Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reflections while listening to an ex-gay story

A recent Facebook friend who takes more conservative views than I (on some things) drew my attention to this article:

Here are some of my thoughts.   I welcome further discussion here.


- “I think it’s stupid,” Michael said. “It doesn’t get better if you’re gay.”- But also dishonest, in retrospect, was our claim in a 1999 issue of XY that “everyone is happier” after coming out.
I think it's unwise to generalize the experience of all straight, gay, or ex-gay people. Certainly not all gay people have lives that "get better". I suspect Michael believes that being gay is fundamentally unhealthy, and so for that reason it is impossible to attain well-being while identifying as gay. I disagree with that belief. I also think well-being is complex, varying in both kind and degree. Even if it were true that there's something fundamentally unwell about gay people, it could still be the case that "it gets better" for some gay people.

I believe I have seen at least one person become much healthier and attain a significant increase in well-being while coming out and embracing a queer identity. But I also think it unwise to say "everyone is happier" when they come out--I agree with the article on that point.


As much as some of us may not want to, and as uncomfortable as it certainly makes me, we (allies of LGBTQ people) need to listen to Michael. For the same reason that the church and the society needs to listen to LGBTQ people and allies. One of the messages I've heard from the ex-ex-gay platform is that the church has gone wrong when it has given advice and designed programs based upon a pre-existing theological notion of sexuality without listening to, and taking seriously, the lived experience of queer folk, within the church's midst, as well as out in the world. A theory that we rely on to help us love our neighbors--strangers as well as those like us--which does not take into account the stories of people like Michael is pragmatically inadequte and thus will bear fruit to bad theology and hurtful practice, just as with a theory that does not take into account the stories of ex-ex-gay and other queer people, or those of the families and close friends of queer people, like me.

“God loves you more than any dude will ever love you,” he told me at the cafe. “Don’t put your faith in some man, some flesh. That’s what we do when we’re stuck in the gay identity, when we’re stuck in that cave. We go from guy to guy, looking for someone to love us and make us feel O.K., but God is so much better than all the other masters out there.”

It strikes me that this is good advice for straight women. And if we change it to be about women, it is good advice for straight men, too. I suspect the problem is not being gay or straight, but expecting human relationships (sexual, romantic, or brother-sisterly) to be ultimately satisfying. Honestly, I haven't experienced ultimate satisfaction in relationship with God, or the One, or Jesus, or whatever, either. One part of me susepcts that dissatisfaction is an inescapable part of the human experience (at least this side of the resurrection). Another part of me thinks that if there is such a thing as ultimate satisfaction, a direct relationship with God is the source of such.

And I think I am personally even more susceptible to seeking self-worth and ultimate self-identity in my various theological and political and philosophical labels (including "straight ally") than I am in my sexual identity label.

I believe Christians should constantly submit ourselves to the crucifixion of our identities so to experience the resurrection of Christ within us. My fundamental identity ought to be "in Christ". But that doesn't mean it's false that I love women, so why should it mean it's false that Christian lesbians love women or that gay Christian men love men?

This link belongs with all conversations about the ex-gay movement, as part of the conversation:


  1. III. "One part of me suspects that dissatisfaction is an inescapable part of the human experience (at least this side of the resurrection).... My fundamental identity ought to be "in Christ".'- I'd propose as part of that identity, we should hopefully be moving from a dissatisfaction with the world around us, to a growing satisfaction that comes from becoming more like Him. We may have vastly different journeys this side of the resurrection, but that doesn't mean that God isn't working in our lives, and the lives of those around us to further bring Him Glory. 'In Christ'- expresses a condition both present and future, in that we are secure in Him, and that he is continuing to mold us to completion. Other labels we may choose to apply for the sake of relating to others our messy fallen existence (Rom 6:23) [ex:Christian lesbian, Gay Christian] , help us realize where we are in life and better identify with others on a similar journey to ourselves. Let us partner with the Gospel, and allow it to transform our lives, and those around us, for He is faithful to do that, and will carry on until His return. (Phil 1:1-6) & (Heb 10:23); Side question: Why aren't you consistent in your term order 'Christian Lesbian' rather than 'Lesbian Christian' (contrast your use of 'Gay Christian')?

  2. Thanks for commenting, Jonathan! I like what you say here.

    Answer to side question: it wasn't intended to be significant. I wrote it that way, then noticed it, then decided to leave it that way - perhaps partly for stylistic variety. I don't think English word order determines priority of descriptors (at least not rigidly). So, for example: "American Christian" and "Christian American" wouldn't necessarily mean or imply different things, although they might be used by a speaker to mean different things, and then hopefully context/further conversation would make the intended difference clear.

  3. Posted here by request, I don't think I will respond much though because I don't know that I will have much time or internet access in the following week.

    Thanks for your thoughts. With happiness, we may be speaking to a general sense of well being, or we may be speaking of the deeper Joy, of being at peace with who we are, what we are in relation to others and God. Michael Glatz believes he is speaking to this second sense in terms of shared humanity, not his own personal sense of well being. His subjective experience of what gender/orientation means to his shared humanity is at question. And so he and his former cohorts were also speaking to this when they said everyone is happier when they come out, that is everyone is happier when they embrace what it is that they ought to be, who they were made to be. And for the pro LGBTQ, we are all better off to embrace equality of the other, the marginalized and our humanity is fractured to view minority orientations as inferior or damaged.

    I think what is clear is that someone is powerfully deceived. Either humanity has dominantly been deceived for millenia (not that I'm making an issue of the time frame) about orientation as normatively straight or we are powerfully deceived in the last several decades to view a variety of orientations as normative and a matter of civil rights. And so we have dueling intuitions here and those intuitions aren't just about what makes one personally happy, but our social responsibility to promote what it is that honors our own humanity.

    I agree that we ought to take into account people's stories, but also take those stories with a grain of salt since experience is interpreted and deception is possible.

    I do think you make a good point that Glatz's statements should be applied also to straight people.

  4. I had read that article a few days ago (and remember seeing the writer when he was on campus several years ago). What struck me in the article was sadness over broken relationship; that these former friends seemed completely unable to relate anymore, and substituted instead their questions and agendas seeking fulfillment. I suppose that in some ways, it shouldn't be surprising that they were unable to relate, as Michael seemed to see himself and desire to be seen as an entirely different person now than he was before when he identified as gay.

    As to your specific thoughts:
    The 'It gets better' project initially struck me as promising a universal truth that it could not deliver on, but I realized as well that the true target of the project was bullied and/or suicidal gay youth who needed hope and encouragement, not just generalized advice to people about coming out, etc. I also know that Dan Savage has long advocated for gay men and lesbians to move away to gay-friendly metropolises as soon as financially possible, so the message is also one of taking active steps to make one's situation better as an LGBT person, and I don't necessarily advocate those same steps.

    My personal experience has been that I've known miserable gay people and miserable ex-gays... and both tended to be people whose identities were wrapped up in being gay or being ex-gay.

    As for the part about where one's primary identity lies, I sometimes feel that it is others who establish for themselves what part of your identity they will consider to be the center of your identity. If I'm a Christian who happens to be gay, and hold opinions, take actions, or speak among fellow Christians in ways that are perfectly natural expressions of a gay orientation (if I were to say that certain qualities were what I would want in a husband, to take one example), that tends to hijack many people's perceptions of me such that I am no longer a (gay) Christian but a GAY (Christian?). Of course, this itself is a generalization, but speaks to the type of Christian congregation I am a part of.