Back in the day, as a leader within the exgay movement, I don’t remember a single leader who didn’t crave the limelight. Being on a stage, in front of a camera, doing interviews, lobbying congress, was all so exciting. It is a point of affirmation of not only the lies being true but of personal affirmation. Yet, underneath it all, there was a desperate ache for attention and affirmation.
To see a crowd weep over some of the details of “exgay” testimonies, cheer with us over others, and a line of hugs and prayers going down the aisles of the church or conference center could be intoxicating. Because ex-gay/conversion ministry preys upon those who have been deeply wounded, rejected, and isolated, many spokespeople inordinately craved love and attention. As long as their story fits within the exgay template, affirmation, and even book offers, seemed to come in waves.
Just because one can tell a good story they have convinced themselves to believe in, with all the approved talking points masked with smiles and well-placed tears, doesn’t make them healthy or accurate. It certainly should not make someone a “leader” in the exgay movement or the church at large. Yet, most of the time, being a convincing story-teller was the only criteria needed to put someone on a stage or in a full-page ad.
Shortly after joining the Exodus staff, I watched people we would give the limelight too, fall apart, or become insufferable. We idealized and overdramatized what we knew to be true. It’s one of the unspoken reasons I was supportive of shutting down Exodus. I was tired of watching the toxic adulation tear people down, exploit wounds that have yet to heal or lift them to the level of “expert” they surely did not earn.
Yet, time after time, someone would be “lifted up” to share their story “for the glory of God” only to walk away triggered in deeply traumatic ways or with an idea of themselves that wasn’t true. It is easy to see when looking back that if you are not well-grounded, self-confident, with plenty of excellent personal and genuinely professional support, the limelight is dangerous and corrosive to the person in it and to those listening to that person.
It is difficult to watch the roster of exgay spokespeople cycle through another round of young “leaders” displacing the old when I know it will be just a matter of time when it will all fall apart (rightfully so) for them. One day they will have a revelation that what they are doing is harming themselves and others, or they will abandon the fruit of the Spirit altogether and become cynical, bitter, and utter vengeful murmurings from inside the closet.
That was then and hard-earned lessons for now.
Today, while I am not chasing any of them down, I do interviews and speak when the opportunity arises because, quite frankly, it is part of the job of ending religious stigma against LGBTQ+ people. There is nothing wrong with being an effective communicator when it’s honest, from the heart, and true to your experience and expertise. Now that I am in the healthiest place I have ever been in and know who I truly am, I never get migraines or obsessively worried about public speaking opportunities like before.
When it comes to advocacy, some of us are born advocates and must speak up because it is part of how we are true to our nature. However, it should never be about having the limelight for personal reasons. Instead, the limelight should refocus into a spotlight on the issues that will serve the greater good. We should speak from a whole heart to selflessly seek the best for others, solve problems, combat injustice, and save lives.