Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ex-gay Ministries and the Exodus Conference

You may or may not know that in the 1990s I spent several years in counseling and in church support groups working to change my sexual orientation. I was part of an Exodus affiliated ministry in Texas called Living Hope. Exodus is hosting its annual conference in Marion, Indiana this week and having them so close has brought up some conflicted feelings for me.

I am not sorry for the time I spent with Living Hope. At the time it was the first place I could admit that I was gay (they would call it same-sex attracted). This was before things got so politicized in our society. Efforts focused primarily on strengthening a participant's relationship with God and living as a heterosexual person, either single and celibate or married to someone of the opposite sex (some of the guys had married women even though they were attracted to men). The "getting closer to God" efforts were really helpful for me. They helped me deal with the spiritual abuse of being told from the time I was a small child that my natural feelings made me an "abomination" to God and that I should be stoned outside of the "village."

Living Hope stressed being honest with God about who you were and letting God be honest with you about the same thing. And that eventually led me to a place that is much healthier for me.

I do not remember meeting gay people who changed their attractions. I met wonderful people, a few of whom developed relationships with the opposite sex by sublimating their dominant attractions, or in the case of bisexual people ignoring one part of their attractions. Most maintained a stance of constant vigilence in their attempts to stay "straight." For many the group became their family and friends.

Eventually, it was clear to me (especially after my own attempts at dating the opposite sex) that forming long-term relationships with women was not natural for me and could be disastrous for any poor woman I talked into a marriage. And yet, I did not feel called to be single either. It was a revelation that led me to revisit a lot of the biblical interpretation I'd inherited and ultimately opened me up enough to connect with John, at first as friends and ultimately as the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. If the journey had led me nowhere else but to him, it would have been worth it. But the trip has given me a lot more in terms of strength, faith, and my ability love others and myself.

A good friend of mine says "God doesn't waste anything" and I believe that. So even though a big chunk of Exodus has turned into a political tool for the currently misinformed religious right, I am grateful for my time with them. I know that many, many people had much more abusive experiences with ex-gay ministries--genital shock treatment (a thing of the past I hope), innappropriate relationships, etc.-- but I pray that the good things that were there for me can still lead people like those who attend the conference in Marion this week to a healthier place, however that might look like for them.


Blogger Citizen D said...

Thanks for the post Troy. I really appreciate hearing your perspective. I cannot specifically identify with your experience, but I can certainly identify with how shamefully christians sometimes treat others. It doesn't sound like that was necessarily the case in this instance. Still, I am not certain I would have as good an attitude about it as you do.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Troy said...

CD, I go back and forth in terms of attitude. I was lucky enough to be raised by Christian parents who taught me to think, seek justice and and love mercy, and that ultimately got me where I needed to be. I worry though about vulnerable gay people who are associated with families and churches who cut them off when they learn about who they really are. These folks become easy targets for abuse from misguided people of all kinds, religious and otherwise. When I think about the suicides and stress that result, my attitude becomes pretty bad.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Stuff said...

This is a rather late comment, but I was running through Jennie's blog roll on a slow afternoon at work and saw this post. Nothing deep to say, but I just really liked this post and your willingness to take what you could from an experience that many would see as totally negative. Good stuff.

11:51 AM  

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