Beyond Ex-Gay

Survivor Narrative



Rick's photo

It was 1983 and I was about to graduate from a Christian college. I was terrified of the future because of my big, scary, dark secret. Finally, with a mixture of fear and shame, I scheduled an appointment with the school’s director of counseling. I told him my secret: I was attracted to other guys. I also told him that more than anything, I wanted to be free from those desires and live a normal life. He assured me that such change was possible, but would probably take about a year of therapy. Since I was due to graduate, I was referred to a Christian counselor in the city where I would soon begin seminary.

The new counselor, a sincere man with an MSW degree, also affirmed that change was possible. We began a counseling relationship lasting one year. “I’ve never met a homosexually-attracted man who had a good relationship with his father,” he told me. “Hmmm,” I thought, “my Dad and I have always been pretty close.” I told him so, and the counselor began a process of deconstructing my relationship with my father. He explained that my inability to bond with my father resulted in a quest to repair that relationship through bonding with other men. He was the expert and I was desperate, so I believed him. Thus began a journey toward becoming ‘normal’ that lasted nearly twenty years.

My story is similar to many others I've heard. A childhood centered in church and family. A growing awareness that I was attracted to guys, not girls, coupled with systems of massive denial. My identity was centered in being a good boy, an obedient son, a committed Christian. Inner nudges toward ministry set me on a path that included a Christian college and seminary - places where being gay was just not an option. I couldn't imagine a life that didn't include a wife, children, and the respect of others for being a Christian role model.

Being a pastor and practicing spiritual disciplines did nothing to diminish the power of my innate sexuality. I eventually got married to a remarkable woman, hoping the Christian counselors were correct that it would be a sign of my 'healing.' No doubt a very bad decision, though I'm deeply grateful for the two wonderful children who came out of our marriage.

Hands reaching out - artIn 2001 the unthinkable happened. On the day after my 40th birthday, I met a man with whom I experienced an overpowering emotional connection. Until then I assumed my attraction to men was only physical and that periodic encounters with men had been a kind of addiction, but not related to who I really was. A very brief 'fling' with this man ended when he challenged me to be completely honest with myself. A gay, Jewish agnostic man demonstrated greater integrity than this married Christian pastor, and his words began what ultimately resulted in my coming out.

For over a year I committed myself once more to finding my 'true identity in Christ' as a heterosexual, or at least as a homosexually abstinent male. I cashed in everything. I told my story to my superiors in the church and surrendered my ordination credentials. No job, no income, no stability. Just incredible pressure and an understandably distraught wife. We attended a 10-day intensive counseling program in Colorado at great expense. I entered reparative therapy... again... realizing on some level that the treatment was sub-standard if not bogus, but hoping that God would honor my efforts and finally fix me.

Throughout two decades I sought reparative therapy and other ex-gay treatments and methods. Prayer, fasting, inner healing, accountability groups, medication, and 12-step groups. Even a scary exorcism attempt with lots of shouting. Since none of it made any difference, I became pretty despondent and hopeless over time. And because so much of it focused on environmental causes of homosexuality, my relationship with my parents suffered greatly

By Nov. 2002 I couldn't pretend to believe any more that the counseling was helping. I asked too many questions one day and received a lengthy tongue lashing from the counselor for my lack of faith. So I stepped back from a lifetime of effort and committed myself for the first time to pursuing the truth about myself and homosexuality. For 8 months I suspended judgment while studying social and biological sciences, scripture, and theology. I submitted to a psycho-sexual evaluation with a bona fide sex therapist to determine whether I was 'bi' or truly gay. I came to believe that the 'addiction' was a compulsion rooted in the fear and shame I experienced because of my attractions. Further, I believed the compulsion could not be resolved until I came to fully accept myself for who I am. The day I was able to first utter the words "I am gay" in late spring, 2003, was one of the hardest days of my life. I wept in the arms of my wife. And with her began the excruciating discussions that resulted in the decision to separate and divorce.

Image of looking upwards to the top of treesLife is coming back together. I developed a home-based art business that sustained me for a few years. Then in 2004 I was received into the gay-affirming United Church of Christ denomination. In 2005 I was the first openly gay man called to serve a UCC in my region of New York State. Though I've lost a couple of close friends as the result of identifying as gay, most friends - and all of my family - have been strongly supportive. My children - ages 13 and 11 when I came out to them - have struggled in various ways with the changes, but they love me and we have a strong relationship.

Before my mother passed away from cancer in 2004, she told me over and over again that she loved me unconditionally. My father and I have a better relationship, and I regret the years I blamed him for my homosexuality. I’ve met a man who I love deeply, and we have been partnered since 2005. He, too, is from an evangelical background and attended a Christian college.

If someone had told me a few years ago that I would one day be an out, proud gay man, I would not have believed it. While the losses and challenges of life seem great at times, the benefits of peace of mind and inner integrity are much greater. I am grateful for the work of grace God has done in my life.


Read other ex-gay survivor narratives.