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Ex-Ex-Gay

In 1997, wracked by guilt and consumed with questions I’d been asking myself since I first realized that I was gay five years earlier, I asked the youth minister at my church for help with “a little problem.” The particular evangelical brand of Catholicism that had gained popularity at the time, Life Teen, espoused the idea that gay men and lesbians could be “converted” into healthy, hearty heterosexuals with the right blend of therapy and prayer. And so I set upon a journey, with a Catholic therapist and a copy of the book Love Won Out, the autobiography of a supposed “ex-gay” man named John Paulk. For the next year, I did untold damage to my mental health by attempting, basically, to will the color of my eyes to change. I was lucky in that it didn’t take me too long to realize it wasn’t going to happen. The further I got away from home, and high school, and church, the more I realized that the normality I’d been seeking didn’t actually exist. In 2000, John Paulk was recognized while flirting in a Washington, D.C. gay bar.

This week, George Rekers, another prominent leader of the ex-gay movement, was found to have repeatedly employed the services of a rent boy. I’ll skip the details other than to commend the prostitute on his use of the euphemism “long stroke” to describe the particular kind of massage performed for Rekers.

The gay community has some issues. Gay men don’t take their health seriously enough. Homophobia is still a serious, sometimes deadly problem in parts of the world. Yet I can’t help but wonder if the gay community’s biggest issue is this group of gay men, like John Paulk and George Rekers, willing to sell out their fellow man to advance a political or financial agenda. How cold must your soul be, to know you’re gay and make your living by trying to convince other gay men that they’re sick?

George Rekers is a sad man. Sadder still are the closeted gays and misinformed straights who will lovingly reassure him through this “troubled time.” It’s time to start recognizing this for what it is — mentally ill gay men unable to cope with the reality of their sexual orientation. That the religious and political conservative communities continue to cite these men as examples of “overcoming” homosexuality is a sick fraud. The next time you hear someone mention the “Ex-Gay” movement or “reparative therapy” for homosexuals, just remember three words: the long stroke.

Update: I was in good company when I had this on my mind tonight. Just a few minutes after posting this, I watched Rachel Maddow (one of my favorite people ever) say this:

“What hasn’t been appreciated about the George Rekers rentboy case is just how miserable he’s tried to make life for other gay people in this country. And, the fact that he’s still doing it! … The reason George Rekers’ pitiful closeted hypocritical life news is actual news is because he’s quite actively engaged in trying to change this country to make it a more difficult place to be gay. Particularly a more difficult place to be a young gay person. While he’s simultaneously hiring at least one young gay person to not carry his baggage.”

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13 thoughts on “Ex-Ex-Gay

  1. I honestly think that they are in deep denial, either about their sexuality, their faith, or both. Both are a major part of their lives (one, biologically and sexually, the other spiritually, culturally and traditionally). They have to find a way to reconcile that, and some do it by lying to themselves. Some people lie about their faith, continuing to go through the motions while not really believing. And others lie about their sexuality, even to the point of starting a quack therapy racket to act as cover.

    I don’t know the numbers, but I don’t get the sense that this kind of nonsense is gaining traction. I hope it isn’t. It clearly doesn’t “work” as advertised, and public acceptance of homosexuality is rising, at rates that seem maddeningly slow, but are close to reaching critical mass.

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    • I agree Mark, it does seem that the anti-gay movement is fighting the tide here. What worries me are people like George Rekers, willing to go beyond the lengths of a normal bigot, though. Two weeks before he was caught with the aforementioned barely-legal rent boy, George Rekers’ organization issued this letter to every school superintendent in America, regarding any students in their district that may identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender:

      In dealing with adolescents experiencing same-sex attraction, it is essential to understand there is no scientific evidence that an individual is born “gay” or “transgender.” Instead, the best available research points to multiple factors – primarily social and familial – that predispose children and adolescents to homosexual attraction and/or gender confusion. It is also critical to understand that these conditions can respond well to therapy.

      I think our generation is smart enough to recognize misinformation about gay people when they see it — too many of us have gay friends already and know that it’s not true. What worries me are the powerful people Dr. Rekers hopes to influence — school superintendents, principals, teachers, authority figures — into making sure school is as terrible a place as possible for a gay kid to grow up. You’re definitely right that public acceptance is rising. I just worry about all the kids who will grow up in a less-accepting environment because of the chaos that this self-hating, closeted bigot has wrought.

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    • I am not lying and it has worked for me. There isn’t just one identity and prescribed path for those who have or had same sex attractions.

      Just because someone determines this isn’t the path for them does not discount the rest of us who find great freedom in not identifying as gay and pursuing a different relational paradigm. How come the only acceptable questioning of “am I really gay?” is when someone is moving toward embracing it?

      Some of us questioned our lives and determined a different outcome for our lives.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Matt and Mark.

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      • I think you’re conflating two different things, Randy. Sure, lots of people question their sexuality and find that they are, in fact, a heterosexual. To say that I think anyone who questions their sexuality must be gay is a straw man. When I was coming out to friends in high school, my straight male friends usually admitted that they’d wondered if they were gay, or had a gay experience once. That happens and it’s a normal part of growing up.

        What I have a serious problem with is the suggestion that gay kids should consider therapy if they’re unhappy about being gay. This is the position advocated by organizations like NARTH and Exodus International, by people like John Paulk, and George Rekers. I was once unhappy about being gay. But it wasn’t my sexual orientation that was causing my problems. It was the anti-gay bigotry exhibited by my peers in high school. It was the pressure exerted on me by the church I deeply loved, the one that called my being gay a “grave sin.” Being gay doesn’t make kids unhappy. You know what makes kids unhappy? Being told that their homosexuality can be cured — then pretending like it’s their fault when they’re unable to change.

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  2. Matt, I’m afraid I don’t entirely agree with you.

    First off, I use the term ex-gay to refer to myself, though I can’t say I’m a big fan of the term.

    While I agree that the behavior of those who advocate one thing while doing the opposite is wrong, I don’t know that generallizing it to anyone who advocates a position is proper. I certainly don’t agree that to advocate such a position is to be a bigot. Personally, I love my gay friends. I want them to be happy. I also love my friends who are struggling because they don’t want to be gay. They have the harder lot in life. Not only are they part of a society that dislikes the behavior in which they engage, they also belong to a community that belittles them for wanting to change themselves in a way that they feel will improve their lives.

    I find it interesting that those who so loudly advocate tolerance are so quick to label those who disagree with them as bigots. To demand tolerance for one position and deny it for others seems a bit hypocritical.

    I choose to work toward eliminating homosexuality from my life. Your choice is yours, but please let me have mine too.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Legien. I definitely don’t mean to belittle anyone who’s struggling to understand his or her sexuality. Only you know what’s right for you, and no one else, including me, can tell you otherwise.

      But that’s just my point. I’m sorry Legien, but it’s not just my opinion that you can’t change your sexual orientation. It’s just a fact. Many have tried, and failed, including leaders of the movement like John Paulk and George Rekers. Anyone who tells you that you can pray away the gay is just lying to you, Legien. I’m not casting aspersions here — in all likelihood the people in your life, like the people in my past, were sincerely trying to help you live a happier and holier life. But they’re terribly misled, and so are you.

      I completely agree with you in that I love my friends who are struggling because they don’t want to be gay. That’s a terrible place to be. I know because I spent most of my teenage years there. There are things about us that we can change, like our weight, or style, or our level of education. And there are things we can’t, like our IQ, or height, or sexual orientation. I think you’ll find that the more time you spend trying to change those things you can’t, the more opportunities you’ll have missed to improve those things that you can. If you’re confused about your sexuality, I sincerely hope that you’ll recognize what you really want from life — and if you discover that you really aren’t gay, then you just aren’t. You didn’t change it — you realized it.

      I really wish you all the best, Legien, and I hope that you can find peace. But if anyone ever tells you that being attracted to men is something you have to fix, it’s really important to your long-term happiness that you stop listening to that person. If you’re a single adult man, you don’t have to be accountable for your sex life to anyone but yourself. Not your parents, not your Bishop, not the gay community. It’s nobody’s business unless you choose to make it theirs, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

      And you’re right — in the end, only you can decide what’s right for your life. But surely you must see my point in that truth — men like George Rekers have no business telling you, me, or any other gay kid that they can be cured, that they should change, or that their sexual orientation is just a phase. Our sex lives are none of George Rekers’ business. But by devoting his life to making it harder for gay people to live happily in this country, George Rekers’ has made his hypocritical gay sex life the whole country’s business.

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      • Matt,
        I agree. It is a choice for each of us to make individually. That’s why my position is that I’ll support anyone who wants to move away from being gay, and for those that don’t want to make that move, I’ll live and let live.
        As for Reker’s hypocrisy, I can’t say definitively if it is hypocrisy. The term seems to imply to me that there is a double standard, and I don’t know that he has one. He surely lives a double life, but I have insufficient data to conclude that he thinks his homosexual behavior is acceptable while that of others isn’t. He may simply be human, and therefore subject to his own weakness in sticking to sincerely held convictions. I know I’ve had difficulty at times keeping my actions in line with my beliefs.
        I assume you took a look at my blog, based on the comment about a bishop. (not the first term that comes to most folks minds) I would love it if you kept reading it. I don’t expect that it will change your mind, but I am hoping that it will serve as a window into my mind. I want to present a rational view from the other side. I want to be a voice of reason who can bridge the gap between two worlds that seem to think there is no way to relate. I want to show that things thought impossible are still worth striving for. Sisyphus pushed a rock up a hill for all eternity. If that is what I am doing, if that is what my faith requires, so be it.
        Thank you for wishing me the best. I hope it is not a means of saying goodbye, as I feel that discourse is the only way we will ever get to understanding.

        Thanks,
        Legien

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      • If by choice you mean choosing to accept or reject the natural sexual orientation you’ve got, yes I agree. I’m definitely not in agreement that one can choose his sexual orientation, though. :)

        With regard to Rekers: here’s a man who adopted a 16-year-old son four years ago. He also testified as an expert witness for the state of Florida arguing in favor of a ban on gay adoptions in his own state. While in his secret second life, he was hiring rent boys on the internet. For him to work with all his power to deny orphaned children loving homes because the parents are gay, all the while adopting children and leading a secret gay life — that is the very epitome of hypocrisy.

        I did check out your blog. I think you’re a very brave guy. I walked that same path for a long time, as a leader in my church while feeling the heavy weight of guilt over the person I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I was. Guilt can be a healthy thing when it works to correct your moral compass. It can be a very insidious thing when you’ve been convinced by external influences that the true north on your compass is wrong. When I say I wish you the best, I just mean that I hope you’ll learn to trust your mind and your heart. You sound like a good guy, Legien. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you’re not if you aren’t able to meet their moral standard.

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  3. Matt,
    sorry for the delayed response. Thank you for the compliment. I don’t know that I feel all that brave, given that I hide behind the anonymity of the internet in order to tell my story.
    I was wondering if anyone considers the impact they are having when they make certain comments. You say it is insidious when I’ve been “convinced by external influences that the true north on (my) compass is wrong.” could it be that I have taken the information provided to me, evaluated it and come to a conclusion that happens to be the same as those who provided information to me? Why is it that there is some sort of insidiousness that has to be at play?
    I actually find it fairly insulting when people (matt you are in this category to a much lesser degree than many with whom I have spoken) assert that I have somehow been brainwashed into believing the things the church teaches, based solely on the evidence that I disagree with their (the asserting party) point of view. Disagreement with establishment is not always enlightenment, and to assert such shows a misunderstanding of enlightenment, especially as articulated by Immanuel Kant, arguably one of the preeminent authorities on the topic. (Aufklärung ist der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbstverschuldeten unmündigkeit.)
    Matt, I don’t believe the mormon church preaches that their moral standard cannot be met, in fact, they are some of the most optimistic folks I know. (yes, I occasionally refer to those of my faith in the third person.) At the same time, not living up to a standard is not a rational reason to discard the standard altogether, or substitute a different standard more to our momentary liking. (It kind of ceases to be a standard at that point.)
    I want to thank you for the civil conversation. It is something that seems to be lacking at times on both sides of the issue, and I appreciate when I am able to discuss such things with someone.
    Regards,
    Legien

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  4. Pingback: Ex-Ex-Ex-Ex-Gay | Matt Thomas

  5. Not even sure how I came across this post, but I thought I’d leave a comment re: the line: “The gay community has some issues. Gay men don’t take their health seriously enough.”

    I can only assume you’re talking about safe sex, since you didn’t specify. I’ve been out since I turned 17 (so, about 15 years now). I’m human and I’ve made a mistake or two, but I’ve had far less casual sex that all of my hetero friends. I can count my partners on one hand.

    And that’s the norm for my gay friends. I guess this bothers me because I know very few people, if any, who live the gay stereotype. But I know quite a few of my straight friends who, when single, live it up freely.

    I personally don’t believe that ex-gay “therapy” has any place in this world. I grew up with a friend who was quite obviously gay and who was very confident in who he was. Until his parents essentially forced him into this mindset that orientation is a choice. After 3 years of struggling with shame, being desperate to earn his family’s approval and trying to find happiness, he slit his wrists in a park.

    Obviously, that leaves me biased. But I’ve yet to meet someone who, 15 years down the road, has successfully changed their orientation, and is a happy, whole person.

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    • Agreed on all points, Ryan. My point about the health problems in the gay community was, as you correctly pointed out, about unsafe sex — specifically, the reported rise in HIV infections among gay men linked to an increase in unsafe sex. I originally wrote this back in 2010, but a Guardian article from this year confirms that the trend continues. As far as I know, most of my gay friends take this issue seriously and generally practice safe sex or monogamy. But anecdotally I’ve noticed a different attitude from young (21 and under) gay men; where both drug use and frequent casual sex (I guess what you’d call the “gay stereotype” appear to be quite common. This is the case particularly in large or progressive cities where young gay men are feeling less societal pressure to live in the shadows, and generally don’t have to hide their lifestyle from anyone among their friends. That’s a great thing obviously, but as with all things it comes with some costs.

      My generation was very lucky to “miss” the AIDS crisis of the 80s; by the time we were old enough to become sexually active we knew how important safe sex was. The landscape has shifted hugely in the last 20 years though, and gay kids becoming adults now have a very different set of pressures and opportunities ahead of them.

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    • I saw it was an older post, but I still felt compelled to say something. :)

      I guess, my point was, yes, there are gay men having unprotected sex (especially younger generations). But the same applies to heterosexual couples, lesbian couples, etc.

      I think the infection rate might be higher because we do absolutely no sex education for gay men. I’m only 32, so I grew up in a time where being gay wasn’t totally awful and unknown, and I was still told that having intercourse for gay men, even with protection, would lead to STDs and AIDS in a Sex Education course at school. It made me terrified and it also made me think, “well, why bother”. The AIDS epidemic was a known thing, we were very aware of it, but the “facts” around transmission and homosexuality were very biased and unhealthy.

      As a country, we still spend so much time shaming young gay people, that we never take the time to explain sex, how to practice safe sex, what is a high-risk behavior, etc. Gay men, just like most human beings, are going to be intimate with someone at some point. When we create a culture of shame, we don’t teach people to value their health or bodies, and to make good decisions about protecting them.

      I actually went to a summit locally last year where a specialist talked about this topic. He posed the question over whether or not the rates are up, or if we’re just seeing the continued trend of more people self-identifying as gay as society becomes more accepting. In 1950, only 1 in like 500 self-identified as LGBT. Now, that number is somewhere around 1 in 10. Are we creating more gay people? Unlikely. It’s just more possible and accepted to live openly now.

      The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

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