Beyond Ex-Gay

Loving Dissonance

by Tom O'Toole, Jr.

Photo of Tom as a worship leaderI remember a season as a worship leader when I had trouble with one of the tuning mechanisms on my guitar. Due to a malfunction of the mechanism that controlled my Taylor guitar’s “A” string, sometimes while playing the instrument (most often during a time of corporate worship – go figure) the mechanism would slip, causing the string to go terribly flat. YIKES! What a horrible sound just one rogue string can cause. I remember seeing the looks of confusion on the faces of my worship teammates and those in the congregation.

Dissonance can do that. It can cause your face to screw up in distorted expressions while your ears are trying to figure out what they are listening to. Musical dissonance is one thing, but what about relational or interpersonal dissonance?

Image of Dark hall

I am in the process of integrating my faith with my identity as a Christian, gay man. I have approached the pastor and elders of my conservative, evangelical church in Boston, asking them if they will dialogue with me about the Bible and homosexuality, and whether or not a Christian like me can walk in close fellowship with a church like theirs. I had dinner with the pastor recently and at the conclusion of our meal he summed it up by describing my relationship with him over the years as one of “loving dissonance”. We spent many years wrestling and fighting with my sexual identity, hoping to bring about positive and lasting change in my life. The goal wasn’t necessarily heterosexual expression, or that I would somehow stop being attracted to men and begin pursuing women. The goal was always that I would experience a deep, intimate relationship with God and with others. The goal was to know God and to be the man He created me to be. Although I certainly did learn tremendous things about the love of God during those years, peace eluded me and chaotic dissonance governed my existence.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines dissonance as: “Lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict”. For 24 years I tried to change my sexual orientation using a variety of ex-gay methods, programs and processes. Even now, as I write this article, I weep for those years. For 24 years I sustained (with the help of others who loved me) a lack of agreement with my sexual identity. My outer realities as a son, brother, friend and respected leader in the Christian community were not consistent with my inner longing to share life and love with another man. And so I did what I truly thought was best, and for 24 years I allowed the “strings” of my life to play out of tune with my heart. The resulting conflict and lack of harmony messed me up big time. But wait! That’s not the end of the story…

Seven years ago I embarked on a new journey – one that embraced my same-sex attraction and stopped the incessant fighting to become something other than what I now believe I was born to be. I wish I could say the transition has been smooth and effortless. It has, in fact been quite a bumpy road, with lots of turmoil, heartache and loneliness. But peace has returned to my soul.

I’d like to offer a bit of advice for those of you who might be living a life of dissonance, unable to integrate your faith with your sexuality. Some of you might already be on the path of accepting your orientation, allowing the “strings” of your life to become tuned to your heart. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years:

Image of Tom nowI gave up leading worship, playing guitar and song writing seven years ago when I stopped trying to change my sexual identity. For me, my musical gifts were so much a part of my experience of faith. Until very recently I was not able to consider reintegration of musical expression into my life as a Christian, gay man. Earlier today, just before writing this article I made arrangements to begin refresher guitar lessons at a local music center. I can’t tell you how excited I am to take yet another step toward being the man God created me to be!

Image of tree against blue skyAre you overwhelmed by the chaos of internal and/or external dissonance caused by your inability to reconcile your faith with your sexuality? Be encouraged! Many of us all over the world are coming to grips with the reality that our pursuit of change was or is futile. We are learning that God does indeed love us more than we could ever dream possible. We are taking steps to lead healthy, peaceful, harmonious lives as God’s GLBT sons and daughters. I know it’s not easy, and we still have lots of inner and outer conflict to face, but let’s be strong and united, demonstrating to both the Community of faith and the GLBT community that we are not oddballs. We are amazing people, created in the image of God. We are learning to enjoy life and bless others along the way.



Read Tom's other article, "Hope Deferred" or check out his full narrative.