The ex-gay movement, for the blissfully unaware, is a Christian (mostly protestant) endeavor to convert gay people into straight people, or at least to get them to abstain from “homosexual behavior.” Most claim complete conversion, though, because it is essential in their conceiving of sexual orientation as a choice.
There are many organizations devoted to de-conversion “therapy” and “treatment:” NARTH, Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out,” Exodus International, and Love in Action to name a few. Many of these organizations are run by self-described “ex-gays” who have supposedly won the battle over themselves and turned straight, though one wonders, if it is a choice, then why is it such a difficult choice to turn straight? Of course these organizations are riddled with scandals by leaders who are caught at gay bars, in gay cruise spots, having gay affairs, etc. They also have to contend with the fact that the self harm and depression statistics for “ex-gays” are uncomfortably high and that some prominent members have slipped back into the “life-style.”
These ex-gay groups and the churches affiliated with them have even taken their mission overseas, and some, like Scott Lively, have supported the infamous Uganda “Kill the Gays” bill. Africa (specifically Kenya, Uganda, South Africa) has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for their specific brand of hate-filled Christianity with disastrous results for gay people as it has helped to prop up negative sentiment against gay people, resulting in violence and discrimination. Examples include the corrective rape of lesbians in South Africa which has been linked to anti-gay propaganda. And in recent news Kenyan officials are being required to affirm their heterosexuality before taking office “because the country’s largely Christian population holds homosexuality as “gross immorality” and that homosexual individuals being “immoral” lack the virtues of integrity required to hold high public offices.”
Meanwhile, in the States, the movement continues, swelling their ranks by tapping into parental fear of homosexuality. Most of these organizations offer special de-conversion camps where parents can send there kids for some heavy duty
abuse therapy. This therapy has been condemned by The American Psychological Association as ineffective and harmful to participants, but that hasn’t stopped frantic homophobic parents from shipping off their children to be “fixed.” Perhaps if these parents bothered to read anything about the effacy of reparative therapy there would be more cautious. To wit, the APA’s Task Force found:
These studies show that enduring change to an individual’s sexual orientation is uncommon. The participants in this body of research continued to experience same-sex attractions following SOCE and did not report significant change to other-sex attractions that could be empirically validated, though some showed lessened physiological arousal to all sexual stimuli. Compelling evidence of decreased same-sex sexual behavior and of engagement in sexual behavior with the other sex was rare.
Basically what reparative therapy is sometimes successful with is full-scale repression of all sexuality and healthy sexual impulse. Now that sounds like progress, right? /sarcasm. All sarcasm aside, having known people who have gone through less intense versions of this (pastoral counseling) it can really mess you up. It destroys your sense of self, making you feel that your sexual feelings are deeply wrong. Sometimes people go into really deep denial that can take years to get out of.
Because of the insidious effects of the ex-gay movement, there are a lot of watchdog blogs devoted to exposing the ex-gay movement as well as providing a place of safety and support for those who have become disillusioned by it. Wayne Besen, who was one of the first people to expose the movement, maintains the Truth Wins Out blog; The Box Turtle Bulletin keeps abreast of this issue and has become the place to go for continuous coverage of Uganda’s homophobic government; and Ex-gay Watch, as the name suggests, reports on all things in the ex-gay movement.
Most recently in the news, however, are Dan Savage’s remarks on Olbermann’s “Countdown,” where he shares his thoughts on why the ex-gays are so militant and outspoken about the supposed corruption, sinfulness, and misery of those who are openly gay/lesbian/bi. He postulates that they resent those who are living their lives openly, those who haven’t sacrificed their identity on the alter of religious belief – in short they are jealous (and suffering from religious abuse). Here is the full clip on Current:
Aside from the jealousy issue, which sounds accurate to me, he also points to spiritual abuse, and I can’t think of a more apt description. The people who seek out the ex-gay movement to cure themselves are so torn up inside due to the conflict between their belief system and their sexuality that they are willing to try anything to change. Leaving their religion, or changing to a kinder gentler version, is simply not something they see as an option because that would require abandoning everything and everyone they have ever known.
Many people don’t realize the costs that come with abandoning a part of your faith. To an evangelical, their faith and belief system is a whole package; discarding a part of it is simply not an option. To fully accept themselves they must abandon everything – the whole belief system – and start from scratch. Not everyone is capable of doing this, and without any support from their friends and family not many are likely to.
P.S. I have long wanted to write about the difficulties of abandoning radical faith and will pick this up again in a more personal piece.