When an ex-gay survivor shares an account of how they tried to change or suppress their orientation or gender non-conforming behavior, some gays and lesbians respond–That’s CRAZY! Why would you ever do something that STUPID!

Indeed, it may seem illogical that intelligent queer folk living in modern times get duped by promises of heterosexuality or vaguer promises of “change.” Some just chalk it up to that Old Time Religion that makes people do silly and self-destructive things. But it’s not that simple.

After spending nearly twenty years deeply entrenched in the ex-gay world, attending multiple Exodus programs, including the Love in Action residential facility for two years, I finally came to my senses and came out of the closet. I then began to ask myself–WHY did you do that to yourself? Why did you let ex-gay ministers and gay reparative therapists tamper with you.

The over arching reason was that I was a Christian and felt that being gay was incompatible with my faith. Strangely, my close reading of the Bible didn’t cause a similar strange reaction in regards to my finances and Biblical  justice for the poor.  It took time and effort, but I have unearthed several other reasons.

Here’s a selected short list from a much longer one.

  • Desire to marry and have children
  • Fear of loneliness as I grew old
  • HIV/AIDS and other STDs that I assumed I would get if I came out gay
  • Misinformation of what it meant to be gay
  • The desire to fit in with everyone, to feel “normal”
  • Pressure from society through virtually every film, TV show, pop song and commercial proclaiming that the heterosexual life was the idealized norm without showing any alternatives

I recently began a discussion with other ex-gay survivors about the reasons they tried to alter their sexuality, gender presentation, or gender identity. To help dig into the question, I prompted them:

Think about the point in time when you began to seek out ex-gay treatment. Then ask: “During that time, if I suddenly woke up the next day 100% heterosexual/gender normative, how would my life be different? How would my relationships be different? How would my future be different? How would my career be different?”

Here is a sampling of what folks had to say to the question, Why did you try to change?

Juli–Guilt. Never cared about god (or believed), but knew my parents would be ashamed and feel responsible (and ashamed for being responsible). Forty years and three marriages, and I still have to remind myself at least once a day they were wrong.

Derek–I was always the “good kid” so the thought of being gay didn’t mesh well with who I felt I was or more what others thought I should be. Faith, family, a desire for what was modeled as normalcy were blanket reasons.

Gail Dickert–I was highly motivated by the fear of hell and the idealism of hetero-supremacy that was proclaimed in my churches and especially in Bible College (Bridal College, as it was referred to by the women in search of their perfect husbands).  [Gail is the author of Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams]

Jane–am beginning to believe that underneath my own desire to de-gay was the belief that I wasn’t the right kind of woman. At some level, because of the reparative therapy model, I’ve conflated my sexuality and gender. I know they’re separate – but there are place inside my head where they are still connected.

Brian G. Murphy–I never had any formal ex-gay experiences but did try to will myself to be straight.
If I were straight, I could have an attractive girlfriend… If I were straight I could be the cool, sexy, fun guy that everyone wanted to be with or be like. If I were straight I would be accepted by my peers at church. If I were accepted I could work for YoungLife. Funny, it took me years to realize that all those things could be true if I just changed the world instead of myself. So now I’m trying.

Autumn Sandeen–I know my motivation for identifying “ex-transvestite” in the 70’s & 80’s was “I want to be normal.” I didn’t want to be seen as a freak, and being a transvestite (the term for crossdresser back then that now in the 2010’s is seen as a pejorative) or a transsexual was in my mind back then were synonymous for gender freak.

Carl–My desire to be str8 was kind of drawn out and kind of complicated. Initially, I wanted to be str8 for secular reasons, fitting into society, being accepted etc. It wasn’t until later on that I veered towards religious reasons. I had been deeply involved with drugs and alcohol (habits I picked up in the Navy to try and hide my being gay) One night I had a seizure, and that is what eventually got me on the road to becoming “born again”. It was after that that I learned all about the evils of homosexuality from a fundamentalist view, and it was then that my reasons for wanting to be str8 changed from secular to religious. I spent many years vacillating between trying to be str8 and just being gay.

Amanda–I guess there is a factor that I maybe wasn’t aware of then, but am now… I have… an extensive abuse history and I thought that maybe that broke me forever and that is why I can’t be with men or am more drawn to women… and being broken sucks… so I was hoping if I practiced more or could learn to be more attracted to men and more of a “woman” that it might mean that I wasn’t completely broken…

Amanda’s response got me thinking about the twisted effects abuse can have on someone that make them fall prey to the attentions of ex-gay leaders. For me, childhood abuse was one of the compelling yet elusive reasons to seek out help from the ex-gays. I developed a complicated relationship with my body and sexuality. I lived with toxic levels of shame. I felt dirty and broken and believed something was fundamentally wrong with me. That played right into lots of ex-gay theories. Being abused did not make me gay, but it caused me to be ashamed of my sexuality, afraid of it, troubled by it.Sadly, I never received the help I needed from Christian counselors, Exodus, and gay reparative therapists. I finally turned to trained professionals.

For the last seven years of my ex-gay odyssey I was married to a woman. After our marriage imploded, I enrolled myself into Love in Action. I valued the marriage and I genuinely loved my wife, although I did not desire her sexually. At that time I would have done anything to have her back in my life. She was smart enough to not take me back.

Did you try to change or suppress your orientation, identity, or gender presentation? What were some of the reasons that compelled you?

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