Trapped in the Ex-Gay Board Game

Hello, my name is Vlad. I have been in this Homo No Mo Halfway House for 27 days. Here in Homo No Mo Halfway House we have five phases, we do 12 Steps and there are approximately 275 rules. First I tell you about the phases. When we move from phase to phase, this is called a “Phase Bump,” and technically only the staff is allowed to bump you.

-Excerpt from Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House

At the Love in Action residential program that I attended for two years the staff led participants through a game know as The Five Phases and The 12 Steps. Participants preoccupied themselves with moving up (and down) artificial gradations like a twisted version of Chutes and Ladders.

  • In Phase One the staff forced participants to look at themselves in order to acknowledge they had a problem, in fact that we were a problem— sinful, addicted, and broken.
  • In Phase Two the focus turned to God, the ultimate perfection and means of escape.
  • Phase Three turned the spotlight on the family where we created new mythologies about our childhood and family dynamics to fit in with the program theories about dysfunctional families and the developmental model.
  • In Phase Four we deconstructed former friendships rebranding them as unhealthy, emotionally dependent, and sick with the charge to develop new, healthy relationships with heterosexual mentors from the church.
  • Finally, we moved to the Fifth Phase where we began to transition into the world outside the program.

While slowly working through the phases, the staff also pushed us through an intensive 12-Step program with the belief that our desires for people of the same sex had to be wrong, sinful and addictive. We needed to account for every past sexual encounter and reframe them to fit in with the addiction model the staff gave us. Through our weekly “Moral Inventories” we wrote about and discussed former sexual experiences reworking them into a clinical narrative designed to reinforce the construct provided by the staff. Instead of a way of expressing love or just being horny, we had to restate our motives for sex so that they instead sprung from our own emotional, psychological or spiritual illnesses.

The Steps, the Phases, and the hundreds of written moral inventories required many hours of concentration and will power. The effort distracted me from the reality that “change” was not possible and was not happening, except for the negative change leading to depression, hopelessness and faithlessness. Instead advancement through the steps and our celebrated “Phase bumps” (which took on the quality of a some sort of tribal celebration with clanging of pots and pounding on the walls) gave the illusion that we experienced actual movement and growth.

Whenever we faltered in our resolve to sublimate our sexual desires and gay identity, the staff and fellow participants urged us to work the program! Instead of questioning the failure or the methods, the staff compelled us to dive into the “therapy” with greater effort and intensity. Whenever progress in the Steps or Phases, the staff lessened some of the many restrictions placed on our time and activities thus giving a false sense of autonomy. Once we failed again to meet program expectations, the staff returned us to an earlier Phase slapping on us restrictions and sanctions on free-time and hard-won privileges.

At times it felt like I lived in an elaborate board game where I got to move three spaces forward only to find that I somehow landed back in jail. I spent so much time and energy on the structure of the program and the hurdles I had to vault that I had little left to question just how ineffective the process proved. We labored towards the goal of graduation when we would stand before the community affirmed by the staff—victors of the game—examples to others that we could achieve success. Little did I understand just how much they deluded me (and I deluded myself) into believing that program success equaled some sort of real change. And little did I realize the paradox that only in losing the game that they set before us did I actually begin to win in life.

This post has 4 Comments

  1. paul on September 12, 2008 at 8:51 pm Reply

    Wow Peterson,

    I feel like I just took a shower in sandpaper, left with that raw memory of fun ex-gay times.

    Seeing the elaborate game you describe did a great deal to help me stop playing it. Being gays and a Christians who ‘know’ gay is wrong, puts us in a position many Christians never encounter, i.e., beliefs that don’t line up with reality. That’s hard to ignore when that reality is intrinsic to your nature, is a basic need.

    Put simply, elaborate games become necessary to sustain false beliefs about God, in the absence of a God who actually demonstrably supports those beliefs. There’s contradiction in a ‘way’ that preaches about a saviour, but substitutes method for an actual saviour.

  2. Anonymous on September 13, 2008 at 12:51 pm Reply

    This post was really deep and moving. Here we call that game ‘Snakes and Ladders’ not ‘Chutes and ladders’. E

  3. Peterson Toscano on September 13, 2008 at 5:23 pm Reply

    paul, I had a feeling that this post would resonate with your experience. “took a shower in sandpaper” Wow, that says it all.

    E, sounds even more sinister that way.

  4. Claire on September 14, 2008 at 1:37 pm Reply

    This sounds like my experiences with ‘Christian psychotherapy’. The really know hot to include the psycho !!

    I was told that depression was a sin and that if I truly believed, I wouldn’t have depression, God heals all ill, etc., etc. Never asked why I had depression – never bothered to ask if a person who was raped and abused from the age of 6 by two tormenting ‘parent figures’ was LIKELY to turn out ‘normal’ – whatever THAT is! I had to ‘forgive’ my abusers, by an act of will – THEN God would heal me. It took 20+ years, a failed marriage and several suicide attempts before I realised what a load of bullshit THAT was!

    The sad thing is, God really IS great. It’s His people who can be manipulative, abusive, fuck-ups. (Pardon the language).

Leave a Comment