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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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Peterson and Zack are off to the movies, but there’s a podcast to record first! This week we’re joined by a special guest! Shane is here to talk about his year in as an Irish exchange student in the United States. He talks about how he was prepared to visit the US, what he observed about higher education during his year of study here, and how American higher education affected his coming out process. If you’re really interested in foreign perspectives on our educational system or you just really enjoy hearing a cute Irish boy’s accent, then Episode 11 is for you!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week’s episode

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

» Towleroad: A-Team’s Rampage Jackson: I Do Not Hate Gay People

» Thinking about critical thinking from Zack’s favorite undergraduate class.

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This will be one of those “this and that” sorts of blogs. Lots of things to highlight.

NEW podcast available of Queer & Queerer. Men as Feminists, Political Outing, and Archie You may find the discussion about outing homophobic politicians of interest as well as the one about privilege.  Have a listen here and check out the comment section.

I was recently in the Pacific North West and spent a week at University of Puget Sound with a bunch of VERY cool people including Jane (hey Jane!) We staged my play Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, and I am pleased to learn that a discussion continues.  Seth Kirby, who attended a number of my presentations, wrote an article: Gays and Lesbians often forced to choose between Identity and Faith.

Coming out in my teens and transitioning to male in my early 20s left me without a faith community. Had I wanted to go to church in Olympia, I’m not sure I would have been able to identify where to go. Even churches that accepted gay and lesbian people were not necessary open to transgender people. By 21, I was sure that religion was not for me.

Unfortunately, there are many people in the LGBT community who have had to leave their faith community. I am also fortunate to have many LGBT and allied people of various faith backgrounds in my life.

In Ex-Gay News… In the midst of the upcoming British elections, Rising Tory star Philippa Stroud ran prayer sessions to ‘cure’ gay (and transgender) people. From Sunday’s Guardian:

A high-flying prospective Conservative MP, credited with shaping many of the party’s social policies, founded a church that tried to “cure” homosexuals by driving out their “demons” through prayer.

–snip–

The CSJ reportedly claims to have formulated as many as 70 of the party’s policies. Stroud has spoken of how her Christian faith has motivated her to help the poor and of her time spent working with the destitute in Hong Kong. On her return to Britain, in 1989, she founded a church and night shelter in Bedford, the King’s Arms Project, that helped drug addicts and alcoholics. It also counseled gay, lesbian and transsexual people.

Abi, a teenage girl with transsexual issues, was sent to the church by her parents, who were evangelical Christians. “Convinced I was demonically possessed, my parents made the decision to move to Bedford, because of this woman [Stroud] who had come back from Hong Kong and had the power to set me free,” Abi told the Observer.

“She wanted me to know all my thinking was wrong, I was wrong and the so-called demons inside me were wrong. The session ended with her and others praying over me, calling out the demons. She really believed things like homosexuality, transsexualism and addiction could be fixed just by prayer, all in the name of Jesus.”

hat tip to my friend Tania Jane Taylor (or in Twitterland known as Sparklygrrl) in Manchester.

The ex-gay story has been in the UK press a lot this past year. In February Patrick Strudwick publish his investigative journalism piece in the Independent. He went undercover to reveal some of what is still going on in the UK. The ex-gay world there had been mostly underground, especially after Jeremy Marks in 2001 transformed his ex-gay program Courage into an LGBT affirming Christian organization. Jeremy also has a book out he published in 2008 after he issued a public apology for his role in promoting and providing ex-gay treatment in the UK. (Click here to order in the UK. For North Americans, you can get it at Amazon.)

DADT protest April 20, 2010 with Autumn Sandeen

Check out Autumn Sandeen‘s brilliant and moving letter: President Obama: A Transgender Veteran Is Not An ”Impersonator,” ”It,” Or ”Shim” Autumn was one of LGBTQ people who did military service and recently chained themselves to the White House fence in order to put pressure on President Obama to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She writes about her arrest as a transgender woman, who self-identified as transgender, and the uninformed and abusive treatment she received from Park Police and once in confinement. Oh, and hear the Trans-Ponder podcast interview with Autumn.

Calling transgender people “it” is clearly a way of dehumanizing transgender people. “Shim” — a term relative to “she-male” — is also a dehumanizing term to identify transgender people.  President Obama, your U.S. Marshal calling me “it” and “the shim” is the equivalent to calling an African-American by the n-word, or calling a Gay-American by the antigay f-word, it is absolutely unacceptable.

I believe the behavior of your U.S. Marshal’s sent the message to the prisoners that your representatives wouldn’t protect me if these prisoners had sought to physically harm me — because I was a less than human, a “shim.”  At no time did any officer correct or dissuade any of the other officers from such offensive behaviors.  In fact, they seemed to feel comfortable in doing so around each other, even in front of other prisoners.

President Obama, you should be able to identify the U.S. Marshal who raised her fist and yelled “Go Navy” several times, and called me “it” and “shim” because there is a fixed camera facing the U.S. Marshal Station. I’ve asked Jeff Lynch of the DC Trans Coalition to help me file a Freedom Of Information Act request for that segment of video — because I too would like to see the video, and I’m sure too that many others would like to see it as well.

As for me, I am back in the Susquehanna Valley (Selinsgrove and Sunbury, PA) working on my memoir, moving into the new house and recording a new podcast with Zack Ford tomorrow where we will look at legal and illegal discrimination of LGBT folks, a shocking verbal revelation (thanks to Peter Leeson’s recent comments to us about Episode three. check out Peter’s Tweets and Blog Posts)

In New England? Make plans to attend TransformNH in Concord, NH July 23-24. I will be there!

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Homo Repair Shop in Winq

Last spring I met with journalist Adrian Tippetts in London, and we talked at length about my experiences in the ex-gay movement and since. He must have inspired a lot of trust because as I read the piece as it appears in Winq magazine (global queer culture), I find lots of revealing things about my wild sex life, the street work I did (as an missionary to the gay community in NYC–a different sort of sex worker), my marriage, my faith previous and current and much much more. Here is a sample from the three page spread in which we explore my time at Nyack College (a Christian and Missionary Alliance School) and my first forays into the gay & ex-gay worlds in NYC during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 80’s)

And so began sessions of highly selective Bible study and prayer sessions. He was remarkably well accepted by his fellow students, who encouraged him in his struggle against his sexuality. In a sprawling, foreboding and lonely city, Peterson was glad to have a loving, supporting community at the College, who all knew about his ‘problem’ and admired his attempt to address it. Being a Christian college, Nyack College strongly encouraged its students to take part in outreach activities. He and his colleagues would witness every Saturday night in Greenwich Village, in order to save souls in the heart of New York’s gay district. During that time of fear, they were surprisingly welcomed by the community, as Peterson recalls: “Our Bible study meetings were full – dozens of people doing everything they can not to be gay. With Aids devastating the local community, we felt as if we had created our very own Noah’s Ark, collecting all the gays and saving them from having sex. It was meant with the very best intentions – and even now, there are out, happy gay people who believe that being part of this ministry actually saved their lives.” Peterson joined Life Ministries, who supported the Nyack mission to the gay community, which provided his first introduction to Exodus, the national ‘umbrella’ group of ministries that aimed to help people out of homosexuality. The group today claims over 230 ministries worldwide.

You can download the article ex-gay movement peterson toscano, ex-gay survivor, debunks the myths. Check out some of Adrian’s other pieces that cover queers in football, Iraq, in the military and more.

And if you want to hear me talk about ex-gay stuff in Spanish, check out the recent episode on the Don Francisco Presenta program. Dr. Alberto Dominquez was AMAZING on it, so I just sat and looked pretty, but I did get to talk about the almost always disastrous marriages between ex-gay men and straight women. I repeat more than once about the harm that can come from attempting to suppress or change one’s sexuality. I base this on the over 1500 people I have met personally who have outlined to me the harm they have experienced as a result of their time in ex-gay treatments and in a world that insists that you are worth more straight. Lies. You are a person of great worth and you can live in those riches when you are authentic and honest and live in reality.

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In my play Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs I perform a scene as two characters–Chad, a queer studies major who has to take over the introductory to quee theory class since Dr. Eugenes, the transgender professor is out that day, and Federico Garcia Lorca, the early 20th Century Spanish poet and playwright. (see scene below).
 
The audience learns pretty quickly in the play that Chad is not what they expect. Instead he reveals he is intelligent, deep thinking, insightful and willing to expose injustice. At first though they just see a fem guy and make all sorts of assumptions about him and about me for portraying him as a fem guy. 
 
Take a look at the scene and then I’ll tell you how I have been using it lately. 
 
 
Often I speak at various venues and then do a series of excerpts from my various plays. I almost always present the scene above as I did at the Lambeth Conference when I was invited to speak their last year.  The scene with Federico ends with Chad saying, "Federico wasn’t just another pretty face; he was someone of substance. And because of his political beliefs in the midst of a fascist dictatorship and because he was openly gay, they killed him."
 
After a pause I come out of character and address the audience and explain that many people hide parts of themselves. They expend a great deal of energy to cover the fact that  they are transgender, lesbian, bisexiual, gay. Often they do this because they fear death. In some cases and far too many places they fear actual death, violence perpetuated against them by people on the streets, from their governments or in some cases from their own family and friends. But there are other deaths that people face which keep them from being fully open and honest about themselves–
  • the death of vital relationships–parents, siblings, friends
  • the death of a career dream or a call to ministry
  • the death that comes from losing their place in a faith community that has meant so much to them
This fear of death can keep people silenced and on personal lock down for decades. They may slowly emerge in anonymous venues like on-line communities, but far too many live half in and half out of the closet, never fully present, never sure how they stand in the world, desperately needing to come out but desperately afraid of the consequences. 
 
I know what it is like to exist in this way and the extreme relief of finally coming out along with the losses that comming out can bring. In my presentation I then read this poem I wrote about the half in/half out living.

 
                              Riddles

We speak riddles to ourselves,
proclaiming,
in whispers,
“I am OK”

But strapped to our backs
We bear a wardrobe,
the opposite of that portal to Narnia,


a closet that dumps us into a smaller world,
a cramped, musty place of shadows.

“I don’t want to upset my mother.”
“My brother will never understand.”
“No need to flaunt it.”
“It’s only a tiny
part of me.”


A part muffled in a velvet-lined padded valise,
Jammed in the back of a wardrobe,
besides dusty boxes of dreams and desires,
A place where we speak riddles to ourselves.

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Last night Glen and I watched the 1968 movie classic Lion in Winter, based on the play of the same name which premiered on Broadway in 1966. So many memorable quotes from this grand drama of a royal dysfunctional family! Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine exudes  bitchiness and wisdom as she breezes through each scene with her dry drawl.

In one scene the three sons squabble, well this happens in most scenes. Phillip pulls a knife on his brother John. The dialogue bristles with snark and insight.

Prince John: A knife! He’s got a knife!

Eleanor: Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!

How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little – that’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.

As a Quaker I adore Eleanor’s lines. The Religious Society of Friends has long maintained a Peace Testimony, yet we are not without our own attitude. As I often remark during my presentation,

We are Quaker. We don’t get violent, just passive aggressive.

I’ll share another quote below. But first, I have some pictures to share with Sheria from SA. (Soon I will have some for Cary in Ireland!).  I am sure Sheria won’t mind if you take a look too. My laptop is ill, so I had a ton of photos from the last half of my UK/Europe trip that I never posted. I recently bought an incredibly light and inexpensive Acer netbook and have just loaded up some pictures. So here goes:

Trevor's house & garden

Trevor's house & garden

Pretty & Pungent

Pretty & Pungent

Chestnut tree detail

Chestnut tree detail

Festive Tulips

Festive Tulips

Midsummer performance

Midsummer performance

Cotswold stone wall

Cotswold stone wall

Southampton Quaker's Garden

Southampton Quaker's Garden

Peak District stream

Peak District stream

Flower by Peak District stream

Flower by Peak District stream

Glen & Mark at Giants Causeway

Glen & Mark at Giants Causeway

Glen on Southern Welsh Coast

Glen on Southern Welsh Coast

And this photo of the dishy Glen Retief reminds me of a quote from Lion in Winter (a favorite I share with my Seattle friend Jane–Holding you in the Light today as you attend your conference!) Speaking of her wanderlust and love of travel, she remarks

Eleanor: I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How’s that for blasphemy. I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn… but the troops were dazzled.

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Packed day ahead! Currently I am in Newcastle, Northern Ireland where I will give two presentations at a local state-run school first for 15-year-olds and then for 14-year-olds. We will talk about bullying, homophobia, and identity as we play various theater (and theatre) games. I imagine I will perform the Identity Monologue and a scene between Chad and Federico Garcia Lorca from Queer 101.

Sandwiched in between I will sit for a live interview with William Crawley of BBC Radio Ulster. He wants to talk about the Ex-Gay Movement and in particular the plight of survivors who have experienced harm because their attempts (and the attempts of others in their lives) to change and suppress their orientation and gender differences. The show will run during lunch time today (from around 12:15-1:15). Have a listen here.

In the evening I head to Queens University in Belfast to offer a talk for the university’s LGBTQ Soceity. The talk is entitled Homo No Mo?!? Orientation, Gender and the Ex-Gay Movement. The ex-gay movement and treatments to “de-gay” homosexuals became a very hot topic in Northern Ireland, when Iris Robinson, the wife of the First Minister, publically promoted reparative therapy. Earlier in the year Jeremy Marks, who once headed an ex-gay program that has since changed to become pro-LGBT spoke at Queens University. Opponents showed up and asked surreal questions like, “Do you believe in hell?”

In my experience much of the ex-gay movement and many churches’ teachings on gay issues get so soaked in fear and shame that people struggle to think clearly about it all. Many of us soaked in fears of not pleasing God, of messing up and getting a fatal disease, of ending up in an eternity of torment, then mixed in we marinated in shame especially when religious leaders blames us for not trying hard enough to alter our sexuality and questioned our sincerity. True concerns mixed with superstious fears kept many of us suspended in an irrational lifestyle where we defered to other people’s wills and plans for our lives. In all of the panic and shaming, we struggled to discover God’s will for our lives opting for the default setting traditional views foisted upon us.

I remember the day back in December 1998, when after 17 years of pursuing a variety of ex-gay treatments, I finally understood that “change” as it had been promised was not possible nor was it beneficial, in fact, it caused considerable harm. I had no clue at the time what would happen if I defied the orders of the religious leaders in my life, and it felt terrifying. What is going to happen now???! What happened shocked me–clarity, peace, a deeper relationship with God, sanity, health. In Christian language–The Fruit of the Holy Spirit.

I remember at an action we held in Memphis last year and two signs that ex-gay survivor Jacob Wilson held up at different parts of the day. Sign was Change at What Cost??? and the other, a positive reminder–Integrity Changes Lives.

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