Ex-ex-gay personal story by Jallen Rix
(reprinted with permission)
I first experienced "ex-gay" groups in college when my sexuality kicked into full throttle (something I hoped was just a phase and would go away). I was so uncomfortable with my sexuality and had been given so much ignorant propaganda about the "evils of homosexuality" that I wanted to do everything I could to change from gay to straight. I turned to what was available: therapy and an LA-based "ex-gay" group. "Ex-gay" groups are fanatical groups (usually within Christianity) that promise to change a person from queer to straight. At the one I attended, a weekly Bible study/support group, we shared our struggles and prayed for healing. We dealt with pop-psychology issues, nurtured the "inner child," and dug for clues in past experiences that may have triggered our homosexuality. It felt wonderful to finally talk with others who could relate to my experience (I thought I was the only one) and to find some degree of acceptance. In the process, I learned a lot about myself, dealing with unresolved issues in my past. But looking back, I realize that my main motivation was the desire for acceptance. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be the best person possible, thus deserving all the love that God and others had for me.
The group believed that homosexuality originated at an early age when the child had either an overbearing or passive (possibly missing) parent, or if the child was molested. Participants learned that these inappropriate relationships to parents in the past could be countered by proper relationships in the present, thus enabling the jump to heterosexuality, or at the very least allowing gays and lesbians to live happily celibate. Before long, however, I observed that the reality rarely conformed to the theory.
For one thing, I questioned their methods of countering the missing parental relationship. For example, a new male recruit would be paired with an older man. Theoretically, this older "role model" replaced the younger man's dysfunctional father-image, filling the void and bringing "healing" for the younger man in need of fatherly attention. Obviously, bonding was so strong and "friendships" got so close (at times with the participants even living together) that in almost every way the two men maintained a gay relationship except for sexual activity. Other times, when the role model was a straight man, the recruit would have to deal with an agonizing "crush" with a person that could never return the love the recruit desired.
Psychologists originally practiced this method of treatment 30 years ago, but abandoned it when study after study demonstrated its ineffectiveness. Yet "ex-gay" groups continued to present the treatment as gospel truth. This was no secret to those of us in the program; we simply conformed our reality to what we were told. We believed anything as long as it reduced our isolation and fear of rejection.
In addition, simple observation showed that not all the members fit their model for the development of homosexuality. Most had never been molested; many had come from healthy, two-parent families. This confounded the leadership; they prayed long and hard to find the hidden "flaw" that made these folks gay or lesbian. Never would they admit to homosexuality being genetic, since that meant nothing was wrong with this "evil" in our lives.
Not only were the group's theories unsubstantiated, but their practices gradually took on more cultic aspects. Common-sense questions about inconsistencies brought shocked and defensive responses: "of course" their theories and practices were in line with God's will; how could we question it? Leaders demanded near-desperate loyalty. "Progress" corresponded to how "faithful" one was to what "God was doing" in the group. Strong peer pressure obligated us to conform outwardly even though inwardly we felt shameful about our healthy, normal questions and doubts.
Personal feeling, thinking, common-sense and "reality" took second-place to the interpretations offered by the leadership. If, hypothetically, the group interpreted the Bible to say that all grass was purple, members would first doubt the accuracy of their own eyesight before questioning the leadership about the true color of grass. Common sense, science, even the truth took second fiddle to the leaders' interpretation of the Bible and their "truth."
In addition, the leaders expected us to restrict our contact with people and information that taught something other than that taught by the group. They approved what we could read and who we could see. At this point significant red flags flew for me; I knew that if anything was true and of God, it could stand the test of any contradicting view. If we had the truth, and God stood with us, what were we afraid of?
Within the group - and within myself as a member of the group - I recognized the unhealthy signs of addiction. The group fostered conformity and dependency rather than personal maturity and responsibility. I'd set an unrealistic goal, then work toward it until I felt exhausted, then feel like a failure because there were no results. I'd feel guilty as if I wasn't trying hard enough and then start the whole process over again.
I finally bottomed out. I realized that I was as obsessed with my sexuality after joining the group as I had been before. With this and other inconsistencies, I began to distance myself. Leaving the group, completely in despair, made me feel like I had failed God. But in that "failure," I discovered God's presence. God stuck with me even when the group thought I was giving up.
This was revolutionary. I finally allowed myself to experience God's acceptance and unconditional love, regardless of my sexuality. I write it that way - "I finally allowed myself to..." - because I now realize how key that was. I used my sexuality as a wall to keep love and acceptance from me. I had believed the lie that my sexuality made me incapable of accepting love. I remember (the precise moment, in fact) when I dispelled the lie from my mind - sexuality was not a precursor to full love and acceptance from God or from others. It was as if I had exhaled for the first time in my life. Finally, I gave God and others complete freedom to love all of me.
When I moved to the Bay Area, I joined an organization called Evangelicals Concerned. E.C. is a national network of gays and lesbians who positively unite their sexuality with spirituality, especially Christianity. Across the country, local E.C. groups gather for social activities, bible study and mutual support.
The Bay Area chapter of E.C. occasionally takes on an additional identity. It is thought of by some as the "evil doppleganger" of Bay Area "ex-gay" groups. Occasionally, the message gets around that if one can't "cut it" at an "ex-gay" group, then try E.C. Hence, E.C. occasionally rescues the fall-out from the local "ex-gay" groups.
When I write "fall-out," I am not exaggerating. One such group, Love in Action (which has now moved to the southern U.S., but has been replaced in the Bay Area by another group) is a live-in program. Participants immerse themselves in the task of being "healed" of their homosexuality. Everything I mentioned about the cultic aspects of the walk-in groups increases exponentially within live-in groups. When someone decides to leave or is kicked out, the transition is extraordinarily difficult. The leadership basically ex-communicates the individual. The one leaving is seen as walking away from God into the hands of Satan. Some are literally abandoned on the street. While a few participants may be prepared with alternative jobs and places to stay, many are left with nothing. These are the ones E.C. has helped pick up the pieces and continue on.
The personal experiences and stories that came out of this cult-like setting are astounding. Every action is under scrutiny. Watching TV or a movie must be first approved by the leadership. Certainly no one is allowed to cross the Golden Gate Bridge into that den of temptation: San Francisco. Nor are they allowed to do outside activities alone. The program arranges temp-like jobs so that even at work participants are monitored. Once, when a person was making secret arrangements to leave the group, he could only meet with us on his lunch break. That was the only time all day he was alone. To read more about EX-"ex-gays" go to this website by clicking here.
And despite it all, it seems that God alone does not "heal" one of his or her sexuality. These groups create a schedule of non-stop activities to attempt the jump to heterosexuality and leave no time for falling into "temptation." Activities include everything from lessons in make up (so the women can look more feminine) to baseball games (so the guys appear more manly). Seem pretty far-fetched? These are people willing to do anything to change - even relinquish their ability to make decisions for themselves. The leadership may preach that God's love is unconditional, but belonging in their group demands a very high price. Indeed, it seems there is a great focus on behavior and doctoring up of the outside to put on the appearance of change. What seems to plague these groups is that when the truth is finally brought out - when folks really talk about how they feel on the inside, they are still innocently, hopelessly queer.
I do mean hopeless. When they run on this twenty-four-hour treadmill of desperate change and then see no real results in their sexual orientation, most collapse into utter depression, even suicide. Many have actually reached a point at which they believe that God would more fully accept them dead than to live another moment being attracted to the same gender.
Here lies the core of the problem: These are people desperate for acceptance. They want to find love from their families, their friends and especially God. Unfortunately, they have believed the lie that their sexuality makes them unfit for love - undeserving of full acceptance. Sadly, many churches, friends and family have also made one's sexuality a prerequisite for full love and acceptance. They may say, "Love the sinner and hate the sin," but that has become the excuse to keep "undesirables" at a distance. "Ex-gay" leaders give the hope that those who diligently follow their programs will change - and therefore find acceptance and no longer feel alone or face rejection. It's a false hope. No wonder their followers feel suicidal when they don't measure up.
Is there an alternative to running the treadmill? Yes, but it demands facing our "demon." And the demon is not our sexuality, but our fear of being rejected by those we hold most dear. Some of us face the demon bitterly by spewing the rejection we have felt right back into the faces of those who have rejected us. Some of us drown those feelings of rejection in one addiction or another. But some of us learn that being alone is not as scary as we thought. And only when we step out into the unknown of isolation do we discover that we aren't alone after all. There are many around us that love and accept us unconditionally. Yes, even God is here waiting patiently for us to finish our obsession to change our sexuality and simply to accept it as another beautiful gift given to us by a God who loves all of us unconditionally - spirituality AND sexuality as a whole person.