Beyond Ex-Gay


How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement

By Peterson Toscano


I am an ex-gay survivor. That means a lot to me because for over 17 years of my adult life, I trapped myself in quest to become straight or at least no longer gay. I wish I were the only person who put himself through such a painful experience, but there are many of us who strove to change. Some finally embraced ourselves for who we were created to be; others have just begun this process still caught in the midst of the struggle.

The recovery process has been complex for me. Sometimes I didn't even realize I was working on my issues in the midst of the work. For me seeking the help I need, telling my story, and noting others' reaction to it assisted me in beginning to understand the damage I had done to myself in trying to change. Through my art, as a writer and actor, I began to unearth the many reasons why I engaged in so many ex-gay experiences for so long. I always assumed it was only because I was a Christian struggling with homosexuality. As I explored the issues, I discovered so much more to the story. Image of some random weave

For me it has been a process that happens in waves and stages. It has been a shifting process too as I have begun to identify what from my former ex-gay experience aid me in becoming the person I desire to be. Friends have challenged me to ask the question, What good has come out of your experiences?

Additionally, I had to take a good hard look at the pain of the experiences, the loss of time and money and energy, the many failures trying to do what turned out to be impossible for me and hurting others along the way. Sometimes in order to find healing today we have to embrace the pain from the past.

In looking over my own recovery from my ex-gay experiences, I have identified three things that were especially helpful. This is what worked for me:


I use humor like a pot holder to handle issues and memories that are too hot to handle with my bare hands. Humor is also my weapon to cut down the assumptions I make and the lies I believe. The day I began to joke about my time in the ex-gay movement, was the moment I began to get victory over it.

Acceptance From Others

Since I rejected myself for so many years, I experienced healing when others accepted me unconditionally exactly as I am. In the conservative Christian circles I ran in, I had to conform to a standard of behavior or run the risk of the rejection from others. I have been kicked out of college, churches and jobs because of my sexual identity and behaviors. The most powerful acceptance came from my parents. Knowing that they embraced me in all my gay glory filled me with a confidence that carried me.

Dealing with Childhood Sexual Abuse

Once I learned that there is a difference between being gay and being abused as a child, I began to come out of the closet. For years I hated being gay because I thought it was a direct result of being a victim of childhood sexual abuse. I felt anger, shame and confusion. I sought to drive away those feelings by attacking my own sexual identity. Once I separated my gayness from the horror of abuse, I began to accept myself and find relief from the inner pain I carried.

It is not as simple as 1-2-3 easy steps to recovery from the ex-gay movement, but the three things I list above provided the cornerstone that enabled me to begin to build a new life. Most importantly has been sharing my story with others, something that felt uncomfortable and challenging at first. But there is a mysterious power in telling our stories, a healing power.