"Ex-gays" are repressed -- or bisexual

"'Reparative' therapy led to years of suffering"

By Salon Staff

Published May 26, 2000 7:49PM (EDT)

Into the closet
BY BARRY YEOMAN (05/22/00)

I spent almost two years in an Exodus-affiliated ex-gay ministry before I finally realized that the adverse affects of the "therapy" outweighed the supposed benefits. I was told I was not "sexually whole," that my masculinity was lacking, and when I expressed doubts I was told that I was also lacking in my faith.

I further witnessed the adverse affects of ex-gay "therapy" in other participants. As ex-gay participants become more disappointed and disillusioned with their lack of change, many become hopeless. It is not uncommon for ex-gay participants to turn to dangerous anonymous sexual encounters or other self-destructive behaviors. These are the 70 percent who leave these ex-gay groups and hopefully unlearn the negative ex-gay messages.

-- Norman Birthmark

I don't care how many men with lousy drunken fathers end up giving blow jobs in trailer parks and are then rescued to the suburbs by Exodus, it doesn't invalidate my life as a gay man. My father was available, loving and engaged with me, as was my mother. They're still married after 52 years, and neither one drinks. I wasn't abused emotionally or physically. I was brought up in church, played Little League, took swimming lessons, went to Scout camp, sang in the choir, learned the saxophone and went to the prom with a girl. Although I always knew something was different about me, I didn't learn what it was until my early 20s. How the heck did some childhood trauma cause my gayness when I didn't have any?

Sexual acting out by these tortured people doesn't mean that being gay is their problem, if indeed they are gay. Does anyone tell the town slut that being straight is her problem? No, because it isn't. Her problem is that she's a slut. That Kansas City doctor was right. Sexual behavior isn't necessarily connected with sexual orientation, and inappropriate sexual behavior doesn't equal inappropriate sexual orientation identity.

-- John Burton

If we are to do experiments on the effect of therapy on sexual orientation, why be one-sided about it? A proper experiment should see if therapy causes flips in either direction. As a practicing and unrepentant heterosexual (wife, two kids), I want to know if they can cure me too.

-- George Bevis

Last week, while attending the American Psychiatric Association meeting in Chicago, I opened up USA Today and saw the full-page "ex-gay" ad. Among its listed sponsors is Focus on the Family. Groups like Focus on the Family are using people struggling with their sexuality to further a conservative political agenda. "Reparative" therapists have been brought in to testify in defense of anti-gay laws like Amendment 2 in Colorado and the Louisiana sodomy law. They argue that homosexuality is a choice or a mental illness, and therefore, gays and lesbians should not receive civil rights protection.

As a psychiatrist, I see the victims of "reparative therapy" -- patients whose previous therapists unsuccessfully tried to change their sexuality. For these patients, "reparative therapy" led to years of suffering. That's why the American Psychiatric Association has issued strong statements opposing the use of "reparative therapy." It's ineffective in changing sexual orientation and causes harm to patients.

Some people unhappy with their homosexuality or bisexuality do wish to live heterosexual lives. Some people do try, with much effort, to suppress their sexuality. It's a sad commentary on the persistence of homophobia in our society that there is still motivation for some to make this effort.

-- Dan Karasic, M.D.
San Francisco

What Barry Yeoman fails to note in his otherwise thorough article on ex-gay ministries is that many of those who represent success stories were never gay to begin with. They were (or are) bisexual.

This society that shames same-sex proclivities also presents sexual orientation as an either/or dichotomy where bisexuality and transexuality do not exist. Given only two options, neither of which satisfies, I can understand why a bisexual person might swing from one extreme to another.

-- Stacey Capps

Having several close friends who have been part of "ex-gay" ministries, I was enjoying Barry Yeoman's compassionate and balanced piece, until the penultimate paragraph: "Given the intensely censorious right-wing and religious overtones of these anti-gay therapies ... "

Excuse me? These are, after all, Christian ministries -- of course they have religious overtones! As for right-wingedness, you might be surprised at the deep-felt compassion and sympathy many "ex-gays" have for non-"ex-gays" -- and how liberal some of their political beliefs can be.

The stories of both my friends and those interviewed in the story demonstrate that "success" is a murky issue for ex-gay ministries. And until unprejudiced academic studies really examine the "treatments," I'll happily grant that the effectiveness (and even appropriateness) of these approaches is an open question. But, you know what? For people who are Christian believers, these efforts often bring comfort. One might ask what right non-believing people have to be so censorious about how some Christian gays choose to wrestle with their own, deeply painful issues.

-- David McGaw

Salon Staff

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