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It has been a week since Alan Chambers publicly apologized and announced the closing of Exodus. So much can happen in one week. As I stood in front of the Supreme Court yesterday in the sweltering DC sun, the news of DOMA and Prop 8 easily overshadowed last week’s news of an apology and closing from Exodus. So much to process.

Many have asked me for my opinion about Alan Chamber’s apology and the possible next moves he and his new organization will make. Many are rightly concerned and suspicious. What do we do with someone who has been our enemy when he suddenly says he no longer is? He’s not yet an ally, and he’s not an opponent. Or is he? As the Culture War around LGBTQ rights shifts, we need to figure out how to respond to our former oppressors, some of whom say they have changed their oppressive ways.

In this week’s Queer and Queerer podcast Zack Ford asks me to respond to all of the recent movement at Exodus. What might it mean? What should the new organization do and what should they not do? What are the risks? What roles have ex-gay survivors taken to bring about change? What roles still exist for us? What about celibacy and the “Side B” gay Christian debate. We talk about all this and much more in our 40 minute podcast. If you care about these issues and want to get beyond the headlines, have a listen.

Also, read about my own response to John Smid, the former ex-gay leader, when he offered me a personal apology, This is What an Apology Looks Like

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Lately I have been faced with the opportunity to extend forgiveness to someone responsible for harming me, some of my loved ones, and many other people–some I know–most I do not. One thing I have concluded is I can offer  private, personal forgiveness for someone who directly harmed me (particularly if I wish to continue in relationship with that person.) But sometimes, as a community, we are confronted with the issue of public forgiveness for someone who has injured many in very public ways.

In the case of the personal offense, I can, if I choose, extend forgiveness. It will likely serve as an essential step in rebuilding a broken relationship. It is most effective if the offender communicates regret over their actions, can articulate what they have done, and actually requests forgiveness. My forgiveness does not mean I can (or should) trust the person again immediately or ever. Forgiveness does not give me permission to overlook reality. Also, personal forgiveness is often a private matter.

The public forgiveness is complicated mainly because I cannot forgive someone on the behalf of others. I can personally let go of my resentment towards an individual or a group, but it is not my place to forgive them for all that they have done. Nor do I think it does anyone any good when we immediately offer forgiveness in reaction to an announcement by someone who has begun to consider his previous harmful actions.

Restorative justice requires more than a quickie public exchange–

“I am sorry.”

“You are forgiven.”

Immediate forgiveness and absolution distracts from the necessary cathartic process for both the offender and those harmed. This is not a matter about being too hard on someone like John Smid, who has publicly apologized for his work promoting and providing ex-gay treatment and has begun to unpack his former beliefs. Rather it is a validation of the harm people suffered and the need for an honest and often painful process. While many of us rejoice in happy endings and prefer to skip over the conflict to the resolution, usually its the complicated, messy process that results in a satisfying ending.

When someone, like John Smid, announces a change of heart and seeks to make amends, (after overseeing a residential program that brought misery and confusion to hundreds if not thousands,) I believe that reconciliation with the community he harmed is a process that needs to be conducted thoughtfully and sensitively. If a family member has abused others and then repents, it is complex and difficult work to bring that person back into family life and gatherings. Not impossible, but I believe we must not overlook history or the gravity of offenses committed.

Also, when someone, who regrets their harmful and abusive behaviors, requests entry into groups inhabited by former victims or wishes to be a spokesperson on behalf of those harmed, he has work to do–much to learn and unlearn. In the case of John Smid, it makes much more sense that he speak to his former ex-gay peers still working to undermine the health, well-being, and rights of LGBTQ people, than to present at gay Christian events.

Perhaps as the dust settles from his recent announcements, he is beginning to see what his role can be in the public discourse and in bringing about justice. Yesterday he appeared on MSNBC’s Hard Ball with Chris Matthew and advocated extending equal rights to LGBTQ people. I find that more valuable to me than a written apology. In insisting on rights for the people he formerly oppressed, John Smid pursues restorative justice.

As Sally, a Facebook friend, concluded:

Seems to me that forgiveness is a process of the heart. Reconciliation is a commitment to a relational process.

Finally, I do not believe anyone should ever feel obligated to forgive. If an ex-gay leader approaches me directly and says, “I am sorry,” I am free to respond, “Yes, and you have good reason to be. Now do something about it.” This may sound harsh, but in pursuing restorative justice, peace does not come about by overlooking wrongs. It requires action–amends–a necessary step that not only acknowledges those who have been oppressed, but may also lead to the liberation of oppressors weighed down by their cruel and misguided beliefs and actions.

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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.

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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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Actually FEMALE-bodied Stars w/ Cellulite

After I serve up special audio essay (Henry Kissinger had a Boob Job!) Zack Ford and I discuss BODIES. How do we talk about bodies? What is intersexuality? What are some challenges transgender people face? Can a man have an abortion? We lay it all out on the table and just talk about all our hesitations and yet curiosities with bodies, mixed with some recent news.  Take a listen, and then tell us your hangups and joys when it comes to bodies!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast Episode 47!

Listen to this week’s episode:

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.)

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

» Peterson Toscano’s A Musing: Henry Kissinger had a Boob Job!

» Intersex Society of North America

» Abortion not a women’s issue? Feministing: Behind the backlash: what’s so scary about deconstructing the gender binary?

» Malaysia’s got an anti-gay camp for boys, but it’s illegal.

» Texas considers banning trans marriage. But in Texas, different kinds of trans marriages are legal because of Littleton v. Prange.

» PBS’s In The Life highlights transgender Injustice at Every Turn.

Subscribe to Queer and Queerer in iTunes!

The feed has the 25 most recent episodes; the rest are archived on this page.

If you use a different podcatcher, the Queer and Queerer raw feed can be found here.The feed has the 25 most recent episodes; the rest are archived on this page.
Like us on Facebook for instant updates, new episodes, and discussion!
Follow Zack (@ZackFord) and Peterson (@p2son) on Twitter.
Even though the podcast is hosted on Zack’s blog, please make sure you Like me on Facebook as well!
Our theme music is “Appalachia” by Machelli. Download his album, “Opus,” on iTunes.

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I had the privilege to write a post for Ex-Gay Watch, which has presented news and analysis of ex-gay politics and culture since 2003. They were the first to review my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, which ultimately led me to some important friends in my life today.

After surveying others like me who tried to go ex-gay or to alter their gender differences, I shared some analysis about the many reasons why someone might choose that route for themselves.

I recently began a discussion with other ex-gay survivors about the reasons they tried to alter their sexuality, gender presentation, or gender identity. To help dig into the question, I prompted them:

Think about the point in time when you began to seek out ex-gay treatment. Then ask: “During that time, if I suddenly woke up the next day 100% heterosexual/gender normative, how would my life be different? How would my relationships be different? How would my future be different? How would my career be different?”

Here is a sampling of what folks had to say to the question, Why did you try to change?

Juli–Guilt. Never cared about god (or believed), but knew my parents would be ashamed and feel responsible (and ashamed for being responsible). Forty years and three marriages, and I still have to remind myself at least once a day they were wrong.

Derek–I was always the “good kid” so the thought of being gay didn’t mesh well with who I felt I was or more what others thought I should be. Faith, family, a desire for what was modeled as normalcy were blanket reasons.

Gail Dickert–I was highly motivated by the fear of hell and the idealism of hetero-supremacy that was proclaimed in my churches and especially in Bible College (Bridal College, as it was referred to by the women in search of their perfect husbands).  [Gail is the author of Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams]

You can read my entire Ex-Gay Watch post here. Others are weighing and sharing their own reasons in the comments section.

Anthony Venn-Brown

Anthony Venn-Brown, an ex-gay survivor from Australia, reminded me through his own comment of a potent incentive that propelled me to seek “change.” The criminality of homosexuality:

simply put…when I was growing up and realised I was gay it meant society viewed me as a pervert, the law said I was a criminal if I acted on it and would be imprisoned, the church said I was an abomination. I didn’t want to be any of these things so this launched me on a 22 year journey to do all I could to change which included a six month live in program, exorcisms, 2 x 40 day fasts and marriage.

Of course nothing actually worked in the end. it was like getting of a stationary bike you’ve been peddling. You are still in the same place.

Had I been growing up today with the new understanding of sexual orientation, change in laws and new understanding of the bible verses……how different my life would be.

Perhaps with informed consent, people today will not make the same mistakes that Anthony, I, and so many others made.

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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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