A Tale of Two Closets

Memoir Intro (Rough Draft)

This is the intro to the memoir I have written (rough draft at least). Thought I would get back to posting excerpts regularly again. Your thoughts and feedback would be encouraged and appreciated.

I have two “coming out” stories. I don’t recommend it. Coming out once is difficult enough but twice is #NotFun. Once you are out, please stay out. You’re good, God’s good, it’s all good. The first time I came out in the ’80’s resulted from my Mom finding a gay Valentine’s Day invite in my pants pocket. Conservative Christianity told her it was ok for a mother to stigmatize and abandon her child and throw me out of the house. I was homeless, afraid, and alone. It was a Christian Drag queen that took me in, and I credit God for using our wonderful Mella (George Timothy Reed) for saving my life.

However, even though I was “out,” I was a mess. I got involved in the dark side of club/party life and had no social/coping/survival skills. At age 24, I was seeking a way to become healthy and responsible. During that process, I became a “born-again” Christian (I still am as a gay man). However, I was susceptible to buying into a worldview and a stigmatized gospel that opened the door for me to enter the church closet of “ex-gay brokenness” which is code for shame, condemnation, and legalistic behavior modification.

I stayed in that stained-glass closet for 23 years and went from a shut-down neurotic substance abusing gay man to become a top leader in the ex-gay movement the Executive Vice President of Exodus International. After several heartbreaking years of conflict with hardliners in the ex-gay world and the death of a friend to suicide, I couldn’t ignore the truth. The blinders ripped off and I had no choice but to see the true damage that world had facilitated. I came out, again, on January 12, 2015.

Once again, culturally derived Christianity taught almost all of my conservative friends it was ok to condemn and abandon me; the same ones that helped me find my voice and gifts. A few were loud and boisterous about disowning me, most silently walked away to gossip with others instead of talking directly to me. As heartbreaking as that is, not everyone did that and other LGBT+ people of faith have rallied around and made up for lost friendship and community.

Plus, God affirms and loves me. Always has, always will. He loves all of me, and I believe created my relational state of being. Like the Good Shepherd He is, he is with me to guide and protect every step along the way no matter how much of an asshole I act like sometimes.
Culturally derived Christianity stigmatizes and abandons. Grace and love filled Christ followers, run to and lift up their LGBT+ brothers and sisters. Also, when people come out, we MUST help them find the resources they need. Unlike the ’80’s we have a large number of organizations like Zebra Coalition and the Trevor Project (who part of the proceeds from this book will help support) that help support homeless and desperate LGBT+ Youth. We have mental health counselors, substance abuse programs, issue-specific resources, faith communities, and more to plug newly “out” people into if they need and want them. There will be an appendix at the end of this book with a list of helpful resources.

Plus, we need more of our stories to get out there. Author Diva Jackie Collins once said (paraphrased), “Everyone has a book to write because everyone has a story within them.” I agree and want to add my story to the myriads testifying to the fact that “coming out” is in and of itself a miracle. Being a healthy and thriving LGBT+ person is a lifelong opportunity and gift.

My genuine hope is that you find this book challenging, encouraging and yes entertaining. I mean I cuss in it and everything! That makes me cool, right?! My somewhat bizarre life isn’t any better or worse than anyone else, but it sure was and is not boring. The following pages will reveal quite a cast of characters I hope will humanize the issues from the dramatically different viewpoints I have lived out. Because there is some truth to the accusation I can be a bit vain, of course I would love it if after reading this book you would say, “that was the most awesome memoir EVER!” But, more importantly, if you walk away with a deeper understanding and compassion for the LGBT+ community, understanding for why some of us get ensnared by ex-gay/conversion ideology, and how to escape it, I will accomplish the reason for writing this book. I also want to help add perspective to a better understanding of the enemies of LGBT+ equality and why Christ’s command to love our enemies appears out-of-place but is so appropriate and powerfully important today.

The antidote to stigmatizing is humanizing.

Now, let’s get to deconstructing a few “closets” by sharing with you the story of the two I am most familiar with walking out of.

You are loved,

The Blood On My Hands

Tuesday it was my joy and honor to meet Reverend Terri Steed Pierce of Joy MCC Church Orlando. Lately, I have been yearning to get back into spiritual fellowship and decided it was time to reach out to her. We met yesterday to get acquainted and I shared my story. I also shared how I wanted to reclaim my spiritual calling, gifts, skill set, and use them for good.

We talked for 90 minutes. Plenty of ground was covered including the potential of working together to help others heal from and find their way out of religious stigma and legalistic Christianity in all its forms; specifically in how it manifests in ex-gay/conversion ideology. Not only that, we talked about ways to help people thrive as spiritual beings and provide pastoral care. More on that as it develops.

Today’s post is about an unexpected blessing that occurred while talking to her. When I was sharing about all the feedback I got when I first came back out, I mentioned that a vast majority of the LGBTQ+ community was incredibly supportive and gracious. On the other hand, alongside many in the conservative religious community saying I was a heretic, a few gay folks said they would never forgive me. I was told a few times, “You have blood on your hands! We will never forgive or accept you.”

At one point, in response to an email, I wrote, “You say I have blood on my hands, and after Michael’s suicide, I am afraid to look down and find that indeed I might… I can understand if you never forgive me, it’s hard for me to forgive myself.”

Even typing that last sentence brought up mourning in my heart.

Now, I know I have never literally killed someone. I have even done a number of suicide interventions over the course of my adult life. However, I was in an important position at Exodus. I honestly believed what I taught and thought regarding an ex-gay worldview was the good and right thing to do. I walked my talk. But, now it is obvious that I was also in denial. Denial that my efforts and beliefs to help people “change” their sexual orientation did support and empower systemic homophobia that rips apart families, solidified non-lifegiving marriages, confused many singles into a life of loneliness and pain in the name of celibacy, and lead many to feel their only option was to self-destruct through dysfunctional behavior and or suicide.

After Tuesday’s meeting, the thought of my past contribution to that systemic hurt and pain went to a deeper level. This time, I didn’t shut it down. I took a long hard look.

As a result, in a metaphorical sense, I feel that my past self is somewhat like the Apostle Paul (when he was the Pharisee of Pharisees, Saul) who the scriptures reveal as never picking up a stone to throw at Stephen (the first Christian martyr), but instead, he held the cloaks of those who did. He cared enough about them to keep their clothes clean and yet approved of the horrendous murder of Stephen because he thought it was the right and godly thing to do. For years I heard reports of the damage and destruction of ex-gay theology/ideology and refused to believe the horrible reports were actually the result of what I believed and taught. I was great at blame-shifting, “I am so sorry but that hasn’t been my experience” kind of attitude. I was in denial of my own misery. I was much more interested in protecting the appearance (cloaks) of being a “success story” and our other leaders being seen as experts. I believed the ex-gay hype that what we were doing was the right and godly thing to do instead of really looking at how horrible we were acting in the name of “love and truth.” Plus, I honestly believed there wasn’t any other option than to believe the way I did.

Until Michael.

Michael’s death revealed the symbolic blood on my hands, and the various cloaks (excuses, appearances, lies) I was trying to keep clean during my Exodus years. I hate to admit to being so incredibly selfish but it’s true, I was tone deaf to others severe pain until it ripped through my own heart. I wish I had listened, truly listened to others pain. I am deeply sorrowful that I didn’t.

In our talk Tuesday, I shared that my passion and vision is to help the LGBTQ+ community carefully confront, heal from, and leave stigma and religious legalism. But until that meeting, I hadn’t recognized that there was a large part of me that still felt like I didn’t deserve to do so. It was even larger than I expected and explains why I have had such a hard time envisioning myself stepping back into my “pastoral” calling until a few months ago.

That was all exposed when Rev. Terri said,

Isn’t it just like Jesus to take the very man (Paul) who participated in the murder of God’s people to be the guy to minister to and serve God’s people? Isn’t it just like Jesus to take a guy like you, someone who did all THAT in opposition to gay people, turn you around and send you back to serve the very same people? That sounds like Jesus to me and I think you will help many specifically because of your experience. I look forward to seeing what happens.

I often feel before I know why I feel what I feel. When she said that it was like a lightning bolt went through me and my perspective (and hope) completely changed in a moment. A heavy burden I didn’t realize was weighing me down just fell off.

I found my voice over the past two and half years and I have known for quite a while what I have to offer as a gay man of faith, and as a leader. But, today my “hands” aren’t frozen with guilt and shame. Now that I have been freed from the shackles of the past for a while now, I am ready to get to work and help others find help, hope and thrive.

Guilt can be sneaky and often prefers to remain hidden so it can immobilize the good and creative. However, when guilt is exposed and owned, stagnate pools can become life-giving and free-flowing rivers.

Thanks, Rev. Terri for the personal joy you helped bring as a result of our meeting.

A Self-Proclaimed Ex-Gay SuperStar (Book Excerpt)

When Tony called the office, and on hold waiting to talk to me, I have to be honest; I did not want to talk to him … at all!

I mean not at all. Tony was an ass.

Not just an ass but a high maintenance let’s throw down in front of the whole country kind of an ass. Tony, not his real name to protect the mean, had been thrown out of our Exodus conference several years before because of yelling at and interrupting workshop teachers, plus being an ass to just about every person he met.

And now, after a few years here he was on the phone wanting to talk to Alan, at that time the new President of Exodus, but ending up talking to me.

I cannot remember the exact prayer before I picked up the line, but it went something like this:

Dear Jesus, please help me to not see Tony as an ass and for me to have the grace to not treat him like one either. Amen.

After taking a deep breath, I picked up the phone and said,”Tony, how are you?”

Tony talks fast, and he doesn’t need you to verbalize words to feel like he is having a conversation with you. Not only did he want permission to come back to our conference that summer, but he also proceeded to tell me we “needed” him to do a keynote address.

I was stunned. Tony is a man who insulted and threatened almost all of his peers. He burned every bridge imaginable and was now expecting us to make him a keynote speaker at our biggest yearly event.

I resisted the temptation to call him on the carpet for all the awful unresolved situations he created over the years and told him a truth that I hoped would get me off the phone faster. I said,”Tony, there are some issues we would have to resolve before that could ever be a possibility. Regardless, we have already confirmed all of our guest speakers.”

He replied by saying that we needed to make room for him to do something and to utilize him more often.  He took ten minutes to communicate that, but that is the essence. I told him, “again; we have some serious unresolved issues with you and how you treated many of our leaders. If you would like to work through all of that to reconcile our differences, that we can do, having you as a speaker of any kind at the conference is not something we can do.

Tony got mad.

He proceeded to recite to me his ex-gay leader resume. On and on about all the amazing things he had done to counter the evil gay agenda. I took a deep inaudible breath as he just kind of went berserk.

Randy I was an EXPERT in this field for years! I was one of the top ten ex-gays in the world for over a decade.

I laughed out loud. Like belly laughing. It was not even an option. It just struck me as extremely funny to think of a top ten ex-gay list.  Then my mind started coming up with all these criteria, and I just cracked myself up even further.

My guffawing response did not improve Tony’s disposition in the slightest.

Over my eventually stifled chuckling as I tried to stop laughing Tony asked angrily, ” WHAT are you laughing ABOUT?” I replied, “Top ten ex-gays? That has got to be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. If you are going to be in the top ten of anything, why would you pick THAT list?”

He went off, and I apologized for laughing. When the conversation finally calmed down somewhat, I stuck to my boundaries of needing to resolve past conflicts before entertaining ideas of working with him again. I even convinced him to set up another phone call with me to try and do that.

The truth is that being “ex-gay” is such a rare novelty that even as an operationally defunct dysfunctional 47-year-old movement (at the time of this writing) we never really figured out what “ex-gay” actually means.  Plus, what being “ex-gay” did imply, you want to be in the top ten of that?

To go from 1976 when the founders of Exodus were simply trying to find their way to somehow Tony thinking he is some kind of ex-gay superstar is an incredible leap not based in reality but a product of what Exodus had become. Exodus was a niche ministry with cultural oppression and stigmatization of sexuality buried in its foundation. For all our smiling and hugs, Exodus was not a pure grace based approach to understanding the gospel for LGBT+ people.

As the culture shifted toward blessing the LGBT community as the morally acceptable and a beautiful expression of love it is, the voice of those with a stigmatized religious view of LGBT+ would prop up the Christian ex-gay worldview as the testimony de jour on Sunday or public policy battles. Ex-gay/Conversion ministry testimonies provided cover for ongoing systemic hatred within organized religion.

The church is waking up to the fact that it is not and never was acceptable to shun those of us who are gay.  That while there are nuances and a few unique issues that arise from being gay, the truth is that LGBT+ people can come to Christ, walk out our salvation as LGBT+ people in loving relationships and receive His Atonement and blessing.

Being gay and understanding how that plays out, and what it means in my life, through and through does not make me forever unique. The gay community for all its bravado and flair isn’t that different than the community at large. Humanity is humanity, frailty is frailty, strength is a strength, dignity is dignity, and love is love.

Remembering Tony while writing this has brought some sadness.  He passed away suddenly a few years ago and died way too young. I hate that my interactions with him were so contentious and I hate that he was used to stigmatize the LGBT+ community and found that a noble cause. I hate that he was in a place where he enjoyed thinking he was doing good by hurting himself and us.  I hate that he was propped up, rewarded by the activist right in the church, and validated for living an inauthentic life; that he went to the grave never having known peace with his Creator and sexuality in this life.

Mostly, I hate that the Exodus “product” was to produce false experts who could tell good stories that wrought so much hurt and devastation. It became about us, our projected idealizations being declared as facts and our carefully crafted message instead of God’s love and grace to LGBT+ people.

An Extra Seat At The Table (Memoir Excerpt)

(Excerpted From Chapter 3, Memoir)

At one time in my young adult party years, I was renting a couch (not a room, or apartment, a literal couch) for $40 a week. That’s when an unusual situation arose.

“Randy, you GO to that bible study!” was the somewhat loud and earnest voice coming from the phone. It was my Mom. She had called to see if Bruce had called me yet. Bruce was a guy I used to work with at the grocery store when I was sixteen. He is a stoic kind of quiet guy. He was built like a tank, awesome laugh, and would do just about anything to help anyone out. I had a crush on him for a while when we worked together. The reason my Mom was calling is that he looked her up in the phone book and called her asking about me. Apparently, he had prayed, and I was “on his heart.”

Bruce is SO Christian; so very Baptist-y Christian… bless his big ‘ol handsome heart!

So as my Mom was exhorting me to go to the Bible study, I told her, “sure, I’ll go.” She thought that was a good thing. I was thinking of Bruce’s good looks and only wanted to go so I could hit on him.

It’s true. I was only willing to go because of Bruce’s blue eyes, dimples, and straight up lust.

Bruce did call. I can even remember his voice all these years later. He did invite me to a Bible Study/potluck dinner he was having and offered to pick me up since I didn’t have a car.  The first few times we arranged for me to attend, I stood him up. Either I was still passed out from the night before or higher than a kite and couldn’t manage myself much less a conversation. He never got impatient, and I did eventually go to a couple of his group gatherings.

Nothing I did would sway him from his peaceful demeanor or get him to notice my flirtations. Oh and I tried! He would just laugh or joke around. When I went to the first dinner, I drug along one of my nonbinary gender friends. He was quite nervous, at first, about the whole thing. I told him, “NO wear your makeup. Let’s freak them out and laugh about it later.” He was game, so we went.

Don’t forget, this was the ’80’s.

After pulling up to the house, Bruce went ahead while we walked slower to the door. I extra Duran Duran’ed my hair. Got a larger hoop earring with a cross on it and while I didn’t prance or skip … I was as stereotypically gay as I could get on purpose. I hated Christians at the time, I wanted to shock them, and was only there to hit on Bruce.

I opened the screen door; the main door was already open. There were clanking dishes and about 15 to 20 adults and kids around. I was kind of hoping the women would shriek and run to gather their children in horror as the men formed a protective barrier between their tribe and us.

I was SO full of stereotypical expectations.

What happened was … nothing. My friend put his purse and coat down with the others at the front door. I decided to keep my jean jacket on. The kids went screaming by, and there was the sound of laughter as they tackled one of them, more dishes clanking, and soda pop being opened.

Then the lady of the house came up to us and said, “WELCOME! So glad you could make it. Randy! Right?!  It is nice to meet you finally. Bruce told me you both worked together at one time. Come on in and blah blah blah; We are going to pray for the meal and blah blah blah.”

As I sat there eating my not that bad spaghetti and garlic bread, I watched my gender fluid friend, the only black person in the house and the only male wearing bright blue eyeshadow and lip gloss. He was having a great time talking to everyone. I began to think that maybe I had misjudged these Christians.

Later, we circled up in the living room where the Bible Study began. They started reading a chapter from the bible. They passed the bible around from one person to the next. We were to read 1 to 3 verses. I thought for sure they would skip us. I am not sure why I thought this, but when the teen girl next to me handed me the bible, I was a bit shocked. I have no idea what I read, but I do know I read three verses … with extra enunciated eloquence of course. I then passed the bible to the friend who came with me, and again, he looked like he was thoroughly enjoying the whole thing.

After the reading and the teaching we prayed. Well, they prayed, and I watched them through my squinted eyelids.  During one prayer, one of the women referred to God as “Abba.” Not being raised in the church (except for 6 months of trauma with Brother Paul), I went up to her later and said, “Why did you call God ‘Abba’? The only Abba I know is the 70’s disco group…You know, ‘Dancing Queen?’” And she just laughed. Thank God she was honest and comfortable enough to laugh. With sweet eyes full of merriment she said to me “I call God, our Father, Abba because it’s a term of endearment. Abba is like saying, daddy. God loves us like a daddy.”

Right then her eyes turned from merriment to genuine compassion, and my heart was pierced through with that concept. I had never had a “Daddy” or at least one I would be “endeared” to. I credit this event, Mella’s compassion, and the Christians in Daytona as being the tipping points for my coming to Christ a few years later. I didn’t come to know Jesus that night, but I did come to know a different side of His people than I had ever thought was possible.

They were life-giving people, not shaming or ashamed of my “lifestyle” people.

Imagine a three-story high heart made of moss-covered stone and 100 feet in diameter. This stone heart battered by howling winds and driving rain. Many earthquakes have threatened to shatter this invincible hard heart, and yet it always remained, unmoved. Now imagine lightning hitting that hard heart as the teen girl next to me passed the bible; a tiny crack runs down the middle and burns away the moss. Then, at eye level to the ground, a chunk falls away. If you were to walk up and look into the now visible hole and squint, you would see in the distance a small light carrying the promise of the new creation I would become. … and the echo of a soul crying.

That night freaked me out. I now see it as a positive but back then I didn’t know what to think about it except I did pray my first honest prayer afterward. It consisted of one short little sentence to God, “Help me, please.” My friend who went with me, of course, thought it was great, that they were friendly people with good food.

Most importantly, this group of Christians allowed God to love them so they could love my friend and me without any strings, and without any pressure. I somehow knew then that they trusted and loved God, that they cared for strangers. They were hospitable, open, and funny. I was safe to receive their fellowship without fear or hostility. It made a big difference and opened my heart to consider the issue of Christianity differently.

Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of belief concerning God’s LGBTQ+ children, do you have an extra seat at your table?