about people than about issues, more about relationship than about law.

This post has 9 Comments

  1. Noa Resare on March 5, 2007 at 5:45 pm Reply

    Excellent writing, as always. I really do wish that the communication you’re describing will take place. Soon.

  2. ElliotManning on March 5, 2007 at 6:08 pm Reply

    Yeah. People always say that communication is important — it’s something that I’ve learned through my school GSA and other GLBT community groups. Like Noa, I hope that the communication starts happening.

    You are a wise, wise man, Peterson. Your maturity and simultaneous empowerment (and friendship) never cease to amaze me.

  3. John on March 5, 2007 at 10:51 pm Reply

    Well said!

    I’ve done (some) reading in academic literature, and “exit studies” of ex-gay programs have been written. If you have access to a nearby university library, I encourage you to check out:

    Shidlo A. and Schroeder M. “Changing sexual orientation: A consumers’ report” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2002, 33, 249-259.

    and

    Beckstead A.L. and Morrow S.L. “Mormon clients’ experiences of conversion therapy: The need for a new treatment approach” The Counseling Psychologist, 2004, 32(5), 561-690.

    The first article surveyed 202 individuals, 176 of whom considered themselves conversion therapy “failures” and 26 who considered themselves successes. The second article considered 42 Mormon individuals participated in a rigorous battery of individual interviews and group discussions spanning several years; 20 considered themselves “proponents” of conversion therapy and 22 considered themselves “opponents.” This article (the second one) received much acclaim when it appeared in 2004. Many experts heralded the even-handed approach of the authors that considered the pros and cons of such therapy and identified specific changes that should be made to the programs.

    Keep up the great work.

  4. Peterson Toscano on March 5, 2007 at 11:29 pm Reply

    Thanks Noa & Elliott!

    John, thanks for mentioning these studies. I just read the first study this weekend in prep for the Equality Ride training I led.

    I find it telling that the ex-gay ministries, which are completey unregulated, do not provide their own surveys, particularly Exodus ministries like Love in Action.

    When Jeremy Marks was an ex-gay leader in the UK, he began to pay attention to the on-going struggles of his clients. Eventually he concluded that not only were people not “changing” they actually developed more serious problems than just unwanted same-sex attractions.

    I wonder how much stock ex-gay leaders take in the studies you mention. Instead they seem to have been fixated on the Spitzer study and in interpreting it incorrectly.

  5. alex resare on March 6, 2007 at 2:27 am Reply

    Do they really need to hear all that?

    Maybe if they want to change them selfs but do they even want to do that?

    Do we need them to change? Is it possible to force change to them as they tried to change us?

    Sure telling our stories can change the world but I don’t think we can force anyone to listen to us.

    I think it is risky to tell people what they need to do. It is beautifully written and nice oratory but still risky. And to say what Jesus really meant and that people that don’t agree just needs to listen. Well, I am not really with you on that either. Maybe I am just sensitive to orders right now but I hope there are better ways to help grown people change then to tell them what they need.

    (
    this is said from a man that do not know much at all; don’t listen to me that much. 🙂
    )

  6. nonsequitur on March 6, 2007 at 5:04 am Reply

    The longer that they neglect to face the truth, the more cumulative the weight of these testimonies becomes. Best that they face it now before the weight reaches crushing, destructive proportions, tearing apart the folks who are well-intentioned and of a good heart if not misdirected. There is much attention on the spiritual/mental/emotional damage to the abused, but is not the abuser also in need of repair? The longer that the abusive behavior manifests, the deeper the wound becomes, harder to hide and harder to heal. A bit ironic that this is what we are told about the homosexual lifestyle by these same folks, “The longer you’re in it, the harder it is to break the habit.” Has it not occurred to at least some of them that this may apply more to their own mindset?

  7. nonsequitur on March 6, 2007 at 5:05 am Reply

    errr.. meant to have ‘homosexual lifestyle’ in quotes. I’m a little off today 🙂

  8. Jimbo on March 6, 2007 at 10:08 am Reply

    Good points Peterson.

    One problem has been my reluctance to go back to the ministry I was involved with to tell them how I’m doing now. I guess I just want to put it all behind me, but perhaps I need to overcome that to give them some feedback.

  9. Ally on March 7, 2007 at 12:10 pm Reply

    I think the truth needs to be told. That’s the nature of truth, particularly in light of Jesus’ own identification with truth itself. The question is, “How should it be told? What manner of telling will best allow the truth to accomplish the purpose for which God sent it?” I’m thinking a lot these days about prophetic versus pedagogical/androgogical speaking. I’m sure there are other options here, and I’m also sure that our manner of truth-telling should depend on who we’re telling truth to.

    (Sorry if this is a bit vague and disjointed…I’m strung out from mid-terms right now!)

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