Monday, June 24, 2013
What a week! So many things have happened in the ex-gay (and ex-ex-gay world) in the last week that a blog post seemed to be a good way for me to sort out some of my thoughts on this. I know I don't have much readership any longer, and that's OK. My life has grown so far beyond the online world (or perhaps too many things just happen on facebook these days), that it hasn't felt like a priority for me. So....there you are. But here we are. And here I am trying to cobble thoughts together.
People have asked me what I thought about the demise of Exodus: Alan's Apology, his opening night talk at the last Exodus Conference, the shutting down of Exodus International (although perhaps in name only), and the Lisa Ling show and outtakes. Frankly, I have a lot of mixed thoughts and sometimes conflicting emotions, depending on what point of view I take. So I'll share a few with you.
Viewpoint #1 - From the point of view of someone who doesn't know much about the inner workings of the ex-gay world, the apology from Alan is a BIG deal and a GREAT thing for LGBT people and their families in the long run.
Here's why I think so:
For the media, who has rarely been able to deal with this issue with any level of real nuance, the reporting of this is also lacking nuance, but this time it's a good thing from my point of view. For years it's been frustrating to witness the media stories about the ex-gay world, and how everything is reduced to the simplest (and therefore often mostly wrong) terms. The debate has been framed as "does it work" with two sides—"yes" and "no"—and we've struggled for a long time to get the discussion onto the issues of harm. If you just talk about "does it work", it sounds like it's a neutral thing that people can decide to try without the potential for the consequences, which we know for some can be tragic. It gives parents and grandparents and ministers hope that if they just push hard enough, their loved one can change. Self-defined "ex-gay strugglers" look at "success stories" (which often omit the truth of remaining gay orientation) and feel like failures, and they decide to try even harder to succeed, with sometimes bad results.
So this time, it's nothing new with the media (for the most part)—and for that I'm actually grateful! Headlines saying "Largest 'gay cure' clinic shuts down" are of course, not remotely accurate. But you know what? The majority of people don't know and don't care. They are now just hearing the sound bite that the largest "gay cure" organization shut down, and the leader apologized. The language of "survivor" is being used, and harm is being mentioned. In my mind, this is an extremely good thing, and I'm grateful for it.
If this means that one more parent decides that they should let their kids be who they are, and if it means that one more grandparent stops sending articles and books to their grandkids, and if it means that one more kid won't get kicked out of the house while still a minor, and if it means that one more teenager decides to stick it out and see if it really does get better, and if it means that one more exhausted and heartbroken ex-gay person can let themselves off the hook and believe that there's nothing broken about them, then this is the best thing that could have happened.
I'm not sure it's what Alan Chambers ultimately wanted, and it's certainly not the message that current ex-gays or their supporters want shouted from all the media outlets, but it's what is, and for once I'm grateful for the lack of nuance and attention to detail in the media. If this is all that "the moveable middle" takes in for right now, that's fine by me:
Next I'll address the viewpoint of those who are highly involved in the ex-gay movement, or ex-gay survivors. I have a lot of life going on (work, a broken water heater and slightly flooded basement, among other things), so stay tuned and hopefully I can write more soon.....some time before 2014.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
For most of my readers, this is old news, but two or three years ago, my parents started a ministry and named it “Rising Up Whole Ministries.” Now, you might notice that my blog is named “Rising Up Whole.” This is no coincidence. It has been named this since soon after its creation at the end of 2005.
I wrote about this issue with my parents' ministry once in the past, before I knew that it was final (before the ministry was a 501(c)3 and had a website)—when someone had just found my mother listed on Google as a counselor at "Rising Up Whole Ministries." When I found out that first tidbit, I was devastated. Angry. Hurt. In a huge amount of disbelief. I think I stayed in bed much of the weekend. Depressed and feeling so betrayed. Vacillating between anger and feeling as if I was at that point truly motherless and fatherless. Who would do this to their kid?
The name of my blog is so very significant to me, and if I’m repeating myself from a couple years ago—sorry. For me, it’s worth repeating. When I initially named this blog (in 2005), I called it “Rising Up” and thought of it as rising up from the ashes that defined my life at that point. I still felt defeated, broken, and a whole host of other things after my time in the ex-gay movement. But I was rising up and out, and I was becoming who I always was, deep down; who I was meant to be.
In 2006, I renamed it to “Rising Up Whole” as I began working through the lies of the ex-gay movement that told me I was broken merely because I was gay; as I began to believe that I was whole. It fit me, and described perfectly so much of my journey and what my new life was about. It spoke of the triumph of overcoming, of leaving my past misconceptions behind, of leaving behind a broken and often toxic family and church system. I was, for the first time, feeling like I could be whole—it was not only a possibility, and not only a destination, but also a place on the journey.
Since that time, I’ve used variations of Rising Up Whole as handles or monikers on different websites. You can find me on Skype, chat, several online forums, Facebook, etc. by some version of it. It’s become an extension of me.
So when my parents stole it (yes, STOLE it - there’s really no other way to describe it since it was mine and they took it without permission) to use for their ministry name, it was a slap in the face—a punch in the gut. In their ministry, they have counseled people who don't want to be gay. They have attended Love Won Out (the ex-gay roadshow that used to be from Focus on the Family/Exodus and now is an Exodus event). They agree with those principles that I speak out against. They see me and other LGBT people as broken, in need of healing and saving. My Mom has written an article on the anti-gay PFOX site (an organization that does much damage to young people by actively fighting against anti-bullying legislation, among other things).
My parents also believe in and actively conduct/participate in “deliverance work” (“exorcism light,” as many call it - so, less dramatic than the movies, but perhaps more dramatic and frightening to some than you might think). I am not sure I’ve written much about my own experience with deliverance work here on this blog in a public forum, but I found it ultimately very damaging to my soul and my psyche with lasting side-effects. People pay my parents (er, donate to their 501(c)3) to be "delivered."
My parents counsel people in the same way I was counseled for years—unprofessionally, knowing just enough to often do more harm than good. They have ministerial licenses, but have not gone to an official, accredited college to earn these. They have taken some correspondence courses, attended a Bible college for 1-2 years (only studying the Bible, not philosophy, critical thinking, alternate views on anything), they have worked with various ministries and attended seminars and weekend trainings. This, an application process, letters of recommendation, and probably some fees were enough to give them a ministerial license. With this license, they are now “Reverends” and have hung out a shingle for counseling, healing, deliverance, etc. which takes place out of their home.
It pains me to have this kind of activity associated with a name of my creation; with the name of this blog that means so much to me. Everything they do is absolutely antithetical to what I practice and believe. It’s the opposite of what I’ve been working for since telling my story publicly in 2007, and the opposite of what Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg) is. The people who come to bXg, hurting and in need of help, have been wounded by people just like my parents. In fact, I've even been contacted by a few people who have had dealings with my parents in a ministry setting and been wounded by it.
I considered for a while sending my parents/the ministry a cease and desist letter. Suing them. It’s such a clear violation of intellectual property/copyright laws that it would be a fairly open-and-shut case. At the time, I’d not seen them for 5 or 6 years, and as they age, I was hoping to have some sort of connection to them, even if very little, and even if superficial. I felt that if I pursued this legally, I would invest more energy and would have more contact with them than I wanted to, and would ultimately destroy anything that was left.
I then realized that I own the domain name. I own this blog. I am the rightful owner of the name, and hopefully anyone searching for my parents or their ministry would come across me, my previous blog post in particular, and it might raise some questions, or make them do some explaining. I decided, in the end, to try to let it go.
So why am I writing this now? Because I came across my Mom’s review of a book on Amazon, where she puts her name and then “(Rising Up Whole)” - and you know? That’s not her name to use. That is mine. I also came across a recent article she wrote where she mentioned that she and my Dad had started a ministry named “Rising Up Whole Ministries” with no mention of how they came upon that name. Then I came across the Anne Lamott quote above. And it all clicked.
The more I think about it, it’s just an appalling lack of integrity to knowingly steal someone else’s intellectual property. It’s even more stunning to think of stealing it for something that goes against everything the other person believes and works for. It’s even more incredible when you consider that they did this to their own daughter—their own daughter that they want to win back to themselves and their God. It’s a monumental lack of respect, and it is only my desire to have some connection to them that keeps me in touch with them in spite of things like this.
I had correspondence with my Mom two years ago where I told her that I didn’t think I could trust her—and gave as an example the issue of the ministry name. Her only response? “I don’t know what to do about the trust issue.” I still, to this day, have never received a response for why they stole the name. Why is this OK in their world where they claim to obey the 10 commandments, and love their neighbor as themselves, and so many other things? I sometimes wonder how they would feel if I started a pro-gay organization helping gay people come out, accept and love themselves and called it “The Mal and Jeanette Bakke Gay Pride Group.”
This is long, but this blog post is here to say that while I love my parents, and while I’m so glad they gave me life, and while I’m glad for many things that they gave me growing up, and many of the good memories I have, this ministry name issue has done more damage to my ability to be in relationship with them than they may ever know. If it was anyone else—anyone who was not my flesh and blood, I would have nothing to do with them.
But the way I've chosen to live my life with regard to my parents is this—they do not deserve my respect, or a big place in my life based on this and other actions. Their lack of integrity, character, and basic respect in this issue has led me to where I am now. But I choose to try to love and engage, although in a limited capacity and as I see fit. I try not to hold any grudge, and I try to let go of resentment (another of my favorite Anne Lamott quotes: "In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.")
It’s not always easy, because this is an ongoing issue. For instance, last year my mom sent me pictures of a trip to Africa where they went under the banner of their ministry and handed out T-shirts with “Rising Up Whole” on them. She is using the name around the internet. They have a website that I believe relatives of mine helped create. (Although, is it wrong that I’m amused that people in Kenya are wearing the intellectual property of the lesbian daughter of Mal and Jeanette Bakke? Just wondering.) It's hard to ignore it, and perhaps I'm not really sure that I should. And maybe this blog post is all I need to do. Maybe I just need to have it out in the blogosphere for anyone searching their ministry in the future. Maybe I just need to have my say, and not feel apologetic for it.
After all….if my parents wanted me to write warmly about them, I guess they should have behaved better...indeed.
[p.s. Please do NOT try to contact them about this. People have apparently done so in the past and it did no good. It does not help me, and it does not help them. Please just leave them alone and let them live with the end result of their actions. Thanks.]
Saturday, January 07, 2012
Shortly after the new year last year, I was privileged to be able to marry my wife, Theresa, in a wonderful, snowy, intimate ceremony with so many beautiful friends and family in attendance.
An online community I've been involved with had their conference in Denver. Since many of our friends go to this conference, we decided this would be a perfect opportunity to celebrate with many people who normally wouldn't have been able to make the trip here. We were surrounded by dear friends from all over the country, Canada, and Australia.
Since Theresa and I decided not to invite anyone who couldn't be happy for us and celebrate with us, we were happy to have Theresa's mom, grandma, and an old family friend join us. I also had a relative there and it was nice to have someone there related to me who wanted to celebrate us.
Standing in for my parents were Bob and Mary Lou Wallner. Mary Lou lost her lesbian Christian daughter to suicide after she refused to accept her daughter being gay. Mary Lou and Bob have traveled all over to tell their stories and educate about the consequences of homophobia and we've ended up at several of the same events and conferences and gotten to know each other through the years. I was so honored to have them be at the wedding, in light of my own family's non-acceptance.
Our dear friend Joe was the officiant. We decided that we wanted the wedding to be interesting and surprising to us as well as to our guests, so we asked three different couples to do something during the wedding - taking up to 5 minutes to do whatever they wanted. And we didn't want to know what they were doing until they did it.
One couple read a haiku and then burst into a song about our relationship to the tune of The Brady Bunch. Another sang one of our favorite songs and wrote a beautiful third verse for us. The last couple had one person talking about us and their own committed relationship, while the other half of the couple played a very perfect love song on the piano. Our friend Ling read an e.e. cummings poem, and another friend sang a beautiful song for us.
Our rings were passed around in a bird's nest during a ring-warming ceremony. Since we are non-religious but many of our friends are people of faith, we decided to use this as a way to include them, and asked everyone to hold our rings and take a brief moment to make a silent wish, pray a blessing, or fill the rings with warmth, love and some good juju.
We wrote our own vows which made each of us cry and some of our guests gag (and I said "Follow your shiP" not "shiT" people, just sayin'), had a wonderful time and celebrated us in front of the friends and family who give us unconditional love.
The reception was in the same art gallery as the ceremony, and our friends gave such wonderful toasts. Another friend put together a Newlyweds game for us, and we couldn't stop laughing.
It was an entirely perfect wedding, except for the absence of some friends who were not able to come. You know who you are!
It's amazing to me the life we've created for ourselves...the love that we give and receive...the ways that we bring wholeness to ourselves and to others.
It's been an amazing first year, this first year of being with Theresa for the rest of my life. We had sickness on the honeymoon (pneumonia for Theresa, bronchitis for me), a flooded basement on our return, great visits with friends (and wonderful visits with my nephews for me), board games and cabins, work and play, the death of a very dear friend, being apart for Christmas (that will never happen again)....all of it. It's just life, and it's what is real, solid and good. I wouldn't trade what I have in my relationship with Theresa for anything in the world. I'm looking forward to many more years to come.
Happy Anniversary, baby.
Monday, October 11, 2010
In the last 7 years, I've had a lot of big coming out moments - this blog that I started 5 years ago last week, the Glamour articles in French and English, the Good Morning America piece, and so on and so forth. You'd think the whole world would just know by now, wouldn't you and that I'd get to rest a bit?
However, coming out is still something I do on a weekly, even sometimes daily, basis. I have a choice to make all the time. How honest and authentic will I allow myself to be on this day? How uncomfortable will the other person be if I am authentic? How uncomfortable will I be with their discomfort? How safe will I be if I am out?
When Theresa and I are in a store and they automatically assume we must be related, instead of partners, what do we do? Do I say, "oh, she's not my sister; she's my partner" or let it slide? When the sales clerk asks for what occasion are we buying these nice clothes, do I answer that it's for our wedding? The assumption is always that I'm straight, until I say (or do) something differently. And I'm not OK with that always being the assumption.
So why do I feel the need to be out, even when I don't have to be out everywhere I go? Why do Theresa and I act like any other couple when we're out in public (a touch on the shoulder, an affectionate look or a term of endearment), instead of hiding our love away so that others feel more comfortable?
Because being out is not an option for too many people still. Because not being out is not an option for a lot of other people. Because teens who are being bullied and feel so alone need to know they're not. Because I'm happy to be exactly who I am.
In related news, this last Friday Theresa and I finally got our engagement photos done. This is one of our favorites.
Photo by Daniel Gonzales.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
I'd just written my post about Focus on the Family's campaign against anti-bullying measures in schools and then all this came to light. So it felt particularly painful and heavy to me.
I was mulling this over when I read with great interest a blog post from Exodus Vice President Randy Thomas, where he tells his followers that they should "Step Up and Speak Out" against bullying.
Sounds great, right? I mean, Exodus encouraging people to stop bullying gay folks? What's not to like?
Randy writes this particularly touching paragraph: "We must come to the aid and defend life no matter where it is being exploited and dehumanized. We must speak out against bullying behavior. We must intentionally edify, bless and build up others to counteract the hurtful influences of this world."
It sounds beautiful, but unless it represents a true shift for Exodus, it is just PR. Sadly, the words mean nothing until I see a change in the continuing rhetoric.
These words are coming from the mind of someone who actively has worked to make it more difficult for LGBT people to live lives free from dehumanization, harassment, and yes, bullying. This comes from someone who oversees, according to the Exodus website, more than 170 "professional mental health and church-based member agencies across North America." Over at Beyond Ex-Gay, we have consistently heard from people who have had contact with many of these ministries that they have been harmed. There have been people who have consistently complained of dehumanization and abuses at several ministries and the claims have not been investigated, and the participants have not been listened to.
Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus, has on more than one occasion called gay love a "counterfeit" and also said the gay community is a "counterfeit" community and that being gay is an addiction and bondage. Alan and Randy both oppose hate crime legislation (which includes crimes against LGBT people based on orientation/gender identity). They regularly share their testimonies in an effort to influence legislation pertaining to LGBT issues. They talk about change in ambiguous language meant to mislead, and disregard the stories of those who nearly killed themselves trying to change their orientation, and who now live truthful, whole and authentic lives.
It causes me to recall a conversation I had with an ex-gay leader who asserted his wish that we would go back to time when gay people felt ashamed of being gay. When your wish is for people to feel shame about their lives, when you want them to live in fear and silence, that is dehumanization. When you want to roll the clock back and go back to a time when people suffered deeply and lived lives of desperation, humiliation and shame, you are being a bully.
Randy continues, "People, regardless of who they are or what they believe, need friends who bless and defend not expose and betray. We have to fight selfishness and exploitation with selflessness, respect and unconditional love. We must default to having a humble and high regard toward another person’s soul."
When people hear that our love and lives are "counterfeit" or a "delusion;" when they hear that we are broken, sick and damaged people; when they hear that gay people can change (without "change" being fully explained - i.e., a change in behavior, not orientation); when they hear that people "choose" to come out of homosexuality without understanding that being gay is not a choice; when they hear lies about the lifespans of gay individuals or hear that our lives are empty, yet full of drugs, disease, alcohol, addiction and rampant sexual encounters, it becomes easier for them to hate us.
It might not be the words "fag" or "dyke" or "queer" but it's the words "broken" and "emotionally dependent" and "bound up in sin" and "deadly lifestyle" and "bondage and addiction" and "counterfeit." It might not be an actual blow but it's a systematic tearing down of the worth of lesbian, transgender, bisexual and gay people. In short, it's bullying behavior. And don't tell me that it doesn't trickle down to our vulnerable youth with some very tragic consequences.
The artwork above is a piece of mine titled "Self Preservation." There are days that I feel the need for a way to insulate myself against the bullying words and actions of those around me. Most days I am strong enough to exist without that extra insulation, but there are some days....
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
"About 30 percent of American sixth-to- 10th-graders report being involved in bullying — either as a victim or bully, according to a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."It's three times more common if you're gay, Byard said. GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey found that almost nine out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students experienced harassment. Almost 61 percent felt unsafe in school. And 22 percent reported being physically assaulted in schools."
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I have some legitimate reasons for letting this blog get dusty, and some not-so-legitimate ones, too. The cat bite that had my hand in a half-cast for a bit? Probably legitimate. The weeks I spent watching the first two seasons of The Waltons? Probably not.
But the biggest legitimate reason is that...I've got myself a girl and I am getting married in 5 months. Yes, you read that right. Me, who was OK being single and in fact sort of despaired of ever being able to have a good, healthy relationship after the ex-gay movement. Me, who wrote about enmeshment with the words of someone still in the thick of the healing process. Me, who thought I'd never find someone who got all my quirks and weirdness and loved me not in spite of them, but because of them. That me.
That me has been busy dating the girl of my dreams, being in love, getting engaged, planning a wedding...
How did this all happen? Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (I know, I think I've used this line already on my blog before, but it's a good one, and worth repeating, as is anything from "The Princess Bride" really...but I digress).
The "sum up" is that Theresa and I met through a mutual gaychristian.net friend on Facebook, almost two years ago. We were initially just very, very good friends (we lived in different states–geographically, not emotionally), but that changed after our first in-person meeting a year and a half ago. Then I imported her to Denver and that's that. We got engaged on Valentine's day of this year in the very most romantic way possible (a treasure hunt where she was the prize, waiting with a ring, a rose, and a book of poems), and it's been slices of everyday life and extraordinary bliss mixed in with wedding planning since then.
My ex-gay days did a real number on my psyche. After being told so many times that there are no "happy endings" in lgbt relationships, that gay relationships don't last, that any love I had for another woman was just a "counterfeit"–it was really hard to even dream of someday meeting someone. And then once I did, what if I got "enmeshed" or "emotionally dependent?" So many things to fear. And fear is immobilizing (at least for me it is).
Now that I'm in an actual relationship, it's been a great feeling to shed all that garbage. That's just old stuff that isn't true. It may be true about some lgbt relationships, just like it is about many straight relationships, but it certainly isn't true of a vast number of them. It's been delightful to get to know other gay and straight couples with good relationships. People who model interdependence and good communication. I can honestly say that I've never felt this loved, embraced, and cherished in my life. We started out the best possible way–as friends who knew the good, the bad, and the ugly–and that's laid a strong foundation for our future.
And what does that future hold? Who knows. I just know it's gonna be good.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
“I wouldn’t be LGBT, if I had a choice, is internalized self-hate. It’s like saying I wouldn’t be a woman, or a man, or “white,” or a person of color, if I had a choice. It’s the desire to flee something we are.” Robert Minor, Gay and Healthy in a Sick SocietyThis quote hit me right between the eyes. I used to say "If I had a choice, I wouldn't be gay." I used to say, "If I have kids, I hope they aren't gay", or "Why would anyone choose this life?"
Of course, I was referring to all that we have to deal with in society...but that wasn't all. Deep down, I think I still didn't really want to be who I was. I think I had the thought that I was trying to make the best of it since I couldn't change it. And above all else, I wanted others to love me and I wasn't sure that could happen if they thought this was a choice or, heaven forbid, something I was happy about.
Times have changed for me. I don't wish a straight life on all children. I want there to always be different types of people in our society. What I wish for instead is for our society to finally come to terms with differences and to embrace those who stand outside the norm.
I also am finding out more and more that I really love who I am. All of it. The gay parts of me, too. However, the gay parts are not separate parts that can be lopped off like limbs. The gay parts are more like...(if I'm going to continue the "parts of the body" analogy)...the nervous system. I can't survive without a nervous system. I also can't survive without this part of me that informs everything I do. I'm not saying it is all of who I am, because that is certainly not true. I'm more than "the gay", but I can't take the gay out of me without slowly killing myself.
I know this for a fact because I tried. I tried for many years to sublimate all my differences. To stamp out anything that read "gay" and to become a different person. I walled off my sexuality and in doing so, lost my creativity as well. I stuffed down everything that was outside of gender norms, but I didn't realize that I lost many fine things about myself. Things I used to value and cherish now became hated and worthless. As Peterson says, "I went to war against my body and my sexuality." That's certainly how it looked for me as well.
One of the first blog posts I ever wrote after coming out of some of my ex-gay fog and life was about how, as a gay person, I was absolutely no different than anyone else. And it's true - in many of the big "life" things I am no different than anyone else. I want my family to love me for me, not for who they expect or desire me to be. Most people want that. I want to be treated well. I want to be loved and accepted. I want others to feel that way, too. But part of what I was really saying was that I also didn't want to be different. I didn't want to be perceived as different. I used to get nervous when I'd see an ultra-butch lesbian, or a very femmy gay guy. "What will others think of me if I hang around someone like that? They'll think we're too different and they won't accept us."
For some people that may be true. For others, thankfully, it is not. However, somehow over time, and I think in working through a lot of my ex-gay past, I've come to realize that I'm OK being different, that the world will not end if I'm not accepted by all who pass my way.
I am different. I am not just living your average, everyday life. I've had to confront many beliefs I've cherished and ideas that I'd grown up with to see how they fit into my life now. I've had to grieve many things that no one should have to grieve, including the loss of family and friends. I've had to dig deep and see where my strengths are and learn how to develop them. I've had to face a lot of fear and challenge myself to go beyond what I think I can do. I've learned how to speak out when I'd really rather just be at home reading a book.
So yeah, I'm different. Because I'm gay and because I'm also just me. I'm a lesbian. I have weird toes and short arms (although probably those things have nothing to do with being a lesbian). I'm proud of who I am. I think, while I have some regrets about my life, I don't regret this larger journey I've been on and I no longer mourn the fact that I'm different. Instead, I celebrate it.
Edit: I was suddenly reminded of a line from a song by one of my favorite groups: "I don't know who else to be / more and more I'm secretly just me" from the song "Goodbye (this is not goodbye)" by Over The Rhine. It seems to fit.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Back 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.
Christine 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.
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.
(This is Christine again. Feel free to email me as well if you're interested in joining the bXg community website and forums)
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Sometimes I wonder if it's possible to bridge with many conservative Christians. I mean, if a Christian says to me that they don't think gay people will be allowed into heaven, how is it possible to build a bridge or meet in the middle there? I don't believe that being gay (in orientation and behavior) means someone won't go to heaven (if it even exists in the form most folks think). How do we get to a middle ground there? Likewise, I believe I'm whole and wonderful just how I am. Others believe I need to be healed. What is the middle ground?
A bridge, to me, implies meeting in the middle. So what's the middle here? Gay people can get halfway to heaven? I'm only partially flawed? That is an untenable position to me. I spent too many years believing I was broken and flawed and "less than" merely because I had same sex attractions. And now I know that I'm not broken and I feel more complete and whole than I have ever felt in my life, and you can't convince me otherwise. Likewise, many Christians feel you can't convince them that they Bible as it is translated could be wrong here and there.
This leads me to my next thought. Is a conservative Christian building a bridge merely so the "other side" can cross over to their side? For many pro-gay people who were doing bridging work with conservative Christians (many of them ex-gay) years ago on a site called Bridges Across the Divide they became disillusioned with the bridging work over time because there was no middle ground that anyone was willing to stand on. Conservatives were not going to concede that gay relationships were OK, and self-accepting and -respecting gay folks were not going to concede that their lives and relationships were not okay. At an impasse, and after many hurtful actions and statements by conservative Christians who used to be "bridgers", many pro-gay people are no longer interested in bridging work. And I don't blame them.
The inherent problem with trying to bridge over gay issues is that you're talking about our lives. And more and more, many of us are feeling like our lives are not up for debate. The time for debate and dialogue about whether my life, and my basic orientation is OK, is over. As Mel White, founder of Soulforce, wrote on his blog:
"For me, the debate is over. The verdict is in. Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a sin. Furthermore I have no interest in continuing that debate. Whether fundamentalist Christians believe it or not, I can say without fear or ambivalence: “I am gay. I am proud. And God loves me without reservation!”This brings me to my next thought:
I’m no longer willing to debate my friends on the religious right. I’ve sat through a thousand dialogues. I’ve stood in protest, been arrested and thrown in jail. I’ve written. I’ve preached. I’ve been interviewed endlessly, all hoping that one day fundamentalist Christians would realize the tragic consequences of the untruth they proclaim.
Now when someone interrupts a speech or sermon to ask me “Have you ever read Leviticus 20” my answer is simple if abrupt. “Friend, you’ve confused me with someone who cares what you think about Leviticus 20.”
In his speech in Cairo talking about the U.S. and Islam and moving forward with our relationship with Muslim countries, President Obama said:
"But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth."Maybe some of the problems that arise from bridging are that many times in order to bridge, we don't speak all of our truth. We're trying not to offend, we're trying to withhold judgment, and we're trying to make a lot of allowances. For instance, I feel like many Christians make friends or sustain friendships with nonbelievers to win them to Christ. They often don't show their hand, but keep it close to their vest, not wanting to reveal what all is in their cards for the future of the relationship. (On the other hand, maybe in order to keep bridging without offending the other person or driving them away, we need to keep some of our true beliefs and intentions hidden?)
I know about keeping things hidden because I was raised as a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian and I almost never made friends without first ascertaining if the other person were Christian. If they were, great. If not, my goal was to win them to the Lord by (nearly) whatever means possible. It made me perhaps a wonderful friend on the outside, because I was willing to do almost anything to spread the love of Jesus. But inside I was always somehow pathologizing everything they did, and saw them as inherently lacking in something (namely, God) and having needs that could only be fulfilled by Jesus. I saw everything in spiritual terms and would rejoice when I felt like they were having trials that were bringing them closer to God, or if I felt like God was blessing them in some way to show his love and grace. I would pray for my friends because they were incomplete without God.
Because of this, I don't honestly know how to bridge well with Christians, because I usually feel from them a certain sense of superiority, whether intended or not. If someone thinks they have the ticket to the only truth, where does that leave me? How can a Christian just be a friend without an agenda, when they have the great commission to fulfill? How can they "bridge" when bridging might require leaving that commission to witness behind them for a bit?
Once again, more questions than answers. But I'm interested in others' thoughts on this. What do you think? For my readers who are not Christian, how do you feel in your relationships with conservative, evangelical Christians? What do you think can be done to bridge with them? Do you agree with things I've said? Not? For my Christian readers, what do you think? How do you feel about bridging with those who don't share your faith? Do you think there is a middle ground somewhere, or is that also untenable to you? Thank you in advance for your thoughts.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
My post today is part of a larger initiative of more than 50 bloggers all sharing their thoughts on how to ‘bridge the gap’ between faith and sexuality. You can check out the other links at: btgproject.blogspot.com
At one of my lowest points in life, it was a straight Christian who rescued me. At another low point it was an agnostic gay friend. At my highest point in life, it was a gay Christian who celebrated with me. I have found absolute unconditional love with a non-Christian. I have friends all across the spectrum. Gay Christians and straight agnostics. Gay atheists and straight Christians. I'm an ex-ex-ex-Christian (that's just a non-Christian with a very sordid past).
I have been everything from a fundamentalist Christian to an angry ex-Christian. I have been an evangelical ex-gay and an apathetic agnostic. I've been on all sides. So in some ways, it's ideal that I've been asked to participate in this synchro-blog-o-rama. Who better to talk about bridging the faith/sexuality gap? However, I find myself at a loss for words. Not that that's anything new (as readers of my blog will attest). But I'll try. Bear with me as I share my somewhat scattered thoughts.
Frankly, sometimes I wonder if it is possible to bridge this gap. I think, for instance, that many ex-gay programs and ex-gay therapists cause more harm than good. Many fundamentalist or conservative, Evangelical Christians think that GLBT folks are riding on a one-way train to hell and feel compelled to stop and tell us about it. How do we love while also holding these ideas that are most likely never going to change? We both would claim love for others as our motivation. Is it ever possible to love without an agenda?
About two years ago I went to lunch with a friend who is on the staff of an ex-gay ministry. Still smarting from a previous meeting with two major ex-gay leaders who seemed to take almost a perverse pleasure in saying the most hurtful things (including that they wanted to go back to a time when gay people felt ashamed to be gay), I forgot about loving without an agenda. I forgot about how much I love my friend, and instead tried to show him where he was wrong. I was hurt and I lashed out a bit. I confronted him "in love" but I didn't radically love him. I didn't find out where his heart was. I wanted to change him and change his thinking, out of love of course. I loved, but with an agenda.
Is it possible in particular for conservative, Evangelical Christians to love without an agenda? I started thinking about all the various Christians I've known and I realized I only know a small handful of Christians who seem to be able to just love with no preconceived notions of what will happen in return (will they get saved? will they change their beliefs about this or that? will they start going to church again?)
The very first time I ever met Wendy Gritter (director of New Direction in Toronto and the author of the Bridging the Gap blog, the organizer of this synchroblogging event), it was at a gay Christian event. She was there to experience it for herself and see what it was all about. I am sure that she witnessed what I did - scores of people who were dedicated to Christ but also happened to be gay. It's an amazing experience to be among gay Christians, and odd too, if you're a non-Christian like me but with a Christian background. It's like you've walked into a conservative Christian environment, with folks having seriously deep Bible discussions, and others praying for everyone's needs (including hotel staff) in the prayer room. The same sort of environment I've been in time and time again, with one exception. It's not an anti-gay crowd. These are gay folks, whom many incorrectly think are incapable of having a real and saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
But I digress. I'm there and I meet Wendy.
I knew right away that Wendy was different. I could tell from the start that she came with what I call an "open hand." She was not there to talk, but to listen. It was my privilege to sit and talk with her and share my story and answer her questions. Since then, we've had some email communication, but mostly we chat online. I tell her about my girlfriend and I think I can almost see her smile (through the computer) at my happiness. She inquires about my world and I ask about hers. I genuinely want to know, and I know that she really wants to know what is real for me. Not what I think she wants to hear, but what is real. So I tell her. All the ups and downs (but mostly it's ups, so that's nice). I enjoy seeing the journey she's been on, even if I might not be on the same walk. And I feel that in return. She loves without an agenda.
My two nephews are 4 and 6, and when they do something to hurt each other, my sister says "go and make it right" and they will go to the other and say "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" and rub the other boy's back. If they can do something else to make it right, she encourages that as well.
What can we do to "make it right?" All the past pain and hurt and heartache around this issue? What can we all do?
I don't know much about bridging the gap, I suppose. I probably know more about the gap itself than about how to bridge it, but I think this is where it starts. Open hands. Open hearts. And it's not just about the straight Conservative Christians loving without an agenda, it's about the GLBT community loving without an agenda too. Some would argue that it is not up to us to love. It is up to the straight Christians to make right what has been wrong for so long. I would argue that instead of worrying over who broke something in the first place, let's just all take some steps to make it right, and start loving without an agenda.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
As someone who believed the lie of the ex-gay movement that said she was broken and needed to be "healed," the idea of being truly whole was a relatively new one for me. While I talked a lot about wholeness while in my ex-gay days, I had no clue what that really meant. At that time, wholeness meant I wouldn't be gay. Wholeness meant I wasn't operating out of a place of "broken sexuality." Ironically, the longer I was ex-gay and pursuing wholeness, the more broken I felt.
As I went through the (true) healing process after leaving the ex-gay life, I had to unlearn all the teaching about brokenness and and relearn my own worth and beauty, not just as a lesbian, but all that being me entails. Now, I feel I definitely operate out of a place of wholeness. I know who I am and what I value. I know that there's nothing in me that needs to be cured, and in fact there's so much about me that deserves to be celebrated.
The words "Rising Up Whole" have so much personal meaning for me that I even created a piece of art two years ago about how it wasn't me that was broken: it was only that I'd been looking at a broken mirror that had been held up for me.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Someone called and asked when I'd started "Rising Up Whole Ministries." Huh? It turns out that my anti-gay mother has taken this name that means so much to me (so much so that it's my skype, IM, email, and GCN handles) and started a ministry of the same name, and appointed herself as a counselor.
Go ahead and take a few minutes to pick your jaw back up off the floor. No, this isn't a coincidence. My mother reads this blog. She knows how much this means to me.
It's taken me a few weeks to get over the shock of all this and sort out some of my feelings about it. I don't know if it's an ex-gay ministry or just a general counseling ministry. My mom and dad aren't licensed counselors, but they are licensed ministers through some organization that did not require traditional seminary or even a B.A. (since my mom doesn't have one, and my dad has a major in industrial arts and a minor in history). This means they are able to put out a shingle and counsel others.
I suspect it has something to do with trying to turn something "meant for evil" into something "meant for good" in Christian-speak. To me it's just the height of disrespect. I will not change the name of this blog or anything else associated with that name. It's my name that describes my journey, and it will always have such meaning to me.
I am rising up once again.
Monday, February 16, 2009
While I don't want to play out family drama over blogs and public venues, I feel I must make some response. I've made a few public posts/statements about my parents (although I usually refuse to answer questions about them from the media) and I guess, although it seems strange and awkward to read about oneself in a public space, I don't have a problem with them speaking publicly about me. To be fair, my parents didn't have a choice in me going public with my story. So they're well within their right to write about me.
My parents and I are estranged. I can certainly appreciate that being gay, and my lack of salvation (who determines that, anyway?) are important things to them, but the truth is that we are estranged because of other equally important matters. They know what these matters are and what they could do to improve the situation, and I'm not making that public. They have thus far been unable or unwilling to do what needs to be done to restore any semblance of a relationship. And these issues have nothing to do with me being gay.
Clearly the fact that I'm gay (and unrepentantly so) and no longer a Christian is painful to my mom. It is hard to see her obviously hurting. I do love my parents and I always will. But I also refuse to accept love that is conditional upon me being straight (or ex-gay; since those aren't the same thing) or a Christian.
I've come into my own after much struggle and I reject the notion that I am lost or broken or need to be restored. There is something really disturbing about this idea that I am fundamentally flawed and need salvation in order to be a "good girl" in this world. I already am good, whole, and the only thing I've ever needed restored to me was my sanity after the years in the ex-gay movement.
I remember what it was like to be so distraught that others weren't going to heaven with me. I know all the tears I cried for people I loved. I remember all the teachings about how not telling people about Jesus was like giving them a ticket to hell. It was our responsibility to make sure people knew about Jesus. In their minds, there's nothing more tragic than eternal life without all of their children.
There's part of me that wants to make fun of all the things my mom describes in her writing. Snow White? Waiting for my True Love's kiss? Snow angels? Going through the trash to find something precious which turns out to be an object that represents me? (Hint: I am not in the trash and never was). It's some strange stuff, especially if you don't come from this fundamentalist Christian worldview.
And yet I don't want to knock all the crazy-seeming stuff. These kind of experiences, "words of knowledge" and etc, are all incredibly meaningful to my mother and lots of other people. I only take issue with it when it confronts my life and calls me "less than." I've often told people that I don't mind if they think I'm going to hell, just treat me with respect, love and dignity and we can have a relationship regardless.
Although saying that they love me unconditionally, in the Glamour article my mom said, "When you rock your baby in your arms, you never think one day my daughter will be homosexual and want to have sex with another woman, never have children. No one holds their baby and says maybe they’ll grow up to be a rapist, or this or that. You have dreams for your children.”
Well you know what? Children have dreams for their parents, too. You don't lay in your parent's arms and think that you'll have to defend yourself from them thinking you are lost and damned eternally. You don't cuddle up and think that one day you'll find out that they believe that who you are is synonymous with being a rapist. I certainly didn't have those dreams for my parents. What I did dream instead was that I might be able to express my concerns and be heard. I dreamed that I would be always cherished and deemed worthy of their love and respect, no matter my beliefs. I dreamed that I would be supported in living a life that was truly authentic and truly mine, without the haunting thoughts about what a disappointment I am to them. Those dreams have had to die.
In many ways maybe we have more in common than we realize. We all had dreams for each other, and maybe still do. More and more I'm questioning if there is hope for resolution. In my mind, what they want me to do or be is untenable. I will not go back to that life.
My mental, emotional and spiritual health depend on it.
Monday, January 05, 2009
"In The Life" is a GLBT news magazine show on PBS stations (think a queer 60 minutes). It was particularly gratifying to see this addressed on "In The Life" mostly because there were different times in my life when that show acted as something of a lifeline for me. When I was ex-gay, I caught the show a few times and remember feeling a sense of connection to something I had lost. I saw the show when I was first coming out of the whole ex-gay mess and watched it hungrily. I was so desperate to see people who looked like me. Now I watch it and realize how content I feel in my life, and I'm happy the show was there for me through the years. Follow the link to view the show!
Monday, November 17, 2008
Just over a week after moving into my new home with my fiance, Katie, we were blessed with a little reminder outside our door of the ignorance and intolerance that thrives under laws like Proposition 8. The note read as follows (punctuation added):
"Thank God for Proposition 8#. Fags can't get married. Oooh, that must be a hate crime. Tough shit fags."
I was at work when I got the word, via phone call, from my very frightened fiance. While I had experience with this kind of hatred before, Katie had lived a life almost entirely free from discrimination. She was terrified-- afraid to do the laundry or take out the trash- counting down the moments until I could return from work to be with her.
We filed a report with both the police and the managers of our apartment complex. Now we just have to wait. I catch myself looking out the window every time someone walks by. For about 12 hours straight, I had a horrible ache in my stomach. Every once in a while, I will catch myself thinking that I am overreacting, or that I am thinking too much of it... but then an image of Matthew Shepard pops into my head and I remember the tragic consequences of this kind of ignorance.
Proposition 8, and other laws like it, fuel inequality because they create the idea that some people are more deserving than others. They allow [straight] people to believe that they are above LGBT people. Better than. Worth more. Holier than. Prop 8 allows straight people to feel superior over gay people in the same way that racial inequality allowed white people to feel superior to black people.
The effect of superiority is displayed in the letter that Katie and I received. People who feel better than, or worth more seem to also feel it is acceptable for them to belittle. To crush. To humiliate. To do verbal harm. To do physical harm. To kill.
"Separate but equal" is neither. Remember that.