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.”