Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ex-gay blogger speaks

Check out these insights from an ex-gay blogger, Disputed Mutability, on "ex-ex-gays" (i.e., ex-gay survivors). She shows that the issues are more complex than what first meets the eye:

It’s been pointed out that vocal exexgay critics of the exgay movement are difficult for exgays to handle because they know what we’re all about. (As opposed to ignorant straights or gays who have never done the ex-thing.) I’d agree with that, but I would point out that that’s a two way street–exexgays have an unusual amount of insight into exgay life and experience; and exgays also have an unusual amount of insight into at least some aspects of exexgay life and experience.

We have both “been there” in a lot of respects. All exexgays by definition were once exgays, but many exgays have also tried the exexgay path as well, at least dabbling in it. (Many exgays are really exexexgays, or exexexexexgays, etc.) Most if not all of the exgays I have known questioned the exgay path and explored their alternatives at some point in their lives. It’s not like it has never occurred to us that we could be doing something different with our lives! :)

I had never before considered how much traffic must be going back and forth between the two groups, but it makes sense to me. I also appreciated the sentiments she expressed here:
. . . I want to do a pair of posts on “Their Pain” and “Our Pain”. You’ll understand better what I’m getting at when you see them, I think. I have struggled as an exgay with how to respond to the pain that exexgays report (i.e., “Their Pain”), as well as with the pain that their choices can create for us (i.e., “Our Pain”). In both posts, I want to focus on my responsibility as an exgay woman to treat exexgays well and respond to them in a way that respects them and glorifies God.

Disputed Mutability recognizes the need for honest, respectful and compassionate dialogue that "glorifies God." It's interesting that she puts it that way. That's because this discussion, if it should take place, will be largely an in-house discussion among Christians. Both ex-gays and ex-ex-gays (many of whom have survived with their faith intact) represent the most conservative Christian segment of the gay community. Or to put it another way, they represent the gay segment of the most conservative Christian communities.

Yes, there are such persons as gay Christians. Unless you acknowledge that basic reality, you can hardly begin to grasp what is taking place between these two groups. You will also miss out on how important it is for the rest of the church to tune into these issues and come to a more enlightened understanding of how to pastor, counsel and minister to homosexual members of our own congregations. Acknowledging the possibility that they might exist is a good first step.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference: final reflections

Some final thoughts on the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference I attended on June 30. While the organizers were not shy about going public with the media in challenging the claims of Exodus and other ex-gay ministries in the week leading up to the conference, I couldn't help but notice that the conference itself was a surprisingly low-key event. In the opening remarks, the Exodus Conference (which was being held concurrently just a few blocks away) was referred to only briefly as "our brothers and sisters meeting down the street." Then we went straight into an activity that encouraged survivors to reflect upon both the positive experiences they had while in ex-gay ministries, as well as the negative ones that they needed to heal from.

I found a similar tone of restraint in the seminar I attended led by Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin. Burroway presented a history of the ex-gay movement, played tapes from actual ex-gay conferences, and gave his critique. Yet he also pointed out that current Exodus president Alan Chambers has been speaking much more honestly than past leaders about the ex-gay experience, calling it a "life of self-denial . . . till the day we die" and even being critical of the term "ex-gay." Burroway said Chambers was "taking a real honorable stance on this" and members of the audience expressed encouragement at this news.

I later mentioned to one of the conference organizers how impressed I was by the respectful tone that everyone, especially the leaders, had demonstrated throughout the day. He told me they had all worked hard to ensure that the atmosphere would be one of healing and reflection to serve the needs of the ex-gay survivors. They did not want the time to be overrun by bitter activism and political agendas.

I think I made a remark about how I had half expected people to demonize the other side. Because I remember he told me, "As much as I'm tempted to demonize them, I try not to go there. Because if I treat them the same way they've treated me, then that doesn't leave me anywhere. I would have made no progress."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Gay marriage more deadly than smoking?

Be on the lookout for the latest Paul Cameron "statistic" that is making the rounds on conservative airwaves. Namely that homosexual partnerships are more dangerous than smoking. Sandy Rios of Culture Campaign even referred to it on Bill O'Reilly's show this past Wednesday night when he said, "Well,what people don’t understand is that the homosexual lifestyle, especially for men, is deadly. It takes their life ten to twenty years earlier than straight men."

It would be worth your while to go to Box Turtle Bulletin and click on all the pertinent links regarding this latest Cameron study, which allegedly shows that partnered gays and lesbians in Denmark and Norway die 24 years earlier than their straight counterparts.

To give the study the appearance of credibility, Cameron claims to have presented it at the Eastern Psychological Association this past March. But in truth, the presentation was merely a poster he displayed at the meeting for one hour among 70 other posters. It was not approved for presentation at the EPA meeting as a paper or address. EPA president Philip N. Hineline even issued a lengthy statement correcting the misinformation Cameron has spread about his "presentation" at the EPA meeting. In conclusion Hineline states:

There was nothing in the materials submitted by the author for review by EPA that indicated that the work could, or would, be informative with respect to the longevity of homosexuals.

I recommend that you read Jim Burroway's analysis of Cameron's study, to give you a better idea of why this paper could not have met the EPA's standards of sound research methodology.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ex-gay survivors speak

Notes from the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference I attended on Saturday, June 30. The survivors themselves tell of their experiences in ex-gay ministries:

"Ten years in an ex-gay program. If I could have sweat blood to change, I would have."

"I still don't understand why Exodus people say 'they've changed'--but they still have all their gay feelings!!!"

"Mocked by my Christian friends for being gay, mocked by my gay friends for going to Exodus seminars."

"Attempted suicide together (I and two of my [ex-gay] friends all tried killing ourselves within 6 months of each other)."

"I was so confused how people with such deep conviction and good intentions (Exodus) could be so wrong . . . do so much harm . . . systematically hurt so many people."

"My parents felt like failures."

"My Dad didn't make me gay, he made me REAL. I love you, Dad, Rest peacefully."

"Walked away from God. I had no choice."

"Randy 1963-1980--sorry."

Monday, July 09, 2007

Surviving ex-gay ministries

Two Saturdays ago, June 30th, I attended the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference which met at the UC Irvine campus over the weekend. It was the first conference for people who had been through ex-gay ministries and survived, as they put it, who had joined with soaring hopes and left without having experienced the promised change in their sexual orientation. After listening to people's stories all day and then spending a week reflecting upon what I learned, I came away with a picture of what many of these people's ex-gay experiences were like.

If you've ever been involved with a local church, denomination, or parachurch ministry where you met impressive, committed, caring people who seemed to have cornered the market on godly living, whom you ached to be a part of because you wanted your life to look just like theirs, then you can understand why people who are desperate to change their sexual orientation would sign up in droves for ex-gay ministries, turning control of their lives over to "experts" who promise to work a miracle.

A great deal hinges upon the dream of becoming heterosexual. Maybe you are trying to save your marriage. You tried to change on your own by marrying an opposite sex partner, but it's been 15 years and nothing's happened. Your spouse is threatening a divorce if you don't go through reparative therapy, and a divorce means you'll never see your kids again. Your spouse will see to that, unless you can become hetero.

Maybe Dad and Mom would allow you to set foot in their home again. Or maybe you can save Dad from the guilt he feels for "causing" your homosexuality (as the NARTH theory goes) because he was an "emotionally distant" father.

Your church would accept you again. Perhaps they are threatening to discipline you unless you change your orientation. Or maybe you never told anyone about being homosexual and you hope you never have to, if you can change.

So along comes the ex-gay ministry, ready to receive you with open arms. In a world where your straight family and friends reject you for being gay, and your gay friends scoff at you for being Christian, you've never felt more welcome, more hopeful about the future. The leaders give glowing testimonies, although they are a little sketchy when it comes to the critical part about having actually changed from homosexual to heterosexual. Mostly people attest to some measure of changed feelings, and some have turned their life around from addiction and promiscuity. Some even have a smiling spouse and beautiful kids to show for it. Everyone seems so sincere and genuine, everyone claims to be making strides toward the goal, and there's no reason to doubt what they say. Plus you're making all sorts of friends with other gay Christians who are in the same boat as you, sharing the same goals and high hopes.

With all the godly prayers, encouraging Christian fellowship, and claims of the Holy Spirit's healing power all around you, there isn't much incentive to be completely honest about how little progress you are actually making as the months and years go by. There was already a lot at stake when you first started the program. But now in addition to all that, you risk being marked as a failure amidst the only group of Christians that ever loved and accepted you, if you admit you aren't changing.

So you keep silent. Your friends do too, fellow members you bonded with during the program. Eventually one person leaves, another abandons her faith, someone else commits suicide. Each is spoken of by the group as a sad anomaly who didn't try hard enough, pray hard enough, believe completely enough, or maybe wasn't even saved in the first place. There is a sense of relief, too, since the allegedly less-committed ones were threatening to weigh the rest of the group down. No one wants to bear that shame, so everyone hunkers down, puts away their doubts and keeps quiet about the extent of their ongoing struggles with homosexual thoughts and desires. Until something gives.

Hearing these stories, what I came to see was the crushing pain of people being forced to come out of a second closet, and experience a second, more devastating rejection. It was bad enough the first time to have to admit to themselves, and perhaps to others, that they were homosexual. But then after they were deep into the ex-gay ministry, where they were supposed to find hope and work toward a "cure," they had to go through another hellish maze of self-examination where they were at last forced to admit that reparative therapy had not made them straight. And in the ex-gay, support-group atmosphere where everyone is so emotionally invested in the hope of their own orientation change, such a disturbing admission often led to swift and severe repercussions. The person who was once rejected by straight family and friends, then by non-Christian gay friends, now finds himself cut off and ostracized by his ex-gay friends. It is the final humiliation, and some simply don't survive it.

Those who do survive it, well, they call themselves survivors. Ex-gay survivors. And now you know what this conference was all about.