Beyond Ex-Gay

Peterson ToscanoPeterson in a frame - photo

The Gospel stories of people liberated from their graves move me deeply—not only Jesus’ triumphant escape from the tomb, but also when he rescued his friend Lazarus from death. Then there is the story of the man who lived among the tombs—no chains could bind him—until Jesus liberated him from the many demons that plagued him and then clothed the man in his right mind.

Starting in my late teens I lived in a tomb for 17 years, furiously fighting against my same-sex attractions, begging God to make me "normal". I felt trapped as a young man with same-sex desires and sought to find deliverance. My quest led me to the ex-gay movement first in New York City, Colorado, England, Tennessee and Ecuador. I felt I was gripped in a life or death struggle to find a full repentance from my unwanted same-sex desires.

I capture those years, filled with conflict and ultimately answers, in two poems I wrote. They serve as bookends for my experience in the ex-gay movement. The first reveals the desperation I felt in my desire to overcome my unwanted same-sex attractions and stop having anonymous sexual encounters. After failing for what seemed like 1000 times, I wrote this poem.

Out of the Depths

Out of the depths I cry to you, Oh Lord.
Let not the buzz of lesser thoughts displace my resolve.
Like bees they circle my head;
They whirl and dance and I am dizzy.

Photo of Christine's ghostly church image

Yet you hear my groan
Rising in my battered soul.
It pushes past steamy fantasies
And devilish conspiracies;
Lifted to Your ear
--Your holy place.
Your love draws it forth.

My soul is as dry as a crusty rag
Hung on a rusty nail
Over a defunct faucet that hisses
When called upon to perform.

Yet there are moments
When my thoughts shudder free,
As if jarred by grace.
At those moments
This inward groan winged with words
Takes frantic flight.

Although the madness clamps down
And smothers the spark.
I know my garbled plea reached You,
(or You reached down to it,)
And I know, You never forget.


At first I believed I just had to fill my life with Jesus and the Bible, and I would replace the bad desires with good ones. I soon realized this did not work, so I turned to professionals in the church to guide me. I claimed the promise that in a multitude of counselors there is victory.

For 15 years I consulted pastors, counselors, deliverance ministers, and ex-gay leaders. I went to church services, read books on holiness and discipleship then books that specifically addressed homosexuality. I listened to recordings by renowned ministers. I read the works of the puritans and the early church fathers. I attended prayer meetings, Bible studies and joined the choir in my church. I learned and grew as a Christian, but I still felt my same-sex desires, and the more I tried to stop acting on them, the less successful I became.

Halfway House Sign In the 15th year of my struggle, after a few years of relative success but mostly failure, I enrolled in Love in Action, a residential 12-step, ex-gay program in Memphis, TN.

Cut off from much off the world, living under harsh rules and grueling activities, the constrictions of the program actually felt comfortable. I was able to be fully open about my struggles for the first time in my life. I believed I would finally unearth the source of my wickedness and plant myself firmly on god’s path of holiness and wholeness. I knew I may never be free of my same-sex desires like I had wanted for so many years, but at least I could learn how to control them.

I spent nearly two years in Love in Action, graduating successfully only to return a few months later for a “relapse program” for four more months. I refused to believe that this thing was unbeatable.

I do not regret the time I spent at Love in Action, even though it felt like a tomb much of the time. Perhaps I needed to do everything in my power to get this thing right.

I emerged from Love in Action determined to put in practice all I learned, but exhausted from the effort, I woke up one morning, as if from a biblically-induced coma. What was I doing? And why? Was it God who insisted I flee my same-sex desires or did I demand that God what the all pervasive anti-gay world and church demanded of me? And why wasn’t it working?

At Love in Action they taught us that a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. I suddenly realized that for 17 years I earnestly sought change over and over and that the process was slowly driving me insane.

This process to stop struggling and accept myself as a gay man did not solve all my problems. In fact, it created new ones. Primarily a deeper faith struggle than I ever faced before. I questions, “Now that I am gay, what do I do with Jesus? Surely he doesn’t want anything to do with a fag like me!”

For a time I stuffed God in the closet. I refused to pray or read the Bible or go to church. But something stirred within me. I missed God. I began to understand that I am “wired for God” and just like it nearly destroyed me to suppress the gay side of me, it proved just as harmful to bottle up the God side of me.

That said, at times I have found it harder to come out Christian among queer folks than to come out gay among church folks. But I am learning that part of the process requires that I discover and embrace all parts of me—the artist, the Christian, the genderqueer person, the activist and much more.

Like the resurrected Lazarus stumbling out of his tomb, blinded and bound stiff by his grave clothes, I emerged from my own tomb, my closet, constricted by fears and shame and lies. Then slowly, with the help of friends and family, I began the process to take off my grave clothes.

Sometimes our words proceed our reality, or perhaps we create a new reality like the God of Genesis creating whole new worlds with words.

Nearly three years before I embraced myself as a gay man, I wrote the poem, Grave Robbers.

In my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House—How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! I end the performance by reciting this poem dedicating it to all the people who helped me to become me.

Grave Robbers

Lazarus came forth, gleaming white,
A pillar wrapped tight outside his tomb.
Jesus looked at us, “Take off the grave clothes,
And let him go.”
Panic twisted my gut like a wet washrag
Wringing out courage.

Who knows how to undress a mummy raised from the dead?
Does one start at the heart or close to the head?
We circled him as if he were a bomb to diffuse.
Then we began in earnest,
Unbinding, tearing, speaking comfort as we went.
The crowd pressed in hurling advice like stones.

Lazarus stood like marble, cold from his grave,
While we sweated in the cruel sun,
Unwrapping his trappings.
But suddenly, (or did it take years?)
It was complete.
Mary and Martha washed their brother in tears:
He was free -- naked and in his right mind.