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August 15, 2005

When a Friend Goes "Ex-Gay"


A friend of mine sent me the following email over the weekend:

Hey, long time no see. I apologize for being out of touch for so long and this being a mass email (bcc'd of course). Some of you were social acquaintances; tricks; one-date wonders; some posing as friends yet enemies; and a select handful were actual friends to me & vice versa.

I made a decision that will test the tolerance between you and me. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ which means I live my life for Him and by Him. Do I hate you? No. Do I think I'm better than you? No. Is it my goal to change you? No. Plain and simple my life is one of a humble servant of God who sees where he has come from and is not one to throw stones in regards to the eternal life of others. Jesus Christ was not a means to an end, yet the only answer to the situation.

My former life happened to be a homosexual one which is only mentioned twice in the Bible and the word "sinner" is found 46 times. In essence I'm not rampaging against the homosexual community and its causes, but my sin against a holy God. Believe it or not I'm for gay rights as I look at the society, I don't agree with any discrimination of any group that doesn't break man's law, if you ask me about God's law that is a different story.

Here is the cliffhanger of this phase in my life. I still would like to be in contact on the same level we were before or more so at your discretion for I do not want to impose on anyone. Obviously I live by a different standard now, but open to have a drink with you, dinner, or even see a movie, etc. As I tolerate your lifestyle I would ask you tolerate mine and I will not "preach" to you, yet if asked my opinion it would be based on the wisdom of the bible. Feel free to contact me. If you know me you know I wouldn't say that unless I meant it.

Sincerely, [...]

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

What to make of all this?  I generally have thought pretty highly of this person.  He was not one of my closest friends, but we had hung out a lot, although less in the past year since he had supposedly come down with mono (and less still since I moved away).  But it sounds like there might have been a lot more behind why he had dropped out of the social scene.

I have a long-standing opposition to people who use biblical arguments in the public-policy arena.  But people who use those arguments in their own lives?  Hey, it's a free country, I guess.

As I have stated before, I think it is dangerous to believe that "God" is all you need to turn gay people straight, and it makes no more sense than trying to doing the reverse.  (Indeed, too many people turn to religion as a crutch for things they are unable or unwilling to do themselves.)  Our focus instead should be on loving acceptance, and a modern understanding of homosexuality that does not view it as inherently evil.

Pullquote If "homosexuality" is mentioned only twice in the Bible, as my friend states (I assume he means passages in Corinthians and Leviticus), then it doesn't sound like God has a monomaniacal focus on it like other sins.  After all, it doesn't even make the list of top-ten no-nos.  And Christ sure didn't seem to mind much, because it is nowhere to be found in the New Testament, either.

But I do find it ironic that his email closes with the verse from Ephesians.  Despite my friend's assurances that he won't preach, the context around the verse he selected argues for evangelism with a bellicose zeal.  ("Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.")

Even more perversely, that same biblical chapter advises slaves to basically shut their mouths and be good, little slaves.  Does my friend also believe in that verse?

Look, folks, the Bible was a product of its time.  It was a time of myth and superstition, not of science and enlightenment.  It is almost an embarrassment that people would continue to hew so literally to its words thousands of years later, even when common sense and compassion would dictate otherwise, and even when those words directly contradict each other.

I am certain that my friend means well, and that he has been struggling, and I certainly wish him the best.  But surrendering to the zealots, even on an individual level, has profoundly damaging effects on GLBT people generally.  For him, it is the path of least resistance; for the rest of us, he offers succor to the lunatic fringe at a time when "reparative therapy" is increasingly not supported by evidence.

So to my friend: I will probably see you at the back gay bars again in a few years.  When I do, I will buy you a drink.  And I also promise not to "preach" about just how wrong you were.

August 02, 2005

Zach As Tabula Rasa


Tennessee 16-year-old Zach Stark has returned to the blogosphere after a forced stint at the "Love in Action" gay reparative therapy camp.  But now he has removed many of the posts that first drew international attention to his situation, adding these new comments:

Currently I feel annoyed towards a lot of things. Love In Action has been misrepresented and what I have posted in my blogs has been taken out of perspective and context. I don't take back the things I've said, nor am I going to pretend like it never happened. It did. I refuse to deal with people who are only focused on their one-sided (biased) agendas. It isn't fair to anyone. I'm very frustrated with the things going on in my life now, but everyone has their issues. Homosexuality is still a factor in my life--- it's not who I am, it never has been. Those of you who really know me, know that homosexuality was always there but it didn't run my life, and it will not now.

Already, the Web is abuzz on both sides of the ex-gay movement, with armchair Freuds taking a crack at discerning the true meaning of Zach's words.

Towleroad is among those baffled: "It's the kind of inscrutable blog post one could argue on about for hours."

Wayne Besen, a leading opponent of the ex-gay movement, offers one of the more involved dissections of Zach's new posting, dubbing it "disturbingly influenced by right wing lingo and views on sexuality."  Besen also says "it is worth comparing the free-spirited blogs before boot camp with the Stepford post after the ordeal."

Asexual Agenda says: "What I find most amusing about this topic is that parents like Zach Stark's are trying to do to their children exactly what they fear homosexual parents will do to children: change their nature."

Janus Online says: "[R]elease does not equal freedom. As Zach indicated on his blog, there is a less-than-trivial chance that he could come out of the camp with serious emotional issues. He is also still the ward of his parents, who were more than happy to blow Zach's cover by publicly outing him on Pat Robertson's extremist TV network."

And then there is this more basic and human reaction from By the Bayou: "The basic message I got out of it was: Leave me alone. Can't say I blame the kid."

The sentiment is echoed by Ex-Gay Watch: "Leave the guy alone."

Zach Say what you will about this boy and his very public struggle.  But few things speak more eloquently about his mental state than the emoticon that remains attached to his picture on his blog, even after his hefty helping of "Love."

We tend to agree with those who think Zach needs some space to breathe.  He is, after all, only 16.  Back then, the only person we had admitted same-sex attraction to was an adult counselor at a camp for the gifted, and then not again until several years later.  So it is hard to comprehend a young person's discovery of their own sexual identity being played out and debated so prominently across the blogosphere and media.

We also believe that there is something inherently wrong with the ex-gay movement.  While individuals should be free to choose their own sexual paths, the ex-gay movement begins with the notion that there is something about homosexuals that must be, and can be, changed.

That it requires such extreme measures to do so (with a record of success that is highly suspect, to say the least) suggests that our energy might be better spent on loving God's creations (if one believes in such things) in all of their complexity and diversity.

July 29, 2005

Zach Stark: At Least 35 Percent Chance of Gay


Andy Towle is all over the ongoing story of Zach Stark, who was forced by his parents into the "Love in Action" camp that seeks to make straighties out of gays through sexual alchemy or some sort of magical ju-ju.

Zach's brain is just now passing through the spin cycle and he is due to be released soon.  Towleroad covers a story by Good Morning America with interviews of two L.I.A. alums, Brandon Tidwell and Gerard Wellman.  Tidwell never really bought into the whole thing, while Wellman, who is apparently held out as something of a success, still admits an "attraction" to men but claims he has "guardrails" for his behavior.  (Didn't Grace Kelly have guardrails too? --ed.)

Most startling of all, the camp's founder claims only a 65 percent success rate, although Tidwell dismisses that number and says that past L.I.A. indoctrinees are not monitored.  (I can just see how they would be monitored: Some fundie wacko skulking outside the bushes of an alum's home, listening intently for the sound of two different baritone moans coming from inside ...)