The first was an article on National Review Online (See what I mean? When would I ever read the National Review), in which blogger Eve Tushnet recounted the Love Won Out conference recently held near DC. See, I’ve always has a sneaking suspicion that the whole “ex-gay” thing isn’t and never was about changing anybody’s orientation, but more about causing some pretty severe behavior modification through various psychological means, and setting people up with a lifelong mental and spiritual struggle; an unnecessary one that they will most likely lose anyway. Some of Tushnet’s article basically confirmed what I’ve always believed.
From what I can tell, ex-gay ministries can be all of the above, to different people in different situations.
What they aren’t is what many conservative evangelicals seem to want them to be: the ultimate answer to the gay-rights movement. The groups’ problems are deeply embedded in their self-understanding.
… Mike Haley, the director of gender issues for Focus on the Family and probably the speaker at the conference with whom I disagreed least, told me afterward that one small-group session had discussed chastity. “We don’t want people to believe that change means you have to be married and have to have kids,” he said, and then added, “The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality, the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. We’re not trying to create people from homosexual to heterosexual.” These statements don’t line up with what I heard at the conference; but it’s much easier to be nuanced in one-on-one conversations than in lectures to big audiences.
It reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of months ago (one of the few that unfortunately got lost in a database crash during a tussle with my host) about people who didn’t experience a change in their sexual orientation, and about “reparative therapy” programs that have given up on changing sexual orientation and settled for encouraging their members to “lead chaste lives.” (I’ve tried everything I can think of to find that post. But I didn’t back-up my database often enough, so it’s apparently lost to the ages.)
Over at Ex-Gay Watch, Dave notes more of the same based on his conversations with the “ex-gay” crowd.
When I spoke to Martin Hallett of True Freedom Trust recently, he expressed exactly the same concern. He severed the organization’s ties to Exodus precisely because of the rhetoric, which he said was “setting people up for disillusionment”. Martin seems to distrust promises of a change of orientation, and tends to promote celibacy as the main option for gay Christians. Tushnet’s sentiments echo quite strikingly something Martin said, which was that most ex-gays he spoke to directly in the States shared his views about celibacy – but the views they privately expressed did not match up with the tone of Exodus’s rhetoric in public.
… It will be better for all of us when the ex-gay movement loses its culture of exaggerated claims and starts to match its public image with the private reality.
I was reminded of a documentary I saw years ago (because my sister videotaped it for me) called Why Am I Gay, which followed a few days in the lives of various gay people including Michael Callen (of the Flirtations) and members of a christian “reparative therapy” program. I remember the parents of one of the men in the program came to visit him at one point. The documentarian asked them “What if it doesn’t work?” The mother thought for a while and then said, “Then I’d rather he just be alone.”
She’d rather he just be alone. Rather than know love, and perhaps even build a family, because it didn’t fit into her narrow view of who he should be. If he couldn’t be who she thought he should be, than she’d still rather he not be who he was.
What’s always struck me about the whole “ex-gay” thing is that even at their most benevolent, the best they can offer me is this: being gay means that I have to expect less and accept less from life. Being gay means I deserve less from life. I don’t deserve love, I don’t deserve family. It doesn’t even elevate celibacy or “living a chaste life” to the status of a calling, as it might for the priesthood or monastic life. Indeed, a gay man — “chaste” or not — would be barred from both, based on history. At best, it’s a lifelong burden that you didn’t ask for or do anything to acquire. (That’s pretty much led me to believe that any “god” who’d create such a set-up — on the one hand saying that we shouldn’t exist, and continuing to churn us out on the other — would have to be one sick, sadistic son of a bitch.)
And that brings the typical wingnut retort that inevitably comes up in a debate on gay marriage: “You already have to right to get married. You just have to marry a woman!” Sometimes it’s said facetiously, sometimes seriously, and it never fails to leave me mystified that anyone wouldn’t see the logical holes in that argument. a post at Damn Straight led me to Eric’s handling of the subject as he wrote about his parents’ divorce and his father’s homosexuality.
Here’s a side note (more like a soapbox) but it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while now: what is it exactly that opponents of gay marriage would have me do? Marry a woman while sacrificing both of our happiness and ultimately ending up divorcing each other anyway. Yeah, that’ll preserve the institution of marriage. I think it’s just easier for them to close their eyes, wave their finger in the air back and forth, and yell out “no, no, no” while denying me the same legal right that my other fellow American citizens have. They refuse to see that two men happy together for the rest of their lives who KEEP their marriage vows is better than a man and a woman unhappy together who ultimately BREAK their marriage vows. Yeah, I know, they would rather insist that I not marry at all! Who are THEY to insist that upon me?
It’s always struck me as odd that people who go on and on about my love for my husband being a “sin” would declare that the answer way to fix it is for me to commit another “sin” by doing the most dishonest thing I could probably ever do: marry a woman. I honestly wouldn’t wish myself as a husband on any woman, and I’d pity any woman who would have me, because she’d be married to a guy who isn’t attracted to her, isn’t in love with her, and will never be.
As a confirmed Kinsey six, I’m one of those people the folks mentioned above would rather see “living a chaste life” or one of those people they think should “just be alone.” I’m one of those people that even they are beginning to realize they can’t change, and so they’ll settle for getting us to fit into a box they’re a little more comfortable with. I’m one of those people they’d sentence to roll a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down again, over and over, like Sisyphus. And they’d have believe I’m better off that way.
One look at my life, one look into my husbands eyes, one look at my son’s smile and I know the “ex-gay” herd has nothing better to offer. Nothing remotely close.
It all comes down to this. You can take a load of crap, put it between two pieces of bread, and call it a sandwich. But don’t expect that to make it so. And don’t expect me to buy it.