Sunday, July 22, 2007

Change Was Not Possible--part 1 of 3

In the tradition of Disputed Mutability, I have a three part series that I will present over the next week or two.

Part One—What I was After and Why?

Like many ex-gay survivors, for years I sought a miraculous transformation. I wanted to change from gay to straight—be it instantaneous or as a long-term process (but instantaneous would have been nice). At the time it seemed a reasonable and necessary step. Steeped in a world that insisted heterosexuality was normal, expected and ideal, I also learned that most folks believed that homosexuals were sick, dangerous, immoral, ungodly and abnormal. They even had Bible verses to support their claims (even if most of the people saying so didn't actually follow the rest of the Bible).

I received this message universally—on the playground, in the media and at church (first at the Roman Catholic Church of my early youth and then at string of other faith communities including Fundamentalist, Evangelical and ultimately Charismatic churches I attended over the next 17 years.)

No question about the message—gays are wrong—sinful, evil, ungodly, counter-Christian.

In my teens I also learned about Jesus and his “wonder working power,” and how “if any man (or woman) be in Christ Jesus he (or she) is a new creation. The old is gone behold all things are made new.”

If it were so unnatural and abnormal to have a homosexual orientation, and the power of Jesus through his death and resurrection was so supreme, surely the most logical prayer to cry out would be, “Jesus transform me by your power into a man of God, a non-gay man of God, a straight man of God.”

I heard slogans and testimonies that proclaimed, “Change is Possible!” and testimonies of how people found freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ. I did not read the fine print, Actual change in orientation not actually promised or guaranteed, since no such disclaimers existed at the time.

If I met people who suggested that God couldn’t change me thoroughly, I judged them to be a weak and questionable Christian. I made sure I never attended their church again, and moved on. I always found ministers—straight and ex-gay—who inferred or outright declared that I would experience a genuine inner transformation from my same-sex attractions.

I believed it so much that in faith, after a few years of celibacy, (although I didn’t call it that—I was just being faithful), I married a woman and lived heterosexually. My identity was as a Christian and a married man.

Next Part Two--What Happens When Change is Not Possible?
Part Three--Living on the Outside

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At 6:31 PM , Blogger Christine Bakke said...

"I did not read the fine print, Actual change in orientation not actually promised or guaranteed, since no such disclaimers existed at the time."

And actually, those disclaimers don't exist much even now from the ex-gay leaders. You have to dig in a little deeper, do your own research, ask probing questions and figure out what "change" really means to them in order to see this disclaimer.

I do see some movement among the ex-gay leaders (and some local leaders) to start being more honest about this, and that's great...but it still usually only happens when the right questions are asked in the right way.

In the same way that all of this promise of change was broadcasted in a concerted effort all over the place in the 90s (and up til now), what is really needed is a massive educational effort by ex-gay leaders to undo some of the messages they've been putting out there (if they do indeed want to put the record straight, as it were, and not cause increased suffering to so many who have not heard their recent clarifications).

In my mind, they have a responsibility to go beyond telling the truth to one or two people here or there, or explaining more in one media interview, or one blog entry. They have the responsibility to actually go back and let all these churches, pastors, etc, know that what they really meant, in most cases, was behavior and identity, not basic orientation. Full page newspaper ads ("if you love the gay community, you'll tell them the whole truth") would be nice too :)

Looking forward to parts 2 and 3...DM style all the way! ;)

At 9:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, it's not really DM-style unless you promise to write the series and then forget about it for weeks or months. :)

Seriously though, I'm glad you're writing this. It's good to learn some more of your background. And I think our narratives will complement each other nicely, when I actually get off my ass and write mine. :)

What's intriguing to me in this post is your experience with "the fine print." As I've discussed with Christine before, I always believed that attraction change was pretty darn unlikely at best, at least for me. I wasn't always thrilled about that, but I always accepted it.

I think my pessimistic and underachieving spirit saved me a lot of heartache on the journey. :)

At 7:49 AM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

I was successfully making my way through this post in a fairly detached way, Peterson, until I hit the words "man of God." Then I broke down. In retrospect, I can see how the faith communities I belonged to used these words to enforce conformity and maintain unjust power structures.

On a personal level, I'm just beginning to connect with how much those words hurt. I wanted so badly to be that man of God all the books and men's Bible study groups and sermons trumpeted...but I had a secret curse that was holding me down, and it kept me from ever successfully acting the part for long. Though I never really allowed this thought to form fully in my mind, I knew subconsciously that the secret curse was a woman--the woman I felt compelled to be. And so I developed a "holy" disgust for all things feminine, and systematically worked to purge femininity from my life. It's ironic that this led to a thirst for femininity outside myself, one that was so powerful it manifested in an almost uncontrollable impulse toward pornography--perhaps the ultimate abasement and perversion of femininity.

(I don't know what else to say at this point...except maybe that I just started writing my narrative for bxg. And thank you for posting this.)

At 9:14 AM , Blogger Elliot Coale said...

There are times when I wish I could understand better, Peterson. I wish I could just comprehend a little more what you went through, even though I know it was very painful. I just feel like such a hypocrite by saying "I understand" or "I know" when I really don't. I care very much for you, but when you post about this, I feel like it doesn't matter as much because this was such a big event in your life that I still feel so separate from.

That wasn't a plea for sympathy or anything -- certainly not. Not in any way. Just my thoughts.


At 12:40 PM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

What deliciously long comments. I like long comments.

Ally, I am very keen to hear your story and read your narrative when you are ready. From the little bit I have already learned from you, you bring out an aspect that is so prevalent but often overlooked. I won't say anymore about that.

DM, yeah, I don't think I am going to follow your normal pattern of starting a series and then waiting weeks to complete it. I actually have the other two parts all ready to go, but thought I'd wait and give people a chance to follow it bit by bit. I am not normally this organized, but I wrote the post and it was so L O N G that I thought a series would be the most effective way of getting it out.

Elliot, thanks. I know that not everyone can relate and I guess that is why I spend so much time trying to explain the experience and why it was so precious to me, albeit ultimately harmful. I appreciate you listening.

Christine, now that would be an interesting media campaign on the part of Exodus. Perhaps we can assist them :-P

At 3:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I received this message universally—on the playground, in the media and at church

As I think about this statement, its truth and importance become more obvious to me. Sometimes, I think that we focus so much on the religious sources that propogate this message that we forget the other sources, which can be equally forceful.

I also remember the message that it's bad to be gay coming from classmates. In fact, the first time I ever heard of such a thing as sex between two men was from a brief conversation with a classmate in seventh or eighth grade. Every aspect of my classmate's demeanor made it perfectly clear how contemptable and wrong he found the idea. And this classmate wasn't religious in the slightest. (In fact, he'd often ridicule me for being such a "religious nut" at the time.)

At 7:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a new creation...the old has passed away...this i fervently believed when I became a Christian 35 years ago, left the gay life and tried to become and lead the normal Christian life. After spending much of my life flat lining feeling like I was on some ghastly monorail to death I have been forced to confront who I really am. Im a Christian yes, but I'm also gay. I have just been through a painful honesty/outing experience with my family which is still having ongoing ripple effects. I'm also in the process of trying to reconcile what I have been taught in fundamentalist churches with who I am. I find websites such as these both encouraging and enlightening. Thankyou.

At 12:45 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't feel that the goal is to become straight. The goal is to live the Christian life in wholeness. I believe that some people are able to develope straight tendencies, but ultimately, this is not the message of "ex-gay" ministries. Living a life consistent with Christian teaching is the goal.


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