A subtle shift?

Randy Thomas, VP at Exodus and blogger about all kinds of things has written an interesting post in response to a comment on his site.

Here is a link to John Piper’s website.  It’s only to his larger website because a search to drill down to a specific article would take a bit of time and there is SO much I would want to link to!  I will just point you there in general for deeper theological issues and trust the Spirit to guide you to what you need if that is what you are truly looking for.

For many, even years of prayer doesn’t turn them into a raging heterosexual and they’re left feeling pretty much still gay. Ted Haggard insisted he had been “cured”, but we now see that was pretty much just self-deception on his part.

The statement where he said “cured” a while ago was confusing in and of itself.  You say “self deception” like you know the man’s heart better than he does.  My guess is that he was still discovering (at that time) all the complexity going on with sexual identity and attractions.  My guess would be that he experienced some enlightenment and just ran with it.  That’s very typical of Western Christian thought.  His most recent statements seem to be much more reasonable.

My prayer has rarely, if ever, been for God to change me into a heterosexual (even though my sexual attractions have changed incrementally over time … even with temptations.)  My prayer has always been for Him to help me be content to live an obedient and joyful life regardless of what circumstances and feelings arise.

That’s interesting and almost word for word the kind of thing that I’ve been saying for a while now, that aiming for “straight” really isn’t what the Scriptures implore us to do.

That’s why the whole false social construct of gay vs. straight fails everyone with same sex attractions.  It keeps some locked in simplistic easy out answers and others without definition. That’s why I reject the labels gay, ex-gay or straight and have pursued a post-gay journey for over sixteen years now.

Really? Post-gay? Careful Randy, I’ll be charging royalties…

I think when most people say “lifestyle” they are picking up on an underlying gay ideology that tries to force people with same sex attraction into the false dissonance of having to choose between “coming out” as gay or remain “closeted.”  The way this manifests is different for each person but the ideology imposed is the same.  I don’t like the word lifestyle either because it is meaningless nowadays.  But I firmly believe there is a basic gay ideology that forces people to believe they either publicly identify as gay or they are ignorant, selfish and self-loathing.

That’s why I like the word “post-gay” to describe my journey … I have/had same sex attractions but don’t have to identify as gay because society says so and I don’t have to “change” my sexual attractions in order to be reconciled and obedient (not act on those attractions) to God.  I also don’t need to force myself into a self-imposed restriction of what God may bring into my life.

I think Randy has understood what I’ve been going on about for ages now. To be “post-gay” isn’t to deny that people are attracted to those of the same-sex, or even that you might be. Equally it doesn’t reject the idea that your sexual attractions might change (or might not). It more to do with moving beyond sexual attraction and orientation as your operating anthropology.

It means that while we might still positively consider going to groups like Living Waters to help explore wounding in our past, we don’t hang all our hopes on that “fixing us”. Indeed, that seems to be the issue with many of the “ex-gay survivors“, that they didn’t get “fixed” and therefore they concluded that they weren’t meant to get fixed in the first place. But what we’re starting to realise now by going back to the Bible is that that isn’t actually necessarily what God intends for us (to get “fixed”). In some sense reparative therapies and live-in programs are simply unBiblical if they are sold on the basis that “this is what you must do”, that being attracted to someone of the same sex somehow makes you spiritually or personally inferior to someone who isn’t and therefore being straight is “better”.

What if we were able to create a pastoral culture that was less based on modern social norms and more on real Biblical anthropology? What if we could create godly communities where it didn’t actually matter what temptation you struggled with on a day to day basis, but rather concentrated on helping you in your journey with God and your real struggle of walking the path he has set for all of us, a battle that everybody faces?

I’m looking forward to seeing whether Randy’s post is the beginning of a subtle shift in this area of pastoral ministry and in the future direction of those who he represents.

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  • http://www.petersontoscano.wordpress.com Peterson Toscano

    Peter by simplifying our message, you have misrepresented ex-gay survivors.
    You write, ” Indeed, that seems to be the issue with many of the “ex-gay survivors“, that they didn’t get “fixed” and therefore they concluded that they weren’t meant to get fixed in the first place.”

    Of course 25 years ago when I first began attending Exodus programs and events, the message was that Change IS Possible–meaning a change in orientation, supernatural and complete. Over the years the message changed (over the last couple years this change in “change” has been made more public). Over the 17 years I spent as ex-gay, I, like many others in the movement, adjusted with this message, mourned over the reality that an orientation transformation was not realistic but grateful that we could still pursue God and obey God’s will as we understood it at that time.

    The problem for many of us came not with the realization that we could not be “fixed” (btw a term that in the US also is used when we neuter a tomcat) but that in pursuing to change, submit, suppress (whatever word may fit) our sexuality, we experienced genuine harm. We desired to serve God and nurture the “Fruit of the Spirit” Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, etc. Instead we bore a bitter harvest of depression, suicidal tendencies, self-hatred, compulsive behavior and hostility towards ourselves and other gay people.

    In doing the work to undo some of that damage, we have come together as a community of survivors to explore our ex-gay (or as you put it post-gay) experiences, what motivated us, what good came of our pursuits, what harm, and how we can come to a place where we achieve a healthy integration of our all parts of ourselves.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Peterson,

    Can I be honest with you? You’re absolutely right that some of the techniques employed on reparative programs did cause (still do cause) harm. But beneath that statement is another question which is this – did they cause harm because ultimately you *couldn’t* be fixed, or did they cause harm because the methods used themselves were intrinsically harmful?

    If your issue is only with the methods themselves but not the solution that they were trying to achieve (to “turn you straight”) then you would still support the notion that one can change one’s sexuality or that one should live a chaste life, you would just find other ways of doing it rather than embracing homosexuality. But if your issue is fundamentally with the very notion of either change of sexuality or the promotion of the traditional chaste life (no sex outside of marriage of a man and a woman) then the fact that various forms of ex-gay ministries caused you harm isn’t the fundamental issue for ex-gay survivors. Rather the fundamental issue is that you have come to the conclusion that gay is OK and that is who you are. It boils down to anthropology beneath the issues of treatment on ex-gay programs, however right you are about that subject (and I would probably agree with some of what you say on that topic).

  • http://www.petersontoscano.wordpress.com Peterson Toscano

    Peter, the link I provide above on Ex-Gay Harm will take you to an article that outlines nine different categories off harm I recorded after speaking to ex-gay survivors. In  addition tothe multiple types of harms, I write about their diverse causes.

    You better than  most understand that  complexity that exist for Christians who have struggled with homosexuality. Since the harm springs from much more than unrealistic expectations (and in some cases outright false promises) to include treatment, theory, misinformation and more, I will post extracts from the ex-gay harm article below. 

    Ex-Gay Harm: Let Me Count the Ways
    by Peterson Toscano

    Ex-Gay Harm–Let Me Count the Ways
    by Peterson Toscano

    In the past 4.5 years I have been in contact with over 1000 ex-gay survivors. These are people who pursued ex-gay experiences, either on their own, or more often, assisted by others like a therapist, minister, ex-gay program. They attempted to change or suppress their sexual orientation and may have referred to themselves as ex-gays or simply strugglers or by some other name.

    Through hearing their stories (some of which posted here at Beyond Ex-Gay–bXg) and in unpacking my own ex-gay journey, I have begun to understand the many ways people can be harmed by their ex-gay experiences. Many of us also received certain benefits from our ex-gay experiences, but in most cases the harm outweighs the good.

    Below is a list of categories outlining areas of harm along with brief descriptions for each. I invite ex-gay survivors to contact us at bXg with specific examples and further explanations for any of the categories that resonate for them. They can even add new categories.

    Ex-gay experiences can harm us in several ways.

    Emotional Harm–evidenced in feelings of shame, fear, stress, disappointment, exhaustion and rejection (especially when one is shunned)
    Psychological Harm–manifested in the forms of depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress and in some cases the triggering of a psychotic break
    Spiritual Harm–in the form of chronic discouragement, fear of God, and loss of faith communities and even of faith

    o distrust of spiritual leaders
    o a spiritual crisis of integrity and incongruence through the constant message that You cannot be gay and Christian

    Relationship Harm–through the loss of vital relationships or damage to relationships with

    o parents
    + who, believing change is possible and necessary, reject children who will not choose to be ex-gay
    + who through ex-gay teachings get blamed for their child’s sexual orientation thus creating tension between the child and parent (and also causing deep pain and shame for parents)
    o spouses/partners
    + partners of the opposite sex that we dated and married because we believed such a life was possible but found it led to divorce and pain and loss for our spouse, ourselves and others, including children.
    + relationship with a current same-sex partner that gets hindered because of the shame and fear drilled into us by our ex-gay experiences
    o friends
    + who we kept/keep at a distance because we were trained to distrust intimacy for fear that we will develop an emotionally dependent/enmeshed relationship or romantic/sexual relationship
    + who we rejected once we became ex-gay and they represented a risk to the ex-gay lives we pursued
    + who rejected us because the conditional nature of the friendship. Once we no longer identified as ex-gay and a struggler, they ended the relationship

    Financial Harm–

    o Some spent hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars on ex-gay treatment, at seminars and conferences and on books and tapes
    o Some parents refused to pay for college or even basic living expenses when a child would not attend an ex-gay program.

    Career Harm–

    o Some left careers considered “unsafe” for a struggler
    o Some interrupted school and careers to take a diversion into ex-gay treatment

    Physical Harm—in the form of health issues triggered by stress and depression leading to back problems, skin conditions, etc.

    Sexual Harm–in the form of damaging sex eduction

    o Sexually naive people (many who never even had sex) learned about “gay sex” from sex addicts who expressed their sexuality through risky and even illegal behaviors often because of the shame and self-loathing they felt.
    o Program leaders, therapists and “testimonies” transmitted negative messages about sexual expression between people of the same-sex which can hinder people statue from enjoying a healthy, satisfying sexuality even after leaving ex-gay treatment.

    * Developmental Harm–because of stunted growth in key areas while we focused our efforts on our ex-gay experiences. Many of us stopped living our lives and diverted our limited energies into the ex-gay process thus hindering personal growth at vital developmental moments

    After reading this list, other ex-gay survivors weighed in to share their own experiences.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Peterson,

    Thanks for this and I think for most conservatives there needs to be some engagement with the issues that you raise.

    I do however want to bring you back to the question that I asked above and get a response from you. Let me repeat what I was saying:

    If your issue is only with the methods themselves but not the solution that they were trying to achieve (to “turn you straight”) then you would still support the notion that one can change one’s sexuality or that one should live a chaste life, you would just find other ways of doing it rather than embracing homosexuality. But if your issue is fundamentally with the very notion of either change of sexuality or the promotion of the traditional chaste life (no sex outside of marriage of a man and a woman) then the fact that various forms of ex-gay ministries caused you harm isn’t the fundamental issue for ex-gay survivors. Rather the fundamental issue is that you have come to the conclusion that gay is OK and that is who you are. It boils down to anthropology beneath the issues of treatment on ex-gay programs.

    If you were able to give us your thoughts on this it would help move the conversation forward.

  • http://www.petersontoscano.wordpress.com Peterson Toscano

    With such a rapid response (what in less than 4 minutes?) I wonder if you even  had time to look at the list I information I provided. I don’t feel like I am being heard, which sadly is what happens when I have talked to many others who provide or promote ex-gay ministry or reparative therapy.

    I’m saying people have been harmed. The harm has multiple causes. Take a look at what I offer above and the various types of harms. This is not simply an either/or situation. This is complex and for many the damage has gone deep.

    I imagine that people concerned with effective pastoral care would take interest in the testimonies of ex-gay survivors.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Peterson,

    I spent some time yesterday looking at the link that you gave in your original comment which is what you have copied and pasted above. So I’m not disregarding what you have written.

    I do however want to press you on the issue that I have raised, which is whether the genuine pain that some experience on some ex-gay programs is of itself enough to argue against the whole concept of post-gay/ex-gay.

  • http://www.petersontoscano.wordpress.com Peterson Toscano

    Peter, we are having two different conversations here. I posted yesterday to correct some misinformation about ex-gay survivors while it seems you want me to weigh in on an argument that is happening elsewhere.

    If you no longer wish to identify as gay, choose to heterosexually partner, and use the term post-gay (a term that pro-gay rights queer scholor Thomas F. Murphy refers to in his Reader’s Guide to Lesbian and Gay Studies, which he wrote about back in 2000), that’s fine.

    As we state over at the Beyond Ex-Gay home page, “We believe that ex-gay experiences cause more harm than good. Certain people who currently identify as ex-gay say they are content as such. We don’t seek to invalidate their experience. For us such a lifestyle was not possible or healthy.

    From the list of harms above, you will notice that we speak about how the harm can and often does extend to include straight spouses and parents (and now I am hearing more and more about sons and daughters sharing their experiences of growing up in an ex-gay/straight household.) Our purpose at Beyond Ex-Gay is to expand the conversation to consider why people may choose an ex-gay path, what good if any comes of it, what harm people may experience, and effective strategies and approaches to recover from that harm.

    We also recognize that the “ex-gay programs” are not solely responsible for the harm some of us experienced. These programs exist within a society that makes it so that gays and lesbian, particularly effeminized gay men, must conform to heterosexual and gender norms.

    We have an extensive set of articles that may answer many of your questions as well as narratives, artwork, and poetry.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Hi Peterson,

    You’re still not answering the questions I’m asking around the issues of the approach to ex-gay/post-gay beyond the completely valid stories of harm which you have shared. I’m genuinely interested in your response to the issues I’ve raised, but if you don’t have time to answer then just please say so.

  • http://www.petersontoscano.wordpress.com Peterson Toscano

    One of the reasons Christine Bakke and I created the Beyond Ex-Gay site was so that we can help foster a deeper discussion, one that cannot be adequate done through comments on a blog. Perhaps when I return to England in May you and I can have a more in depth conversation.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Peterson,

    There is no forum or commenting on bxg so no opportunity to publicly raise issues like this and to have that “deeper discussion”. All you have on bxg is your side of the story – it can’t really in any sense be treated as a conversation. The advantage of public discussion like this comment thread is that it allows us to be accountable for what we say beyond just ourselves and to have some level of interaction and influence on others. I think this post could be used to begin to examine the issues I’m raising with you, but if you feel unwilling to do that then we can’t move any further forward.

  • http://www.petersontoscano.wordpress.com Peterson Toscano

    Peter, you may not be aware of it, but my role and focus have shifted considerably in the past two years (see my recent blog post) so you may find that there are others interested in the sort of on-line discussions you propose. My energies and passsion go towards supporting ex-gay survivors one-on-one and  gender variance in the Bible through my play Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible.

    Beyond Ex-Gay provides a much needed insight into the lives of the many many people (most likely the majority) who for whatever reason and by whatever means pursued ex-gay experiences only to discover that they were unnecessary, ineffectual and in many cases damaging. We hope that these voices will help others proceed with a more informed discussion.

    All the best,
    Peterson

  • Jimbo

    I’m one of those people who shared my experiences of “reparative therapy” with Peterson. Some of my comments are in one of the links he gave.
     
    I agree with your initial comment about being uncomfortable with the ideology behind the phrase: being straight is “better”,
    though I think that ideology was (and still is) very prevalent in some parts of the church, and still causing a lot of anguish for some non-heterosexuals inside the church.
    Peter, you asked,
    “… some of the techniques employed on reparative programs did cause (still do cause) harm. But beneath that statement is another question which is this – did they cause harm because ultimately you *couldn’t* be fixed, or did they cause harm because the methods used themselves were intrinsically harmful?”

    Not either/or. To an extent, both.

    I couldn’t be “fixed”. And it eventually dawned on me, after half a lifetime, that 99% of those in the groups around me couldn’t be “fixed” either. I also came to realise that many of those running the groups had come to similar conclusions, even if they didn’t voice them.

    It finally made me take to heart that I should stop being ashamed (and being made to feel ashamed) for not being able to achieve the (virtually) impossible.
    You went on to say
    “If your issue is only with the methods themselves but not the solution that they were trying to achieve (to “turn you straight”) then you would still support the notion that one can change one’s sexuality or that one should live a chaste life, you would just find other ways of doing it rather than embracing homosexuality.”

    I find this sort of statement/assertion unhelpful. e.g. “if your issue is (this), then you believe/do (that)”. Not everyone comes to the same conclusions as you. The same applies to your next assertion, though I will attempt to follow it up:

    “… if your issue is fundamentally with the very notion of either change of sexuality or the promotion of the traditional chaste life (no sex outside of marriage of a man and a woman) then the fact that various forms of ex-gay ministries caused you harm isn’t the fundamental issue for ex-gay survivors. ”

    My “issue” was eventually with the church (in the wider sense). At least those parts of the church that seemed unwilling to accept gay people (lay/clergy) even if they were in a “traditional chaste life”. Like many in the groups I was in, I knew how suspicious the church was of those who were anything other than heterosexual. That was an immense pressure on most of us to “act straight” to fit in, even though we knew that wasn’t who we really were.

    to repeat your comment again:
    “…the fact that various forms of ex-gay ministries caused you harm isn’t the fundamental issue for ex-gay survivors..”

    I direct you to some of Peterson’s links to see that even if this is not ‘the’ issue, it is indeed one of ‘the issues’.

    “… the fundamental issue is that you have come to the conclusion that gay is OK and that is who you are….”

    I cannot speak for others, but for me, I have come to the conclusion that gay orientation is OK. Some of those coming to this conclusion may choose to be Christian, gay and celibate (e.g. those taking a “Side B” view at GayChristian.net), whilst others may choose alternative paths.  

    I’m afraid that whilst the church continues to give the impression that “straight is better”, then those of any other description (probably including “post-gay”), are going to be lumped with unjustifiable burdens.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Jimbo,

    You wrote:

    “My “issue” was eventually with the church (in the wider sense). At least those parts of the church that seemed unwilling to accept gay people (lay/clergy) even if they were in a ”traditional chaste life”. Like many in the groups I was in, I knew how suspicious the church was of those who were anything other than heterosexual. That was an immense pressure on most of us to “act straight” to fit in, even though we knew that wasn’t who we really were.”

    Spot on Jimbo, spot on. This is one of the key points I think I want to make, that the real issue amongst some conservative Christians is fundamental homophobia.

    I’m going to post this portion of your comment as a new post because I think that everybody needs to read it.

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