Before I begin, I wanted to say that I know YOB attracts some “Side X” or “ex-gay” readers (those who believe that it is sinful to live with homosexual attractions and must have them removed, potentially via therapy). If you fit into this ex-gay group, I don’t intend for this blog to be a bashing of your beliefs. I’m simply here to tell my story.
I recently saw the new film, Boy Erased — an enlightening yet hard film to watch. The film depicts a gay teenage boy in a conservative family being forced against his will into orientation-change therapy — which ultimately ends up being abusive.
I squirmed in recognition of a lot of the events and discussions in the movie. My story isn’t anywhere near as harrowing as the events depicted, but it did evoke memories.
Years back, I was silently struggling with my sexuality but in denial that it was even there at all. I was surely an all-American, masculine, straight guy who liked me some babes; no way was I like those rainbow flag-waving Dr. Frankenfurters dancing nearly naked in the streets during Pride parades.
I was not one of them!
But that was simply not the truth. I was completely sexually attracted to men.
After yet another porn binge, the truth started to dawn on me with its thick icy breath. Terror gripped me. What was I going to do? I was venturing well into my twenties; would my parents start getting suspicious over why I had never dated a girl? How would they react if they ever found out? Would society cast me out? Does God still love me?
Mixed messages from both church and society didn’t help:
A real pinnacle of American masculinity is marrying a woman and raising a family!
If you’re gay, just be true to who you are and marry another man!
Living single? Forget it! Single life is for virgin losers who weren’t manly enough to get any.
If I stayed single while all my friends went off and got married and forgot about me, would this nightmare scenario be my fate?
No, surely there had to be a way out. I couldn’t live like this.
I finally worked up the courage to self-acknowledge my sexuality and googled: “Can you go gay to straight?”
I ignored all blogs and articles critical of such notions and found something I was hoping for. It was a website for what claimed to be a non-faith-based organization, trumpeting that change in sexual orientation was not only possible but guaranteed through reparative therapy.
The ex-gay organization claimed that there was absolutely no biological basis for homosexual orientation, that it’s based solely in nurture and childhood trauma. Homosexuality was caused by wounds experienced in childhood, they claimed, causing one to develop gay feelings.
Their key causes of homosexuality were as follows:
1. Absent or abusive relationship with the father
Hmm. That didn’t particularly resonate with me as I had a great relationship with my father.
2. Overbearing mother
Nope, not this either. I had a great mother.
3. Sexual abuse
No, I was never sexually abused.
4. Poor or nonexistent relationships with male peers
Aha! Now that sounded like me. I hardly had any male friends growing up, and I wasn’t close with the few I did have. I was dying for close male relationships, in a brotherly sense, and that desire had become sexualized.
Yes, now this made sense! Hallelujah, I’m saved!
All I had to do was develop some close male relationships, maybe do some of this ex-gay therapy they promoted so much, and I’d become straight and marry a woman! My parents and friends would never even know of this “issue” I had.
I dove into all the ex-gay literature, reading about the origins of homosexual orientation and how it was cured by reparative therapy techniques. I listened to video lectures by Joseph Nicolosi, hailed as a pioneer and leader in the ex-gay world.
I listened to the testimonies of men who were “cured,” how they were now happily married to women. I read tutorials on how to employ more masculine body language like taking up more space as you sit rather than less, a seemingly feminine trait.
I even joined a Yahoo support group for men with unwanted same-sex attractions.
However, as my attempts at making friends with straight men grew unsatisfying or crashed-and-burned on the first try, I got depressed. I kept turning to porn to numb the pain of the loneliness; then, I’d hate myself because it reinforced in me that I was a lustful, gay pervert.
The Yahoo group discussions didn’t help much, as it mostly involved someone posting something like: “You guys, I’m the worst person in the world! I messed up and looked at gay porn! Someone please pray for me!”
Which would often get followed up by another user responding with paragraphs of Christianese: “The blood of Christ . . . forgiveness of sins . . . the sacrifice lamb . . . God . . . love . . . Christ and the love for you of blood of forgiveness for you! FOR YOU! (John 23:19)”
I began to hate my past, younger self. Why couldn’t I have been more assertive and attempted better relationships with the other boys? Why didn’t I have more close friends growing up? Why did I have to be such a shy, sensitive, weak, little kid who didn’t play sports?
If I had been less scared and more brave, then I probably wouldn’t be struggling with my sexuality to begin with! I would be straight and normal!
I hated my elementary through high school self. Hated him.
In the agony of my loneliness, I started having a private conversation with one person in the Yahoo group. He was friendly and sympathetic to my feelings. This guy shared his story of being raped by an older boy, something he claimed to have been the cause of his same-sex attraction (SSA).
Now, thanks to several reparative therapy sessions, he was cured of his “gayness,” married to a woman and raising a child. He even demonstrated a reparative therapy session over the phone with me:
“Now,” he began. “I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you and I are both in the same room together. We are both naked. How does that make you feel?”
“Um . . . Just normal I guess. Nothing sexual is really going on now.”
“Okay, good,” he continued. “Now imagine that I am standing up, still naked, and walking toward you. I am sitting next to you and our knees are touching. Then I put my hand on your bare leg. How are you feeling now? Are you feeling aroused? Do you have an erection?”
“No . . . not really,” I said.
“Good, that’s good,” he said encouragingly. “You are acknowledging and affirming both of our masculinities. Feeling like I am the ‘other’ is the root cause of homosexuality.”
The truth is, I wasn’t aroused because I was partly puzzled at this pseudo-therapy session and partly just not particularly attracted to him. After that phone call, I frankly didn’t know what to feel. Just felt rather weird.
Over the years, I kept up with the cultural happenings, watching a popular ex-gay organization fold while gay marriage became legalized in the United States.
Long story short, I’ve since drifted away from that Yahoo group after discovering YOB and other sites that promoted a “Side B” traditional sexual ethic. I read so many encouraging stories of men who had made peace with their sexualities and single lives by embracing deep, platonic relationships with other fellow SSA men.
These men were still avoiding homosexual sex, but they were also learning to live with their attractions as best they could. This concept hadn’t even entered my vocabulary before.
I thought these Side B men would make for good conversations but not much else. If they pursued anything further, it would probably be for sexual reasons, right?
Much to my shock, I found other Side B guys who I not just clicked with — but IMMENSELY clicked with. They truly loved and cared for me; no man my age had ever done that for me. Slowly, my defenses and pride came down as I realized something.
I hadn’t wanted to become straight because of a calling to marriage or fatherhood; in fact, either thought terrified me. Strangely, I also hadn’t wanted an ex-gay orientation change out of a desire to please God.
I’d wanted to be straight because I simply wanted to be normal. I had been scared. I was internally homophobic, hating myself and especially other gay men.
What had I done?!
Jesus’ call to love ourselves and others had gone over my head. It’s the prime example of a trap the worst type of Christianity has fallen into for centuries.
I had hated myself because of the world that had ignored and misunderstood me. Standing in an abyss with cries of anguish no one would hear.
And yet these Side B men reached my heart. They said they cared about me. I thought one wrong move from them would take me back to having sexual sessions online.
But they didn’t make such a move. They taught me love. These men offered me friendship and called me “brother.” They loved me the way I was.
It was around Christmas one year, and something snapped in me; I had to let it all go and give it to God. I felt sadness, bitter sweetness, humility, and finally a filling of love. That holiday season, I exploded with love.
I loved God, and I loved my brothers.
Being accepted and loved in this new world was all I’d ever wanted. That Christmas season, I truly believe I experienced an incredibly spiritual moment.
That Christmas, I learned not just to be kind and loving to others but also kind and loving to myself.
I realized I had found my tribe and community — and found love.
At that moment, I had indeed changed, even though I still wasn’t straight.
I’d stared into the void of my past sin and realized the former Eugene was nothing now! It’s time for a new story to begin!
Are you or have you been part of an “ex-gay” ideology? How have you learned to reconcile your faith and sexuality in both a God-honoring and self-acknowledging way?