This weekend the movie "Boy Erased" opens in a few Hampton Roads theaters. Based on a true story and with the star power of Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, I sincerely hope that some who most need to see this movie but are most likely not to see it will open their minds enough to buy a ticket and see the movie (find tickets here). Trying to change the unchangeable inflicts severe emotional and psychological harm and can lead to suicide attempts since death is the only way to end something that cannot be changed. Growing up with "my secret" I cannot count the number of times that I contemplated suicide. On two occasions, I acted on the thoughts, one incident putting me in Norfolk General after taking a bottle of Xanax tablets. No one should feel driven to that point, yet that is what the "ex-gay" lie has driven many to feel. Indeed, estimates that some 700,000 individuals have been the victims of ex-gay "conversion therapy" which needs to be illegal. A piece in The Advocate recounts the experiences of a victim of this fraudulent and dangerous practice who, like myself, found that part of the solution to find inner peace was distancing himself from religion. Here are highlights:
Growing up religious, it was this new experience for me to come out as gay. After I did, I left religion behind. I felt that I had to choose one or the other. I was just living my life. I had a partner. We bought a house together at 18 years old. But then we broke up. This is the time just before the big recession. Of course, I was sad and depressed. I end up losing my job. Things weren't going well. I then started to think maybe it's because I have strayed away from my religion. I'm experiencing all this because I've turned away from God. I ended up talking with a roommate, who was a very religious person and actually wasn't fully comfortable living with two gay people. But she and I started just talking more and reading our Bibles. Then I finally decided I was going to this conference.
I was living in Kansas City, but I went to a “Pray the Gay Away” conference in Nebraska. After that, I was completely messed up. Everything they talked about was exactly what I experienced. I need to be straight again, I thought. I decided to start the process. I lived the straight life for about three to four years.
The conference was affiliated with Exodus International. It was at a really large church in Omaha. I remember seeing protesters, which I thought was interesting at the time. That must have been part of an LGBTQ rights group trying to sway people from going. The conference itself was very morose. It was almost this sadness that existed in the air, that everyone was there either because they were inflicted with this sin or to try to help someone overcome this sickness.
Everything was stereotypes. They focused on how your dad wasn't a prominent figure in your life, and your mother really was. You've taken on that idea of just being matronly and you therefore think that you want to be with a guy. At the time that made sense. That was the one that I related with the most; this absent, non-prominent father figure.
After that, I surrounded myself with other strong-minded individuals that felt this could also happen. I was connecting more with my roommate’s family. I ended up moving from Kansas City down to Birmingham, Ala., to literally put myself in a community where I would be confronted.
Then I went to a private Baptist college. I had done my associate's degree in Kansas City and then transferred to Samford University. That helped me too, because I would talk with the counselors about my gay experience and trying to be straight. They would help me try to fight off temptations and continue to remind me to be strong and pray. I started going to church very regularly.
But I did have these times when I would fall. I would watch porn and lust over another guy. There were a couple times that I would engage in activity with another guy. We didn't get too far in our escapades. But we would always feel awful and sick; both of us. I was with another person who was also going through the same thing. I remember with that person that happened one more time and he's like, we can't see each other anymore — this has to stop because we're awful people.
It wasn't until starting to leave Samford when I was finishing up my senior year that something switched. I've been praying and praying and praying for years to change, and I've changed my whole life around from what it was. I should be in God's good graces. I didn't get it; it didn't make sense that I'm still feeling this way. I still have these feelings when I've asked God to take them away from me.
Then I started wrestling with those thoughts and finally telling others about them. I heard there are several men going through this exact same thing here on campus. What? I literally thought I was the only one on campus dealing with this. I started scouting them out. I learned of someone — he lived in the hall across from me and was an active member of my church who I really respected. He was who I looked up to, as far as being the ultimate heterosexual who's found this amazing alignment with God and his religion. His whole life seemed peaceful. I learned he was struggling with being gay and I was baffled. That turned my life upside down.
After leaving Samford, I didn't come out again as gay for seven months. It took a lot of people around me just telling me "you're gay" to be okay enough with life to accept it again. It's like you retrace your steps. You've had these thoughts for a long time. You've really felt this way. At one point it seemed fine — just being around other gay people helped, because I completely isolated myself from anything LGBTQ-friendly. I made them the enemy. Then I let that back in to my life and was seeing how it's okay; it's normal.
Now, I would just consider myself non-religious.
I know today we have unity churches and different sects of churches that didn't even exist back then. I know that those places are out there and accepting of LGBTQ people, but I don't see myself becoming a Christian again.
Telling my mom I was gay was awful. And then when I told her that I was straight, she had just gotten used to the fact that I was gay and started to embrace it. Then when I told her I was gay again, she was like, "Oh, thank God. I’m so glad you finally realize." She saw I was not being myself. So now even my mom and dad are supportive.
What is so sad to me is that the entire right wing Christian insistence that being gay is wrong tracks directly to their fear of admitting that a few fragmentary passages in the Old Testament - passages that literally originated with uneducated herders - are wrong. They will go to any lengths and and inflict all kinds of harm on others rather than admit that their belief system is based on unproven myths and legends. Thankfully, the author of the piece did the right thing and walked away for a toxic and malignant force.