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, 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 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.

november, originally uploaded to flickr by downtownlynn.]