Ask-It Basket: How do you respond to those caught in the ex-gay whirlwind of what’s right and wrong?

In my last post, Being Gay Is A Core Strength, Not A Religious Curse, a commenter left a heartfelt set of questions as a comment. Because there are quite a few, I will quote in part and then answer each of the questions as we progress. “Confused by ‘leaders'” writes:

How do you respond to individuals who were led by exgay group leaders and it became an deeper battle for them and now the tide has turned, while those taught are caught in this whirlwind of is it right or wrong and will leaders keep flopping between exgay to pro-gay?

Regardless of the momentum of the whirlwind, please don’t let it rob you of your time and energy. My encouragement is to avoid all that manufactured pressure and take whatever time and resources you need to come to the conclusions that are life-giving to you. And, if you don’t know, it’s ok to not know. Our culture is insta-everything and expects instant opinions and conclusions. Even though I have definite and strong opinions :), I think it is really healthy to be ok with not knowing and needing time to think through issues.

I don’t know many people/leaders flopping between ex-gay and pro-gay. I know two (literally, two) who seemed to “switch teams” every other week. On the other hand, I have met people who reject who they are as LGBTQ+ people or much more who have found congruence with who they are and their faith (if they are people of faith.) A vast majority of individuals who leave the ex-gay/conversion ministry world never go back and, in my opinion, with good reason.

How should they deal with the PTSD?

As an individual who has been professionally diagnosed with PTSD, I take it personally and seriously. First, if it is legit PTSD, the guidance of a licensed professional counselor is the first priority. PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress *Disorder*. Emphasis on the disorder because it takes professional help to work through, manage and receive healing from PTSD. I say legitimate PTSD because that acronym gets thrown around a LOT by non-professionals and they need to slow their personal opinion (not an official diagnosis) roll. You can be incredibly hurt, wounded, negatively impacted and not have PTSD.

That said, if all the hullabaloo between former ex-gay leaders and current ex-gay/conversion ministry leaders is triggering you with inordinate negative feelings and/or PTSD leading to hurtful coping mechanisms…do what you need to do to remove that stimulus and talk to a professional counselor as soon as possible.

Will you rejoin the exgay movement and change sides again?

No. Never.

I had a exgay ‘therapist’ attempt to lead me, while having sex with men at the same time.

I am very sorry to hear that but am not surprised. In my position at Exodus, I would hear of that type of situation, and similar, happening often. If appropriate and you feel safe doing so, please notify the people that person reports to of what you have learned.

I know gay drag queens who have ‘found the light ‘ and turned away from their affections of same sex.

There is tremendous pressure from our communities and culture (at large) to conform to the religious stigma against the LGBTQ+ people. These ingrained cultural messages tell us we only have two options: “embrace God’s creative intent for your heterosexual potential” or “celibacy” options. It can often feel like a religious experience to give into religious indoctrination or even bullying in the name of Christ. However, that temporary relief and “bias affirming” feedback is an inauthentic type of “affirmation,” and very damaging. That is my opinion based on my 21 years of experience in the movement.

So, what do you say to those hurting by the confusion that exgay ‘ministries’ promote?

Walk away. Just walk away from them, take the time you need to find your way, and move toward truly life-giving messages and resources. Exodus International, and really the ex-gay “movement” as a whole, began in earnest in 1976. And in the way we do our calendar, that date is based on AD (after the death of Christ.) So for at least 1,976 years… Jesus never needed an “ex-gay” ministry to organize as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Exodus folded in 2013 and even though ex-gay conversion ministries still operate, I would offer that God never needed Exodus and doesn’t need “ex-gay” anything to help His LGBTQ+ children thrive and flourish. In other words, while respecting a person’s journey and timing, I would encourage them to not give ex-gay ministries room in their heads and hearts to sow dissension, strife, contention, and confusion.

It is possible to be a “saved”, healthy, whole, mature and responsible person who also happens to be LGBTQ+. There are all kinds of resources to help you. Furthermore, the faith I still hold onto teaches that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. Be at peace.

And, in whatever way I can be of help, I will.

Being Gay Is A Core Strength, Not A Religious Curse

It’s a bizarre feeling when hearing former friends and current ex-gay ministry leaders say that being gay is “wounded” “hurt” “deceived” and in need of “…Jesus’ true redemptive power!” It’s bizarre in that I used to say the same type of things in my ex-gay days. Today, I see how incredibly condescending and arrogant it is to think you know the condition of someone else’s hurts, heart, and soul better than they do.

I am healthier than I ever have been. I am not hurt except when I run without my ankle brace, and my eyes are wide open (not denying anything.) I haven’t developed amnesia or discarded any of my experience. Plus, my relationship with Christ is stronger today than it ever was while living in the ex-gay world.

I agreed with, defended, and promoted many many resources, speakers, and ministries the ex-gay movement has to offer. I even helped create quite a few of the resources myself. Several prominent ex-gay leaders/ministries still have strong online followings built from the foundations I laid for them in the ’90’s and 2000’s. I know all their talking points, beliefs, messaging, and most importantly, I know their God. I have journeyed with Him through many dark nights of the soul, and bright mornings of epiphanies, forgiveness, and real transformation.

Where they abandoned and cursed me, He did not.

I know Him. I have personally rejected the Gospel According to Ex-Gay/Conversion Ministry.

That said, there are real issues I overcame during the 21 years I was in the ex-gay world. Those are things like, emotional and co-dependency, illegitimate coping mechanisms (substance abuse), deep hatred toward my abusers, finding my place and calling as an equal among Christians (still have that), horrid self-image, PTSD, and quite a number of hurts and fears.

The false issue I tried to overcome that never happened because it isn’t meant to be overcome and yet somehow became the ultimate goal everything else was allegedly pointing to; trying to not be gay.

The ex-gay world teaches that dealing with all our hurts and dysfunctions will help us discover and embrace our “heterosexual potential.” Well, after 21 years dealing with issue after issue, I can say that’s a lie. How about we just overcome hurts and dysfunctions to …you know … overcome legitimate hurts and dysfunctions. Being gay is not being damaged and/or a dysfunction. It’s a core relational sense of being that God created to bring our kind, LGBTQ+ kind, of beauty into the world. Gay people can suffer hurts and be wounded but it’s not because we are gay, it’s because we are humans in relationship, just like everyone else.

One of the reasons people get “stuck” in the ex-gay world and thinking they are “changing” is that they do find relief or transformation in relational issues in and around what it means to be in healthy relationships. However, that healthiness is short-circuited from its full expression when we are asked to kill our core relational sense of being as an LGBTQ+ person. In the end the net result is much more harm than good unless you find your way out of the false contexts of a stigmatized ex-gay worldview.

Furthermore, it’s incredibly depressing to think this hard work in overcoming a myriad of true dysfunction and wounding is only successful if you find “true freedom from homosexuality”; an unattainable, unrealistic goal. In ex-gay ideology, if you continually struggle with “same sex attraction” you must still be dealing with issues that keep you needing “spiritual discipline/maturity.” That manufactured and highly consequential burden keeps many anchored right there in their chair and donating to ex-gay ministries.  That belief robs true growth of its full manifestation in the name of a false idealized hope based on a legalistic religious view of what it means to be gay.

It may be difficult, and I realize how much courage what I am about to say would take, but I highly recommend leaving the ex-gay groups/world. If you are struggling with legitimate wounds/dysfunction please go find the myriads of faith-based or secular resources that are actually effective in helping your legitimate issues without placing unnecessary burdens on what success looks like.

Gay people, like all people, struggle with all the human frailties any other human does. Just like the rest of the world, we can find relief and healing outside of the ex-gay ministry snare.

Our core relational sense of being as LGBTQ+ people should be used as a gift of freedom and strength to utilize and enjoy. We can walk out our journey from a core sense of strength, not from a religiously stigmatized curse.

Finding peace and congruence with my faith and who I am as a gay man is a sign of health and a further progression of spiritual/emotional maturity. I hope others find their way out of the ex-gay world and into true healing communities and resources.

Let’s walk out this journey together, unencumbered by religious stigma.