Thursday, August 17, 2006

A glossary of ex-gay terminology

Spending the last few days perusing the NARTH and Exodus International websites has sure made me dizzy with their bizarre use of the English language. I learned that as long as you keep in mind that their definition of certain terms and phrases don’t necessarily line up with the way the rest of the human population uses them, you have a better chance of understanding what they’re trying to say. Here’s a short glossary I’ve come up with so far:


“Gay” by their definition is usually someone who lives a lifestyle of having same-sex sexual partners, quite often through anonymous sexual encounters and one-night stands, risking disease and living in guilt and fear. This definition is really a capitulation to a certain population of straight people who still think the claim that “homosexuality isn’t a choice” is just a lie being promoted by the liberal media to justify sin. Therefore, “ex-gay” doesn’t refer to someone who is constitutionally homosexual who has now become constitutionally heterosexual in their sexual orientation. Rather “ex-gay” means you have chosen to reject a rebellious, promiscuous lifestyle and are now seeking to live according to clean, wholesome family values.

More recently, ex-gays have tried to respond to the criticism that their definition of “gay” is quickly being relegated to the Stone Age Edition of the Webster’s Dictionary. So quite often you see testimonies of people who try to make it clear they never chose to be homosexual, or sometimes from people who haven’t had actual homosexual sexual encounters, but have only gone as far as indulging in gay porn, mingling in gay society, or exploring the idea of accepting their homosexuality as a part of themselves. But even then they embrace the term “ex-gay” because they have chosen to reject going down a path that might eventually lead to the “gay lifestyle” (i.e., having sex). Hence, ex-gays have accommodated the idea that being “gay” doesn’t necessarily mean that you have taken the plunge into all kinds of gay sex, but they still want to justify holding on to the “ex” part by saying that they are still making a choice to reject their homosexuality. Keeping the words “ex” and “choice” in place seems to be the most essential part of the whole deal, probably because those are the elements that many straights find most reassuring.

“Homosexuals can change”

Here’s the best way I can explain it. It’s kind of like when President Bush (and yes, I did vote for him in 2004 in case you’re wondering) goes around saying, “We do not torture.” The context in which he makes this statement is whether the abuses at Abu Graib were an anomaly or whether this is our government’s policy toward suspected Islamic terrorists--which is why his assertion initially sounded so reassuring. But once evidence began to surface that the U.S. government does sanction the use of torture, you realize that not only is there a big “dot-dot-dot” after the President’s statement (“We do not torture . . . if you define ‘torture’ in the narrowest possible terms”), but he uses the context in which he makes this assertion to make it sound like he means one thing, when he really means another.

So here. When NARTH or Exodus International makes the assertion that “homosexuals can change” it is done in a certain context. NARTH’s motto is “Helping clients bring their desires and behaviors into harmony with their values.” The word “values” implies “family values” of course. People's desire for marriage, kids . . . heterosexuality. Exodus International’s motto is “Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” If Jesus has the power to free you from homosexuality as he freed blind men from their blindness and lepers from their leprosy, what does that mean except that he can make you well again, “normal” again? That he can make you heterosexual?

If you’re like most people who surf onto these websites, whether gay or straight, you won’t bother to look more deeply and read more critically because you are so desperately searching for a quick-fix answer either for yourself or for a loved one. You will not investigate carefully whether the testimonies that appear on the site claim that people have actually become heterosexuals. As with Bush’s torture statement, the claim that “homosexuals can change” cuts off at the verb, stopping short of further explanation in a "dot-dot-dot" so that the statement can be both truthful in isolation yet misleading in its context. “Homosexuals can change . . . their behavior, their choices, and the labels they use to define themselves.” But they never said homosexuals can change into heterosexuals.


Saying you are now “married” is basically a short-hand way of saying “heterosexuality has been achieved,” without having to actually say that heterosexuality has been achieved because it probably hasn’t. All that has been achieved is a heterosexual lifestyle. And why not? If being ex-gay simply means leaving behind the gay lifestyle, for all practical purposes you are straight if you’ve embraced the straight lifestyle. Marriage is the ultimate badge of straightness, and as long as you are getting with the program of the wedding bells, the three beautiful kids, and the four-bedroom house in the suburbs, nobody cares about ongoing issues of sexual orientation, if such an issue can even be acknowledged.


This term was a new one for me, used by Joseph Nicolosi in the Gordon Opp interview. Apparently it is a term Nicolosi encourages ex-gays to use to refer to heterosexuals who have never struggled with homosexual inclinations. See, you don’t want to refer to them as “straights,” because ex-gays are supposed to be straight too, or at least perpetually on their way to straightdom, and so to call those guys “straights” would make it sound like you’re not straight, and you wouldn’t want to imply that you’re not straight, even though you couldn’t truthfully call yourself straight, but you could call yourself ex-gay which is close to implying that you are straight without having to actually say that you are. So you call them “ever-straights” because that’s a way of saying you’re kinda straight too (you’re on the way). It’s just that relative to their “ever-straightness” you’re just someone who “hasn’t-always-been-straight.” I hope that clears that up.