People Can Change, a seminar series that purports to help people reorient, has polled participants on their website. Although only a small percentage took the poll, People Can Change has released their results claiming that contrary to “conventional wisdom” people do not seek to become heterosexual out of internalized homophobia or societal pressure. They list the top ten responses of their respondents, most of which relate to religious belief or stereotype.
Jim Burroway has observations on the survey here.
I want to address only one of the top ten reasons that these SSA strugglers listed for undergoing reorientation therapy:
7) Family (85%): “I want to have a wife and children, or I want to hold together an existing marriage and family.”
Even Exodus’ most optimistic claims of “success” caution against assuming that their programs will make someone heterosexual. The current language of ex-gay groups is that a heterosexual relationship is not the goal; rather, a relationship with God is the goal.
I would imagine that most of those taking the poll would admit that they have been told that “a wife and children” cannot be guaranteed and that they are aware that most people in reorientation therapy will never become completely heterosexual, or even attracted enough to the opposite sex to allow for a fulfilling marriage.
We are not told how many of those taking the poll have an existing marriage and how many are just dreaming of one. Yet it’s fair to say that even after all of the ex-gay disclaimers a large number of these respondents still have “becoming straight and getting married” as one of their motivations.
It might be tempting to think these strugglers are illogical. But we all act on our expectations, even when we realize that they may not happen. We go to the store for milk, knowing that sometimes the milk will be sold out. We even buy lottery tickets knowing that the odds are almost certain that we will not win.
Why do we go to the store for milk knowing it may not be there? Because most of the time there is milk and if we miss it this time, we’ll get it the next. Yet if we went day after day and there was never milk, we’d stop going to that store.
Why do we buy lottery tickets knowing that we won’t win? Because if we do defy all the odds and win, our lives are changed completely. And because what we are giving up is not much of a sacrifice in comparison to the possible winnings.
There is nothing wrong with spending a dollar on a lottery ticket. But if you are going without food or missing a mortgage payment to buy tickets, then you have a problem. The sacrifices you are making are not justified by the odds of success.
This, I think, helps illustrate why some people stay in ex-gay ministries and others abandon such efforts.
Some people will find that the other benefits of being ex-gay – resolution of religious conflict, a stronger spirituality, a self impression of masculinity or normalness – outweigh any loss they may experience from giving up their orientation. Some would say that their lives have become more meaningful, regardless of any change in their attractions. And these people, for a while at least, stay ex-gay.
But for some, if not most, the real goal is becoming a heterosexual. And it is their response that is most interesting.
Some have experiences that mirror a store without milk. They try and try and don’t find themselves becoming a heterosexual and so they give up on the store. Like many who read this site, they go on to find meaningful and happy love-filled lives that are consistent with their orientation.
Others look at what they’ve sacrificed – the possibility of a life-long loving committed same-sex relationship – and the odds of achieving their goal of heterosexuality (almost nil) and eventually decide that they’ve wasted enough on the long-shot odds.
However, for some the possible payout is too great not to play. The idea of being a “normal heterosexual man with a wife and kids” is as alluring as the idea of winning millions and no amount is too much to gamble. It is for these ex-gay strugglers that I am saddest. Most of them will never achieve their goal.
My hope is that they will find the other benefits of being ex-gay to be adequate to bring them peace and satisfaction or that they will give up their gambling addiction and find resolution with the orientation that they have.