The Folly of Ex-Gay Therapy

When I was a teenager, I was Christian.  I was very Christian.  I read the Bible frequently, if not exactly on a daily basis, attended the Assembly of God church with my father and stepmother and occasionally attended a Baptist church, because they allowed me to practice piano there after school.  I had a constant dialog going on in my head with Jesus and I felt close to Him.

I wasn’t perfect, of course.  My need to please my friends kept the “Jesus-talk” to a minimum, when I was around them (evangelists seem to believe that you aren’t truly worshiping the Lord, if you aren’t talking about Him constantly) and eventually turned a 16-year-old who couldn’t say anything more severe than “hell” or “damn” into a 17-year-old with an absolutely foul mouth.

And then there was sex.  At seventeen, I was still a virgin.  Worse, I had no interest in girls, at all.  I certainly masturbated — a lot — but when I did, all I could think about was seeing certain male friends naked or touching them.  I tried to force myself to think about girls, but it just didn’t get me aroused.

However, I was a good Christian.  I loved Jesus.  I hadn’t killed anybody or done anything particularly sinful, at this point.  (I still haven’t killed anybody, in case you’re wondering.)  I hadn’t actually been raised to believe that masturbation was a big deal — thank God.  It was inconceivable to me that I could be truly “evil” or “sinful” at the core of my being.

There had to be some mistake.

Perhaps I was a late bloomer.  Or perhaps this was some sort of test that God had come up with for me.  But then, why me?  The very thought that God was testing me, struck me as ego-centric and therefore sinful, as if I were thinking that I was somehow favored by God and deserving of His special attention.  But I could think of no other reason for God to put me through this anguish.

And anguish it was.  I was so lonely that I often cried myself to sleep, longing for someone to hold and be held by.  Other teenagers were lonely, of course — perhaps even most — but they could hold onto the fantasy of a happy life someday with somebody they loved.  I saw nothing but a future of loneliness and self-loathing, stretching ahead of me for decades, until I finally died, never having been loved.

Now, the standard response to all of this is that God doesn’t make mistakes, of course, and regardless of whether it was a “test” or simply something I happened to be burdened with, faith in God would help me overcome it.  After all, people are able to overcome alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addiction, infidelity and a host of other “problems” through prayer and devotion to God.  Certainly, God would help me overcome homosexuality!

So I prayed.  And I prayed.  And I prayed.  During this time I kept journals, documenting my struggle, analyzing sexual dreams and struggling to find hope in them — some sign that the prayer was working.  There were times when I thought I saw it, when I convinced myself that it must be “working.”

But it didn’t really work.  What it did was increase my despair, because the longing for another boy to love was constant.  It never lessened, no matter how much I prayed.  I knew that, if I got into a relationship with a girl, it would feel terrible.  Deep down in the pit of my stomach, the thought of being in a straight relationship nauseated me — as much as the thought of being forced into a gay relationship probably nauseates a straight person.

We know, at the core of our being, when something feels…wrong.

And the absurdity of it all was that the people who said heterosexuality was what was right for me…they were all heterosexual.

They.

Didn’t.

Know.

They were all people who would be unhappy if they were forced into a gay relationship.  Of course.  So they could state with “authority” that gay relationships lead to misery and despair, because that’s what was true for them.  But the thing is, they didn’t know that it would lead to misery and despair for me.  They couldn’t possibly know that, because they had no idea what being gay was like.

One of the greatest things that ever happened to me was when I gave up the fight against my own nature — when I stopped listening to people who had never experienced what I was feeling, yet had the unbelievable arrogance to claim that they knew more about what I needed than I did.

“But wait!” you might be thinking, “What about those people who were gay, but did find a happier life after praying to Jesus and rejecting homosexuality?”

Well, it would be hypocritical of me to insist that they’re wrong.  If they say they’re straight now, then I can’t say they’re not.  On the other hand, it has certainly not worked for a lot of people.  Several people who have had so-called “reparative therapy” have later stated that they did not feel that it worked for them.  Worse, many have attempted suicide, as a result.

One of the earliest “success stories” of reparative therapy involved subjecting a young boy to beatings and a cruel system of rewards and punishments to discourage his “effeminite behavior” (which was equated with homosexuality).  As an adult, he behaved in a “manly” enough fashion for supporters of the study to claim that it was successful and use it to back their claims that homosexuality could be cured.

Unfortunately, that was far from the case.  The young man in question did, in fact, turn out to be gay and he had sex with men off and on over the years.  But the guilt he felt over it eventually led him to take his own life, and his family now feels immense guilt about the cruelty they subjected him to at the recommendation of his therapist.

Recently, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, the largest organization in the “ex-gay” movement, recently admitted that he still feels same-sex attraction, despite his marriage to a woman, and said that the organization would no longer support reparative therapy:

“As the president of Exodus International and, even more than that, as a Christian leader who is out in front of people all the time, it is my responsibility to lead honestly and transparently and to share with people that, just because you become a Christian,…your struggles don’t always go away.  You don’t get to a place where you’re never going to be tempted again.”

The American Psychological Association released a position statement in 2000 that basically stated that 1) there has been no actual proof that reparative therapy works, apart from isolated anecdotes, and 2) the theories behind it are highly questionable.

I cannot say with certainty that it is impossible for a gay man or woman to become heterosexual through prayer and devotion, anymore than I can say that it is impossible for prayer to heal someone of an illness.  I cannot say with certainty that miracles cannot occur.

But miracles, by their nature, are extremely rare.

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8 thoughts on “The Folly of Ex-Gay Therapy

  1. Right on! Reading what you’ve been through in your life hits home with me.
    I discovered in my late 20’s that I am attracted not just to men but to women as well. I realized that a friendship with another women I’d had in my young 20’s was a crush and I never admitted how I felt about her. What I felt about her was more intimate than just friends…and I don’t know if my friend ever felt the same, because it wasn’t something we’d ever talk about. We were devout Christians and it just wasn’t possible. But I look back and cannot deny the feelings I had about her. Over the years, I’ve had crushes on a number of other women, as well as intimate relationships with a couple of men. When I started to realize my attractions/feelings for other women, I had recently started dating my now-husband. I also had (within the previous year) “become” a pagan, and that’s how my husband and I met. I feel that spirituality had a lot to do with the level of acceptance of these feelings on both our parts. He recognized my attraction to women but wasn’t threatened by it (as far as I know). I never had an intimate, romantic relationship with another women, just with men, and wasn’t comfortable or outgoing enough to pursue a relationship with another woman. I pushed my feelings down because I was afraid of the responses I’d get from family and friends; especially the friends I’d had intimate feelings for. Because of this, I still haven’t admitted these feelings to these women, and I doubt I ever will. My husband and I have been married for 4 years, and we have a 3 year old daughter together. I can’t say I will never pursue my attraction/feelings towards women in the future, but I can’t see it happening.

  2. I think the most important thing is for us to be honest with ourselves about what we feel. When we’re convinced that these feelings are sinful or evil, we either lie to ourselves or start hating ourselves for feeling that way. Neither is healthy. And it’s awesome that you can be open about it with your husband and he doesn’t feel threatened by it.

  3. James thanks for sharing this. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I often marvel (not in a pleased way) that people have the audacity to think that altering someone’s sexuality would be a “cure” or a “miracle.” To me it is a loss, and a sorrow.

  4. I have never understood a culture that allows vulnerable children to be abused and mentally tortured in the name of religion. Because that’s what reparative therapy is. I don’t get it. I am a Christian and I still don’t get it. It goes against everything I believe in as a human and a Christian.

    For religious denominations that make so much about the family, they do a good job in abusing kids who need more love and support than most.

    James, I’m so glad you have made your way to the strong person you are today.

    • Thanks, Sue! I’m not sure if it was strength that got me through that time in my life or what the church would have called “weakness.” They wanted me to accept the idea that deep down I was sinful and broken, but ultimately I rejected that idea. And I could never accept things that didn’t make sense, even if they were in the Bible. Why was the idea of two consenting adults having sex in an unusual manner so “abominable”? The only answer was that God said so, but that in and of itself seemed so random that I began questioning who really wrote the Bible and whether it really did represent what God wanted. The same part of my makeup that was attracted to fundamentalism — to the search for sensible answers in the Bible — refused to accept half-assed answers that didn’t make sense.

  5. What does effeminate have to do with being gay? There are plenty of Macho gays. How many heterosexual males did this “intervention” convince they were gay because they didn’t want to play football? Who says the heterosexual club is exclusive?

    I’m a woman, but I am not girly. I don’t wear makeup, could care less about fashion, hate romance novels and soap operas. In New York that would label me a Lesbian. Fortunately I live out West where many men don’t like girly women. (When I want to freak out my husband, I let him see me in the bookstore holding a fashion magazine.)

    Women don’t turn me on in the least…but then neither do macho guys. I’m attracted to those nerds those Christian groups would have targeted. Also not being attracted to super models doesn’t make you gay. If you really are gay and attracted to men, fine…but don’t let some idiot tell you are gay just because you aren’t macho enough. And you don’t have to be girly to be a real woman. So be yourself and forget labels and find yourself someone you are really attracted to.

    Sorry for the rant but it makes me mad that some people think you have to fit a stereo-type.

    • You’re right to rant! There are a lot of people who still equate effeminate behavior with homosexuality—and “masculine” (or less feminine) behavior with homosexuality, as well. Even heterosexual men and women are victims of this dogmatic interpretation of gender roles, and they don’t help us. We need to start looking at people for who and what they are, rather than what we expect them to be.

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