The Ex-Gay Debate: Part III – Change and Choices
When I first began to recognise the attraction I felt towards men as a real part of my life, I was sure I could do away with it. Many forces in my life, social and religious, had assured me that homosexuality was undesirable and evil and I was sure that God or society would provide me with a way out. I have tried reconstructing the journey that took me from where I was then to where I am now, and have found it hard to put the pieces all in place. I went through so many extreme emotions, so many confusing ideas, that to retrace it is impossible. But I have kept tabs on a few of the major landmarks I passed and here they are, along with a whole bunch of web resources that I found along the way.
Q 1) Why am I this way?
I don’t know. Nobody knows. But why does it matter? Even if you knew for sure that genetics were (or were not) decisive in determining homosexuality would it matter? Even if homosexuality is an acquired characteristic, it wouldn’t matter. What would matter is: is it possible to change? Is change desirable?
Resource: neuroscientist Simon LeVay did a research project on gay men’s brains to determine if they are structured differently from straight men’s brains. Whether or not this is so is still debatable. But it was published in Scientific American alongside a REALLY interesting, and perhaps more relevant article by behavioural scientist William Byne. He begins by asking the questions: why are we so interested in finding biological causes for homosexuality? And why would that matter?
Q2) So, is homosexuality immutable?
The answer would appear to be, yes. There is still debate around the concept of orientation conversion because neither side has enough proof to finally rest their case. However, the intense suffering that some appear to go through in the process of ‘therapy’, the living of the lie, and in backsliding makes me incredibly suspicious of the many simplistic testimonies of change.
Resources: Perhaps the most profound experience I have had that broke my expectations of reparative therapy was reading the wonderfully positive testimony of Willful Grace in this blog post. She describes that, despite the claims of many, reparative therapy has worked for her (ex-gay) husband and that is enough for her to believe it is true. 10 months later, WG wrote an addendum to that post explaining how her husband had left her because he felt that he had not truly changed his orientation. It is raw, honest and above all… it’s more real than anything you would find on an ex-gay website because there is no agenda.
Incidentally, there are many conspicuous examples of ex-gay leaders spectacularly failing to remain ‘straight’. Anyone who questions reparative therapy should probably watch Former Ex-Gay Leaders Apologize to understand how harmful it is. It’s about 8mins long.
Q3) OK. So maybe they haven’t cracked it yet. But maybe I can do it. Can I still change?
Faced with this impasse, I asked myself: can I change? And I began to wonder: how do people change?
I’m a fan of Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I consider it to be far and away the best self-help book, because it dispels many of the myths peddled by that genre. It does this by examining how people try to change themselves.
The way many people try to change themselves is based on the personality ethic. This is the band-aid approach: cover up your faults by changing the way you behave, changing the way you act, speak, present yourself to people. This is analogous to ex-gay treatment which defines homosexuality as behaviour.
Covey’s alternative model of change is based on the character ethic. This is a more challenging, reflective approach. It suggests that in order to change you need to change your character, which in turn will naturally transform your behaviour. You need to be honest and sincere in your efforts to transform yourself. Instead of pretending to like people, you need to change your attitude of competition with them. Instead of trying a new ‘organization regime’, you need to examine and question your priorities, etc. This is change that works. This is the kind of change that I believe in.
But sexuality is not character. A person may become more loving, more honest, more courageous, more disciplined. But how does one start becoming more straight? Even if a person (even though I) really wanted to change their (my) orientation, where would they (I) start?
Q4. Ah, so I am gay and I probably will be all my life. But God still wants me to have a family, so I should still find a way to get married, right?
This is a nice idea, but it has been tried and it often does not work. The main idea behind these marriages is that even gay people are really heterosexual, regardless of whether or not they can change.
Resources: There is a great 3-article series in a Mormon academic journal called Getting Out/Staying In. It provides a first-hand account of a mixed-orientation marriage, and then a re-evaluation taken one year later. In between there is a really great appraisal of the idea of such marriages in the Mormon Church. It even inspired me to try one myself, being well-informed yet determined to succeed against the odds, just like the writer of the featured article, Ben Christensen.
However, I later came across the personal blog of Ben Christensen. He and his wife divorced and he left the Mormon Church about four years later. This has led me to believe that despite good religious intentions, marriage between people of different sexual orientations is not a good idea.
Q5. But wait, what about Jesus?
Jesus only came into my life after I had gone through all of this questioning, but it had long since become clear to me that faith in Jesus is not capable of un-gaying anybody. There is a lot, a lot of writing on this on both sides, but one Christian response, that I haven’t read, but looks very, very thorough is The Truth About Gays by Ronete Cohen, who is a lesbian Christian.
Q6. What now?
For that, you’ll have to go back to Part I, which actually describes a lot of my current thinking about the idea of change. I find that while being gay (sort of, actually bi, but calling it queer) is a part of my person it is not, as such, part of my identity. I’m still figuring out how to live my life. Follow the blog and share that adventure with me.
I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts too. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts on being and living gay and free, or ex-gay, or homophobe, or ally… or whatever. Free expression.