Beyond Ex-Gay

Is Change Possible? Is this the Right Question?

by Peterson Toscano

People so often ask the wrong questions. The press has been doing this for years in regards to ex-gay programs. They display bold headlines, Is Change Possible?

Exodus leaders and other Christian spokesmen assert that YES change is possible, while gay activists counter NO it is impossible. And so it goes round and round.

People ask the wrong questions. Few ask, What does this change look like? I have spoken with leaders at Exodus in the US and others in South America and Europe. Over and over I hear from them that they understand people with same-sex attractions will most likely have these attractions for the rest of their lives. In many perhaps (most cases?), they will not develop attractions for the opposite sex.

I remember how disappointed I felt when I first heard this at Love in Action, where I attended for two years. Up until  then I spent 15 years trying to become a new creature in Christ Jesus to then show up in what had long been considered the Cadillac of Ex-Gay Ministries only to find that such a change was not a realistic goal.

So the change is not one of orientation but in behavior and identity. A tiny percentage who have tried insist they shifted in their orientation, which of course is something we have to just take at their word.

Artistic image of someone talking into another person's earWhen looking at most Exodus testimonies, we hear stories of people who lived as sexually addicted, miserable, lonely, faithless, confused people (who also overindulged in drug and alcohol abuse, illegal activities and unprotected sex). They found Jesus and the church, and they changed their lives.

They became celibate, began to develop healthy relationships, changed their lifestyle--not to a straight one, but to one far less reckless and destructive than their previous one.

This is not exclusive to people who are gay or lesbian or bisexual. Lots of straight people act out in irresponsible, reckless, self-destructive ways, and they would do well to change. Most likely they will be happier, healthier and feel closer to God and others once they do (they may find themselves with more money in their pockets too. Decadence is pricey.) So yeah, that sort of change is possible and can be sought after if needed, but one does not need an ex-gay program to do this.

In fact, I believe that over time attending most ex-gay programs will prove harmful for most gay people. In many ex-gay programs (and conservative churches) the leaders teach that many of "struggler's" problems stem from being gay. Even without the reckless lifestyle so often presumed associated wtih LGB people, ex-gays have to daily reject a part of who they are. They are instructed to deny themselves love in the way that makes the most sense and is most authentic for them. These ex-gays will almost always be at war within themselves, a war not sanctioned by the Bible but one declared by the world around them.

Which brings me to the two major questions I rarely hear the press ask or asked by people considering going into an ex-gay program.Photo of clay heads

Why is change necessary? And at what cost?

Sure one can choose to no longer identify as gay. We can deny ourselves relationships with LGBT people. We can even marry someone of the opposite sex and have children. This is no great miracle. Men and women have done this for centuries with and without the help of Jesus.

Why is it necessary to change? Mostly because many of us believed life would be easier. Parents would treat us better. Society would gift us with privileges and affirmation. We would feel normal for a change, for a time.

But at what cost? This is one question I never hear ex-gay program leaders and particpants ask. I have not heard of ex-gay providers conducting follow-up up to see what happens to people after they have been through programs. Often program leaders only stay in touch with their successes, and even then ex-gay successes need be quiet about many of their internal struggles.

Most ex-gay leaders do not meet the people Christine and I meet through Beyond Ex-Gay or the people who pull me aside after one of my talks or shows. The costs of putting ourselves through ex-gay experiences are very very high. In many cases depression, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal tendencies, discouragement and loss of faith all regularly occur for many who have been through ex-gay experiences.

Here at bXg we say that if someone is happy as an ex-gay, that is fine. But such a life was not possible or healthy for most of us. Also, such a life is not necessary.

Is change possible? Yes, our societies and churches and families and laws can change so that people who are romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same-sex can be fully accepted and affirmed and celebrated just like heterosexuals. This change takes work and love and listening and painful realization, but well worth the effort.