15 February 2010

I Was An Ex-Gay (Well, Almost...)

Is it me, or has the media been paying a lot of attention to so-called "ex-gays" lately?

Now, I've known of them, and the ministries that purport to make them so, for more than thirty years, since I was an undergraduate at Rutgers. In fact, you might say that I was trying to be one of them: I knew that I wasn't a straight guy so, by default, I must have been gay or bisexual. Or so I reasoned, with my admittedly-limited skills in that endeavor.

At that point, the only thing I knew about transsexual people is that they were named Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards and I was not like them, so I could not be one of them. I had to be a man, I thought, because I had the body of one and did not see it in the same way as I imagined they saw theirs. I hated mine; I despised even more the thought of having to share it, as a male, with someone in order to love or be loved.

The thought of living as a gay man appalled me --some might say because of my residual homophobia and the fact that, with a couple of exceptions, I despised men. But the thought of changing genders seemed unfathomable or, at least, terrifying. So, the only way I could envision, at that time in my life and for many years afterward, having a union with either a man or woman was doing so as a man--which disgusted me even more than the prospect of the sexual relationship itself.

So why did I align myself, however tenuously, with gay men during that time? Well, in my very primitive understanding of sexuality and gender (The only times I'd even heard the latter term were during grammar lessons.), I came to the conclusion that I could come closest to living like a woman by being a gay man. The only gay men I knew (or knew that I knew) at that time were the "flaming queens": You couldn't not know about them. I couldn't particularly identify with them--one of whom was Robert, my first roommate in college--but at least they seemed to be living something that might be more or less plausible and doable, if not easy, for me.

So....Almost as soon as I "came out," I was looking for a way to be protected from what I thought I was going into. (I had "come out" to my mother during that time. I wonder whether she recalled it many years later, when I would reveal to her the life I'd just begun to lead as Justine and all of the feelings and some of the episodes that led up to it.) Perhaps if I believed in the redemptive powers of the Holy Spirit, I thought, I could be "freed" from my "sinful" desires.

That led me to join a fellowship of born-again Christians on campus. In some ways, I wished to be like them: They all seemed content, or at least free of the existential guilt and shame that I felt. And they all seemed so certain of their futures: God would reveal His plan for them, which would invariably consist of stable careers, if not a ministries, of some sort, and heterosexual partners who would gladly sire or bear their children, all according to the Lord's plan. That, by the way, is something I understand about all sorts of young religious zealots, from the Orthodox Jewish kids I once taught to today's suicide bombers: They are all completely certain, in ways that most mainstream religious or secular people aren't, about their futures in ways they could not be if they did not have their fanatical belief in God or Allah or whichever deity.

Even more than their certainty about their futures, in this life and after it, I wanted two other things that their faith and fellowship seemed to offer: the hope of redemption, and safety. I really wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could be "delivered" from the certain death that would follow a life lived by my "sinful" nature. I knew that life as a gay man or woman, let alone a transsexual, could be a lonely one subject to sudden death at any given moment at the hands of someone who hated me simply for being. (Of course I would know about that danger: I once committed a gay-bashing myself.) Even though I was thinking about suicide all the time, I didn't want to a horribly violent death at someone else's hand, much less to find that whatever comes after this life is even worse.

Going to a baptismal service at a Pentecostal church with members of that fellowship, and "accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour" (Yes, I actually told them I did!), offered me the chance to "redeem" myself--which, truth be told, meant, at least to me--a kind of escape from my dilemma. The minister who "baptised" me very firmly stated, "There's no such thing as a born-again homosexual;" therefore, in order to give the Lord the chance to "wash away" my sins, I had to renounce myself. In a way, I was only too eager to do that: It would preclude my "solving" my gender-identity dilemma by living as a gay man.

Being known as an ex-gay (or, more accurately, a never-was gay) had an effect I hadn't anticipated in that fellowship: I gained immediate respect, and was even seen as a sort of "guiding light" by many in that fellowship--including its leader, who became almost paternalistically protective of me. Almost immediately, I was asked to lead prayer meetings and healing circles, and was taken up on my offer to start a newsletter.

And, if I recall correctly, I actually wrote an article about "hating the sin but loving the sinner." That, of course, is exactly how many evangelical Christians claim to feel about homosexuality and those who are inclined toward it. I even adopted that as a credo for myself, as it allowed me, however unconsciously, to hate myself and gay people even more than I already did. Today, I cannot see how it's possible to claim to "hate the sin but love the sinner" without seeing the sinner as someone less than one's self, or whatever one perceives one's self to be.

Now, I know of people who don't approve of what I've done, and many others who hope their kids don't "turn out" gay or trans, but who relate to me as the human being I am. I have learned not to hope that everyone will approve of what I've done because that requires that they understand why (and I'm not just talking about knowing that "you have to do what you need to do") I or anyone else would undergo the treatments, surgery or other aspects of changing from a life lived by expectations to one lived by our need to love, and be loved by, ourselves and others. I can't expect anyone else to understand that; if anyone does, or even begins to, I consider that a victory and a gift. So, for that matter, is finding someone who accepts you for what you are.

Anyway...I know I can't offer any explanations as to why someone would go through "de-programming" or any other aspect of a "ministry" that's intended to "cure" someone of homosexuality or identifying one's gender in a way that was not proscribed at one's birth or approved of by the culture in which he or she lives. And I don't claim to know whether those who claim to be "ex-gays" really were gay, or even bisexual, in the first place, much less whether they were "cured." All I know is that the notion that we can become "ex-gays" (or former trans people), if believed by those with enough hate or simply a lust for power, can be dangerous and even deadly because it is not based on any sort of understanding of what we actually experience. That, of course, is something for which a zealot of any sort has absolutely no use.