Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Day of the Demons

Well that is the sort of way we used to refer to Halloween during my Pentecostal Christian days. (Although growing up and gorging on candy, I felt like hurling demons.)

In Memphis lots of the conservative family churches held "Harvest Parties" on Halloween for fear of giving the devil a foothold if the kids got too ghoulish. And I am sure some of you have heard of the Hell House craze blazing across the US scaring the snot out of kids in hopes of bringing them to Christ.

But my FAVORITE Halloween story comes from fellow ex-gay survivor, Christine Bakke as it appeared in Glamour Magazine.
She recalls the church group her parents joined in Oregon, where instead of Halloween celebrations they held an annual Hallelujah Party with kids dressing as their favorite Bible characters. (Even at 11 she had a nonconformist streak: “All the girls wanted to be Mary,” she says, laughing. “I went as a leper!”)
I just e-mailed her to see if she had any of those torn and dirty rags to lend me this year.She replied,
we would be such an awesome halloween couple - you as lazarus me as a leper, both removing our rags....

perhaps we could do some kind of interpretive dance around this? ;)
(photo from Kung Fu Mike)

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Terrorist, an Ex-Gay and a Thief--Oh My!

Jessica Yu, Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker and creator of the beautiful and slightly creepy movie, In the Realms of the Unreal has a new film called Protagonist. The official site for the film states,
On one level, "Protagonist" intercuts the first-person narratives of four men who seem to have nothing in common except their charisma: a former German terrorist, a student of martial arts, a "formerly gay" evangelist and a serial bank robber. But this is only the beginning.

For Yu, who looks on editing as "weaving straw into gold," intercuts these stories not only with each other but with several different kinds of material. She has wooden rod puppets constructed by Janie Geiser doing brief scenes from the plays of Euripides, recited in ancient Greek. She has the same puppets performing scenes from the lives of these four men. And she has a dozen or so 15-second animated moments that go with single thematic words like "provocation," "certainty" and "doubt" that function as "little bits of breathing room."
The film did well at the Sundance Film Festival, got picked up for distribution and will be released in select theaters on November 30th.

From the trailer we learn about four men featured including Mark Pierport, a former ex-gay minister. I've never heard of Pierport before, but it seems we have yet another former ex-gay man coming forward to tell his story. And with Jessica Yu behind the camera, I imagine the film will present an insightful and artfully rendered presentation.

You can view the trailer for Protagonist here and you can see a interview with Yu and more clips from the film here.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Ex-Gay Prison

This weekend I saw my friend Bob Painter, a fellow ex-gay survivor, play the role of Joseph in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. (He has a GREAT voice) In the musical a scene hit me hard and reminded me of our time in the Love in Action program, a residential ex-gay program in Memphis, TN. It was a dreadful time in so many ways and seeing this one scene brought up strong feelings.

Another ex-gay survivor, Vince Cervantes, has inspired me with recent video series about his ex-gay experiences. (See his latest one here). Below is a video where I talk about this and share some clips of Bob's performance. Like musical Joseph, there is also a happy ending to my story.

Here you can see more of Bob's wonderful performance.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Warren Throckmorton on Ex-Gay Harm

Some of you may know that Warren Throckmorton has been working on creating guidelines for counselors and therapists who work with clients who feel an incongruence between their faith and their sexual desires. (This is a simplistic description).

In response to an e-mail exchange with Michael Bussee where Bussee highlighted various harms as a result of the ex-gay experience, on his blog Warren acknowledges that "approaches to change may result in these hurts" and reminds readers that he has criticized such approaches in the past. It is the first time though that he has said anything substantive about harm since the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and the growing proliferation of narratives about ex-gay harm on the web and in the press. Warren doesn't go into much detail in his blog entry other than listing some of Michael's concerns and providing a few of the extreme examples.

Today I left the following comment at Warren's blog:

Warren, I find it admirable and essential that a therapist like yourself take the time to critique the work of your peers as well as those individuals and groups that provide various forms of therapies and ministries with the intent to help others change or suppress their sexual orientation.

As an ex-gay survivor, someone who has experienced harm as a direct result of the ex-gay process that I introduced into my own life and received from ex-gay providers and promoters, I have seen that it is not a matter of bad people doing bad things to others in order to harm them. Rather too often we find good and sincere people acting naively, and as a result, unwittingly causing damage where they intended to bring blessing.

Without carefully considering the various types of harm experienced by ex-gay survivors, and then connecting with these survivors to determine the causes, someone like yourself with the SIT guidelines may end up opening the door to further harm all the time while you strive to aid those you who come to those therapists who may one day use your guidelines.

Sadly my experience with you thus far has demonstrated that you react defensively to questions. You quickly point to the faults of others who have gone before you, and you deflect criticism often with a barrage of psychological language that to me seems like a strategy to silence concerned critics hoping to better understand and improve upon what you attempt to do.

As you seek to build a framework that you expect other mental health providers will use, many of whom have limited knowledge and experience with LGBT people, my hope is that you seriously and thoughtfully consider the many ways that ex-gay survivors like myself have experienced harm.
The unfortunate and real suffering I brought into my life, all the while assisted by loving and kind ministers and therapists, did not simply come from outlandish practices and faulty promises. For me it often came when these well-meaning practitioners acted naively and in ignorance of the broader although often hidden influences pressuring me to seek a change in identity, the suppression of my orientation, and in some cases the hope of actually experiencing a miraculous change.

Spending time with people on the other side of ex-gay, those who have been through the experiences and have spent time looking back unpacking them, you may find that for many of us have struggled with much much more than an incongruence with our faith and our desires. This struggle needs to be explored and then explained in detail for those therapists and counselors seeking to help people with their "unwanted same-sex attractions."

I encourage you to read the narratives of the various ex-gay survivors over at
Beyond Ex-Gay

my blog I recently outlined the various types of harm experienced by the many survivors I have met over the past 4.5 years. These include psychological, emotional, spiritual, physical, developmental, and sexual harm as well as damage to relationships, finances, and career. Over a dozen survivors have added comments giving specific examples of the harm they encountered in their areas.

Most effective of all, I hope you can find and create opportunities to sit down and hear the stories of ex-gay survivors directly. Perhaps you can even do the first serious study that looks at the various types of harm and their causes so that you do not reproduce the same or a similar tragic cycle as those well-meaning care providers who have gone before you.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

I Can't Embrace You; I Can't Let You Go

Currently I'm reading Michael Warner's book The Trouble with Normal--Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. In it Warner writes about the process of being stigmatized by the general society and the effects this process has on our identity, particularly the ambivalence the stigmatized persons may feel when faced with examples (drag queens, leather festivals, flamboyantly feminine men) of the group(s) in which they "belong". (This works for us Christians when we see someone extreme like a screaming thoughtless preacher on the street corner. Or for Quakers when one of us misbehaves and supports the war or God forbid, Israel.)

As someone who lived ex-gay for nearly two decades, when I came "out" I wanted nothing to do with what I thought of as the shady side of the gay lifestyle. I wanted to be a "good gay", an example to the rest of the gay hating world that we are not all wild and crazy. This did not rise out of my faith or morals, but from the revulsion I learned from the mainstream towards the groups into which I was somehow lumped as "one of THEM".

Warner quotes Erving Goffman who writes about the stigmatized person,
Whether closely allied with his own kind or not, the stigmatized individual may exhibit identity ambivalence when he obtains a close sight of his own kind behaving in a stereotyped way, flamboyantly or pitifully acting out the negative attributes imputed to them. The sight may repel him, since after all he supports the norms of the wider society, but his social and psychological identification with these offenders holds him to what repels him, transforming repulsion into shame, and then transforming ashamedness itself into something of which he is ashamed. In brief, he can neither embrace his group nor let it go.
I can totally see this reaction among many gay Christians I have known (and as I said above, I've seen it in myself). But I also think I see it among ex-gay leaders who for all that they have repudiated all things gay, still hang onto a gay identity, albeit an inverted one.

The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference
this summer with the Exodus Ex-Gay Freedom Conference (ex-gay) right up the road reminded me that ex-gays and ex-gay survivors are kin. In fact, we may be more closely aligned with each other than with any other groups of which we belong. We share many of the same experiences, good and bad. We have carried the same hopes and fears. And we have all felt at one time or another like outcasts in the worlds we have sought to call our own.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Blogger is Born!

Yes, a new baby blogger, and turns out I am partly responsible. Sweet. Concerned Citizen writes,
Hello there! I see you've found your way to my blog. In the coming weeks and months, I hope to inform the public as to my thoughts on current issues as well as give advice to that same public, telling them how they can get involved and affecting change on this wonderful planet of ours. I was inspired to make this blog by my good friend, Peterson Toscano. Peterson is an activist playwright and one-man show. He has his own blog, viewable here. He held a discussion group over the weekend on the subject of activism and how to get involved in your community. One of the mentioned methods was blogging, so here I am, making a blog.

So please encourage this new blogger and read the great post about Zimbabwe and post a welcoming comment.
The Musings of a Worried Mind


Doin' Time in Rochester, NY

Phew, so nice to blog about everyday things and not one of those L O N G and serious blog entries. I arrived in Rochester, NY yesterday and tonight did a talk, Homo No Mo? A Provocative Evening with Peterson Toscano. I did excerpts from Homo No Mo and Queer 101, (the scene with Chad & Federico Garcia Lorca) and then a little bit from Transfigurations.

The amazing thing about the presentation is that it was only confirmed late yesterday afternoon, and through the wonder of social networking via Facebook, loads of people got invited and a good number turned out. Alex at Pride Network and Nils of the Eco House (who I know from New England Quakers) organized the event. So yes, Facebook is awesome.

I stayed in Eco House, a cooperative living arrangement where they do loads of things to live in such a way to decrease their environmental footprint. They hang their clothes to dry (dryers use tons of energy), they buy local produce, maintain a vegetarian household (then went vegan while I was here--thanks!), they share one car among seven people, they each have bikes including a house bike (yes, I rode a bike around town), and they don't flush the toilet when one only pees (which I also practice at home--if it's yellow, let it mellow. if it's brown, flush it down. But at home it is easier when it is only my urine in the bowl).

Tonight Nils and Gena and I biked down to to Equal Grounds, a queer run cafe/bookstore/gourmet chololate shop below where Alex and Eric live, both from the Pride Network. We all talked about so many things. This is what I love about what I do. It is like being in an advance, independent study graduate course. Eric, from Portland, told me he is studying something like Eco Psychology (I know he called it something different). We talked about E.O. Wilson, the TED talks, the pros and cons of having an LGBT Resource Center with paid staff, the phenomenon of cross-dressing straight frat boys, the demographics of MySpace and Facebook users, Ferdinand the Bull (read by Nils--see the 1938 Disney cartoon here) and the coolness of Portland, OR.

Okay in other news some glad some very sad...
  • Barack Obama got caught up in the ex-gay debate.
  • Dumbledore is gay (and I have my suspicions about Professor Mcgonagall)
  • The US House of Representatives have postponed their vote of the Equal Non-Discrimination Act.
  • USA Today featured the story of transgender Methodist Pastor Drew Phoenix.
  • Doris Lessing FINALLY wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and talks about the state of feminism.
  • Blogger Disputed Mutability is with child and still maintains life as a blogger (kinda, and she has loads of material to share, and I will get to hang out with her soon).
  • Steve Schalchlin muses about the science behind Musical Healing, (not to be confused with sexual healing).
  • Alex Resare has a new blog address.
  • Bruce Garrett is trapped in his new car and refuses to get out.
  • And here is the sad one, blogger Darian Aaron, shares the shocking story of his friend, fellow-writer Ramone Johnson, who became the target of a homophobic physical assault in NYC. Ramone writes about his experience here.
Ramone, contributer of's Gay Life column shares,
As I write this I don't know what hurts worse: My stomach or my eye or the fact that a gay bar kicked me out and refused to help me. I've spent the past five years trying to empower gay men, hoping with all my heart that we can one day roam the streets without being afraid, and here I sit at my computer, hurting physically and psychologically. If we can't protect ourselves who will?
Perhaps we need some legal protection. President Bush? You out there? No need to veto all the good laws.

Tomorrow I fly off to Columbus, OH where I will see my buddy, Bobby Painter, in the lead role of Joseph spinning around in his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat (aka Princess Dress!)

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Ex-Gay Harm--What Does it Mean for You?

Last week I posted a blog entry outlining the various types of harm ex-gay survivors may experience. In Ex-Gay Harm--Let Me Count the Ways I listed nine categories of areas where people who attempted to live ex-gay or were coerced to do so might experience harm:
  • emotional
  • psychological
  • spiritual
  • relationship
  • financial
  • career
  • physical
  • sexual
  • developmental
One commenter, John, suggested a 10th category of intellectual harm. Many people commented so far giving specific examples of how they experienced harm in one or more of the categories.

Reading these accounts I imagine many people feel moved by the pain and suffering ex-gay survivors have endured and still endure. I also find it encouraging that survivors have also found ways to recover and reclaim their lives.

In this post I want to address specific groups of people--Ex-Gay Survivors, Current Ex-Gays, Ex-Gay Providers, and Allies. I ask the query, But what does this mean for you?

Ex-Gay Survivors
Seeing the categories of harm, reading the descriptions and then the specific examples, what does this mean for you? We are all in different places of our recovery. For some we packed our ex-gay experiences away in the closet as we exited it. We've never mention it again partly because it feels painful and even embarrassing.

First thing we need to create safe spaces for ourselves. Facing the ex-gay harm alone may cause us to get traumatized all over again. We need to break the cycle of isolation find safe people who will compassionately listen without offering tons of advice, but instead will hear us. I know some people live in remote places, and it seems they have no one. One of the great advantages of the Internet is that we can connect with people far away and build a supportive community that way. Having someone nearby may be ideal, but not always practical. Through safe on-line communities and in your actual communities, build friendships where you turn for the support and comfort and validation you need as you unpack your ex-gay experiences.

Secondly tell your story. It may only be to one person or anonymously on-line or to a whole crowd, but the process of telling our stories, honestly and vulnerably,becomes a healing process. Seeing the expressions on people's faces as they listen to your struggles, knowing that someone else bears the burden with you, lightens the load.

We can tell our stories in so many ways. Some have already done so through leaving comments at my recent blog post. Others have also expanded their comments and republished them on their blogs and web sites. You can read what Eric and Barry James Moore posted. Some, like Christine turned to art to process the pain and the pieces of the story that might get stuck with words. For me the art process helped me dig deep and grapple with my ex-gay past as I explored it through theater and comedy and storytelling. You can create a short film about your ex-gay experiences like Vince Cervantes has been doing. Others have submitted their narratives to bXg.

The important thing to keep in mind is that we tell our stories first for ourselves. Sure our narratives will help others in many ways, but first and foremost they will serve as part of our recovery process.

Ex-gay survivors may not be ready to face their ex-gay pasts, the damage they experienced and caused others. You may have far too much on your plate right now. That is fine. You can place your ex-gay experiences on the shelf and come back to them another day. They will be waiting for you, and you may find you have the courage, strength and resources to address them at a future date.

Finally, to ex-gay survivors I encourage you to pursue professional help when needed, especially if you are feeling depressed. After having "therapists" harm us in the ex-gay setting, I know it can be challenging to open up to someone again, but it may be the very help you need. Some have turned to churches and other faith communities. This can be helpful, but it can also create problems for some, especially those deeply wounded by the faith communities they loved and lost. You may find that going to a different style of church or faith community, one that you have not known before, may help in keeping you from experiencing post traumatic stress and such. Some former Evangelicals find comfort in an Anglican or Catholic service. I have found that the Quakers, with the stripped down silence, to be especially helpful for me.

Current Ex-Gays
I know that thoughtful blogging ex-gays have asked, "Well if you are an ex-gay survivor, what does that make me?" I know the term ex-gay survivor can be difficult for some current ex-gays to accept in describing ex-ex-gays, but for many of us we cannot think of a better term to illustrate our experiences.

What does the list of harm I outlined mean to those of you who currently identify as ex-gay (or some other term that you prefer)? When I lived ex-gay for 17 years, I was oblivious to any harm I may have brought on myself. I found myself in the midst of a spiritual battle and considered any feelings of depression or confusion or loss as part of the struggle to break from the world as I died to myself and crucified myself with Christ.

In the midst of it, I could not see the harm to my personality and even my relationship with God. I could not afford to see it. But God desires truth in the inmost part. Living in a way to avoid certain realities kept God's grace at bay. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and perhaps taking stock of our lives in light of potential harm we may have introduced may be an act of humility.

The reality is that the vast majority of same-sex attracted people who attempt to live free of their attractions or to label them as sinful and therefore off-limits, something to be nailed down and healed, will find that such a life does not work for them. It becomes unhealthy and unnecessary. Even Alan Chambers, current president of Exodus International, in stating that Exodus has a 30% success rates, in a backwards way acknowledges that there is at least a 70% failure rate. From the folks I've know, I see that this "failure" doesn't come from lack of trying or sincerity. For many it comes after much soul-searching and agonizing in prayer and it comes with fears and doubts and concerns.

You may not be ex-gay for the rest of your life. And if you should come to the place where you see that an ex-gay life is unworkable, it is not the end of the world. You can live a healthy, holy and peaceful life.

Now as you receive ex-gay ministry or treatment, or simply maintain your ex-gay walk after receiving care, consider how to best protect yourself and your loved ones from harm. Do not lightly walk into a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Do not fracture your life into those times of doing good and those times of doing poorly. See your life as a whole. Too often I would struggle and fall, get back up, wipe myself off and begin anew, not realizing that I lived in a fixed pattern. The progress I desperately wanted to see was illusionary at best.

Take note of your mental, emotional, psychological and physical well-being. Sometimes our bodies sends us important messages that our minds cannot see. If you become depressed, emotionally exhausted, isolated or even chronically ill with no apparent cause, consider how your ex-gay experiences may affect your health.

Do not be afraid to pursue professional help. How many times did ex-gay providers tell me that I need to avoid secular help? But we need to realize that many of the ex-gay ministers and counselors have limited education and may overlook something that requires the attention of a professional, particularly when it comes to psychological distress.

Ex-Gay Providers & Promoters
After the launch of Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg) and this summer's Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, I felt surprised and baffled by the insensitive and dismissive tone many ex-gay leaders and promoters took towards the stories of ex-gay survivors. I know it can be challenging to consider how something you do to help others might harm them, but the defensive and snarky reactions revealed to me that some of these ex-gay survivor narratives struck a nerve.

Christine and I did find a tiny handful of current ex-gay leaders who agreed to listen to some of the survivors share their stories over dinner, but we also heard from eye-witnesses at the Exodus Conference that senior leadership discouraged people from attending the dinner and even misrepresented it.

To those who provide and promote ex-gay ministries and therapies, I believe that most of you mean well. You genuinely want to help LGBT people and believe that the ex-gay route is the best route. Lots of gay activists may question this, but I have met enough of the ex-gay leaders personally to know that one of their major motives for offering ex-gay services is a sincere quest to help those who they feel would be lost otherwise. I believe they have other motives too as none of us do anything with a single, pure motive.

But what baffles me is that when you have someone under your care, you minister to them, encourage them and walk with them, how is it that once they leave your care and your way of thinking that they become "the other" and in many cases "untouchables"? But more importantly, how can you discount their experiences?

I can't buy a cup of soy latte these days without having to fill out some sort of form or evaluations asking me to describe my caffeine experience? Yet people can spend months, even years and many dollars in an ex-gay program, yet once they leave their opinions do not count.

Perhaps they do at some of the smaller ministries, but since 1999 I have heard from people who have tried to communicate with Exodus about harmful practices at specific Exodus programs, but have barely gotten a hearing and then told that nothing can be done. Dismissed. Invalidated. Ignored. It is a bad business practice. It seems unethical. It runs counter to the ministry model I see in the New Testament, particularly the ministry of Jesus.

For people who run ex-gay ministries, provide ex-gay counseling, promote ex-gay experiences and refer to people to ex-gay programs, to folks who, like Warren Throckmorton, are trying to come up with therapeutic guidelines for those who want to suppress their sexual orientation, you need to sit down, shut up and listen.

I don't mean to be rude, but too many of you have immediately gone on the defensive and shut your ears. Warren Throckmorton, Alan Chambers, Jason Thompson*, PFOX and Focus on the Family have each publicly downplayed the harm that ex-gay survivors say they experienced. Some say that no scientific proof exists that harm occurs. That is because no one has taken the time and the care to effectively study the harm. The recent study by Yarhouse and Jones fails miserably.

But these many stories that have emerged the past six months speak volumes. They reveal the role the church, society, family as well as ex-gay practices and theories play in damaging people who have come to you for help.

It's a hard pill to swallow, but we're not making this stuff up. We speak out as a witness and a warning. For those of you who provide and promote ex-gay experiences and theories, what does this mean to you? How willing are you to sit and listen at length over the next year to these people who once were under your care? Yes, it may mean you will have to rethink some things. You may experience pain and grief. You may also grow in grace and knowledge and love.

UPDATE 10/23/07 9:00 PM
[*I mistakenly placed Jason Thompson in with a list of people who "have each publicly downplayed the harm that ex-gay survivors say they experienced." Actually Jason Thomson is one of the few who have publicly acknowledged possible harm and showed some compassion towards ex-gay survivors. In his August newsletter he writes,
The day of their conference I went with two other leaders to visit them. They were grateful we stopped by. A great sadness and a measure of confusion came over me. What happened to these men and women? In what ways do our ministries contribute to their pain? What are we saying or not saying, doing, or not doing that we can learn to do differently. Obviously, our foundational understanding of God’s truth is different than theirs and these differences can never be reconciled. At the same time, we in Exodus ministries don’t always do everything right. There is room for us to learn.
I had read the newsletter when it was published after Jason e-mailed me about it, but since then in writing this post, I remembered only the part where he gave his definition of ex-ex-gays, a definition that seems both simplistic and inaccurate of the ex-gay survivors who attended our conference. He wrote:
(If you are a little confused, “ex-ex-gays” are men and women who sought change but then found the journey to be too painful and now are content being gay as well as speaking out against the message of freedom).
Jason also acknowledged harm in the form of a public comment he left on Ex-Gay Watch. In prefacing a point about Ex-Gay Watch he states, "It is evident that ex-gay ministries have harmed many."

Although Jason and I can disagree on several items, he has publicly shown his willingness to consider the harm that ex-gay survivors say they experienced. I apologize for overlooking Jason's previous comments.]

Allies, Friends, Family and Partners of Ex-Gay Survivors
Thank you for being there. You may have no firsthand knowledge of what what ex-gay survivors experienced, yet you listen, you try to understand. In reading our narratives I hope you can gain insight into some of the challenges that some of us have in forming intimate relationships with you. You may bump into a wall and wonder if you have done something wrong or if there is something wrong with you. The wall may be one erected years ago through ex-gay therapy and ministry designed to keep us from experiencing intimacy and acceptance. It may be a wall of shamed piled high over time. It may be a wall of fear that we will get rejected once again.

Sometimes the ex-gay survivor in your life may not wish to talk about his or her experience. Too painful. But one of the best gifts you can give is a listening ear, let their stories sink in and simply be there for the person. No need to offer advice, just listen and hear and reflect back what you hear. What a gift. Express your shock and your sadness over what your loved one has to share. Let them know they are safe with you. And even though the ex-gay experience is not one you have encountered, assure them that you want to understand it and more importantly you desire to understand them.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ex-Gay Harm--Let Me Count the Ways

In the past 4.5 years I have been in contact with over 1000 ex-gay survivors. These are people who pursued ex-gay experiences, either on their own, or more often, assisted by others like a therapist, minister, ex-gay program. They attempted to change or suppress their sexual orientation and may have referred to themselves as ex-gays or simply strugglers or by some other name.

Through hearing their stories (some of which are posted on Beyond Ex-Gay--bXg) and in unpacking my own ex-gay journey, I have begun to understand the many ways people can be harmed by their ex-gay experiences. Many of us also received certain benefits from our ex-gay experiences, but in most cases the harm outweighs the good.

I realize that the ex-gay experience is not the only culprit in bringing harm. The anti-gay church and a homophobic society and in many cases one's own family contribute to the damage. But what the ex-gay experience does is deepen that harm by offering hope for some sort of change or freedom. Led by sincere and caring people, our ex-gay programs, therapists and ministers encouraged us and because of their kindness and sincerity, we often pressed on long after we realized the it was not working. Only afterwards did we began to understand the trauma we introduced into our lives as a result of submitting to ex-gay experiences.

Below is a list of categories outlining areas of harm along with brief descriptions for each. I invite ex-gay survivors to leave comments with specific examples and further explanations for any of the categories that resonate for them. They can even add new categories.

(warning: this can be heavy stuff to look at, so before you do, make sure you feel somewhat prepared and aware that this might bring up stuff for you)

Ex-gay experiences can harm us in several ways.
  • Emotional Harm--evidenced in feelings of shame, fear, stress, disappointment, exhaustion and rejection (especially when one is shunned)
  • Psychological Harm--manifested in the forms of depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress and in some cases the triggering of a psychotic break
  • Spiritual Harm--
    • in the form of chronic discouragement, fear of God, and loss of faith communities and even of faith
    • distrust of spiritual leaders
    • a spiritual crisis of integrity and incongruence through the constant message that You cannot be gay and Christian
  • Relationship Harm--through the loss of vital relationships or damage to relationships with
    • parents
      • who, believing change is possible and necessary, reject children who will not choose to be ex-gay
      • who through ex-gay teachings get blamed for their child's sexual orientation thus creating tension between the child and parent (and also causing deep pain and shame for parents)
    • spouses/partners
      • partners of the opposite sex that we dated and married because we believed such a life was possible but found it led to divorce and pain and loss for our spouse, ourselves and others, including children.
      • relationship with a current same-sex partner that gets hindered because of the shame and fear drilled into us by our ex-gay experiences
    • friends
      • who we kept/keep at a distance because we were trained to distrust intimacy for fear that we will develop an emotionally dependent/enmeshed relationship or romantic/sexual relationship
      • who we rejected once we became ex-gay and they represented a risk to the ex-gay lives we pursued
      • who rejected us because the conditional nature of the friendship. Once we no longer identified as ex-gay and a struggler, they ended the relationship
  • Financial Harm--
    • Some spent hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars on ex-gay treatment, at seminars and conferences and on books and tapes
    • Some parents refused to pay for college or even basic living expenses when a child would not attend an ex-gay program.
  • Career Harm--
    • Some left careers considered "unsafe" for a struggler
    • Some interrupted school and careers to take a diversion into ex-gay treatment
  • Physical Harm---in the form of health issues triggered by stress and depression leading to back problems, skin conditions, etc.
  • Sexual Harm--in the form of damaging sex eduction
    • Sexually naive people (many who never even had sex) learned about "gay sex" from sex addicts who expressed their sexuality through risky and even illegal behaviors often because of the shame and self-loathing they felt.
    • Program leaders, therapists and "testimonies" transmitted negative messages about sexual expression between people of the same-sex which can hinder people from enjoying a healthy, satisfying sexuality even after leaving ex-gay treatment.
  • Developmental Harm--because of stunted growth in key areas while we focused our efforts on our ex-gay experiences. Many of us stopped living our lives and diverted our limited energies into the ex-gay process thus hindering personal growth at vital developmental moments

Those of us who have suffered and still stuffer harm from ex-gay experiences need not be victims. The process required to face the pain and loss and unpack our ex-gay experience takes time and support. It requires grieving and forgiveness--especially we need to forgive ourselves for the times we subjected ourselves to harmful ex-gay conversion therapies and ministries.

We need not be stuck though. Many have moved beyond their ex-gay experiences and the damage to embrace life afresh and forge new paths. They even have been able to salvage the good they gained from the ex-gay experiences as they recover from the harm. For some of us, part of the process means looking at the list above in order to acknowledge and validate the damage we suffered.

When I feel discouraged about the many losses from my nearly two decades of ex-gay living, I remind myself that I allowed myself to go through much of that mess. If I could get myself into all that trouble, I have the power and resources to get myself out.

Please feel free to share your experiences in the comment section or e-mail me at or visit bXg and fill out a contact form. Thank you and may you continue to find courage and support in your journey.

(special thanks to all the survivors who contributed their thoughts this week as I began writing this post.)

Now that you have considered some of the harm, What Does it Mean for You?

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Quaker Art

Art by Quakers fills my life today. Some months ago Robert Batson, a member of Hartford Friends Meeting (aka Quaker), exhibited some of his work at the meeting house. The art captured my attention, and I purchased piece. Today I brought home the 18"x24" Untitled painting by Robert. I love the colors and the use of space and the emotions, some contrary, that piece expresses to me. (click on it for larger view)
Then after meeting we had our monthly potluck lunch where I met a visitor, a retired high school art teacher. Sadly I did not catch his name, but he offered to draw something on my journal cover. He created this dove.
Finally while sitting with Jamie Taylor, a Friend from meeting, we chatted about literature and art (and a thousand other things. A PhD candidate doing research in public policy and homelessness, Jamie embraces many interests--poetry, meditation, social justice issues, dynamics of relationships, etc. So we converse broadly)

As we talked about art and the strange fit for the artist in the Quaker community, I doodled something I have titled Quacker Worship. I think Alex in Sweden inspired me as he attended a Quaker retreat near Stockholm this weekend (note the colors).
Quaker Art--a strange fit. As a performance artist working in comedy, I find that presenting to a Quaker audiences fills me with anxiety and concerns that I rarely experience in other venues. Some Friends enjoy and "get" what I do, but I regularly meet Quakers who do not (and tell me so as they offer their critiques, suggestions and sources of offense). I find that some Quakers offend easily. Some focus so much on words that they miss the point. I do take some of what they say seriously and consider it to see if it speaks to me (usually it does not).

Art for me comes from a place of worship--it serves as worship infused with messages. It is ministry (and yes I still shrink from that word but begin to accept it). I do occasionally speak in meeting (vocal ministry). But my art is my worship and includes more than words.

At the Ex-Gay Survivors Conference Christine Bakke organized an art show, created collages of the ex-gay experience and currently curates our on-line gallery. Seeing the impact of that art on those who have viewed it reminds me that people need more than vocal ministry. In fact, vocal ministry can get stuck in the head (and we Quakers can be a heady bunch). Words get clogged and can miss the mark, but art--visual, musical, performance, dance, film--can bypass the filters and get to a deeper place in us.

Often an audience member tells me they feel moved by one of my shows, but they do not fully understand why. They sometimes hear messages that I never utter or script. Art wedded with Spirit aids our abilities to grow, heal, feel challenged and find hope.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Happy Day

Yeah, I feel happy today. A reporter once asked me if after all of my time in the ex-gay world, if now that I have sorted that out and embraced myself as a Christian who happens to be gay (and lots more) if I am now happy. I understand the question, but I think it silly and inane. I mean, happy??? I mean is anyone truly happy?

Content? Yes. Peaceful? Totally. Settled and hopeful? Completely. But happy? No.
Rarely do I feel happy. It might just be my general disposition. Although I can be sanguine, I tend to lean toward melancholy. I eat up sad songs and sad poems. The existentialism of Ecclesiastes and Baudelaire draws me. Also, look at the world! Lots of stuff out there gets me down. Bad stuff. Wrong stuff. Unnecessarily cruel stuff.

But today I feel absolutely happy and joyful. Such a simple day in many ways but thoroughly satisfying. After a pleasant evening with Mike Airhart and Steve F (with his guide dog Whitley), I woke up well rested after eight hours of sleep. In the morning I made green tea (my my really nice little brown clay pots I bought in NYC's Chinatown about eight years ago.)

As the day progressed I wrote some in my journal and answered e-mails. I spoke on the phone with filmmaker and scholar Harjant Gill about PhD programs in Cultural Studies (very cool and clever guy). I chatted via AIM with Noa in Sweden and Heath in Texas. The chats possessed that jaunty quick quality interspersed with forays into deep topics like the Gnostic Gospels, Quakerism, and sexual identity.

In the mid-afternoon I received phone confirmation that I will perform in Denver in two weeks at the MCC and got a very encouraging e-mail from John about possibly doing some shows in Austin at some point in the future.

Since the day shined with clear cool autumn brightness, I drove myself out of my comfy lair about 3:00 in the afternoon and met up with my cousin TJ for coffee at Tisane, a cafe near both of our homes (we live three blocks apart from each other.) He came back to my place where I put on some albums (yes, LPs) of Run DMC, Mos Def and Duke Ellington.

Now that I have succumbed to Facebook, throughout the day I have interfacedbook (my new word) with Auntie Doris, "Dani" and Morgan Jon Fox (who is working with me on some very cool Memphis gigs).

Now I have Nina Simone on the record player. I have sesame-encrusted, miso and maple syrup-glazed green beans with mushrooms and spinach in the rice cooker (I make it do so much more than just rice!) and Episode Two (Joan of Arf) of the current season of the Sarah Silverman Show queued up in iTunes.

Then later in the evening I will sit down with some Joyce Carol Oates and then maybe some William Penn as I start to settle down for worship tomorrow morning at Quaker Meeting. All in all a happy day.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Coming to Columbus & Denver & Portland & Sweden!

Later this month after my show at SUNY Brockport (near Rochester, NY), I fly to Columbus, OH to see my buddy Bobby Painter perform as the leading role of Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (and if you saw my last presentation at Greenbelt, you will know what that story is REALLY all about!)

I just got confirmation that while I am in Columbus I will perform Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House at New Creation Metropolitan Community Church, Sunday October 28 at 7:00 PM. You can get the full details at my site. So if you are in the Columbus area, come on by (and if you want to see Bobby as Joseph, let me know and I will get you the details. He is an amazing singer and has been working out for weeks for the half-naked scenes. Biblical theater can be so racy.)

The following weekend (Nov 2-4) I will be in Estes Park with the Quakers (outside of Denver) and although it has not been confirmed yet, I may present something at the Denver MCC--Metropolitan Church of the Rockies. Keep your eye on the performance schedule.

And for you Texas people....nothing. But my booking agent has begun to make some inquiries in Austin and Dallas. Of course if you have any contacts at universities or churches, let me know and I will pass them on. (I write this because you guys are the biggest whiners in the world about me not doing anything in your area :-)

In other travel news, I will be back in Portland, Oregon from December 3-17 to hang out with guys of the Anawim Community, who I got to know in January when I joined them at their annual retreat. These are grounded, wise and sincere gay Christan men, deeply spiritual and good fun. I get to stay with Doug and Bruce until they tire of me. I also have some super Quaker connections in Portland (hey Noël and Bonnie!) and Salem (hey Peggy and Alivia!) and other super folks I have met through the university, the MCC and the Q Center. I have no immediate plans to present anything in Portland as I am mainly going to rest and reflect and consume copious amounts of high quality coffee with even higher quality friends, but I may do one or two simple presentations.

On Christmas Day I fly to Stockholm then Umeå to visit Alex, Noa and the kids for a few weeks. Dark, bitter cold northern Sweden in the dead of winter. Delicious. I might just do a show so that I don't freeze to death.
Boys, you will have to keep me warm!

Having been home for over a month feels great. I tidied up, rearranged, got loads done, connected with friend and feel very very content, so I am glad I don't go too far for a copy of weeks. Of course with such brilliant people in those far away places, it makes it easy to leave my comfy lair.

Right now I'm listening to the new Radiohead In Rainbows album with its distinctive Radiohead dreamy, dreary sound. Good tunes for an overcast day.

UPDATE: After being harassed for weeks, I caved and joined Facebook. So all you harassers, work your Facebook magic and make me your friends or bedbugs or level 5 angel-sluts or whatever its called on Facebook.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are

On the road I meet loads of people who live partially out of the closet. They do have some queer friends, especially on-line. They may have someone in their lives "who knows" but they tell virtually no one on their job, in their family, or in their place of worship that they may be lesbian or gay or bisexual. (I don't mention transgender people because I can understand many of the healthy reasons to be silent about the trans experience).

And I can see why many LGB folks silence themselves about their orientation. I get the e-mails and talk to folks who perceive that to come out would be mean loss--colossal loss of relationships, jobs, housing, financial support for college, and even expulsion from precious faith communities. In most states in the USA, one is not protected on the job in regards to sexual orientation (and it is worse for trans folks).

Then there is the physical danger. Even in parts of liberal NYC, to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex provokes violence--verbal and physical.

So yes, we experience real impediments to coming out, some external, but for most of us the biggest obstacles remain internal. Through years of living under the weight of homophobia and in a society that insists that heterosexuality is the ideal norm, we build up storehouses of shame and fear and self-loathing. We may even express disgust at what we view as "the gay lifestyle" mirroring what our oppressors say about us.

The Coming Out process takes time. It takes courage. It takes building a network of safe people. It means that our lives may turn upside down, or even more surprising, that things won't really change that much at all.

When we walk around with shame about who we are, we send out the message that it is okay to treat us shamefully. When we embrace the depth and beauty and uniqueness of who we are, even if people do not like us, they will treat us with respect.

People often remark to me that when I speak in public about my life, one of the things that sticks out for them is how comfortable I appear in my skin. They say it disarms people the way that I express my contentment with who I am as a gay man, as a Christian, as a Quaker, as a vegan, as ME. I don't see it myself with all of the various insecurities I carry, but I do know that the coming out process for me has contained much more than simply announcing "I'm here, I'm queer, get over it!"

The process has become more than just coming out gay. Rather it has meant coming out as ME. In a world that claims to celebrate individuality and uniqueness, we experience tremendous pressures to conform, be it in the conservative church, the gay party boy culture, the Quaker meeting house, the lesbian drum circle or a thousand other groups that draw us.

The act of self-discovery, leading to a fearless willingness to truly be ourselves, creates conflicts and challenges for those around us. But with the potential difficulties, it also brings much needed wholeness and health.

I became a born-again Evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, Republican Christian at the age of 17 (even though I presented as a flaming homosexual without even trying). That is when I went to war with parts of myself. At the same time I began to suffer lower back problems with my back going out almost every six months, sometimes for as long as a week at a time. The problem continued and grew worse. It happened the week before I got married. I ultimately developed a herniated disc that hurt so much, I could only lie down or sit for 20 minutes at time before having to stand or walk to relieve the pain. I never got surgery for it and just endured the pain for six months until it began to heal.

Once I came out and worked through years of gunk I piled on myself, my back stopped going out. My body sent me a message all those years. Something is out of whack. My body mirrored the imbalance inside me. Today even with all the plane travel and the many different hotel beds, my back stays solid and has not gone out in over seven years.

Today is National Coming Out Day. At his blog Journeyman notes how dark the closet can be. Even if you can't imagine fully coming out and you feel you must keep a foot in the closet (or more) turn on some light and invite someone into your life. As the 1980's AIDS activists taught us Silence=Death. And we experience death in the closet in thousands of ways. Similarly waiting for us outside we will discover thousands of ways to live.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Four Former Wives of Gay Husbands Speak Out

Here at this blog I have featured the stories of women married to men who tried to live straight lives, but ultimately could not. The stories and the comments left by others, some just trying to come to grips with their husbands' sexuality, sadden me and move me.

The most common key words in search engines that bring people to this sight have to do with questions like, How do I know if my husband is gay? In the post My Gay Husband--A Spouse Speaks Out, Susanne tells some of her story. Just today a women left the following comment.
I've been married for 15 yrs. to a caring man. However, he's always had a low sex drive, not ED but more like avoiding sex. He watches movies late at night and goes to bed after me. I've tried many times to approach him on this, but always comes up with an excuse, like we just had sex last week, in reality it could be a couple of months ago, or he says well you fell asleep before me. He vowes that he loves me and does alot of kind things for me. However, I starting to feel resentment towards him that sometimes I wish I could just jump off a bridge. I have not found any proof that he is cheating with a man or a woman.

I do know that when he was a kid he was molested by a man once. I do not want to be insensitive to what he maybe going through. Whether he is gay or I don't know what. However, life is short and I feel like I deserve to be loved physically. I don't see cheating as an option, for I know that is not the answer. I would rather find out the truth even it hurts. I do not how to begin.
Over at my Spanish blog, I received a similar comment from a woman who does not know how to respond to the fact that her husband looks at gay porn. When asked about it, he denies being gay and won't talk any more about it.

Many of these women feel trapped in a world where they dare not talk to friends and family. They can feel isolated and often hopeless.

Truth Wins Out
has issued a video of four women, all formerly married to men who turned out to be gay. Some of their husbands even tried ex-gay therapy. These women tell their stories simply and raise a red flag about ex-gay conversion therapy.

At (bXg) we also feature the story of Barbara Leavitt, a Mormon woman who married a man who turned out to be gay even after getting "help". I saw in my 17 years in the ex-gay movement, that the vast majority of mixed marriages--ex-gay with straight a straight spouse, ended in divorce leaving a wake of pain and confusion and loss. And sadly there are often few people willing to help pick up the pieces and support these spouses who suddenly face very difficult choices.

This year for National Coming Out Day, let's remember the spouses--they too are ex-gay survivors and their stories deserve to be heard as a witness and a warning.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ex-Gay Survivor Vince Tells His Story

Vince Cervantes, an ex-gay survivor and one of the this year's Soulforce Equality Riders (and an attender of this summer's Ex-Gay Survivor Conference), has been sharing his experiences on his blog and through video. In the following two videos he goes into detail about the reasons he pursued a variety of ex-gay therapies and ministries. He really captures the mindset, the motivations and the conflicts that many us experienced when we lived ex-gay lives.

About the videos he writes:
I finally share about my personal experience with conversion therapy and the ex-gay movement. I know I ramble and I'm a bit all over the place in this blog (forgive me, I'm sick).

I will elaborate through writing, but feel free to ask questions--I'm always willing to share.
Thank you Vince for coming forward and sharing your story.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

The Cottage

I mentioned in my previous post that I have begun to work on some new projects. One of these is fixing up my cottage that is located in the New York State Catskills nestled in the hills of Sullivan County.

About two years ago I got some land with the cottage on it. Lovely little building that used to sit on the nearby lake but over 70 years ago before someone relocated it up the hill and settled it on the property that I now own. The cottage sits on a grassy ridge overlooking a meadow. All together I have two acres of land.

Although a nice looking structure, years of neglect left it desperately in need of a new roof, some other structural work and major clean-up. The floors sag from rot. In other words it is not yet ready for habitation. But last week workers finished the roof, so it will no longer leak, and I can begin to get to work on the interior. My plans include keeping it simple. A wood stove for the heating system. A composting toilet. Some solar panels to help with the electricity. And clean open spaces. In the meadow I will plant some fruit trees--apple, pear, peaches--then put berry bushes along the border of the meadow--blueberry, blackberry, etc. Some of the land I will let go wild to give animals a place to live.

Now I am not one for physical exertion. I hate breaking a sweat, but after five years of doing lots of brain work, it felt great getting dirty and sweaty this weekend as I worked on the property. While working remembered the first job I got when I attended Nyack College back in 1983. An elderly couple needed someone to clear out the brush from their back garden. I worked for three days steady clearing bushes and weeds and trees that had grown up over twenty years. Such satisfying work (I guess I can see why President Bush prefers brush clearing on his Crawford ranch to his actual job).

Saturday would have been my 17th wedding anniversary. October 6th. That date crushed me every year since our separation and subsequent divorce. I used to fill up with shame and regret and sadness. I couldn't face the end of the marriage. For years I couldn't even go through the few things I had in storage from the time of the marriage. This year I remembered the date, but did not feel the weight of it.

They say time heals wounds. Perhaps. For me art and prayer and tears and talking and counseling and friends have brought the deepest healing in my life. For so long I felt like my leaky broken cottage. Broken in part because of wrong choices, mainly the choice to live a heterosexual life instead of facing the reality of my orientation thus causing pain and suffering for the people I loved.

For the past 9 1/2 years, as I emerged from the ex-gay life I lived, I have been rebuilding my life. I have pulled down walls, riped up floors--deconstructed before I could begin any kind of reconstruction. Severe work, dirty work--the basics. I labored to make my life habitable and had little time for window dressing or gardening.

The wonder of our lives is that we can rebuild. We can heal. We can emerge, scarred perhaps, but also strong and healthy and ready to embrace life anew. No wonder the resurrection and spring and the phoenix and all the ancient symbols of new life speak so deeply to so many people. They are not just old stories for us to celebrate, but hopeful patterns for us to experience today.

I know that people reading this blog have suffered genuine heartache and loss and damage because of their time in the ex-gay movement, or a marriage to a spouse who tried to go straight, or because of religious teachings designed to cage us instead of free us, and all sorts of other forms of abuse. Sometimes it feels absolutely hopeless. It can seem like the walls and ceiling have fallen on our heads, and that survival, let alone a peaceful fulfilling need life, seems impossible.

Yeah, I know that feeling. That deflated exhausted feeling. So exhausted that the thought of making a move winded me, weighed me down to the point it became an accomplishment to just get out of bed. Some of you know what I'm talking about. Plowing through that muck takes energy and support. Not something we can do alone, although it seems we to go it alone much of the time.

What is that scripture I heard quoted so many times? Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Some nights last for far too L O N G. We may pine for the night to engulf us and silence the pain. But yet a crazy spark remains in us, sometimes mirrored for us in our friends and those who love us best. We hear a word or a story or see an image that gives us hope, even for a brief moment, and me continue to press through the muck.

One day, someone very dear to you will thank you for the all the hard work you have done to rebuild this precious life of yours.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Autumn Musings

It would be a perfect autumn day if it weren't so darn hot and if the trees had actually begun to change color. Usually Columbus Day Weekend (a dreadful commemoration of genocide and greed) is the "peak" weekend for seeing the trees. With the high temperatures and lack of rain, the trees remain green, or simply turn brown and quickly drop to the ground.

I just put up some more performances over at my performance schedule. Others are in the works, but I don't have enough details to post them yet. I purposely have cut back on my presentations this autumn, in large part because I have begun to work on some new projects and need more time at home to dig into them.

One of these is my Transfigurations play, which looks at the lives and stories of transgender, genderqueer and gender-different in the Bible and the world today. I shared some of this material at Greenbelt and received an enthusiastic response. Ultimately I hope to turn the piece into a musical. I am scheduled to do a version of it on November 19 at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. (I did Homo No Mo there last year and fell in love with the folks at the Stonewall LGBT Resource Center).

In addition to Transfigurations, I have begun researching two other projects which may very well influence my life for the next couple years. I see a time of transition ahead. I already announced that I will retire Homo No Mo in winter of 2008 (just talked to a film director/editor about a DVD version!) Since the summer with the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and all, I feel I have finally purged my system of the ex-gay movement (it's taken about 10 years). Time to move beyond ex-gay and to embrace the life I stopped living at age 17. What do I want to be when I grow up? Do I want to grow up?

Of course I will continue to tell my story and support ex-gay survivors, but I cannot go my whole life as the "Homo No Mo Guy". That would not be healthy for me. So much more to me and so many other passions. Plus so many other survivors are coming forward, I am quickly becoming joyfully redundant.

A year ago my mother died, and her life and lessons inform me so much each day. In fact, a decision she made 25 years ago helped me out tremendously the other day. Since her passing, I feel so much strength, comfort and support. I also have grown closer to my dad. I feel my mom left me many gifts, but she left me probably the greatest gift a parent can leave, should they choose to do so--the gift to love me unconditionally woven together with her belief in me to live my life well. The love and faith sustain me and give me courage.

So the trees are not their normal brilliant colors and the birds don't know what to do with themselves and we continue an autumn heatwave, but I feel like my life moves along at the right pace and the right season.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Ex-Gay Experiences Lead to Divorce

Barbara Leavitt, a woman married for over 20 years to a man who no matter what he tried could not change the fact that he is oriented to romance and attraction to men, has recently begun to speak out and tell her story.

Without bitterness towards her ex-gay husband, in fact, with great compassion and understanding, Barbara has told her story over on Beyond Ex-Gay, in video presentations and at press conferences.

Here is video of a recent press conference organized by Truth Wins Out in Tampa, FL in response to the Family Impact Summit, a gathering Christian leaders who went out of their way to spread falsehoods about LGBT people. They also promoted ex-gay conversion therapies and ministries.

Thank you Barbara for stepping up and telling your story.

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