Listening to ex-ex-gays

At times I can be hard on ex-ex-gays. In particular I’m a bit annoyed at the moment by Peterson Toscano who says that he wants to “help foster a deeper discussion”, but whose website that he has created (Beyond Ex-Gay) has no interactive component whatsoever (forum or comment threads). That’s hardly facilitating a discussion and his failure to engage with some of the questions I’ve raised makes me wonder whether he shouldn’t just be clearer that his is a position of advocacy, not dialogue.

That said, another of the contributors to Beyond Ex-Gay, Jimbo, has responded on the same thread and one thing he has written in particular is worth highlighting:

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.

Please note, Jimbo’s issue wasn’t that he made different choices about lifestyle, or that he interpreted the “clobber passages” in a different way. Ultimately it was that he met men and women in the church who simply couldn’t abide having somebody in their midst who wasn’t attracted to people of the opposite sex, or who didn’t act in a manner they wanted.

Shameful, my friends, shameful, because what Jimbo experienced is homophobia, pure and simple. Perhaps there is yet some good listening to be done.

Thanks Jimbo for sharing this with us.

32 Comments on “Listening to ex-ex-gays

  1. Shameful and all too common, Peter. If I was an evangelical I would be annoyed that there are so many “conservative” Christians who make it clear that, irrespective of one’s belief on the *Christian* conception of homosexuality, if you don’t use gay rights in the pejorative sense then you should go away and join the liberals.  

  2. Umm – my contribution may not be too welcome here, but I know I share my perspective with many others of my generation – I am a grandmother.
    When I was in my teens my family had a priest who was unmarried and a teensy bit – shall we say – flamboyant.  He was a wonderful priest and a lovely man, and the parish adored him.  We knew nothing whatsoever about his private life.  He was just known as ‘a bachelor’ who lived alone in the vicarage.  Numerous young ladies of the parish tried to attract his attention, but without success.  In my several years in that parish I don’t recall anyone saying a word against him, nor did I hear any breath of scandal.

    While I sympathise with Jimbo, I would just like to query why he feels he gets rejected?  I do know this happens, I have seen it for myself, but I wonder if it hasn’t got something to do with the gay identity that people seem so keen to pin upon themselves?  Not talking specifically about any person, but how is one to know someone is gay unless they are told?  In what way do they ‘act differently’ – to draw attention to themselves?  Most people would, I suspect, prefer not to know about anyone’s sexual proclivities.  We might ‘think’ that perhaps someone may be gay, but really I feel it is none of anybody’s business – that people are either male or female, and it is their behaviour towards me which determines how I feel about them.  If someone comes along and tells me he is gay and I’ve got to like it or else I’m a bigot and a homophobe, then I’m not going to be very kindly disposed towards him.  I suppose it comes of being a Brit; we don’t like too much in-your-face – at least my generation doesn’t.  Whatever happened to good old reserve?

    I think the ‘gay’ label has done a lot of damage.

  3. Peter, although one of our hopes at Beyond Ex-Gay is to foster a deeper discussion, (something that I see is already happening at your blog) our primary objective is to provide support and assistance to ex-gay survivors.  This includes providing and maintaining a safe place where they can post their experiences and read of other experiences without having to subject themselves to some of the same harmful and misguided teachings and theories that they endured (along with some possibly thoughtful exchanges).

    Coming from  my Christian perspective, I see this as something akin to pastoral care. People come to us often hurting and needing to tell their stories. Some also offer to make their experiences public, first for their over healing and recovery and secondly as a witness to what they encountered in hopes of creating a change in a system that you yourself agree has had genuine flaws in its practices and promises.

    There are many other forums where an understanding conversation occurs through the blogs of some of these ex-gay survivors, through comments on your own blog and others, in discussion of YouTube videos and more.

    In considering people who come to us as ex-gay survivors, some need to find a place where their voices will be heard and not deafened by opponents and even gay activist and bloggers who have their own agendas. We also go out of our way to create a site that doesn’t bash ex-gays. We tell our stories as a means of adding more information to a larger discussion.

    Beyond Ex-Gay does not own this discussion, rather we provide people an opportunity to tell their stories.  The individuals concerned about these stories take the discussion elsewhere.

    Some blogs by folks who have contributed to Beyond Ex-Gay and who say they have been negatively affected by the ex-gay movement and homophobia in the church include:
    Behind the Duct Tape
    Rising Up Whole
    Nonsequitur’s Soapbox
    Two Worlds Collision
    Living in the Bonus Round
    Willful Grace
    My Heart Goes Out
    Joe Moderate

    I appreciate your willingness to listen to the stories of ex-gay survivors.

  4. Jill, it’s not really a matter of “the gay label” exactly.  I once talked with a woman who revealed that she struggled with same-sex attraction.  She didn’t attach a label to herself, but she did reveal that she was attracted to women and not to men.  Slowly but surely, she started to face the kind of discrimination that Jimbo was talking about.  She was asked not to work in the nursery or with the youth, and generally her role in the church diminished once she was open about her temptations.

    You ask why someone would want to reveal their sexual feelings?  Well, did you stop to think that they might be seeking support from the larger Christian community in dealing with those things?  It’s a terrible burden to carry sometimes, and I think you asking people to “keep it to themselves” is extremely insensitive.  Other Christians are allowed to talk about their struggles.  In fact, it’s something that we’re expected to do.  How come same-sex attracted Christians have to be silent in your view?

    Now maybe this is because I’m American (and a loudmouthed Southerner to boot) but “reserve” doesn’t get anyone anywhere.  We’re called to openness and transparency.  Struggling in silence fails, every single time.

    And even though Jimbo’s situation might not be true for every church, the fact that it happens to some people somewhat creates an attitude of fear, which keeps struggling men and women from being open in their own congregations even if those congregations would be beneficial.  After all, often you don’t know if the church you’re in is a “safe” place to talk about these things until you’ve been open about them, and if it’s not a “safe” place, then it’s too late by that point.

  5. I confess I’m unfamiliar with some of the fine distinctions being made between labels here, so I hope everyone will be charitable…

    <i>”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.”</i>

    So what is he saying it means to “act straight” or “act gay”? Is he saying that he was under pressure not to act camply or effeminately, as a gay stereotype might? Or something else? There seems to be an element here of gayness being an identity, which I know Peter as a “post-gay” rejects – do “ex-gays” or “ex-ex-gays” also reject that?

    Men in churches should be “under pressure” to “treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” They should also be “under pressure” to act in ways which demonstrate and affirm the masculinity which God gave them, regardless of their sexual feelings or lack of them. Yes, this has a cultural component. No, IMO, you don’t ignore the cultural component just because it’s cultural.

    If it’s these pressures he is objecting to, then I object to his objection. :-) If not, then I need to better understand what he is saying.

  6. I am sure there are cultural issues at play here – for instance, I would not want to tell all and sundry if I was an alcoholic, or a drug addict, but I might seek help once I had discerned who was the best person to approach with such a confidential problem.  And would a person whose sexual proclivities were towards young children or – to put it delicately – other species – be so keen for people to know?

    There are some things which I think should be private.  It is no good flaunting sexuality around – be it homo or hetero – and expecting everyone to like it. 

  7.  Jill, such is our heterosexist society that, if you don’t say you’re gay, people will assume that you’re straight. I can quite easily conceive of charming non-gay men getting into inappopriate (in the sense that it can’t lead to marriage) relationships with single women (who, last I heard, where overreprented in churches). 
     And it should also be noted that homophobia used to be ignored because people didn’t know gay people. It gets hard to demonise “them” when it’s people you know. Hence coming out (Ian McKellan is an excellent example of this). 
     Tangentially, I should say that, although I can understand being called a poof by butch working class glaweigan types, I object when it’s nice inoffensive effeminate churchy men who tend to make David Tennant’s Doctor look like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.

  8. Gervase, I can’t be sure what Jimbo meant, but I think a lot of the problem stems from people assuming that trivial things such as tone of voice or taste in fashion are indicative of one’s Biblical masculinity (and, you know, they aren’t).  I’m using somewhat-American examples here, but yes, it is very hard for a guy who doesn’t hunt, fish, or play sports to fit in with Christian men, and there is often an expectation that he should do those things or he isn’t “manly” enough.

    Well, Jill, I’m not talking about “all and sundry,” here.  The woman I mentioned in my first comment simply told the church leaders and pastors, and found herself discriminated against.  And the thing is she wasn’t struggling with feelings towards children, and found herself taken out of children ministries.  That’s wrong, and it’s instances like that that make the rest of us a little afraid to even tell people who we’re supposed to trust.

    No one’s expecting others to like it.  We’re expecting others to understand, to be non-judgmental, to be brothers and sisters in Christ and earnestly help us deal with living with same-sex attractions in a God-honoring way.  We’re expecting people to be open-minded about their preconceived notions and accepting of people who don’t fit the mold but who are no-less striving to love Christ and one another.  And yes, we’re expected them to do that even when we do talk about the big struggles in our lives.  It’s not right to expect people to keep those things under lock and key.  In fact, it’s spiritual death.

  9. “Ultimately it was that he met men and women in the church who simply couldn’t abide having somebody in their midst who wasn’t attracted to people of the opposite sex, or who didn’t act in a manner they wanted.”

    In Trinidad we would say: “Correc’ is right!”

    You’re always going to be the odd one out if they know about you; the person they won’t want to be seen hanging around with too much;  or who you need to keep the children away from.
    And in order to gain some type of elusive acceptance, some ex-gays go overboard–always trying to prove how not like “those gays” they are.
    Straight Christians never have to routinely disown their immoral non-Christian counterparts to gain acceptance.

  10. They should also be “under pressure” to act in ways which demonstrate and affirm the masculinity which God gave them,

    What on earth is this “masculinity” that God gave to all men; and where in the Bible do you find evidence and a description of this? This one is the least Bible-based of all “ex-gay” theology. God is not disappointed if you can’t kick a football, or even if you don’t like football (either version) at all.

  11. Trinidad: I’m certainly not talking about liking football. I agree that the culture’s idea of what makes a man is different to the Bible’s idea of what makes a man. What I mean is that God created us male and female, both in his image, different and complementary, and it’s an abuse of his good design to blur those distinctions. Cross-dressing, sex-change operations, effeminacy and other ways of men ‘being women’ all do that. (And, of course, vice versa.)

    I have no idea whether this idea is “ex-gay theology” or not, but I do think it’s Biblical.

    So what I’m trying to get to the bottom of is what he meant by “act straight”. Did he mean “liking football”? I’m not sure he did. If he did, why is that “acting straight”? What is is about football which people think appeals particularly to straight people? And what is his implied antonym? What does it mean, in his mind, to “act gay”? All I am saying is that it would be good to get clarity on this matter, because then we can assess whether he is objecting to Biblical norms of male behaviour, or unreasonable and trivial cultural expectations such as “liking football”.

  12. Ryan, it is obvious we come from different planets, because I don’t regard society as heterosexist, nor do I imagine people are either gay or straight – I don’t imagine anything about their ‘sexuality’ at all.  I am far more likely to judge whether a stranger is a potential friend or not by finding out about their musical tastes and things like that.  Sexuality simply doesn’t come into it.  Coming from an arty-farty family, I have known probably a more than average number of openly gay people (not many of them Christian, I have to say).  Some I have liked a lot, some not so much, and there was one I couldn’t stand – he was manipulative and cruel.  All this has nothing to do with them being gay. 
    Unless you are sex-obsessed, I don’t see why keeping it ‘under lock and key’, as Jay has described it, is such a big deal.  Plenty of straight people go to their graves without ever having had a sexual encounter, for a variety of reasons.  It’s sad, but there are plenty of worse things in life.
    Jay, the woman you talked about might be a rabid man-hater, or she might proselytize the lesbian life – or maybe not – but evidently somebody felt uncomfortable about leaving her with young children – it may be that some parents knew, and had reservations about her.  The pastor has to take their wishes into account.  If you don’t have children yourself you will not understand.  Churches are particularly sensitive about this after the RC child abuse scandal, and have to be 100% certain about those in charge of children.  Men are usually required to have a woman present as a chaperone. This is about the children, not about the adults.  Which is a shame for this lady, but there would be similar reservations about, for instance, leaving children with alcoholics or drug-takers.
    It is a fair point to expect people to be open-minded, but why should they?  I accept and appreciate that you are trying to live in a God-honouring way, and you need support, but this should be from people who know what they are talking about and how to deal with it.  The wider public simply does not.  Punitive legislation will not succeed in forcing people to think differently, and the ridiculous punishments meted out to anyone who dares to make even the most trivial anti-gay comment (such as the guy who was prosecuted for describing somebody’s horse as gay) will just prompt a backlash. 
    What the public sees in pro-gay legislation is a further step down the road to unfettered sexual license and the wrecking of marriage and the family.  Especially as the legislation appears to be based on the assumption that homosexuality is genetic, which it is not.  This is not so much ‘homophobia’ which we read so much about as fear for our families and the future of the human race.  Gay sexual license has gone far beyond what even the most avid straight swingers get up to.  We only have to see images of the Folsom Street Fair and the most recent revolting spectacle of ‘pig sex’ planned in a well known Washington Hotel to celebrate Obama’s inauguration, which fortunately was cancelled after protests from the public.  This would never have happened in a public building until very recently, although I don’t doubt it goes on in private premises – but the images of the equipment brought in for the occasion upset me a great deal – and I thought I was inured to this sort of thing – but I’m afraid I don’t understand how people can degrade and debase themselves and each other in public spaces like this.  No doubt Obama’s support for gay groups has emboldened the organisers of events such as these.  Sorry, but these are the things that stick in people’s minds when you mention ‘gay’, even if you wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole yourself.
    Sorry if you don’t like this, but that is the way that plenty of people see things.

  13.  Jill,  I don’t think anyone could disapassionately say that the UK wasn’t (and perhaps still is?) heterosexist. And don’t *you* regard heterosexuality as superior and desireable for all? That’s heterosexist, which is also indicated by the silly alarmism of referring to gay rights as wrecking marriage.  And I hope you see the difference between people keeping sexuality under “lock and key” because *they* want to and the situation that used to exist, where people had to lie about their sexuality because they’d lose their job etc if they told the truth. Your drug taker analogy suggestst that much still needs to be done.

  14. Dear Ryan,

    from a biblical perspective it’s surely difficult not to see godly heterosexuality and celibacy as superior to homosexuality. The church surely must critique homosexual lifestyles (and certain heterosexual lifestyles).

    Using slightly different terminology to Peter the goal isn’t heterosexuality for all, but chastity.

    Thank you for spurring thoughts.

    John Foxe.

  15. Jill, since I know my friend and you don’t, why don’t you stop with the assumptions, okay?  She’s a godly and chaste woman with a Biblical model of sexuality who needed support in her walk with Christ, and she was pretty much discriminated against by her congregation.  Struggling with SSA is NOT the same as alcoholism or drug abuse, and I’m surprised Peter hasn’t chastised you for that comment.

    Here’s an idea.  Why don’t you stop trying to rationalize everything and listen to people.  If someone comes up to you and says they’re being persecuted, do you think it’s an appropriate response to just say, “Oh, well you probably deserve it, so deal with it?”  Because that’s essentially what you’re saying here.

    And again, this maybe is a cultural thing, but people tend to wear their hearts on their sleeve where I’m from (again, it’s the American South).  I don’t need support from professionals.  Just from other Christians.  You know, people to talk about ALL of my struggles with, just like they talk to me about theirs.  If you live in a society where people keep everything to themselves, and don’t talk about what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling or what sins they’re struggling with, then I genuinely feel sorry for you.  It’s not a good way to live.  “Reserve” be darned, it never did anyone any good.

  16. Little question to John F – if you’re willing to answer, where do you see ‘homosexual lifestyles’ depicted in Scripture?

    in friendship, Blair

  17. Jay, I’m very sorry to have given offence – I was merely pondering on the possibilities of others seeing your friend in a rather different light.  I didn’t make this very clear, and I apologise.  Of course she deserves support.

  18. And my apologies if I lost my temper a bit.  I suppose I just sensed in you more of a willingness to find an excuse rather than a willingness to listen.

  19. Dear Blair,

    thanks for your question which I shall ponder a bit before answering.

    Re-reading this thread I note that my thoughts seem to be similar to those of Gervase Markham’s so I shall try to avoid being unnecessarily duplicative.



  20.  John : certainly, although I do find it strange when people assume that if I agreed with (e.g.) Gagnon’s *biblical* scholarship then I must agreee with his view on how it should be regarded in law (which I don’t). And , in terms of Jilly deploring contempory debased society,  I would note that I’ve seen lots of heterosexual examples of public sexuality but not many gay ones. I’ve lived in glasgow all my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever even seen  same sex hand-holding or kissing in locations other than gay bars. But I have seen lots of straight people publicly “debase” themselves in the way Jill describes.  Acknowedging to others than one is gay says no more about a passion for kinky sex acts than saying that you’re straight.

  21. Thanks John.

    Another little question – Jill, if you’re willing to answer, what do you imagine your life would be / have been like if you were a lesbian, or admitted to others (eg at church) that you were struggling with attractions to other women?

    in friendship, Blair

  22. Blair, you have no idea what struggles I may have had in the past.  As it happens, I haven’t had this particular problem to deal with, but I have a same-sex attracted family member, so I do know something of what has to be endured, and naturally I feel a great deal of sympathy for those who battle daily to keep themselves in a fitting  relationship with God.  I understand that they feel their sexuality is part of who they are.  But I also understand that people with unnatural desires for young children feel this is part of who they are, but in no way would I encourage them.

    Ryan, you might sneer, but you will NOT have seen straight people publicly debasing themselves in the way I was describing!  I find it hard to believe that straight people would even contemplate taking part even in private in some of the disgusting activities planned for the orgy I mentioned – and I do not consider myself to be particularly prudish.

    You are right that I DO feel heterosexual relationships are superior and desirable for all, as do many ssa people.  And the reason?  Well, there are a number, but just one will do – and you don’t have to look far for it on this blog.  His little face just brightens my day, (no, I don’t mean you, Peter!) and I cannot help smiling whenever I see him.  Reuben Ould!   

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