Tag Archives: ex-gay

The glorious mess of humanity

DSCN4319On 7 October 2008 an article appeared in The Times called ”The camp that ‘cures’ homosexuality”. The reporter Lucy Bannerman took a little trip to an Exodus International conference where she met some people who were intent on kicking their Same Sex Attraction (SSA).

The article is interesting, but it left me feeling sad, unbelievably sad, that beautiful people are still putting themselves through these sorts of programmes. I know of several people who have been involved with these sorts of organisations, all of whom have now accepted their sexuality as part of who they are. The damage that is caused when people try to change their true nature can be catastrophic, and I still believe that some people will never recover from the emotional trauma they are put through. Not only is damage done to those people who attend the programmes but the assertion that ”marriage is evidence of healing” also means that spouses, and children, are damaged too. The idea that getting married and living this fake life is evidence of healing scares me. Living an inauthentic life can never be evidence of true healing.

Instead I believe that individuals who truly find out who they really are, and who learn to celebrate their identity are those who truly find healing. I have been involved with Courage for many years and originally they were an ex-gay ministry… these days though they are gay-affirming and it feels like a very different place to be. Jeremy Marks who heads up Courage is mentioned in the article…

“One ex-gay leader who has come to the same conclusion is Jeremy Marks. A mild-mannered 56-year-old from Surrey, he pioneered one of the first ex-gay networks in the UK. But after ten years, the attempted suicide of a former resident led him to question the value of SSA therapy. He found that, rather than helping people, it led to depression and dysfunctional behaviour. “They stopped going to church, stopped going to work,” he recalls. “The only ones who appeared to be doing well were those who accepted that they were gay and got on with their lives.” Marks is now openly gay and runs Courage, a support group for gay Christians.”

To be honest I think he nails it with this quote…

“Really, what the ex-gay movement is all about is salving the conscience of the Christian leaders who don’t like to be accused of homophobia,” he says. “That way they can say ‘we don’t hate gays – look how we are welcoming them’.”

The article also mentions Peterson Toscano who is an ex-gay survivor and along with Christine Bakke set up an organisation called Beyond Ex-Gay They offer help and support for those who have been through ex-gay movements and allow them to share their stories, often stories that have been hidden for many years behind layers of guilt, shame and a sense of failure.

Whilst organisations such as Exodus exist the need for people like Peterson and Christine will continue. We need those who have gone before to share their stories and show that the pressure that is put on people to conform to a particular set of values, roles and identities is not necessarily the right way. We need people to show that there is light at at what might be a very dark tunnel for those who struggle with their sexuality and identity. We also need those people who are straight allies. Those who will share the pain, stories, tears and the hopes and fears with those who are trying to work things through. We need people to advocate in our churches, who will continue to suggest that ex-gay programmes do not work and in fact will be damaging for the beautiful LGBT people in our congregations.

Life would be so boring if we were all the same. Who wants to be surrounded by people who are identical clones? Let us share in the glorious mess of humanity, the wonderful different people we come across and celebrate the individuality we find around us every day.

Courage

I have had a very moving day, in so many ways. Today was the 20th anniversary celebration for Courage. Courage is a Christian organisation which works with lesbian, gay and bisexual men women, as well as being a safe and open place for their friends and families.

I have been involved with Courage since about 1996 when my friend Simon (who obviously at one point I thought I was going to marry because he is lovely!) came out to me. As a very naive 20 year old I didn’t really know how to deal with it, despite wanting to support him and gain some understanding into what he was going through. I was trying to reconcile my faith and beliefs with what Simon was experiencing and my brain was a bit fried really. Simon got involved with Courage and he introduced me to Jeremy Marks, the founder of Courage who offered me an amazing amount of support, helping me to try and understand what Simon was going through. At this time Courage was an ex-gay ministry; they believed that it was possible for gay men and women to change, either to become heterosexual, or to live a life of celibacy but not necessarily changing their sexual orientation.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, due to personal circumstances I stopped going to Courage for a while and when I went back in 2000-and-something I found that they had changed significantly. Instead of being an ex-gay movement Courage had transformed into this wonderful ministry; affirming gay men and women and encouraging them to be real and honest about their personal journies.

Today’s celebration was a very moving and emotional experience. I saw friends I haven’t seen for years and years (including the lovely Maris who still gives the best cuddles ever) and as part of the service we heard testimonies from several people who shared their stories of faith, recovery and hope and the ways in which Courage and Jeremy had helped them. I unashamedly wept throughout some of these stories as the individuals shared about their brokenness.

Having had a train trip home to reflect on today, and the last 12 years, and once again I realised that it is such an awesome privilege to have shared the journey with these men and women. During the service I stood alongside my friend Simon and some of my other close friends, and as we worshipped I know that I have such a depth of connection with them. Despite the fact that I am a straight woman, my journey with these guys has run a parallel course with their journies, intersecting at various points along the way. The pain of their brokenness and the ways in which their churches have treated them have increased my passion for those who are disaffected by our religious institutions and leaders. My desire to stand up for their rights as individuals who are loved by God, to be a straight ally, is undiminished. This role has been costly, being seen as an outsider is difficult, no matter the reason you feel excluded. Indeed being seen as an ally has put me at odds with church groups and leaders, and at times even my family, and yet, I hold onto the belief that this is a place that God has called me to be.

Would I have chosen a different journey if I had known that it would be painful along the way? I doubt it somehow. Their experiences, and mine, have brought such a richness to my life. They have challenged me out of my middle-class, self-righteous, charismatic, straight, evangelical, know-it-all roots.

These days I am happy to live with the not-knowing, with not being able to make things OK for them. I am happy to not have all the answers. I am content to be a safe place for them to come home to. I delight in being a refuge for them when everything is confusing and difficult and I am grateful that they have shared their lives and struggles with me. The extremes of emotions that we have shared is extraordinary and I laugh and cry more with these people than almost anyone else.

These people have made me who I am today.

Thank you.

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