Sunday, May 18, 2014

What is Ex-Gay?

Whenever I share my story in a new context, invariably, within a few days, I will be approached by one or two of those who heard me to ask if they can talk to me.  Those conversations have changed over the years just as my own story has changed an evolved.  When I was living as an ex-gay, the things shared with me were often about friends or family members that they were hoping and praying would walk away from homosexuality.  Sometimes those conversations would be about same-sex encounters that they had experienced themselves and the shame and guilt they carried from those experiences.  Those were always heavy conversations, and I felt humbled and privileged anytime that someone would share something like that with me.  For some of them, it was the first time they had spoken of those encounters with anyone.  Even though my own context has changed, I still hope that I was able to help them in some small way, even if it was by giving them an outlet to voice those experiences and I hope that they, as I am still, are on their own journey of acceptance of themselves or others.

Now, living outside the closet and feeling more comfortable with myself as an out and about gay man, the conversations have changed.  Sometimes those conversations are brought about because the other person is struggling with how to come out themselves.  Other times, it is because they know someone who is struggling to come out, but they fear judgement from family, friends, or their church.  Just as before, these personal stories are such an honor to be the recipient of.  It wasn’t that long ago that I trembled and felt my voice lose it’s strength each time I had to say the words, “I’m gay.”  Sometimes it still happens.  I know what it is to feel the terror and vulnerability of that moment.  I know what it is to be affirmed and accepted after that disclosure, and I know what it is to be pushed away after opening myself up to someone.  Either response is filled with great emotion.  It is so important to me that, in that moment, that person knows that they are heard and accepted, especially if it is their first time saying those words.  I can’t promise that every subsequent time will go the same, but I can control how they are received by me.

A new response that I am beginning to get after sharing my story is, “What is ex-gay?”  I was taken aback the first couple of times this happened.  I am human, and I do fall into human traps sometimes.  One of those traps is that, if something is important to me, I assume it is important to everyone.  In life, we are often reminded that this is not often true.  To be honest, I like this question.  This tells me that there is a significant portion of the population that has never even considered that a person’s sexual orientation can be discarded or changed.  They have never heard of the former Exodus International which served as the umbrella organization for numerous groups around the country that would seek to help men and women across the country heal their “sexual brokenness” and shed their “unwanted same-sex attractions.”  I attended such a group near the end of my ex-gay years.  It was in an effort to be trained so that I could establish a similar group in my hometown.  It was that experience that revealed to me how damaging this type of process can be to those involved.  I will share more about that in a future post.

For those of you who, like many others, are unfamiliar with the term ex-gay, it is exactly what it sounds like.  It is an effort to intentionally separate from or put an end to one’s homosexuality.  It is usually motivated by the individual’s spiritual or religious beliefs.  It is more than waiting until later in life to accept one’s homosexuality.  That is a whole other experience that I have seen friends walk that comes with it’s own set of experiences and deserves its own discussion.  Ex-gays have accepted that they are gay, and they have made a conscious decision that, whether by therapy, prayer, or both, that part of themselves can be changed.  It is a rejection of a very integral part of who we are as humans.  Gender and sexuality are very deeply rooted parts of who we are, and being able to live those pieces of us openly, honestly, and authentically are essential for us being able to live healthy and meaningful lives.  Just as we see in the lives of those who are transgender, that internal voice, that sense of identity, cannot be muted.  Regardless of outward appearance or action, the voices of our gender identity and sexual orientation (There isn’t a person reading this that doesn’t have both.) are speaking from within us, and damage is done when we ask people to ignore or silence those voices.  

I know that this is a really brief discussion of what it is to be ex-gay.  If you would like more information, I’ve included a link to the Wikipedia page on this topic below, and, of course, please keep coming back here as I will be sharing more of my own experiences here.  Also, please feel free to e-mail me to share your own experiences and struggles with this topic.  I promise to keep anything that you share with me confidential unless you give your consent for me to share it on the blog.

“Today you are you!  That is truer than true!  There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”
- Dr. Seuss

Take care and keep coming back.

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

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