Beyond Ex-Gay

Survivor Narrative


Philip Lowe, Jr.

My name is Philip Lowe, Jr.  I live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area. I made the decision to start going to Courage meetings here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis after I got out of a very bad same-sex relationship. It was a relationship in which I felt I was used a lot. While my ex and I lived together he had taken a lot of money from me without asking permission. When we broke up, he moved out while I was not at home and tried to take my cat who had belonged to me before we met and moved in together. This experience just left me lonely, angry and feeling like perhaps there really was nothing good about being gay.  I was so tired of all the one night stands I had experienced. So, I decided to go to Courage meetings and got very involved with the conservative side of the Catholic church. I began attending Courage meetings from late August 2007 to about late November 2008.

Image of Courage etched on a rockCourage is the ex-gay ministry of the Roman Catholic church. The ministry was started at the end of the 1970’s under the guidance of Terrance Cardinal Cooke of the Archdiocese of New York. Courage treats homosexuality as a sexual addiction, like alcoholism and/or drug addiction. The Courage program uses the 12 step idea to help their members “recover” from “same-sex attraction.”  Among the other philosophies of Courage is that individuals should not think of themselves as being “gay” or “lesbian.” To say that about ourselves is to “degrade” or to “diminish” ourselves to a “political title”. So they want their members to think of themselves as “men with same sex attraction” or “women with same sex attraction.” To basically say that the same sex attraction (SSA for short) is a “condition” that is treatable, changeable, and one that is what it is for various reasons. SSA according to Courage is not innate, but neither is it chosen. In the case of a man, something went wrong that discouraged his masculinity, and so he experiences same sex attraction, because he is searching for his masculinity and eventually finds it through “unhealthy, erotic behavior with members of the same sex.” Among the misconceptions of Courage is that Courage does not always recommend reparative therapy to “treat” same-sex attraction. In those cases where members might want reparative therapy they will gladly help them find a therapist who will do reparative therapy.  For other members who might not want that, the Courage Apostolate is simply there to encourage members who attend meetings to “carry the cross” of same sex attraction and just do everything possible to avoid romantic or sexual contact with members of the same sex.
A typical Courage meeting took place on a Friday night, in a undisclosed location known only to Courage members. One of two Priests acted as a facilitator for the meeting. The meeting began with a prayer followed by reading the four goals of Courage. After the facilitator would ask “How has Courage helped you during this past week?” Then each person takes their turn talking about their struggles with chastity.

Not only does Courage not want their members to engage in sexual or romantic relationships with members of the same sex, they also attempt to treat masturbation as just another “symptom” of the greater “problem.” Many of us would go to meetings and talk about whether we had a good week or not. Did any of us masturbate? Did anyone run into someone from our past that caused us a “problem”? What kinds of spirituality did we use to help us with our “problems”? 

At Courage meetings we were told to avoid any places of temptations that might exist. These included the malls, parks, bars, athletic centers or any where that might be a problem for us. We were encouraged to avoid any and all levels of “inappropriate intimacy” that could lead us to any kind of sexual or romantic intimacy with the same sex.

Photo of red leavesDuring my time in Courage my attitudes towards myself, my family and others became very bad. The more I avoided intimacy, the more I hungered for intimacy.  By spring of my first year, I was already masturbating every day and crying bitterly after I ejaculated.  I was punishing myself if I dared to look at any pornography.  I was hungering to be loved, but not allowing myself to experience love. I eventually started working with an ex-gay therapist and even a spiritual director. In both cases, the more I attempted to flee being gay, the more being gay smacked me in the face. When meeting with my therapist and/or spiritual director, I would be told that either it was because of all the rejection I had experienced or because I did not know how to manage intimacy with others appropriately.

During my year with Courage, I experienced the betrayal of a different Parish Priest I had worked with as an organist during the past 3 years. This Priest was not associated with Courage, though was aware of the Apostolate. Though I did not experience any sexual abuse from him, I did experience some pastoral abuse from him as a Priest and an employer. During the year I spent in Courage, this Priest suddenly became my enemy and later in the year 2008 terminated my employment. Exactly why that happened I am not sure. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that what I had previously accepted about myself, and become comfortable with, I now was at odds with. Perhaps during that time, I became more of an enemy against myself and became angrier and angrier around other people. The Priest told me that all of the Choir members had quite because they just couldn’t take my “dictatorial” attitude anymore.  I guess during that year, my attitude of being angry with myself became more than people in even a more traditional/conservative Parish could take.

At my last Courage meeting one of the guys there made the remark that he was beginning to become discouraged by the fact that because he was a man who had same sex attraction and was probably not going to overcome it any time soon, that he would never get married or have children. 

There is a closeted Lutheran minister who attended Courage meetings to help him deal with his homosexuality. During the meeting that minister made a comment to the man who had the concern about not being able to marry or have children because of his sexual orientation, telling him that there are lots of gay men who are in heterosexual marriages and that he saw nothing wrong with him wanting to get married to a woman and have children, even though he is gay. That comment made me so angry because I remembered my days of being out. During my days of being out, I remember calling in on many phone date lines and hearing about the many bi/married men who just could not tell their wives about their sexual orientation and how painful that was for them. And here was a Christian minister encouraging this young man to marry with a mask over his face about who he is and what he is about.

After my experience with the Priest whose attitude towards me had changed while attending Courage meetings and my experience at the last Courage meeting, I started coming out all over again. I no longer went to Courage meetings, and I started making friends in the gay community again.  I started going back to my old therapist who encouraged me to be a healthy gay man, and to seek out healthy relationships. The more I began to accept myself all over again, the better I felt. Though I was still struggling with the anger I experienced from Courage and the Priest who betrayed me, I was still yet becoming happier and finding a better sense of myself, because I was again accepting myself as I am, not as Courage thought I should be.

 Image of Philip Lowe, Jr. and partner

     Philip Lowe, Jr. (right) with
     his partner, Jason


On February 7th of 2009, just two days after my 40th Birthday, I met Jason and we fell in love. My partner Jason’s life has also been affected by the religious right, but in a different way. But we have both been able to talk about our experiences and find companionship and intimacy with each other in a very healthy way. Since meeting Jason, we have both started attending a near by Episcopal Cathedral, where LGBT people are welcomed and affirmed.  We even rode the float for the Episcopal Cathedral in the Pride Parade, and attended a Pride Liturgy that same afternoon.  Since attending the Episcopal Cathedral, we have also met many ex Catholic Priests who are gay and now in relationships there. 

Going through everything with Courage and now being in a happy relationship, I do think I am a better gay man for having gone through it all. I now know what goes on in an ex gay ministry, but I have also been able to come out of it with a better sense of myself and how God really wants my life to be. I have been learning that I am who I am, and God loves me as I am. As my partner Jason has told me so many times: “God knew you would be gay, long before you were born.” I believe that God knows us and loves us as we are, and wants us to be in healthy relationships with others, but also be in a healthy relationship with ourselves.  

Read other ex-gay survivor narratives.