Saturday, September 12, 2009

Celebrating me

“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 Society
This 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

NEW Beyond Ex-Gay Community Site

Posted on Peterson's blog this morning and I wanted to repost it here. I'm so excited about what we're doing!

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

More thoughts on Bridging the Gap

Since my last blog post about bridging the gap, I've been thinking a lot about bridging and what's all involved with that. After some offline conversations with folks, as well as comments on that post, I felt I needed to write a little bit more of my thoughts, disjointed as they may be. I'll preface this by saying I don't mean this as some sort of post slamming Christians or Christianity, I just wish to post some thoughts and observations I've had recently. So now...my mostly uncensored thoughts:

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!”

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.”
This brings me to my next thought:

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.

[image:
november, originally uploaded to flickr by downtownlynn.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bridging the Gap



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

Rising Up Whole

When I first started this blog three and a half years ago, it was called "Rising Up From The Ashes." At the time, I still felt identified with the ashes all around me from my time in the ex-gay movement. As time went on, I realized that I was healing and growing away from all that mess, and I changed my blog title to "Rising Up Whole." It was a big step for me to acknowledge that I was moving on with my life. That I did not need to be stuck in the aftermath of an ex-gay life.

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

Dreams of a Daughter

It came to my attention the other day that my mom had a piece of writing published on the anti-gay PFOX website (PFOX=Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays). Just to be clear, PFOX may be the friend of some ex-gays (I know other ex-gays who insist that the anti-gay PFOX does not speak for them), but they are certainly no friend of GLBT individuals. Anyway, here's her article: A Mom Speaks Out.

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" focuses on former ex-gays

The ex-gay survivor movement, Beyond Ex-Gay and our Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, CA are the subjects of a new "In The Life" segment. Wayne Besen, Peterson Toscano, Rev. Dr. Mel White, and Michael Bussee are all interviewed.

"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!