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Monday, September 20, 2010

How To Change Gay People Into Straight People


You can’t. During my gay rights activist days and right up until the current moment, I’ve had a standing offer about this. I will contribute $5000 to the charity of choice of an individual or organization that can produce five men who were once gay and are now straight. There are various conditions: (1) the men must have had significant gay experiences in their lives, (2) become straight through whatever process, and (3) for at least five years thereafter remained completely straight. Finally, they must not have ever been leaders or volunteer workers for ex-gay organizations (just, therefore, normal members) and pass rigorous tests to determine their current sexual orientation (see me for details—I am serious about this). Since ex-gay organizations have been around for over thirty years, you’d think they’d have thousands of former participants who’d easily meet my criteria, but so far no one has taken me up on this. Note that I’m not proposing a bet. If the person/organization can’t find five men who pass the tests, they lose nothing other than a creditability that is often widely touted, but is in tatters whenever considered objectively.  (I would require that if five converted straight men are not produced, the expenses of testing be paid for by the entity accepting my challenge.)

This from Wikipedia about the leading ex-gay organization in the United States:

"In 1979, two of Exodus International's co-founders (Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper) quit the group and held a life commitment ceremony together. On June 27, 2007 Bussee, along with fellow former Exodus leaders Jeremy Marks and Darlene Bogle, each came out as gay or lesbian and issued a public apology for their roles in Exodus. In April 2010, Bussee stated he'd never seen Exodus actually change any participant into a heterosexual."

The hypocrisy of all this has outraged me for a long time, and in my work-in-progress novel, “Corbin Milk” (see an excerpt in my post of September 3, 2010, “The Thunderbolt”), I decided to have one of the major characters, George Yancy describe his involvement in this issue. His story, though fictional, is all too typical. Here’s the excerpt:



Saying he had to get to church (which produced a funny look on Corbin’s face), George scooted out of there, with the promise that they’d have supper together that evening. He’d then breezed home through the empty Sunday morning streets, showered, changed clothes, and made it to the Unitarian Church just as services were starting. This morning’s focus, interestingly enough, was on the subject of bravery, which seemed relevant to a man dating a spy. Recently the church had been exploring attributes that were the antithesis of the traditional seven deadly sins, and bravery’s turn had come round.

As he considered the topic, which he’d never before thought much about, George found himself wondering if he himself was brave. Hmm. Brave about what? He was still mortified that when Corbin was attacked in Rakoom, George had backed away from the trouble instead of leaping to help. Of course, he wasn’t trained to react appropriately to such things, and the incident was over so quickly that he hadn’t had a chance to do more than gawk as Corbin deftly handled the situation.

So, was George brave? Or a sniveling coward, the 1930’s stereotype of a gay man? In the awful incident where his father had fired a shotgun at him, all he’d really done was run.

And then a memory overpowered him, and he listened no more to the homily.

George’s family were members of the Church of the Living Soul, a devout Christian but otherwise non-denominational sect in their small Ohio town. Detractors called it a “cult,” but the Yancys dismissed that as a misunderstanding of the church’s true mission. From the time he was born until age fourteen, when his parents died, he’d regularly attended services there, and its sometimes terrifying message had been received and even embraced by the pious youngster.

The church took as its central theme the famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” delivered in 1741 by the Reverend Jonathan Edwards to his congregation in Enfield, Connecticut. This diatribe was the leading example of the fire and brimstone school of theology prevalent during the Great Awakening. It was so terrifying that when first given, Edwards had to stop more than once to calm his followers down. The lesson of the sermon is that God’s awful wrath will condemn sinners to a hell worse than they can imagine, and that God is always on the verge of casting such miscreants into that inferno, which the minister described with the same details that have given nightmares to the thousands who’ve heard or read the text. Certainly George had experienced its sobering message many times. His own minister, Dr. Alexander Johnson, read it from the pulpit two or three times a year, using his deep and dramatic voice to add special terror to the dreadful depictions.

From this lesson, however came hope. If men could avoid sin and live a life of perfect goodness, thus earning the approval of God, they’d be saved from the flames and rewarded by a heavenly life after death. George understood that the only task therefore was to avoid sin. How hard could that be for a small child?

But when puberty arrived, so did homosexuality, and George was suddenly in major danger of sliding off the tips of God’s fingers into the fiery abyss. The boy’s every thought seemed to be a sin: the beauty of the male body, the sound and smell of men, the wonderful, if sticky, dreams he had at night, waking to shame and revulsion.

But some of his dreams were not wonderful. In these nightmares, Edwards’ God came to life, grabbed George up in His fist while yelling “PERVERT!”, crumpled him up like a piece of paper, and dropped the screaming boy into a sulfurous chasm inhabited by laughing demons.

The tension caused by this interplay of good and evil panicked young George, and he ended up breaking down one day in gym class, writhing on the floor and crying uncontrollably. The school nurse called his parents, and he was briefly hospitalized. Nothing was found to be medically wrong with him, but George, lips sealed, understood what had happened too well.

He needed guidance, but where to find it? He knew the word “homosexual,” as well as some of its synonyms (“gay,” “faggot,” “sissy,” “queen,” and so many more), so he went to the library and, taking great care not be observed, pulled down books that scared him even worse. The medical profession was split between those who pronounced such people mentally ill and said they should seek treatment, and those expounding the opposite message: homosexuality was a normal variant form of sexuality, and whatever problems it caused were societal in nature. This latter view shocked George, who knew instinctively that it was sin to condone such horrendous behavior, so he concentrated on the works in the first category.

Thus George Yancy decided he was mentally ill. That infirmity had led him to be sinful. Wait! Would God punish the mentally ill? Maybe the reason God hadn’t already cast him into hell was that George was being given the chance to seek treatment, cure the illness, shun further temptations to sin, and by this path end up in heaven. This explanation sounded closest to the truth, so he embraced it. The trick, of course, was to find effective treatment without having to tell anyone he was doing so.

Homosexuality was such a heinous deviation, so embarrassing, so unforgivable, so foreign to members of the Yancy family, that George knew better than to let anyone in on his problem. He briefly considered telling his older sister Barbara, but rejected that idea because she wasn’t sufficiently holy herself. She and their parents were constantly arguing about Barbara’s growing refusal to attend church, and her outrageous statements about God probably not existing, things which clearly disqualified her as an ally in George’s quest to get right with the Lord.

To make things worse, George had fallen in love with Bobby Arlens, his best friend and next door neighbor.

The two of them were together most of the time, and that was usually okay. They were both studious members of the ninth grade class at the local public school, on the debating squad, marchers in the school band, lovers of classical music, and budding aesthetics interested in all things of beauty. Bobby was a knobby kid, about George’s size, neither ugly nor comely. No matter—George thought him the finest person he knew. Bobby was funny, smart, filled with personality, and as much enthralled with George as George was with him.

Came a night when Bobby was sleeping over at George’s house (the Yancys liked the boy, and welcomed him into their home), and things took a new turn. It was late and they were supposed to be asleep, but they were still having so much fun imitating Mr. Highland (their general science teacher), who was given to embarrassing spoonerisms, that they couldn’t quiet down. George’s mother finally stood outside their bedroom door and yelled at them, threatening to come in there if they didn’t go to sleep right now. The boys tried, but each in his separate twin bed would smirk, then giggle, then shush each other, and the laughter threatened to reach a volume that would have Mom—scary when angry—in the room. That mustn’t happen, and both knew it, so Bobby did something unexpected. He climbed into bed with George and they began to whisper their witticisms in each other’s ear.

Then George, to his delight and horror, felt Bobby’s erection brushing up against his knee, and realized he had one too. Bobby evidently thought it was no big deal, and just giggled all the more as he reached down and grabbed George’s penis, saying, “Hey! What’s this big thing?”

George pushed him out of bed so fast that Bobby actually bounced off the floor. That caused him to cry out, and within seconds the light went on at the door. They both were very contrite, and Mom’s diatribe ended with them in separate beds, saying nothing.

George was shocked to his toenails. The fact that Bobby, whom he adored, would do such a thing ripped him in two. He beat back the thrill of the bold act, embraced the shame, and the next morning told Bobby they were no longer friends. The latter seemed to understand this, if not necessarily accept it. He declined Mrs. Yancy’s breakfast invitation and went home. They rarely spoke after that.

The next year the murder/suicide occurred, and George moved with his sister to a suburb outside the District of Columbia, never to contact Bobby again.

During his first year in college George worked up his courage to seek out an “ex-gay” meeting at a local church. This group promised those who attended that through the power of prayer they could rid themselves of homosexuality and become happy, functioning heterosexuals, secure in the love God had planned for them. At the very first meeting (in attendance: a kindly pastor and four other young people, three men and one woman), he was informed that just by coming to the meeting he would now be counted as an ex-gay, and was on his way to shaking off the sin that brought him through the door. It occurred to George that such careless nomenclature could lead to misleading statistics about the number of ex-gays, but he let that pass.

For the next eleven months Bobby faithfully attended meetings, went to a summer camp for ex-gays, prayed constantly, and sought counseling from the church’s experts. Then, still gay, he prayed some more, while attending a new church where the evilness of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was a constant topic. In the end, he became disillusioned. As far as he could tell no one in the program had become a heterosexual, despite ridiculous self-declarations of conversion, pitiful dating between gay men and lesbians (which never worked), and ersatz cures being announced repeatedly from the podium. The ex-gays themselves divided into two camps: those who kept pretending in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and those who dropped out and went back to reality. When George complained of this to the group’s leader, the same kindly pastor he’d encountered at the first meeting, the man told him that a cure wasn’t really likely, and no one who had seriously studied the matter thought so. The best that could be hoped for was learning to please God by maintaining abstinence, while avoiding temptation (gay bars, for instance).

Disgusted by the deception inherent in the whole program, George turned instead to science. He became a patient of a so-called “reparative therapist,” a highly-recommended psychologist. This twelve month detour had the same result—George was still gay—but in the meantime the therapy ended up costing him $10,000 of the money he’d inherited from his parents. When he complained to the psychologist about his lack of progress, he was told that homosexuality was tricky and he needed another year’s worth of treatment, at which point he stormed from the man’s office.

Now twenty years old, and angrier than God Himself was likely to be, George gave up and decided he was going to be a homosexual forever, so he’d better make the most of it. That led to an incredible period in his life in which he blossomed like a flower, and flew around for awhile from bee to bee to bee. Remembering what he now called his “no standards” phase made him grimace in later years, hugely embarrassed he could have been so promiscuous.

He also stopped attending the fire and brimstone church he’d transferred to when he moved to Maryland, and became a Unitarian instead.

Now, sitting in the Unitarian church and rethinking all this, George came to the conclusion he was brave after all. He was strangely pleased by the knowledge.




________________________________________
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,” September 3, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013
"Disowning Your Gay Children," October 9, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

1 comment:

  1. Loved your article. I am truly an Ex-minister. You can bank on that. For many years I tried to be non gay, but you're right. There is no such thing as an Ex-Gay.

    I would go so far to say that it would be easier to change a straight person (particularly an older man) into gay activities than getting a gay man to go straight.

    I have run a gay website for nearly 15 years with over 50,000 contacts over the years, and one thing I've learned is that there are more married gay men than anyone has suspected. About 40% of our men are married, widowed, or divorced, including me.

    Ron at Apollo Network
    28 October 2011

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