Note: This post has a different tone that many of my posts. I've allowed some of my dry, sarcastic humor to seep into this one. Keep that in mind while reading. The darker parts of this post are meant to be taken in a more humorous light. I hope that comes across.
What is Ex-Gay?
I’m assuming that most people reading this blog are familiar with this term, but it is a question that I get asked often when speaking about my story. Someone who identifies as an ex-gay, just like an ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, etc., is someone who, while they acknowledge that they used to be gay, believes that they are either no longer gay or is on their way to no longer being gay, and, just was a recently divorced or single person can sometimes take some time settling into their new role, beginning to use the identifiers corresponding to that role can be an important first step. Therefore a person who states they are ex-gay does so almost as a prophetic statement, giving voice to a desired state that does not yet exist within them as fully realized. The reason that, I believe, this is such a difficult term for some to understand is that it is akin to me telling someone, “Hi, my name is Josh. I’m a unicorn.” While there are disagreements about what causes sexual orientation, there is pretty solid agreement that it can’t be changed once it is established; so, this places the label of “ex-gay” into the category of mythical creatures.
Having lived for over a decade as an ex-gay, I have learned to find hope in even the smallest incremental gains. When I was trying to rid myself of me same-sex attractions, if I looked at picture of a woman and found her to be pretty or if I was able to force thoughts of an attractive man out of my mind by focusing on memorized scripture, I counted it as a success. If I wandered into a news store, purchased gay porn and threw it away in a sidewalk trash can before I made it back to my car, I saw this as victory over the devil’s attempts to lead me astray, and, if I went on a date with a woman and any level of affection from holding hands to making out occurred, I thought I was truly winning! So, I will admit that I am hopeful in the outcome of General Conference in terms of LGBTQIA issues. In a denomination that is 48 years old in its current incarnation, a battle that has been going on for 44 of those years with no progress has little hope of being resolved through the same process that has been attempted again and again, but I do have faith that our bishops will find a way for us to exist as one united church with room for differing perspectives on human sexuality.
Bishop Bruce Ough announcing proposal from Council of
Bishops on LGBTQIA issues at 2016 General Conference
The downside of my experience is that you are reading the words of a man who believed and prayed for 13 years that he could become a mythical creature. My hope can, as has been proven, clearly be misplaced. While I had many darker moments during the years that I was fighting against who I am, I tend to be a pretty optimistic guy these days. Therefore, I really value the input of realists, the people who help me take my rose-colored visions of the future and convert them into more feasible outcomes. So, while I might spend the next few years hoping that my church can become the unicorn of my dreams, at the end of this waiting, I might find that it is still just a regular horse with a limp that is still unable to support all of us who wish to ride upon her. Then, I may have to face the choice of either continuing my delusion or of entering the market for another horse that can get me and my friends where we need to go.
The Real Hope
The real hope, and truly the best lesson that I learned at the end of my ex-gay journey, is that the conversation about who you are in terms of your identity and the relationship between that and God, as you understand God, is something that only you and God can have. In my own journey, I realized that one of three things was true: 1) God was not healing me of my homosexuality because God was incapable of doing so, which didn’t sit well with me in terms of placing limits on God’s power. 2) God was capable of healing me of my homosexuality but was choosing not to, which presented me with a very cruel and sadistic image of God that I also found to be unacceptable. Or 3) God was not healing me because I wasn’t broken. That final possibility was the one that finally resonated with me, but I did not get there overnight. It took a lot of seeking and soul searching to get there, but, as my dear friend, Aaron, put it to me so clearly, “You can read all you want. You can pray all you want, but tomorrow you’re going to wake up, and you’re still going to be you, and only you can decide what to do with that.”
In terms of the United Methodist Church, there is still work left to be done, and I am committed to seeing that work through, to make sure that every person who needs to finds a welcoming and affirming presence inside our congregations and structures of worship, but, in terms of the individual journey that each of us must walk, the course of that journey is up to you to work out between either you and God or within your own religious or non-religious understanding of the universe. Know that, as with many things in life, the journey is often the most valuable and life-giving aspect of the process. While I may see the world through different lenses that you, I affirm you and your place on this journey as you seek your own truth.