What I’m about to share with you only a handful of people know.
There are lots of reasons for my secrecy. Shame and fear of rejection, initially. But oddly enough, the main reason the last several years has been because I’m a journalist. The media is not supposed to have a bias. As if! But because all of us – journalists included – are the sum of our experiences, a journalist pretending not to have a bias is someone who hides it. And we all do it.
So, charging right ahead…
I am an ex, ex-gay. Or, in Spanish, a Dos Equis – my beer of choice. An ex, ex-gay is someone who, unsuccessfully, goes through what is called reparative or conversion therapy, an unscientific program that emerged in the ‘70s geared toward making gays straight.
I say “unscientific,” not as a slam. It’s not science because it is religiously based.
Gay people are always curious about “the program.” Maybe it’s because, living in Palm Springs, so few have actually done it.”
Essentially, becoming straight involved a lot of white knuckling. “Faking it ‘til you make it,” was the expression we commonly used in the program, the idea being that if you make choices consistently and long enough your emotions will catch up, eventually. Or act straight and you’ll become straight, not to put too fine a point on it.
The process also involved a lot of counseling and prayer and – at least in my case – an exorcism, which sounds more salacious than it felt at the time because I was a true believer. I really was. I desperately wanted it to work. I wanted to be acceptable to God. I wanted to be normal.
British research psychologist and theologian Elizabeth Moberly, whom I’ve met, has greatly influenced how the modern Church ministers to gays.
Moberly believes gays have sexualized a very real need to fix a broken relationship they have with their same-sex parent. Said another way, lesbians have a shitty relationship with their mothers and that’s why they are attracted to women. Same-sex relationships for Moberly aren’t the problem, they’re the solution. Unless of course they are the problem!
It is interesting to note that the basis for reparative therapy is that homosexuality is a choice. Gays choose to be gay. All they have to do is chose not to be. If it sounds overly simple it’s because it is. That’s not to say that trying to be something you’re not is easy. It isn’t.
Moberly’s theory, though, subtly blames parents.
In essence, you’re child is gay, parents, because you’re overbearing or controlling or otherwise emotionally unavailable. But the truth is we’re all broken. No one, no life event makes someone gay. And this, I believe, is more in keeping with the idea of free will, the basis for Christian thought.
The argument has been boiled down to this: choice or no choice.
The Church wants to say homosexuality is a choice (although the teaching on this is shifting). And gay rights activists want to say it’s inherent. I believe it’s both. Yes gays are born gay. And yes being in a gay relationship is a choice.
Straights don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll choose to be attracted to the opposite sex.” They just are. It’s the same for gays. We don’t choose this, but we do choose our relationships.
When I first went through ex-gay ministry in the ‘90s they were teaching that God could totally transform gays, from the inside out. I remember an effeminate Sy Rogers, then executive director of Exodus International, saying he was “Joe Jock compared to how he used to be.” The implication for me – a tomboy frequently mistaken for a boy – was that God could make me girly. And God did, if dressing the part was the point. But for all the energy I put into wearing makeup and selecting clothes from the women’s department, it did nothing to change the inside. I still struggled with same-sex attraction.
In fact, a marriage and living as a straight woman for 15 years did nothing to diminish those attractions. I lived in constant fear. And all my choices to do the “normal” thing, to do the acceptable thing did not change my feelings.
In 2006, Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out conference came to the Palm Springs area and I had an opportunity to interview Alan Chambers, the executive director of Exodus International, a worldwide network of more than 350 ministries that promote reparative therapy.
This is Palm Springs, the gay Mecca. Of course I had to ask him about the brewing controversy and the gay protesters. But I also had a personal question. At the time I had just started the long-term, same-sex relationship I am in now and I was struggling to reconcile the religious dogma of my youth with my faith.
Fifteen years living the straight life, I was the success story. Only I wasn’t.
So, I asked Chambers – cloaked in the anonymity of being a pesky reporter – a burning question. My burning question. “What about the person who,15 years after going through reparative therapy, still struggles with their sexuality?”
And do you know what he said?
“The struggle may never go away.”
Then the gay person never really changes.
Here is the scripture that condemns gays trying to be straight as well as the reparative therapy pushed often by well-meaning Christians: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)
Change cannot be cosmetic. It has to be in the heart. Reparative therapy didn’t change my heart even though I was highly motivated.
You’ll notice that I’ve written nearly 1,000 words – way over my self-imposed limit of 600 – and I haven’t once uttered the word “sin.” That’s for another day and another blog…
Last week, Dr. Robert Spitzer, who successfully had homosexuality removed as a disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic list and then later trumpeted reparative therapy as a viable “cure,” renounced his famous ex-gay study. His renunciation comes as the California state legislature is considering a bill banning the therapy and a World Health Organization report that called it “a serious threat to the health and well-being – even the lives – of affected people.”
In the last year of my grandmother’s life, Annie and I visited her several times in the hospital. And I swear to you I was constantly coming out to her. She never remembered. She asked at me each visit if I was gay. Here I am coming out again.
Several weeks ago I attended a writer’s seminar with best-selling memoirist Wade Rouse who encouraged the class to write what we’re afraid of. Well Wade, I’ve finally done my homework.