It seems the public and most media are unaware of the damage and harm caused by the ex-gay movement. These groups certainly portray themselves as God-loving, sincere Christians (there really aren’t any ex-gay atheists) who “just want to help” unhappy homosexuals. This is how journalist Lisa Ling allowed a couple of ex-gay leaders to represent themselves on her Oprah TV Show.
The iPhone App generated by Exodus International (the Umbrella Organization for the entire ex-gay movement) appeared so sleek, so benign (if not boring) that it slipped past Apple employees and was given a 4+ for unobjectionable content.
What continues to be overlooked are the thousands of people who attend these groups only to discover the harmful enforcement of heterosexual supremacy regardless of any real change. This was ex-gay survivor Sean Greystone’s experience:
“I endured months of painful struggle to deny my sexual orientation with no favorable results. No one, no matter how long they had been there, could look me in the eye and say they had really changed. Their literature creates an illusion of freedom that does not exist, and they know it.”
What is not often exposed is that these organizations function with cult-like tactics, claiming they know God’s ultimate thoughts on sexuality.
When Peterson Toscano (who spent 17 years and over $30,000 trying to change) found little results, it was beyond the leadership’s consideration that the process might be flawed. He was the flaw: “They continually pointed to some fault in me. I needed to dig deeper, commit myself more fully, or face up to hard realities that they believed I avoided.”
What’s not heard is the psychological abuse that goes on in the name of Christian love and healing. Ex-gay survivor, Jacob Wilson speaks of one such “therapeutic” exercise:
All the participants had to line up and march silently into a crowded auditorium. We individually shared our ‘Most Serious Sin’ in front of our family and about 100 strangers. One by one, we stood up as if we were preparing for execution and shared private details of our lives. To this day, that event haunts me as I can still see the looks on their faces. I had to share things that no grown man should ever have to tell his mother.
What’s not being heard is that the harm done that lasts far beyond the initial ex-gay experience. Co-founder of BeyondExGay.com, Christine Bakke, speaks of her lasting fear of getting too close to anyone, which she learned in an ex-gay live-in program:
The biggest problem I still face is fear of close relationships–especially women. Fear of emotional dependency. Fear of needing someone. Fear of… I don’t know. Just fear. To be shamed for relationships–those that others deemed unhealthy; relationships that may have been getting us through the tougher moments in our process… it was a great harm and a great disservice to us at a time when we were the most vulnerable.
Just as I was writing this article, I received an email from a religious abuse survivor who was willing to share his nightmare:
After years of trying to “let Jesus” fix me, I began acting out what I was doing to my soul on my body. For 5 years I took a razor to my genitals every day. I was close to going insane and almost killed myself. After landing in a mental hospital, I finally had to stop trying to be heterosexual. And I had to get out of those churches. All this changing myself was destroying my natural ability to be a mentally healthy and emotionally present father to my kids. We all wish we had back those lost years of my life.
What’s possibly most insidious is that ex-gay leadership knows all of this. Even by their own skewed statistics more than 70 percent of people who attend their ministries do not see any change in their sexuality. Yet they choose to ignore all our voices. They choose to ignore all the psychological organizations that say they are doing harm. It doesn’t matter to them because heterosexuality is next to Godliness. They are set to “fix” what is not broken. This is straight supremacy at its finest, and it is nothing more than abusive religious bullying.
Despite all of this, ex-gay survivors are recovering from the damage, banding together and telling their stories to prevent others from falling into the same trap. Have you been harmed by ex-gay experiences? You are not alone. Find support and let your story be heard by going to BeyondExGay.com.
Excerpt from Ex-Gay No Way: Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse (Findhorn) by Dr. Jallen Rix, nominated for a 2011 Lambda Literary Award in Non-fiction.