Thursday 22 August 2013

Ex-Gay - Not the Way (Part 1) The Psychologist

There has been widespread publicity recently over the shutting-down of the world’s largest and most influential ex-gay ministry Exodus International. Of course, it is now the stuff of ex-gay legend that its commander-in-chief Alan Chambers delivered a stirring speech at the Exodus Conference where he disclosed that the ministry had failed to do what it set out to do, that much harm had been caused the LGBT community as a result, that he felt that the Gospel would be better presented in other ways and that he and the Board were shutting the show down completely. He didn’t resile from any of his beliefs about gay sexuality, but the shut-down and apology were heartfelt and a fairly slick affair, given as they were from a very public stage (literally, a conference stage) and in the light of public scrutiny in the world of the internet and social media.

But this Blog post is not about Exodus. It is about you. I had always intended on writing a short essay here dedicated to the ex-gay phenomenon and to flesh out just a little of what I wrote in my book in Chapter 8 Sound People, Sick Therapy. Its time has now come, so this is for those of you either in or contemplating ex-gay ministry.

I am writing this blog post from three points of view. The first is that of Psychologist, the second is that of Christian thinker and the third is from personal experience as a gay Christian man who went through similar experiences to those of the ex-gay ministries. I will publish them in three parts so as not to burden you with a huge and unwieldy post.

I want you to stop right now if you are in an ex-gay group or if you are contemplating trying one and read what I have to say here (all three parts). There has been a seismic shift in attitudes in the Church towards these ministries - not toward them, but away from them. And for very good reason. I am not going to pull my punches in this essay. I will be very forthright and I will state what I know as assertively as I can. I do so because I know ex-gay ministry groups are harmful and dangerous to vulnerable people of any age but especially to the young and I do not want one more person to have to experience the false claims, the lies, the social pressure and the emotional turmoil that are part of the territory of ex-gay ministries.

This first part is from the point of view as a trained and practising specialist Counselling Psychologist.

The Psychologist

Gay Sexuality

Let’s start out with the most elementary place to commence, gay sexuality itself. Modern psychology does not view gay sexuality as a sickness, a disease, an illness, a psychopathology, a mental disorder, any other kind of disorder or a predisposition to future mental illness. But interestingly, in the immediate post-war period, these descriptors were exactly the words used to describe gay sexuality by the medical profession. The legal profession backed them up with their ‘pervert’ laws and using lexis such as ‘deviancy.’ So what changed? How did we get from that world to this one?

Psychologist Dr Evelyn Hooker
In a word, the answer is research. From the time that Dr Evelyn Hooker published her seminal work in 1957 showing that no difference could be found between paired gay and straight men in their psychological health in a blind study that matched age, intelligence and social economic status such that world renowned experts could not identify the gay or straight man in each pair, the gay world and the medical establishment were revolutionised. This breakthrough ushered in a further twenty or more years of dedicated research that confirmed over and over again that being gay was no indication of present or future psychopathology. The studies were overwhelming in their conclusions and it was the sheer number of them plus the personal clinical evidence of psychiatrists that led in 1973 to the the American Psychiatric Association’s removing homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In 2013, we celebrate 40 years of the world’s scientists not thinking of gay sexuality as being a sickness, that gay people are not deviated straight people.


So how does the scientific world and more broadly the academy view gay sexuality at the dawn of the twenty first century? Biologists, geneticists and psychologists from the behavioural sciences, sociologists and anthropologists from the social sciences, and historians and antiquarians from the humanities, have brought an enormous amount of knowledge to our understanding of human sexuality so that we know much more than even just fifty years ago. Behavioural scientists view gay sexuality as being a normal and consistent variation in human sexuality for around about 5% of the population. Such people are not viewed as being sick, as we have seen, but psychologically healthy and stable. Their sexuality is seen as being significantly genetically influenced so that most researchers are now comfortable with statements like ‘you are born gay,’ although room for non-shared [with siblings] environmental factors is also considered possibly to play a small role. Such scientists see gay sexuality as being predominantly formed in the womb as various interacting genes cause brain development in the foetus to shunt down a particular orientation path. Thus sexuality emerges around the time of puberty when it begins to be more conscious to the young person. It is viewed as being stable across the lifespan. It is therefore seen as being neither wilfully chosen nor wilfully changed, ie., gay people do not choose to be gay nor can they choose not to be gay if they are gay.

Two African American men dancing Harlem 1920s
Other research has brought to light that gay people have been identified throughout recorded history and in every culture - without exception. Social scientists have identified that most gay people report that they felt different when children, although this difference did not begin to become eroticised until puberty. Psychologists have shown that despite there being a number of different ways to determine someone’s sexual orientation (see BGBC pp60-62), the best way, because it is the most reliable way, is an individual’s sense of attraction, ie., their erotic thinking, fantasy life and perving behaviour. These three factors cover cognitions, emotions and behaviours, and will in the ordinary situation, give a powerful indication as to where home base is for an individual regarding orientation. Given that we know that sexual orientation is stable across the lifespan, ie., it does not change, modern science would now say very confidently that home base is elemental, integral to the identity or self, and is there for life. It is not an added-on extra take it or leave it that I can decide on a whim. Nor is it an subtracted-off extra that I can delete on a whim or a decision or a prayer or from some kind of external pressure.

Sexual Orientation as Integral to the Identity

This point cannot be overestimated. Psychology sees sexual orientation as being a constituent part of the overall human identity, and a very important one at that. It is right up there with personality and intelligence, as they also give boundaries to the perception of the individual’s world. Sexual orientation is never described in science solely as a behaviour. Thus the expression of a person’s sexual orientation, either gay or straight, is only a part or component of that person’s sexuality along with thoughts, feelings, relational styles, desire, attraction and personal history. In definitional terms, the orientation of a person directs their sexual drive down a same or opposite sex attraction so that they can love and bond with another person both physically and emotionally. This impetus springs from within, from their very self and is part of who they are. So science does not see sexuality as about what we do, but about who we are. And that goes for both gay and straight people. Thus gay people are gay as part of their identity, part of who they are as human beings and that identity will obviously be expressed through attraction, desire and love with a same-sex partner.

Finally, zoological research demonstrates that same-sex pair bondings in the animal kingdom, the closest thing to compare to human gay sexual orientation that we have, are many and plentiful. I quote in BGBC that over 1500 species have been identified as exhibiting this phenomenon. To say that it is not found in nature is simply wrong. To say that it is not part of nature or the natural world is patently false. Same-sex bonding is most definitely found in the natural world and is not uncommon. If it is so prevalent in the animal kingdom, why on earth would we think that it is not part of the human species? Of course, it is. We call ourselves gay and lesbian people.

Psychology and Ex-Gay Discourse

There is a huge disjunction between what mainstream science now says about gay sexuality as just read above and what people are being told by ex-gay ministries. Let me be blunt. The list of errors that are told to vulnerable gay people at the hands of ex-gay groups is long and destabilising. The following are the main ones that describe the ex-gay groups themselves.

1.     Ex-gay groups declare that being gay goes against the fabric of nature. Yet we have seen that the fabric of nature can envelop such sexual diversity easily and plentifully. To say that being gay is not natural or is unnatural is plain nonsense in today’s world of zoological and anthropological understanding. Elemental biologic forces are at work to form and predispose gay people to their orientation in their mother’s wombs. It does not come more natural than that.
2.       Ex-gay groups tell gay people that they are gay due to a love deficit or a parenting deficit.
a.       Some groups say your mother didn’t love you enough, so this made you turn out gay. Wrong! There is no reputable research that demonstrates this at all. And think about how many people there are in the world whose mother’s love was in fact dysfunctional who turn out to be straight; many more than the gay ones.
b.       Some groups say your mother was overbearing which made you turn out to be gay. This seems to go in the opposite direction of the first belief. In fact, both are wrong! Again, there is no creditable evidence that shows an overactive mother will make you gay. Look at the phenomenon of so-called helicopter parents these days who hover over their children’s every move. You would certainly expect there to be a massive increase in the number of kids turning out to be gay over and above the typical population figure of about 5% if this were true. But no, there is no increase. This is a furphy.
c.       Some groups say your father was emotionally absent and you never bonded with him properly and thus you had no masculine role model. Once again, wrong! There is no reputable research that shows this effect. Again, how many straight people are there whose fathers were emotionally absent? How many straight guys grow up in single mother homes? The evidence is just not there to support this.

These ‘rules’ are based on an out-dated and discredited Freudian theory of human sexuality. Not even Freud himself would believe the conclusions that these groups have come to, based upon his general theories. The problem is that they cannot be tested empirically and the counter-observations, as I have suggested above, are so numerous as to make these statements look ludicrous.

3.       Ex-gay groups tell gay people that they choose to be gay. This is in direct contravention of mainstream science. It is not true, it never has been, and it never will be. Gay people do not choose to be gay. Our sexuality emerges around the time of puberty for most of us, at the same time it does for young straight people, who also don’t choose their sexual orientation. I know of no gay individual who chose to be gay, that he or she just woke up one day and decided, "you know what, I think I'll be gay." This is a major lie that is told by ex-gay groups and it needs to be called out. Sexual orientation emerges, it is not chosen.

4.       Ex-gay groups tell gay people that their orientation is not an identity but that it is a behaviour (that God can help them change – but I will come to that in Part 2). This behaviour language is infused in all their materials, all their services, all their pronouncements, all their declarations and indoctriantion. It is patently wrong as any gay person will attest. To reduce a gay sexuality (in fact the same goes for heterosexuality too just as erroneously), to a behaviour and not an intrinsic part of the self is to invite ridicule and scorn because it is so obviously wrong. It reduces being gay to a sexual act alone and completely ignores the emotional aspect of a person’s sexuality.

5.       Ex-gay groups have been declaring loud and clear to gay people that they can change. This statement does need a little qualification now as there is a move among these groups more recently away from saying that gay people can become straight. There is a historical aspect here. The two principle messages in different time periods are as follows:

a.       Originally when these groups began to spring up, the statement was, ‘you can change – do our programme – and you can “put off” or “come out” of homosexuality – God will change you – you can live an entirely straight life.’ Now this was a huge call, a gargantuan claim that goes against everything we know from science about human sexuality. It was a very plain fallacy, and people found out the hard way. In other words, it was a lie. Gay people cannot turn themselves into straight people. Being gay is fundamental to your existence as a human being navigating a human life. You cannot just turn your sexuality on or off on a mere caprice. It is stable across the lifespan.

b.       More recently, ex-gay groups have been saying, ‘well, you may be homosexual (they eschew the word gay), but we’re going to show you how not to act on it – do our programme and you will never have to live this sinful lifestyle and you will be acceptable to God – you will be set free, even if you are not attracted to the opposite sex’. Notice how they focus in on behaviour. They call it a lifestyle rather than a life, in the same camp as boating, playing cards or being involved in politics. Their theory reduces human sexuality to a behaviour when we know that this is patently wrong. "Stop the behaviour," they say, "don’t act on your same sex attraction either physically or emotionally and everything will be okay, everything will be alright. Never mind the consequences, it’s the actions that count and we can help you stop acting on your orientation. Sure you’ll probably have to keep coming to meetings for the rest of your life but hey, you won’t be acting on what is your natural, hard–wired self and that is the main thing". They seem to think that the expression of identity can be somehow amputated or excised from the rest of your identity. And what's more is there will be no consequences. Wrong and dangerous! 

6.       Some ex-gay groups will tell vulnerable young people that they are disordered, that their gay sexuality is a sign that they need to be cured or healed. But this is a patent lie. You do not need curing if you are not sick. You do not need healing if you are not ill. This is one of the most pernicious falsehoods that is told to gay people. A cure is only warranted when there is a disease. Thus in order to justify their existence, ex-gay groups perpetuate the lie that gay people are sick or ill or disordered or mentally unbalanced or emotionally unwell. We have seen above that such declarations run totally counter to what mainstream science says.

7.       Ex-gay groups appeal to science to make themselves sound authoritative. The problem is that they are completely out of kilter with mainstream science. So, they use an old ruse to trick people into believing that their teachings and declarations are scientific. 

Question: what do you do if mainstream science journals will not publish your contra currenti theories because they are scientifically unsound? 
Answer: create your own journals, give them fancy scientific names, publish your rubbishy theories in them and then tell the world that your ‘research’ is published in scientific journals. 

NARTH (The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), an American organisation is a fringe group of disaffected psychiatrists and others that publishes its own journals, disseminates untruths about gay sexuality and does so under the guise of being a scientific organisation. NARTH peddles untruths about gay sexuality that is in contradistinction and contradiction to mainstream biology, genetics, psychology and sociology. They teach that SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts) can be effective. Ex-gay groups use NARTH material regularly and some fundamentalist church groups use their information also.

Here is NARTH’s mission statement as it appears on their website.

“We respect the right of all individuals to choose their own destiny. NARTH is a professional, scientific organization that offers hope to those who struggle with unwanted homosexuality. As an organization, we disseminate educational information, conduct and collect scientific research, promote effective therapeutic treatment, and provide referrals to those who seek our assistance. NARTH upholds the rights of individuals with unwanted homosexual attraction to receive effective psychological care and the right of professionals to offer that care”.

Now this sounds okay doesn’t it? It sounds caring and compassionate and like it’s trying to be helpful? Look deeper. Its opening sentence is designed to speak to anyone who might be in confusion over their sexual orientation and who either lives in a society that is markedly homophobic or goes to a church (synagogue or mosque) that is unaccepting and condemnatory of gay sexuality. So the first sentence is suggesting indirectly that you can make a choice for your own destiny. This implies sexual orientation. 

The next thing to note is the careful choice of the words “unwanted homosexuality.” I defy any gay person growing up in an unyielding, harsh, critical and condemnatory society or church to NOT have ‘unwanted homosexuality.’ Well of course you’re not going to want it. You’ve been indoctrinated, trained, educated and conditioned to not want it; your whole life, sometimes overtly and directly, and at other times, covertly and indirectly. The problem does not lay with you. The problem lays with the society or the church. It’s not your problem, it’s their problem. And they put it on you. Such a society will tell you that you’re a faggot or a poof or pillow biter or some such, while such a church will tell you that you’re deviant, disordered, sick, rejecting of God, sinful and need redemption. Wow, it’s powerful stuff. But it’s all wrong. ‘Unwanted homosexuality’ is the way that NARTH and ex-gay groups prey upon young gay people who are feeling vulnerable and who want to be accepted by their families and friends especially in church.

But they don’t leave it there. They claim they offer “effective therapeutic treatment” in the next sentence. However, we know philosophically that there is no such thing as treatment for a non-existing illness. This mission statement is selling snake-oil pure and simple. And if you're desperate then you're likely to fall for it.

Ex-gay groups use NARTH studies and other like research to bolster their false claims and to make them sound authentic and authoritative. But make no mistake. They are not sound science and are rejected by the mainstream scientists in major universities the world over who research human sexuality, and sadly, thousands of people have been hood-winked into believing that their discomfort with being gay is a disorder from which they need curing or healing and that they can change, so they put in incalculable effort, time and money to try to do the impossible.

The Spitzer Study 2001

Dr Robert Spitzer
A highly controversial study was conducted by Dr Robert Spitzer to test the theory that reparative therapy group participants were able to change their orientation. Spitzer concluded that some "highly motivated" participants were able to. However, the study haunted him for years. 

"The study had serious problems. It was based on what people remembered feeling years before — an often fuzzy record. It included some ex-gay advocates, who were politically active. And it did not test any particular therapy; only half of the participants engaged with a therapist at all, while the others worked with pastoral counselors, or in independent Bible study" (Benedict Carey, New York Times article).

This would not pass a 1st year Psychology report. However, ex-gay ministry groups, conversion therapy advocates, as well as Christian fundamentalists and social conservatives jumped on the study waving it around with abandon declaring that the evidence was in, 'gay people can change their sexual orientation.' 

However, Spitzer himself knew otherwise. He had always been doubtful about how the results were obtained and was even more concerned about how they were being interpreted. Ailing with Parkinson's Disease and aged 80, Robert Spitzer, a hero in the LGBT story, the main driver who in getting homosexuality removed from the DSM back in the 1970s, publicly apologised and wrote to Dr Ken Zucker, the editor of The Archives of Sexual Behavior, the Journal which published his paper, resiling from its conclusions, admitting they were unfounded due to gross methodological errors and offering an unqualified apology to the gay community.

"Several months ago I told you that because of my revised view of my 2001 study of reparative therapy changing sexual orientation, I was considering writing something that would acknowledge that I now judged the major critiques of the study as largely correct. After discussing my revised view of the study with Gabriel Arana, a reporter for American Prospect, and with Malcolm Ritter, an Associated Press science writer, I decided that I had to make public my current thinking about the study. Here it is.
Basic Research Question. From the beginning it was: “can some version of reparative therapy enable individuals to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual?” Realizing that the study design made it impossible to answer this question, I suggested that the study could be viewed as answering the question, “how do individuals undergoing reparative therapy describe changes in sexual orientation?” – a not very interesting question.
The Fatal Flaw in the Study – There was no way to judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation. I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject’s reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid.
I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some “highly motivated” individuals.
Robert Spitzer. M.D.
Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry,
Columbia University

On May 18, 2012, Benedict Carey wrote a major article on the Spitzer reversal in the Health section of the New York Times. You can read it on the link provided below.

Psychiatry Giant Sorry for Backing Gay ‘Cure’

What Do The World’s Professional Psychological Associations Say about Sexual Orientation Change?

Every developed country in the world has its own well-regulated psychological association. Below, you will find just a few excerpts on this issue from three well-known associations.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS)

“The validity, efficacy and ethics of clinical attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation have been challenged. To date, there are no scientifically rigorous outcome studies to determine either the actual efficacy or harm of therapies or treatments that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation. There are sparse scientific data about selection criteria, risks versus benefits of the treatment, and long-term outcomes of such therapies. The literature consists of anecdotal reports of individuals who have claimed to change, people who claim that attempts to change were harmful to them, and others
who claimed to have changed and then later recanted those claims. - - - - The theories of ‘reparative’ therapists define homosexuality as either a developmental arrest, a severe form of psychopathology, or some combination of both. In recent years, noted practitioners of ‘reparative therapy’ have openly integrated older psychoanalytic theories that pathologise homosexuality with traditional religious beliefs condemning homosexuality. The earliest scientific criticisms of the early theories and religious beliefs informing ‘reparative’ or conversion therapies came primarily from sexology
researchers. Later, criticisms emerged from psychoanalytic sources as well. - - - The ‘reparative’ therapy literature uses theories that make it difficult to formulate scientific selection criteria for their treatment modality. This literature not only ignores the impact of social stigma in motivating efforts to cure homosexuality, it is a literature that actively stigmatises homosexuality as well. ‘Reparative’ therapy literature also tends to overstate the treatment’s accomplishments while neglecting any potential risks to patients”.

The American Psychological Association (APA)

Report of the APA Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation

“The task force conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) and concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates. Even though the research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality, regardless of sexual orientation identity, the task force concluded that the population that undergoes SOCE tends to have strongly conservative religious views that lead them to seek to change their sexual orientation. Thus, the appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek SOCE involves therapist acceptance, support and understanding of clients and the facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support and identity exploration and development, without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome”.

The British Psychological Society (BPS)

“We assert that:

1. As set out in the ICD-10 and DSM-IV, homosexuality per se is not a diagnosable mental disorder (American Psychological Association,1975). Recent publicised efforts to repathologise homosexuality by claiming that it can be ‘cured’ are rarely guided by rigorous scientific or psychological research, but often by religious and political forces opposed to full civil rights for people of same-sex sexual orientations. In recent years, noted proponents of ‘reparative’ therapy have integrated older psychoanalytic theories
that pathologise homosexuality with traditional religious beliefs condemning homosexuality (Moberly, 1983; Harvey, 1987; Nicolosi, 1991). As a professional and scientific organisation, the BPS will challenge claims made by political, religious or other groups which claim homosexuality is an illness.

2. As same-sex sexual orientations per se are not diagnosable illnesses, they do not require any therapeutic interventions to change them. Therapeutic modalities to convert or repair same-sex sexual orientations are largely based on theories of questionable scientific validity (Haldeman, 1991, 1994; Brown, 1996; Drescher, 1997) and anecdotal reports. These reports of ‘cures’ (Nicolosi, 1991; Duberman, 1991; White, 1994; Isay, 1996) are counterbalanced by reports of psychological harm caused by such
‘treatments’ (Beckstead, 2004; Shidlo & Schroeder, 2002; Glassgold et al., 2009). The reparative therapy literature also overstates the treatments’ accomplishments whilst neglecting the potential risks.

3. It is acknowledged that some people may experience psychological distress because of the impact of social stigma and prejudice (e.g. homophobia and biphobia) against same-sex sexual orientations. Advocates of ‘reparative’ therapies not only ignore these impacts but misconstrue the resultant presenting psychological issues as pathology inherent to same-sex sexual orientations (Freud, 1905; Rado, 1940; Bieber et al., 1962; Socarides, 1968; Ovesey, 1969; Hatterer, 1970).”

These professional associations are among many in the world who have position statements on gay sexuality and so-called reparative therapy found in ex-gay groups. Apart from psychological associations, there are position statements from psychiatric, paediatric and social work professional associations as well, all readily found by a basic internet search.

Requirements of Ex-gay Ministry Groups

There are several serious consequences to participating in ex-gay ministry that are deleterious to your mental health. These consequences flow from what these groups ask of their participants.

Essentially, ex-gay ministries require gay people to:
1.       Deny their sexuality
        a.       its ontology or beingness - if you like, its existence
        b.       its expression - either physically and/or emotionally
2.       Remain celibate at all times and for the rest of their lives (unless they marry an opposite sex partner)
3.       Confess to the group the number of times that same sex attraction thoughts and emotions occur or if a gay sexual encounter is experienced
4.       Ascribe these occurrences in every instance as sin, ie., sin to be repented of
5.       Treat this sin just like any other, one that God will help them overcome as they are sanctified by his grace
6.       Describe love by gay people as being disordered, unnatural and lust
7.       Describe their sexuality as a behaviour not an identity
8.       Believe that their sexual orientation can be changed through effort, discipline, group participation and spiritual practice
9.       Immerse themselves in scripture that they are told purports to gay sexuality and verses that encourage belief in being a conqueror and in God's miraculous power and grace
10.   Remain within the group in order to be fully indoctrinated by its teachings, its ethos, its ethics, its methods and its sanctions
11.   Attend group meetings regularly, much in the way an alcoholic does with a regular AA meeting, whether things are going easier for them that week or if they are having a particularly difficult time of it
12.   No longer think of themselves as gay
13.   Withdraw from gay friendships and remove themselves from anything to do with the gay world
14.   Dress in a ‘straight’ way
15.   Act like straight people by adopting stereotyped gender behaviours, eg., guys attending or playing rougher sport, and girls using makeup and focusing on clothes selection
16.   Forever be on the alert lest they fall back into old ‘sinful’ ways
17.   Be open to falling in love with an opposite sex person and marrying them

Let me put that into some prose for you. First of all comes the denial of your natural existence where you must act as though you do not have same sex attraction. You must behave, walk, dress, sing, talk, eat, drink, emote in a way that is not you. You will have to change the very essence of who you are. Why? Because our sexuality, as described above, is not an added-on extra, but an integral part of your identity, of who you actually are, which has a substantial influence on how you behave and do all of these things. Your natural self will reject this harsh regime of self-denial and it will kick back. It will never stop. The kick-back will be relentless and indefatigable. It will be permanent. As we understand now, human sexual orientation is stable across the lifespan.

But in the ex-gay group, you must not be attracted to anyone. You must not have desire. You must not ever want to reach out and touch someone’s hand or hold them close. You are forbidden to do this. While everything within you feels like that would be normal and a powerful inward impetus, the words and teachings of your ex-gay group will sound loudly in your ears and you will be torn as to whether to listen to them or to follow your heart or your desire. You will live in a world where you are not straight. You know you’re not straight, so you never call yourself that. But you cannot feel right to call yourself gay because of the group. So you call yourself ex-gay. An in-between world, a world of shades and shadow. A limbo. A no-man’s land. Neither straight nor gay. It is a torturous existence. Forever at war. Forever torn. Never at peace. Never comfortable. Never yourself, you lock yourself into a nether world of not being you and not feeling straight. Sounds like hell? It is. And many people do not come through it.

The Psychological Consequences of Participating in Ex-Gay Ministry

What does this lead to? The answer is easy. It leads to the deterioration of your mental health. It leads to depression (major depressive disorder – MDD), anxiety (generalised anxiety disorder – GAD), and other forms of anxiety as well, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). For some, it can lead to substance abuse with either drugs or alcohol or both. And worst of all, it can lead to suicide. We do not know the devastating statistics of how many vulnerable gay people have killed themselves because of going though reparative therapies or ex-gay ministries. When you read Part 2 and hear the kind of thing people have been told about themselves, it is no wonder that the more depressed, lonely and isolated of them have contemplated suicide or worse, carried it out. 

None of us are immune to these consequences. It has nothing to do with having a strong or a weak mind. You cannot deny the self without harm. It cannot be done. And if you attempt to do it over a significant period of time, like I did (see Part 3), the wounds can be deeper. No matter how much you are told that God will provide for your needs, this does not happen in the way you hope. I repeat, an ex-gay identity is an essentially closeted state where a person is stuck or trapped in a Phase 1 Sexual Identity Confusion (see the Cass Model of Gay Sexual Identity Formation BGBC pp66-70) which will harm you and lead to a life of misery and turmoil. 

I invite you to view a recent Australian current affairs news story on the consequences of ex-gay therapy. Australia's highly respected national broadcaster, the ABC, aired this short program on 19 August 2013, highlighting the experiences of two young men Chris and Evan. This brings the issue out of theory, discourse or propaganda and offers some real life for you to watch. It runs for just over 6 minutes.

Further to this, if you do attempt to sublimate your desire and natural attraction and longing for a same sex partner in relentless religious and church activity, you will lead a myopic life. If you do marry an opposite e sex partner, you will place an unfair burden upon your partner who really deserves someone straight who is totally into them. I see many men every year who are in this predicament. They come, gay men who are married and often with children, depressed, confused and stuck. Some of them end up leaving their wives to live life more authentically and of course the harm done to themselves, their wives and the children is incalculable with such a tear in the fabric of their shared lives. They find authenticity but at what cost? It is always a very sad state of affairs. Some of the saddest I ever have to work with are those men in this category who really do love their wives but cannot go on living the life-lie so they decide to leave the marriage. I support them the best way I can, but it is never easy for such. Conversely, there are gay married men who opt to stay with their wives despite the lack of emotional or sexual connection. Again, very sad for everyone concerned. A resigned life, an empty life of pretence and making do, a spouse who is secretly treated as second-best.

Ex-gay people who marry opposite sex partners are now more honest these days about their sexuality. In times past, they would smile and quote scripture and say that Jesus takes care of their needs. These days, I hear a lot more people being honest. They say openly that they still have same sex attraction, that it has not gone away, that they are still ‘troubled’ by it, but they set their face to the wind and onward they go. A sad and unfulfilling way to live life, in my view.


Dr Stuart Edser PhD. MAPS. MASCH.
Counselling Psychologist and gay Christian man
As a Psychologist who has experienced this kind of thing myself, a Christian man my entire life and as someone who has studied what mainstream peer-reviewed science has to say, I can confidently tell you that there is no real change of sexual orientation for anybody. It has been settled for some time now that human sexual orientation is stable across the lifespan. I have never yet seen someone change to the point where they are miraculously transmogrified from gay to straight, no matter how much therapy, how much prayer or how much resolve. No matter how many footy matches he watches, how many car engines he strips down, how many girls he dates or has sex with, a gay man is a gay man is a gay man. And he needs to accept himself and discover the wonder of his life. No matter how many clothes shopping sprees she goes on, no matter how many make-up classes or jewellery shows she attends, no matter how much she reads and learns about what makes a man happy, a lesbian is a lesbian is a lesbian and she needs to accept herself and discover the wonder of her life.

We know that a gay sexuality is a perfectly normal sexual orientation for human beings to have. It is neither a sickness nor a disorder. It is not a deviation. It is not a deficit from childhood. It is not a terrible parenting mistake. It is a consistent variation of sexuality that is part of the human race. And always has been. Where individuals find it difficult to accept, that is not the fault of their being gay in and of itself, but the fault of the society, the church or the ex-gay program to which they belong which has negative attitudes to gay people. The fault lies not in them, but in the world that they are part of.

Time to change your world. Time to accept and love yourself. Time to discover the wonderful gay person you are and the incredible life you can lead as you navigate life’s waters with the eyes of a gay person. Take it from a Psychologist who knows personally the impact of what I am saying, do yourself a huge favour and don’t get involved in an ex-gay group and if you are involved with one, I strongly encourage you to leave and get some help with a trained therapist who will help you through your confusion.

Click on the link below to Part 2 for a discussion of the Christian aspects of ex-gay programmes.

Ex-Gay - Not the Way - Part 2

Pax et Amor - Stuart

No comments:

Post a Comment