One of my prized possessions is a pair of sexy, slick, black stiletto-heeled boots. Very femme-fatale.
As I type this up, I’m wearing a t-shirt pulled over a workman’s blue shirt, pop-collared, and my favorite pair of ripped blue jeans held up with a tattered cloth belt. Not exactly a model for femininity.
I speak English with the faintest hint of an accent.
I live frugally, probably a habit learned from my hard-working, white to blue collar parents, who immigrated here over 18 years ago. When we first got here, the Chinese evangelical Christian community opened its arms and welcomed my family into its folds. I grew up feeling loved, cared for, and have a lot of respect for the men and women who gave up literally everything, so that their kids could grow up in Canada. To my people, Canada is freedom from political oppression and post-secondary education opportunities for future generations.
I have heard my dad cry twice. One of them was as he told me over the phone, that he loved me; that even though work is so hard and people treat him so bad, that it is all worth it because I am working towards my PhD in Chemical Engineering; that he is tremendously proud of me. My mother and I use to have touching mother-daughter talks about men. Over dinner prep, mother and I have dissected the personalities of many of my guy friends, to help me find a good match. My mother has also gently explained to me what my future husband will expect from me.
It has been 2 years since I came out to my family. They still love me very much. My parents and I don’t talk about my love life anymore.
It has been 4.5 years since I admitted to myself my childhood crushes on women have stayed with me into adulthood. It has been 2 years since I started dating exclusively women. I finally understand why abstinence can be such a difficult decision. In between coming out and dating, I chose to live as an “ex-gay”.
An ex-gay is someone — usually Christian — who believes that non-hetero sexual orientations and behavior are unnatural, sinful and require change. An ex-gay usually believes that a gay identity can be eradicated if one strived to understand, through ex-gay therapy, where one ‘went wrong’ in their sexual development as a child.
I tried to understand ex-gay theology, their views on child developmental psychology, and their behavior modification methodologies. I learned about “same sex attachment disorder”, “opposite sex attachment disorder”, and proper ways for me to act more feminine in celebration of my “God given femininity”. I learned to hate my sin of adopting a gay identity. I prayed and pleaded with God to help me change. I got involved with an online support forum for ex-gay youth. I struck up long email conversations with a few ex-gay ministers to get ‘counseling’ without having to meet them face-to-face — I didn’t want anyone to know my face and know that I have this shameful secret. When I won a scholarship in my first year of grad school, I booked a plane ticket the next day to go to an ex-gay camp. I’ve tried to drink my shame away, and one depressed drunken afternoon, I even tried to gouge the pain out of my arm.
Then, I reached out. My brother, sister, and friends came together and surrounded me. They held me, listened to me, found me reading material, laughed with me, and encouraged me to get professional counseling.
To say the ex-gays taught me to hate myself would be inaccurate. The ex-gays simply amplified what I already felt. I suspect my self-hatred is really a gay-ified version of the teenage angst that we all go through to some degree.
For me, the real harm from ex-gay therapy was developing an aversion to therapy in general. My current counseling sessions with my psychiatrist eerily reminded me of my ex-gay therapy sessions – the questions and techniques used by the therapist in both cases were very similar. And so, I have found it incredibly difficult to receive professional counseling help without having panic episodes, and feeling like I’ve failed at something.
And perhaps not quite so surprisingly, since worship music with the ex-gays is the same Christian music I grew up loving, I can rarely listen to that music now without crying or getting into a depressive episode.
I am now out and trying my best to live a life true to myself. On Sundays, if I wake up early enough, I go to service at a United Church. I was involved with the local queer film festival. I have done speaking engagements at local mental health and other support services, speaking on my ex-gay experiences. Some may say I have succumbed to the ways of the secular world and gave up the good fight.
I have no regrets. I still support choice. I had to live the ex-gay life for myself. It was by living that life, was I then able to make peace with myself saying, "God, I lived those questions and You know that was all I could give". And now that I have, I can finally try to move on.
Peggy immigrated from Hong Kong with her family to Canada over 18 years ago. Currently, Peggy is working on her PhD in chemical engineering.