Posts Tagged ‘Christine Bakke’

UPDATE: Two more episodes about Kirk’s story has aired since I posted this entry. You can view the stories and read about it over at CNN Anderson Cooper 360.

Abigail Jensen, a friend and activist over at Transmentors International, contacted me about Kirk Murphy’s story. Abigail and I have worked together on initiatives to address the  oppression of  transgender  people at the hands of non-transgender gays and lesbians. She shared with me a link to the story: Reparative Therapy for Trans Youth: Kenneth Zucker is different from George Rekkers how? It is well worth reading.

Yesterday (as I was in the cosmetic aisle buying new eyeliner and concealer for my transgender Bible play) Abigail and I talked on the phone about how so often transgender and gender non-conforming narratives get co-opted by gays and lesbians on blogs and such and then get absorbed into a political discussion about sexual orientation. As a result, the reality of transgender identities and experiences get erased and get folded into the “gay” narrative. In Kirk’s case he ultimately identified as gay, but there are many sissy boys (and tomboys/butch girls) who identify with a gender different from the sex assigned at birth based. They may be assumed gay or lesbian because they present in gender non-conforming ways, but in reality theirs is a distinctly different narrative.

When addressing stories with gender variance in a child, we simply do not know who that child will grow up to be. Transgender and gender non-conforming children and young adults may fall into the hands of reparative therapists who attempt to “fix” their gender. The impulse to seek “help” from parents and other adults in the child’s life arise from a gay panic with the hope that therapy will curtail any gay or lesbian desires/identities in the future. But the gender presentation may very well have nothing to do with the individuals orientation.

In sharing Kirk’s stories and others like it, we need to be careful to be inclusive of the transgender experience. This sort of terrible treatment does not just happen to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.


Kirk Andrew Murphy

Last night Anderson Cooper 360 featured the story of Kirk Andrew Murphy, who as a young boy exhibited gender non-conforming behavior. Kirk did not act like the other boys, and after seeing a therapist on TV, his parents turned for help to  who they thought were experts. Seeking a cure they ended up subjecting their child to cruel and dangerous treatments at the hands of George Rekers and other anti-gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender practitioners.

Kaytee Murphy (Kirk’s mom) took Kirk to UCLA, where he was treated largely by George A. Rekers, a doctoral student at the time.

In Rekers’ study documenting his experimental therapy (PDF), he writes about a boy he calls “Kraig.” Another UCLA gender researcher confirmed that “Kraig” was a pseudonym for Kirk.

The study, later published in an academic journal, concludes that after therapy, “Kraig’s” feminine behavior was gone and he became “indistinguishable from any other boy.”

“Kraig, I think, certainly was Rekers’ poster boy for what Rekers was espousing for young children,” said Jim Burroway, a writer and researcher who has studied Rekers’ work.

And of course the treatments did not “work” in the ways that Reker’s reported. Kirk did not change, he simply suppressed whole parts of himself. Like many ex-gay survivors he went underground. He took on masculine roles, and according to his sister, avoided love and possible partnership. He ended up moving far away from the US to India where we ultimately took his life at age 38.

This is a tragic tale about the dangers of  people who offer help while dishing out colossal harm. People like Alan Chambers of Exodus International. People who run local “ex-gay” ministries. Ministers and Christian therapists who counsel lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in their congregations that “change is possible.” People who insist that heterosexuality and gender conformity are God’s best and the only healthy way to live. People who target girls and boys who do not behave according to society rules regarding gender and desire. People who offer false promises of a happy fulfilling life if one embarks on a straight and very narrow self-abusive path.

I once forced myself down that very path.

While a few claim they are happy and healthy living ex-gay, seeking an alternative to a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identities, the vast majority of us who went down this path say we experienced a world of woe as a result. I spent 17 years chasing the promised change in hopes of being a masculine, heterosexual man of God. Oh I changed, but not how I had dreamed. I grew depressed, isolated, self-destructive, and confused. I have met thousands who have had similar experiences. We have begun to gather, to connect and to share our stories. You can read about some of our experiences at Beyond Ex-Gay.

I am so grateful to Jim Burroway for his in depth, thorough, and thoughtful research and reporting about Kirk and his experiences.  I have consistently been impressed with Jim’s attention to detail and his compassion that runs deep and in many directions (read his report about parents who seek a cure for their queer children.) I feel grateful that Kirk’s brother and sister found in Jim someone willing to get to the bottom of the story. I am also grateful to Anderson Cooper and his producers for properly covering this story–highlighting the harm and not falling into the trap that they somehow have to “show all sides.”

If you went through “change” treatments or on your own attempted to change or suppress your gender identity, gender presentation, or orientation, and you see the harm that has come from it, please get help. As Kate Bornstein repeats over and over–Stay Alive. To me this means not merely surviving, but finding how to reclaim our lives, to embrace lief as we undo the damage of these soul crushing experiences.

One resource that may help is Dr. Jallen Rix’s excellent book Ex-Gay No Way–Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse.  For my part I used comedy and storytelling to expose the horror of my own experience. Also, visit us at Beyond Ex-Gay where you will discover narratives, many articles, artwork (including our survivor collages created by Christine Bakke) and more.

Ex-gay survivor John Holm

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Dr. Jallen Rix, co-facilitator of Beyond Ex-Gay,  an online resource for people who suffered harm as a result of trying to change and suppress their sexual orientation or gender difference, spent a lot of time listening to former ex-gays. He shares scores of stories in his book Ex-Gay No Way! Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse.  He recently compiled short but powerful messages from those of us who endured anti-gay therapies and ministries. He writes:

It seems that the Ex-Gay Movement continues to be oblivious to the harm they are causing. Here’s just a few tweets that came in since Friday morning. They reveal some of the harm ex-gay survivors have faced and have had to overcome. Each tweet was tagged #exgaysurvivor

Broken by ex-gay survivor Jason T. Ingram

Whenever I make a mistake, I still fight the voice in my head that tells me it’s because I’m evil and possessed by a demon –  @cylestnichole

After my gay-related exorcism, the only thing that went away was my love for myself –  @vcervantes

My family was deeply wounded by Exodus International staff –  @p2son

Has barely begun to scratch the surface of the ways they have been harmed by their ex-gay past… it is all too painful... –  @never_again4

In ex-gay ministry, I was told if I wasn’t changing to str8t then I wasn’t trying hard enough –  @gaysexpert

The twisted Emotionally Dependent Relationship teaching is an invasive species that digs into the brain. Awful –  @MJaneB65

The thing is, the silent or implied messages were often more insidious than the direct and explicit ones. – @JarredH

I became depressed and suicidal after ex gay therapy. – @jeraskew1

Never would I have considered that there was a problem with the system. I was made to believe I WAS the problem –  @gaysexpert

Being told not to form Emotionally Dependent Relationships kept me in fear of love. http://t.co/97hetHL –  @MJaneB65

It was awful because so often ex-gay leaders blamed ME for not trying hard enough or trusting Jesus –  @p2son

The only time I’ve ever felt separated from God was during my ex-gay experience – @cylestnichole

I was told that if I was gay, God would utterly reject me –  @gaysexpert

God is not the author of confusion, but of love. My time in reparative therapy produced nothing but confusion and hate –  @never_again4

They told me that I had gay demons. Then that abuse made me gay. Then my parents failed. #exgay ministers misled me -@p2son

They told me my “boy” was too much and my “girl” was not enough. I became nothing. @MJaneB65

college sent me to ex-gay therapy & all I got was a hospital bill after trying to kill myself bc they told me I was sick&sinful –  @never_again4

After 10 years of reparative therapy I was hospitalized because I was suicidal –  @MJaneB65

Actual Suicide note: “God would rather have me die now than to live with another gay thought.” –  @gaysexpert

‘Love Won Out’ came to my college. After that, I attempted suicide 3 times within one year. I never told any of my friends –  @cylestnichole

My counselors didn’t believe I existed. And, like Tinkerbell, poison and disbelief almost killed me. I do believe in fairies! –  @connoley


Art by Ex-Gay Survivor, Christine Bakke

Do you have experiences of ex-gay harm? Tweet yours by using the hash tag: #exgaysurvivor

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My graduation from Love in Action

I am one of the loudest critics of “ex-gay” groups like Exodus International. You see, like so many others, there was a time I turned to Exodus for help. Weighed down with fear and shame over being gay and a deep desire to please God as I understood God at the time, I heard the bold hopeful promise–Change is Possible! I wanted to be a faithful servant of Jesus, and I did not care about the personal cost if it only meant I could hear my Savior say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” But in the end I was wrong–seriously wrong.

I thought I would be more valuable to God, the church, my family, and society if I rid myself of my “unwanted same-sex desires.” Instead I learned that it was not necessary to change my orientation, nor was it possible. Exodus now agrees with this and publicly announces that they do not offer cures.

Art by Ex-Gay Survivor, Christine Bakke

What I did not count on was the terrible toll it would take trying to change and suppress my orientation and gender differences.  And when it comes to harm, I am not alone. Alan Chambers, head of Exodus since 2001, estimates that his programs have a 70% failure rate (and he is their most enthusiastic spokesperson.) What happens to the 70%+ folks who leave the ex-gay world?

Exodus does not know because virtually no Exodus member ministry or counselor have any sort of follow-up or aftercare. Once you stop attending  they have no clue what is going on in your life.

In an effort to help promoters & providers of ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy learn about our experiences, we began to blog, post narratives, artwork, and articles. We wanted to educate Exodus leaders about the negative consequences of their program (and in churches that insisted we must go to war against our gay side in order to get a seat at the table.)

In 2007 we even went to various program headquarters, individual programs, churches with our stories and framed collages revealing some of our experiences.

Any sort of successful business values any data they can collect on customer satisfaction–particularly from the disgruntled. If nothing else for the pragmatic purpose that they want to improve so they can do more business. How much more is this essential for a group of ministers who want to offer loving pastoral care? Do they care?

But we get no response. No serious consideration of our claims. Like lots of big corporations who dismiss whistle blowers, Exodus International staff and Alan Chambers avoid our claims of harm and invalidate them. They spend energy crying foul about their free speech being denied by Apple yet they block their ears to the vital messages we have to tell them.

Yesterday Alan Chambers embarked on a Twitter good will tour of sorts explaining to people that he is reasonable and willing to listen and take questions. I took him up on this (after tweeting for days about Exodus and raising questions of harm) Through my Twitter account I asked:

@AlanMChambers @ExodusIntl Are you willing to dialogue w/ critics? Former participants?

His replied?

AlanMChambers Alan Chambers
@p2son dialogue is a 2 way. You’ve been to my office, know me personally and yet continue to say things that are untrue & inflammatory.

What has likely inflamed Alan is that I recently pointed out in a blog post and on Twitter that Exodus is not only an anti-gay group. They are also exceedingly pro-straight.

They believe that heterosexual marriage is morally and spiritually superior to two men or two women marrying. They have acted on this politically to block marriage equality. They believe that a gay orientation is condemned by God while a heterosexual orientation is holy in God’s eyes. Alan Chambers believes gay Christians have fallen short yet once a former homosexual takes an anti-gay stance in his life  he is right with God. Exodus teaches and believes that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and queer people are inferior. Therfore, I concluded that Exodus is a straight supremacist organization.

I can see why this might inflame Alan. But surely he can see some truth in what I am saying even if he doesn’t like the language I use.

The other point that I have been making (for years) is the one I stated above. Most of us went to Exodus to improve our lives and faith were HARMED. That may be hard for someone like Alan Chambers to hear, especially if someone genuinely meant to help. For our part, many have taken responsibility to get our lives back on track.

I have spent at least 10 years in therapy undoing the damage of the treatment I received by Exodus ministers and others in the church who insisted I had to suppress or change my gay side and gender-variant expression.

I was not forced to attend Exodus programs like some of the youth in 2005-2007 in the Love in Action Refuge program. I got myself into the mess, so I have been working to get myself out. BUT that does not mean Exodus is free of their responsibility to take our claims seriously, to take stock of what they do and how they do it, and to consider the consequences for the people they say they want so much to help.

Former Ex-Gay Leaders Apologize

Jeremy Marks was head of Exodus Europe and ran an ex-gay program in England. He stayed in touch with former clients and was shocked to learn that his group was not helping anyone. Considering what he heard, he decided that change was indeed possible for his organization and learned how to affirm gays instead of incur further damage as a result of shame and bad teaching. He has since  issued a public apology for the harm he inadvertently caused to his clients.
Exodus leaders claim they simply want to help people who come to them with unwanted same-sex attractions. What they don’t understand is that they are not qualified to do so. For the most part they are untrained and unlicensed. They have a decided prejudice against the desires, relationships, faith, and lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender and queer people.

Yet year after year they operate the same way and never ever consider the harm they cause and the ways they can address this harm. They change their language — “We are not ex-gay. We do not cure. We are not anti-gay.” –But they do not change their message or methods. They play the martyr and do not consider their victims.

If you are someone who has been harmed as a result of trying to change or suppress your orientation or gender differences, through a program, counselor, or on your own, we have begun to look at creative ways to recover from this harm. We also connect with each other on a community site as we learn to live new lives of clarity, health, and authenticity. Please join us.

Share your story too on Twitter. Use the hash tag #exgaysurvivor to let Exodus and others know what sort of harm you experienced, what it has taken to recover, and what your life is like today.

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BOO! What’s funny is before recording, Peterson was going to use a funny Halloweeny voice and Zack wasn’t, but the opposite ended up happening!

We sacrifice watching an episode of Glee to bring you this spooky episode, featuring the terrors of Judge Judy, Hare Krishnas, and peanut butter! Most of the episode is dedicated to discussing the true terror that is the Christian “Hell House.”

Take a listen as Zack goes straight and Peterson goes all Stockholm syndrome in our special Halloween/Day of the Dead episode! Have a safe and happy holiday everyone, and don’t forget to find Zack at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear this weekend in DC!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week’s spooky delicious episode

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

Patty Hearst on the Run

» Extra Listening: This American Life‘s report on Hell House.

»Peterson’s post about his run in with Patty Hearst when she was a fugitive.

» Zack’s reaction to the new Clint Eastwood/Matt Damon film, Hereafter.

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After a week of trying to connect with me via phone, emil, text message, and Facebook, my good friend and partner at Beyond Ex-Gay, Christine Bakke, finally appealed to my agent in hopes of getting a response from me.

Yeah, I’ve been sorta out of it this summer so far. My greatest interest and passion has been my garden (my tomatoes are so large and luscious right now! 😛 ) I have found little motivation to do anything but housework and cooking. (Ah, I made a frittata the other day that would make you cry with joy.) My normal activities–e-mail, writing, activism, etc had all gone into remission. Perhaps I needed a rest after moving twice since January and bouncing all over the place the past six months. Maybe I just needed a vacation of sorts.

Of course I think of my life as an on-going vacation. The work I do is so much fun that it doesn’t feel fair to call it work. But it is, and I remind myself that in the work of activism, we must be certain to take care of ourselves.

Even so, I want to be vigilant. I have for a long time felt dismay (and scorn) at some gay men who have been on the front lines for a season and then find love and move to the suburbs and disappear into Bed, Bath and Beyond. Perhaps people have a natural instinct to settle down. Of course not all of us have that luxury, and I want to balance out my new found stability (partner, home, garden) with engagement in the world around me, both locally and beyond. But then I can be sactimonious (it is one of my superpowers that seem to only be used for evil, or well at least for being annoying.)

What am I trying to say? Do I feel guilty for enjoying my life? Yeah, sometimes. Perhaps it is a mixture of the old time religion telling me I don’t deserve to be happy mixed in with the pressure to be the best queer ever–always engaged and passionate and making the world a better place. Yes, one can do the right thing for the wrong reasons. And one can justify doing nothing for high sounding reasons. And one can (this one I am speaking of) can lay off the pressure and simply be responsible for the tasks at hand.

So with that I sign off and will use one of the many methods I have on hand to reach out to Christine. We have some delicious work to do.

If you have not done so yet, consider listening to the latest episode of Queer and Queerer podcast. Episode #12 That’s So Fat! Body Image, Metrosexuality & More

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The Homo No Mo Halfway House DVD

One of the most exciting features I see among many ex-gay survivors is the many ways we seek to process our experiences through art, be it theater, film, visual art, writing, music, etc. Through the act of writing and then performing my one-man play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement, (now available only on DVD) I grew to understand my story better as both connected with others about their own and communicated to the broader world about the potential dangers of ex-gay therapy (as well as the inherent humor in some ex-gay programs.)

Last June I began a memoir–new genre and in some ways a new story, as I will not only share my time at the Love in Action ex-gay program, but also write much about my failed marriage and the myriad reasons I went ex-gay. I have about 100 pages complete and will work on it throughout the summer. Last week I also began a stint as co-host of a NEW podcast with blogger Zack Ford. It’s called Queer and Queerer, and no doubt I will talk about my sordid ex-gay past along with other LGBTQ issues, religion and higher education.

In 2007 and 2008 Beyond Ex-Gay focused on regional, national and international events. Once we got the movement going with the voices of ex-gay survivors in the media and on-line, we turned our attention toward community and the important question, how can we best support ex-gay survivors as they process their own past experiences and embrace their new lives. In 2009 we created the Beyond Ex-Gay Community site, an on-line social networking site ONLY for ex-gay survivors. Membership has steadily grown, but more importantly ex-gay survivors are sharing their experiences in a venue with other folks who understand the complexity of the ex-gay world, the lure it once held for us, the damage it caused many of us, and the creative and at times challenging ways we have discovered to overcome that trauma while holding onto any good we may have gotten from our time in the ex-gay world. Art has been an important means of recovery for some of us. Christine Bakke and others have done lots of visual art about ex-gay experiences and poets like Scott Tucker have posted their poetry over at the bXg site.

Daniel Gonzales, an ex-gay survivor who has attended most of the Beyond Ex-Gay events in the past three years and whose YouTube video in which he shares his story has had over 130,000 hits, recently sat down with former founder of Exodus International and now ex-gay survivor, Michael Bussee and here shares the first of many to be released videos interviews.

I know of two new works by ex-gay survivors.

NEW BOOK! by Dr. Jallen Rix

Jallen Rix, Ph.D, an active member of Beyond Ex-Gay, who attended the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, CA, the Ex-Gay Exposé in Denver and the recent Anti-Heterosexism Conference in Miami, has published a book called Ex-Gay No Way! Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse.

Jallen Rix, as a young Southern Baptist, joined an ex-gay ministry when he discovered his same-sex attractions. Although the ministry did not make him heterosexual, it did manage to destroy any sense of stability and self-esteem.

Ex-Gay No Way is Dr. Rix’s journey through the ex-gay world and what he did in the aftermath to reintegrate positive sexuality with healthy spirituality. Further, he demonstrates that the tactics used in these oppressive environments are many of the same damaging schemes used everywhere in power-abusive religious organizations today.

Check out more at his site and order your copy HERE or at Amazon.

Jason T Ingram, who attended and displayed art at the 2008 Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth events in Memphis, has created a new one-person, multimedia performance art piece called Identity Thieves which will premiere on April 25th in Seattle, WA. Over at his site Jason has lots of info about the piece including some video.


About three years in the making, Identity Thieves is a multi-media performance piece written and performed by Jason T. Ingram about his five-year journey through the “ex-gay” movement and how he survived. Jason integrates his singing and instrumental live music with background accompaniments and visual projections of stills and film clips. Jason’s goal is to raise awareness about these issues as well as to help others heal from religious abuse and to show that creative expression can be a powerful outlet for growth and recovery. The complete piece without intermission should be just over an hour and may be done with a brief discussion following. Jason’s style is artistic, edgy and uplifting. Some of his music sounds aggressive as well as gentle and most of his works do not resemble church culture, but tries to stay cutting edge

If you are in the Seattle area, check it out.

Living Water Fellowship – 7204 NE 175 ST, Kenmore, WA 98028 – 206-963-0807

What other projects are out there by ex-gay survivors. Please feel free to share your projects with the bXg community, and congratulations to Jallen and Jason!

If you are an ex-gay survivor (someone who attended ex-gay treatment and/or tried on your own to suppress or change your orientation and/or gender differences only to discover that such a change was not necessary, possible or healthy, consider becoming a part of the Beyond Ex-Gay Community.

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Later this month Beyond Ex-Gay, the organization I co-founded with Christine Bakke will take part in a the Anti-Heterosexism Conference in West Pal Beach, FL. Along with Soulforce, Box Turtle Bulletin, Truth Wins Out, The National Black Justice Coalition and Equality Florida, we will explore the role of heterosexism in society and in particular as a force that compels individuals to “de-gay” themselves through ex-gay ministries and reparative therapy. (Nov 20-22). On Friday the 20th Beyond Ex-Gay will host a day-long Ex-Gay Survivor gathering for survivors and allies.

People will come together from North America, Europe and Australia to meet for a series of workshops and events led by an array of skilled and informed leaders in the work of equality and understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues. My friend Angel and Marc from Barcelona will be there after the successful conference we held in Catalonia in May of 2008. They have an exciting announcement to make about the work that has gone on since that historic gathering.

As people finalize their travel plans and work on the finishing touches to their presentations, I head off to the Pacific North West then to Boston. I will not be at the Anti-Heterosexism Conference. I fully support the gathering and the role that Beyond Ex-Gay has in it. I will not attend because in my own work and recovery from ex-gay treatment, I have moved beyond to the place where other concerns and passions fill my life.

Back in 2008 I retired my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House because after five years of presenting it, I felt the play held me back in my artistic and personal growth. To tell the same story night after night caused me to relive those events over and over. I felt a drain. I put the play on DVD and focused on my newer performances, including Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, a play that explores the stories and lives of transgender and gender-variant Bible characters. How refreshing it felt to tell a different story, a new story!

In the past year my work with the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement has included working directly with survivors who contact us through the Beyond Ex-Gay website as well as meeting people on the road as I travel with my performances and a lively lecture I conduct about the Ex-Gay Movement, Gender and Orientation. At various conferences and universities I have presented this talk to help educate people about the ex-gay experience, the many reasons why someone may chose to “de-gay” themselves and how these reasons are directly connected to issues of power and privilege around gender, class, and race.

My role has also shifted to more of a consultant to other activists who have organized actions in the North America as well as in the UK and Eastern Europe. In dealing with the press I have sought to broaden the types of stories that the media covers regarding the Ex-Gay Movement (including the way it affects women–lesbians, wives and mothers.) I have also connected reporters with ex-gay survivors who had not yet publicly shared their experiences.

When I was invited to take part in the Anti-Heterosexism Conference, I experienced a mixture of feelings–enthusiastic along with a flat sort of feeling that I could not immediately identify. In sitting with the feeling during Quaker worship (we sit in silence for up to an hour giving me loads of time to sift through emotions and decisions) I recognized that my passion had moved towards the lives, needs and rights of transgender and gender queer individuals. I also learned that during the same weekend when ex-gay survivors were going to gather in Florida,  a group of transgender, bisexual, queer folks were going to meet for the Transcending Boundaries Conference in Massachusetts.  I knew that although many of my friends planned to attend the event West Palm Beach, dear friends who I see too rarely, I understood that “my leading” as we say in Quaker circles was to attend Transcending Boundaries.

As soon as I made that decision, I understood that by not attending the Anti-Heterosexism Conference, I opened space for other leaders and potential leaders in the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement to step forward and fill the many spots that I have inhabited during previous gatherings. Christine Bakke has been a brilliant speaker and organizer, so I knew she would do a wonderful job at heading up the ex-gay survivor gathering. With Christine,  Dr. Jallen Rix, an ex-gay survivor with a new book coming out in March, will help facilitate the many activities that we have planned for the event. Daniel Gonzales will be on hand to share some of his experience and expertise.  Jacob Wilson will also be there to help with the press conference and other aspects of the gathering. Author and ex-gay survivor Anthony Venn-Brown will come from Australia along with former ex-gay leader Darlene Bogle from California. A new leader from Toronto will attend  as will a scholar from Virgina who has done extensive research into the ex-gay and ex-gay survivor movements. In other words, the gathering is in good hands.

So I head off to Vancouver today where I will be with youth this weekend from the United Church of Canada. (and I get to celebrate my friend Doris’ 40th birthday!) On November 18 I will take part in the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Seattle, then I head to Portland, OR to perform Transfigurations on November 19 at a United Methodist Church pastored by David Weeklely, who recently publicly announced that he is transgender. I also get to enjoy a long car ride with David and his lovely partner Deborah. The evening of the 19th I take the red-eye flight to Boston in order to get to the East Coast in time for Transcending Boundaries.

Click here to read more about my leading to work on transgender issues and concerns.

Click here to read more about what happens in Quaker meetings.

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Ex-Gay Survivor Daniel Gonzales recently visited his childhood church to reflect on the lessons he learned about sexuality, particularly homosexuality and heterosexism, lessons that led him to try and “de-gay” himself.

In this one Daniel talks about the messages he received about gender conformity and giving into peer pressure.

See Daniel’s ex-gay survivor collage here (designed by Christine Bakke)

Here is an ABC news report on Rev. David Weekley, the United Methodist minister in Portland who after decades of living as a man with a transgender history that he kept private, came out to his congregation as a man who transitioned (female to male) many years before. I will perform at the church he pastors in November 🙂 His wife Deborah is a real sweetie too!

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Anyone who has ever been in any sort of ex-gay treatment designed to “de-gay” or “de-lesbian” them, will know that often the “therapies” extend beyond looking at sexuality and tend to dabble a lot with gender. We can joke about the football clinics for the guys and the Mary Kay makeovers for the gals, but beyond the ridiculous, the ex-gay movement is one that demands gender normative presentation and behavior. As a result, many gender-variant and transgender people of faith have ventured into ex-gay ministries and “therapist” offices for gender-normative treatments before they were able to accept and appreciate their gender identity and presentation.

Years of bullying on the playground, at the dinner table, in church youth groups, on the job,  and on the streets can weigh on a person who feels they do not fit into the rigid gender binary enforced by the culture. Without seeing representations of individuals with transgender histories or gender variance, they can feel unique and all alone in a struggle to find their place in the world. The pressure to conform to the only norms available (especially when these are reinforced through religion and the threat of violence in this world and the next) often causes a person to seek change.

I like to think of it as the Gender Melting Pot. One gets placed in the male or the female Gender Melting Pot and then under the intense heat they begin to misshapen and disintegrate into the gender normative muck the chefs envision. I would much prefer a Gender Stew where we all get to mix and mingle, influencing and seasoning (marrying flavors?) but we retain our individual taste and texture.

At Gender Odyssey (a delicious Gender hot and steamy cassarole) earlier this month I met Francie Milazzo, a male to female transgender woman who attended my workshop Homo No Mo?!? Gender and Orientation in the Ex-Gay Movement. Both in the workshop and afterward Francie shared how much her experience of struggling to understand and affirm herself as a male-bodied person with a growing awareness of a female identity brought her into contact with Christian groups that supported her in her many failed attempts to live life as a heterosexual male. She writes about her experience as a trans woman struggling as a Christian.

This was also my first time living away from home and a time of extreme loneliness.  Seeing no alternative, I tried to play the gender role expected of me and sought companionship with a woman, purging my female wardrobe and stopping the hormones for months or years at a time.  To conceal my complete ignorance on dating, I studied Christian books on the subject.   On two occasions I promised before an ordained minister to play the husband’s role dictated by Scripture, although I never revealed the hidden feelings that I mistakenly believed would be “cured” through my efforts.

Through the years this deception brought me to despair, robbed me of hope, joy and dignity and withdrew me ever farther from God and into myself and away from those I cherished. Although I never revealed my inner self in my first marriage, that was destroyed by the stress of my suppressed feelings and my lack of a male soul to play the part. Refusing to see my own fault, I married again after 5 years.  In that relationship, my children and I suffered physical and emotional abuse, breaking up the family and bringing me to desperation and two unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Fortunately for Francie, she found a way out of that despair and learned how to be authentic about herself leading to psychological, emotional and spiritual health. You can read more of her story here. Para Un Testimonio de una Cristiana Transgénera oprima para español.

At Beyond Ex-Gay, the organization for ex-gay survivors, we have featured narratives of transgender people as well as highlighting transgender concerns. While we recognize differences in regards to sexual orientation and gender, we also see lots of overlap and shared experiences. On our FAQ section, where we attempt to be entertaining as well as informative, we write:

What about trans and genderqueer people?

Male/Female sign(cricket, cricket)

In the ex-gay world not much is said or done about trans folks (sometimes neglect has its privileges). But many trans folks experience pressure to change and “act normal” by parents, faith communities, schools and neighborhoods.

A big part of our ex-gay experiences have had more to do with gender than actual sexual activity and desire. Act your gender! is the message we heard directly and indirectly.

But it’s not so simple. Sometimes the outside doesn’t match the inside, and in the case of intersex folks, one’s sex is not easily discerned.

The relentless push from society for trans and genderqueer folks to “change,” to conform or to just disappear remains, even among many gays and lesbians who express transphobia through words, action and inaction.

To read more about a gay man with a trans experience, read Alex’s Narrative.

Beyond Ex-Gay is very pleased to be one of the sponsors for the upcoming TransForm Arizona conference in Phoenix Oct 16, 17 and 18. In addition to performing my play Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, I will also offer my workshop on Gender and Orientation in the Ex-Gay Movement.

At our new Beyond Ex-Gay Community site we seek a diversity of peole with ex-gay experiences including transgender and gender-variant individuals. Although many people went into ex-gay/gender-norm treatment because of religiuos reasons, we are not a religious organization. For many moving beyond their religious backgrounds has been part of the recovery while others have found ways of rediscovering their former religious practice or found a new practice. We have atheists, Christians, agnostics, pagans, neo-Evangelicals, post-Christians, post-Toastie Christians and much more. What draws us together is our shared experience of trying to change something fundamental about ourselves only to discover that pursuing such a change caused much more harm than good.
Like at the upcoming TransForm Arizona event, at Beyond Ex-Gay we seek to unite the T with the LGB. Below is the ad (beautifully designed by Christine Bakke, bXg co-founder) that will appear in the program guide . BXGHalfPgHorzAd

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Since first connecting with ex-gay survivors in 2003, I grew to understand that many of us come down on one side or another of what would seem to be a great and even potentially combative divide. While many ex-gay survivors come from Protestant Evangelical Christian traditions (but by no means all–we have also been in Mormon, Catholic, Christian Science and other faith traditions including Jewish, Muslim and still others), many no longer ascribe to Evangelicalism and have become post-Evangelical. Some of us have moved onto other Christian traditions (I transitioned from Evangelical to Anglican to Quaker) or to other religious/spiritual traditions–Buddhist, pagan, etc–or none in particular, identifying as non-theist, atheist, agnostic, and the list can go on and on.

Yet some of us have remained in our Evangelical Christian traditions or after a period of struggle reclaimed our place inthem and now feel joyful and proud to be Christian. For my part I am a Christian, not Evangelical; I am follower of Jesus within a particular Quaker tradition that practices a group mysticism of sorts. Christine Bakke, my fellow co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay is not Christian. We have much admiration, affection and respect for each other and find that our differences in regards to faith and religion do not hinder us from being close friends and effective co-facilitators of Beyond Ex-Gay.

Recently we started a community site for ex-gay survivors, a place for ex-gay survivors to connect with each other specifically around our former attempts to de-gay ourselves through diverse methods. We are committed to keeping this space ONLY for ex-gay survivors, so that we can connect with others with similar experiences as we unpack what we did, why we did it, and how we have or are finding recovery from the harm we may have experienced as a result of our ex-gay efforts and those others imposed on us.

Many of us have been deeply wounded by religion and particularly by Christians and Christian institutions (including Bible schools, ministries, and para church organizations.)  Since coming out, some of us have continued to suffer, even at the hands of gay Christians.

On Facebook I asked my friends,

Many ex-gay survivors are either Christian OR Post-Christian. How can we create & maintain a respectful & helpful community & dialog?

Jacobus from the UK wrote:

I imagine many of the Christians are evangelical (since that’s the type most likely to feel the need to go into ex-gay programmes). They are, by definition, most likely to want to bring the ex- or post-Christians “back into the fold”.

The ex- and post-Christians are likely to find that kind of talk at least annoying if not hurtful. They would most likely have left the faith to protect themselves from further hurt or after making a series of rational decisions based on an increasingly skeptical view of the nature of the bible. Some of them might be “evangelical” in their desire to see the Christians escape from their perceived religious prison.

Unless both groups take an “each to their own” approach, antagonism and rancour will be the result.

In ex-gay survivor gatherings I have seen fellow Christians, enthusiastic about their faith, end up saying things in such a way as to silence or shame those ex-gay survivors who no longer ascribe to Christianity. Some non-Christian ex-gay survivors say they walked away with hearing that they are double-failures–failed at being ex-gay and now the suggestion they are failures for not holding on to the very faith that for them turned out to be toxic. (I guess the same sort of shaming/silence can happen from post-Christians towards Christians, but I have not yet experienced this in ex-ex-gay settings.)

Steve, a gay Christian from the US writes:

I think it’s only difficult if *we* are actively trying to be recruiters, healers or promoters. It’s a lot easier if we are just respectful, welcoming neighbors.

So much of it about communication–finding a common language. There are also amazing benefits for me as a Christian to communicate my experiences without using religious language. I have benefited directly from changing up the way in which I talk about my past. When lecturing at academic conferences among non-religious scholars, as I first spoke about my mostly religious-based ex-gay experiences, I suddenly better understood what happened to me in the church & ex-gay programs. The process helped me to unearth the many non-religious reasons I went ex-gay, reasons that had been swallowed up by the religious rhetoric I used as a second-language.

So what does this mean for the bXg Community site? For many of us, the ex-gay experience was so deeply couched in the religious experience that even after we have left it, we struggle to talk about it without drawing on religious language and imagery. In so doing though we may inadvertently undermine the discussion for those who can no longer comfortably communicate with religious language. The reality is that no matter how we identify today, most of us experienced a form of religious violence and abuse in our churches and ex-gay programs, often by people who seemed to be or may have been very sincere and loving but woefully misguided people. Such language can be a trigger for folks and may hinder us from gaining understanding for ourselves.

Among ex-gay survivors both on-line and in our gatherings like the upcoming one in West Palm Beach,  we have a wonderful opportunity to experiment communication beyond our religious differences in part because of our shared pasts. By doing so we may foster a process that gets to the heart of our ex-gay experiences and avenues for recovery.

Many ex-gay survivors are either Christian OR Post-Christian. How can we create & maintain a respectful & helpful community & dialog?

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bxg-logo1Back in April 2007 when Christine Bakke and I launched the Beyond Ex-Gay website, we knew it was only the first of what we hoped would be several organic steps we envisioned to help support fellow ex-gay survivors. Our goal has been to help survivors connect with each other both on-line and in person.

Since the launch, we have held ex-gay survivor gatherings in Irvine, CA, Memphis, TN, Denver, CO, Nashville, TN and even as far away as Barcelona, Catalonia where survivors got to meet face to face to share their experiences and to help in the recovery process. (We will have the next gathering in West Palm Beach, FL in November 2009)

I remember how thrilling it was at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine when I saw people in person for the first time, some after years of connecting on-line through blogs and social networking sites. We had developed deep and meaningful connections through our often vulnerable sharing with each other on-line and were able to jump right into even deeper connections.

survivors_conferenceChristine and I have always planned on creating a social networking site just for ex-gay survivors. We didn’t want to rush though and get ahead of ourselves. This is a volunteer effort, and we don’t like to do something that is not thoughtfully considered. We have spent the past two years consulting with other people who have run social networking sites to find out the difficulties that arose with moderation and in creating community. We looked at various technologies, some well outside of our price range. We finally settled on Ning.com, which offers flexibility and options for customizing pages, engaging in discussion and creating groups.survivors_conf_016

For now we want to focus primarily on people who have had ex-gay experiences. These are not just people who attended ex-gay programs, but also those who tried on their own to change or suppress their orientation or gender differences. Some of these ex-gay survivors may also have been leaders of ex-gay programs at one time. We have also met transgender individuals who as part of their own life experience have spent time in ex-gay treatment. So much gender policing happens in ex-gay programs.

Although we have come to a place of understanding that change was not possible or necessary for us, we also recognize that the treatments and theories that once influenced our lives and view of the ourselves and the world have often caused harm. Over at the bXg site I list the various types of harm that several ex-gay survivors say they encountered as a result of trying to straighten themselves out.

Christine and I have met many straight and LGBT allies who have never had ex-gay experiences themselves yet have been effective in activism, supportive to survivors and present during our gatherings. For now we want to limit the Beyond Ex-Gay Community social networking site just for survivors and not for allies. Some allies struggle to understand how some of us say we experienced both good and bad during our ex-gay experiences. They don’t always understand the complexity of our experiences, and in their passion for justice or for showing empathy sometime express anger and judgment that does not always help in our own process of trying to understand exactly what happened in our lives and how to respond to it.

Below I have posted the basics from the new Beyond Ex-Gay Community site. It will operate as an invitation only site for now. If you are an ex-gay survivor and want to know more about the community site, Send me an email requesting an invite. Also include a brief overview of your own ex-gay experiences.

Beyond Ex-Gay Community

WHO: This site is for people who at one time attempted to suppress or change their sexual orientation or gender differences either on their own or with the assistance of others. We have since determined that for us change was not possible nor is it necessary. We understand that by pursuing such a change, we may have encountered more harm than good. We now choose to move beyond our ex-gay experiences and affirm ourselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

WHAT: This site gives ex-gay survivors an opportunity to connect with fellow survivors to discuss our ex-gay experiences (what we did, why we did it, the harm as well as the good that may have come of it) as well as the issues surrounding recovery from ex-gay experiences.

This site is a SAFE SPACE for ex-gay survivors and not a forum for anyone but ex-gay survivors. Harassment, preaching, shaming, etc will not be tolerated. Honest sharing, thoughtful exchanges, funny stories, helpful suggestions are all very welcome.

We also recognize that many of us come from religious backgrounds, some quite abusive. We seek to maintain a site that it is a safe space for religous/spiritual and non-religious/spiritual people. We endeavor to respect each individual’s personal journey and not impose our own on another.

This site is not to take the place of therapy or professional treatment. If you feel uncomfortable or not ready to connect with others about your ex-gay experiences, or feel you have already done this and need to move on, than this site is not for you at this time.

WHY: We have discovered that many people who have not had ex-gay experiences do not understand the complexity of such experiences. We share many similar stories and many differences. We struggle with the fact that we may have encountered loving kind people and positive experiences along with the trauma we endured. Through connecting with other survivors, many of us have found clarity and insights. We have found mutual support and friendship.

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Recently Christine Bakke and I received an e-mail from a 20 year old woman who visited Beyond Ex-Gay. She lives in a large city in the North East of the US. I spent time this morning with her questions and concerns, then I wrote a response. I imagine this woman represents the concerns and questions of many young Christians and people of faith. Below is her initial message.

I am a 20 year old Christian woman and struggling with homosexuality. I have read some of the testimonies and wish I could do the same. However, those who say they have left the ex-gay ministry and decided to live as a gay Christian leave out that they are choosing to live in sin. Some married someone else of the same sex, but the bible does not give any guidelines for same sex couples in holy matrimony because it is not holy. The bible says it (homosexuality) is sin. I have been going back and forth with this for such a long time and it is so difficult. I have been told by my Christian friends that I just have to trust that God will get rid of these flesh desires. It will always be a battle but it’s supposed to be worth it in the end. In none of the testimonies is the word of God mentioned, neither do any of the “ex-gay survivors” mention having an experienced with God where he showed them or told them that it was possible to be gay and Christian. I have felt angry with God as well. Begging him to change me and take away this desire I have for women, but I am a baby in the spirit and know it will take time.

Below is my answer along with some collages created by Christine

Dear _____________,

Thank you for writing. Starting at age 17 I pursued God with all my heart to change me from gay to straight. I wanted to serve God as a missionary and most importantly I wanted to live as God pleased, according to God’s plan for my life. As a born-again Christian, I went to a Christian college and studied the Bible. I sought the Lord with all my heart and continued to come back to God daily, not just when I failed, but consistently, seeking God’s face and presence and will for my life. I ultimately spent 17 years doing this, trusting God to change me, to help me overcome the temptations, to help me to become a strong and committed Christian and someone who worships God in Spirit and in truth. I continually told myself, God and others that my desires for other men were evil, sinful, wrong. I returned to the altar time and time again. And over time I changed.

But I didn’t change in the ways that I expected. I understood that Jesus said that we shall recognize disciples by the fruit in our lives, namely love, but we also get a stunning list of the fruit of the Spirit later on in Paul’s writing–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control… This is the harvest I wanted to produce for God and God’s kingdom, but instead I yielded a very different type of fruit–depression, impatience, self-hatred, a total lack of control. The more I stuffed and demonized my gay orientation, the more BXG_CollageP2sonunchristian my life became.

After 15 years of living like this, it was with great sadness that I came to the conclusion that I could never actually change my orientation. Five years of marriage with a wonderful Christian woman proved that to me. I still labored on though for another two years to at least live a celibate life, one that I called a repentant life, although that seemed like a cop out compared to an actual transformation. But the misery continued and increased. I begged and pleaded God to give me victory. I cut out every gay contact in my life. I sought to destroy the gay part of me for Jesus. I found it was not possible or necessary. God did not answer my prayer. Sometimes when we ask something of God, and the answer is no.

I assumed I knew what the Bible said about gays, but I was wrong. In no passage does it forbid two men or two women to be in a loving relationship. Lust, idolatry, abuse are all condemned for straights and gays, but a loving relationship is not. In fact, it makes it clear that man (and women) should not be alone. We are designed for companionship, but an unequal orientation almost always ends disastrously–like being unequally yoked, with the two pulling in different directions. Also, I had not understood how people misused the scriptures to reinforce a bias they already held. We have seen this with slavery, where white Christians misread the passages to support the slave trade. They went to the scriptures with their minds made up instead of openly seeking God’s will. That is how I approached the scriptures for years not allowing the possibility of any other way.

In winter of 1998 I finally came to the understanding that 1. change was NOT possible 2. change was NOT necessary and most importantly 3. pursuing change was destroying my life, my faith and my relationships. I then assumed that when I accepted that I was gay, I could no longer be Christian, someone passionate about God. To my shock and surprised I then met a bunch of lovely, deeply committed, sincere Christians who were also openly lesbian and gay. They were not living a lie or going through the motions; they demonstrated a real and lasting faith. I have since personally met many more people of faith in North America, Europe, the UK, South America, Africa and beyond who are open and clear about their orientation and gender differences over at the Gay Christian Network. Over the past few years have spent time in deep worship with these sisters and brothers tenderly and earnestly seeking God and loving Jesus.

In my own life I settled into a place of listening to God, asking questions without demanding certain answers. I brought to the Light what was hidden in my heart and asked the Spirit, “What about this? What about that?” I waited and listened trusting that God would lead me and guide me even though initally after I came out I still preferred to be straight. I came to an outrageous conclusion, not only was it okay to be gay, but my orientation is one of the many gifts that God has given me, one that I continually attempted to return for almost 20 years of my adult life, one that I violently attacked and tried to tear to a million pieces. God is so patient and so gracious with me! How long I coveted my straight neighbor’s life rejecting my own saying it was not good enough.

_________, many people will tell you they know what God’s will is for your life. Ultimately you have to discover this for yourself. Perhaps to a straight minister, the idea of loving someone of the same gender is completely foreign. Based on his or her experience that minister may say that God would never decree such a thing. Perhaps not for them because they are straight; they don’t get it. So they put burdens on other people’s backs often confusing sexual desire with intimacy with sin with companionship thus demanding people live lives without family other than church family without the day in and day out closeness of an actual partner. In the end this is not just about sex. It is about honesty. It is about intimacy.

BXG_CollageBrandonWe have several members at Beyond Ex-Gay who are Christians like me who have grown in their faith after coming out, often as a result of coming out. You can read Brandon’s story to get a sense of this. Also, a college student for whom his faith is very important to him published an opinion piece in his local paper about this very topic.

Within you is the Kingdom of God, just like Jesus taught. You have God’s Spirit to teach you and guide you, to help you to understand God’s will. You can trust God to lead you. Part of the work is to allow God to detox from a world and a church that make unrealistic and ungodly demands of lesbians and gays. Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, a world that very much says that to be straight (or white or male or rich) is far more valuable than to be lesbian. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you can test and prove what God’s will is for your life.

I hope this answer to your question proves helpful.

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