A Time Travel Reunion with "Ex-Gay" Me

I was Spring Cleaning old boxes in the attic and came across notebooks from my days as leader in an “ex-gay” ministry. They were in a box of items my mother had kept, and had been closed and stored for at least 30 years.

The notebook—a "curriculum" developed and written by me—consisted of Bible studies, discussions, Q&As, “moral” inventories, prayers, devotions and meditations designed to help people struggling with homosexuality. Turning Your Back on the Past grew out of research and insights from my own search for answers/solutions. I taught these lessons at workshops and special events, and it served as the basis for the “ex-gay” ministry I founded at my home church, and where I operated as Executive Director.
(You can read more about this in My Bio)

I think all of us have things in our past we’d like to change. This is period of time...this part of my past...holds many of those regrets. (Years ago, I issued an Apology for my involvement.)

The notebook included my “personal testimony.” (i.e., “Once I was gay, but now...”) I’d shared this story in national magazines, on TV and radio, as well as in churches and at conferences throughout the country.

Reading it, I was suddenly transported back in time.
I remember this guy.
More than that, I remember what was going on his head at this time.

I began to cry.
I cried for his unspoken, internal pain.
I cried for the deep longing in his heart to be free, and his limited definition of what that meant.
I cried from remorse that others would be hurt by his words.
I cried, knowing his years of turmoil ahead.

Several days later, I re-read the narrative, curbing my emotions. From the objective distance of time, experience and wisdom, several things about Past Me became evident.

Author Note: I’ll offer these observations in Third Person, Present Tense, not to ditch responsibility, but to maintain detachment. (It also helps with matching subject and verb, as well as verb tense. After all, grammar matters, even in Time Travel!)

He’s locked in a narrow framework of Truth
He lives in a culture immersed in a strict viewpoint of the Bible as the inspired Word of God. He's been taught a certain way to read it, understand it and believe it. That frame of reference must not be questioned, which is tantamount to heresy.
He’s not stupid or uneducated, just indoctrinated.

So, he identifies his same-sex desires (and of course, those lapses of chaste behavior) as "sinful" because...well, because he's been convinced that's what the Bible teaches. And since sin is spiritual, the solution must be as well. God says it's wrong, so like any other transgression, God wants to be fix it. "And with God, all things are possible!" If there’s a conflict between an expert in psychology or human sexuality and what he’s learned from the Bible, there is no conflict. Their “opinions” are rejected and the Bible's assessment is embraced.

He desperately wants to understand his “sinful” desires.
They’ve been part of him as long as he can remember—they’re his earliest sexual stirrings, and the first impulses he acted on. He doesn’t know why he has those attractions, but most of his friends don't. (And he’s angry because he sees that as unfair.) He's aware what he feels is not considered "normal," so he learns to conceal. He operates out of fear and shame. As his theological paradigm develops, there are attempts at the explanations: assigning blame (e.g., parental influence), cause and effect, spiritual warfare, etc. Regardless, he lives in self reproach. He should be able to control himself. He should be...different.

So much of the internal discourse is framed in a way that makes what he’s feeling something akin to a foreign entity living inside him.
He is two people, in conflict. One he hates, another he aspires to become.
Neither are truly real to him.
He is not real.
His faith is important, so he fights on.

He’s caught in the rigid “ex-gay” mindset.
First, his language is mired in their clichéd nomenclature. He’s not “gay,” he has sinful desires and he's resisting "the lies of the enemy." He righteously speaks out against those who walk in the flesh, not in the Spirit. There is no middle ground; you can be a Christian, or you can choose to live the “gay lifestyle.”

Second, he’s trained to focus more on “as if” than “what is.”
One of the hallmarks of the “ex-gay” mindset is a faith that proclaims an expected outcome, even before it’s realized. Speak it, and you will reap it. In other words, he says he’s overcome his sexual struggle because he wants that reality to manifest. Say it, and you will see it. He’s talks about a success he’s not truly experiencing. Fake it 'til you make it. It’s not intentional lying; he’s merely parroting...and perpetuating...the methods he was taught. Believe so you can be.

He occasionally exaggerates to make a point.
He framed the story in the classic Before-and-After scenario. He isn’t trying to be overly dramatic, or give a false witness. That was my sinful life before, but Jesus has set me free. The past is painted as worse than it was, and the present is proclaimed to be more glorious than it truly is. Clearly, it’s intended to give a greater impact to his testimony, and honor the divine process of ongoing change. It's also that ever-hopeful confession of how he wants it to be. Name it, and claim it!

Example: He talks about being “hooked” on pornography. He understands it as surrendering to the temptations of his carnal nature, which allowed those base desires an inroad to his heart. Sin built "strongholds" in his mind. To transform his life, he must renew his thinking.
In actuality, it’s all just another attempt to explain his attraction. (He likes looking at the guys and what they're doing, but hates himself for liking it!)

He displays an interesting mix of confidence and internal conflict.
I can see his carefully chosen words and phrases. He wants to appear holy, but he's hedging. In one of the first paragraphs, he’s on a "journey," and has “not arrived.” (To his credit, unlike other such testimonies, he never actually declares himself to be “straight.” I admire that level of honesty.) Again, I know for certain that he's terrified someone will see through him.

Overall, what I see and "hear" is a sincere, faithful, flawed young man.
He’s not seeking to build an empire, he only wants his own life to fit together.
He’s not a monster, out to purposely hurt others or promote false information. He’s misinformed and misguided, but he truly cares and is trying to help.

His faith, his family, and his ministry are important to him, so he genuinely wants it all to be true.
He needs to convince himself that somehow, someday, he will prevail over these desires, or at least find a way to “control” them, like all those victorious people who adamantly testify to being "changed" and "healed."

Why isn't it working for me?
That's the question plaguing his mind, wearing down his resolve and damaging his soul.
He is a believer, fighting doubt.
He is that person who spoke to Jesus: “I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”

This man is an cumbersome concoction of faith, hope, doubt, passion, commitment, questions, fear, love, concern, insecurity...jumbled up with desires he doesn’t understand and can’t seem to expunge.
In short, he’s human.

It would be easy to judge him.
What the hell was he thinking?

But I will not judge him!
He doesn’t have the same detached, objective vantage point as I do. He’s living it.
And he doesn’t yet know what I know.
You see, I know what’s coming.

And I’ll cover that in the next entry: My Last Days as an “Ex-Gay”