Thursday, July 05, 2007
The Ex Gay Survivor's Conference last week was historical in many ways. Not only was it the first time ex gay survivors were proactive in setting up a gathering for other ex gay survivors around healing, sharing of stories, and empowerment but to also put a face and voice to the emotional trauma many of them have faced...never mind the suicides they know of from friends in the programs who couldn't make it through.
Last week, history was made by ex-Exodus group founders, President and leaders coming together to issue a formal statement of apology. They apologized for being a part of a paradigm and organization that made people feel not enough, broken, sinful, not accepted by God...most Christian's worst fear. They are sorry for their role even though at the time, they believed like the others, what they were saying. Fortunately, these people are huge examples of how when leaders finally get conscious of the consequences of their actions, they step back, take responsibility and choose to be vocal. They aren't flip-floppers as some would spin, they are sorrowful for their role and speak out for reconciliation, as they have now found for themselves.
Just imagine being 16, been told from the pulpit, within family and friends how gross and sinful homosexuality is...all the while scared to death that you're learning your gay. At first you don't tell anyone. Maybe you go to a pastor who tells you to go to Exodus which promises "freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ" which assumes you are gay because you aren't a good enough Christian. Ouch.
You start going to weekly meetings, lying to people you love of where you go on Thursday nights for hours. The struggle is on your mind constantly. It's hard to concentrate on school or what you want to do for a career. Relationships are distant, you're afraid of intimacy, it's too scary to get too close to anyone, they might find out who you really are and reject you cold. So you pretend to be social when you feel totally isolated and alone...for fear of being isolated and alone if they knew. Catch 22. At least you have control, you're the one choosing to be alone, not them, right?
Your parents finally get involved when you tell them you've been in meetings for 2 years and nothing's changed. They pay for you to not go to college, but to go to the live-in version for a couple of years. You try to abide by the 254 rules while living 24/7 in a house with several others of your peers dealing with the same thing...and you're all the same gender, separated from the opposite gender. You are told to tell your most shameful sexual sin in detail in front of your parents and everyone else's during the parents, friends and family members weekend. Now your parents are brought into the mire and emotionally devastated. Where did they go wrong with you? You feel shame, guilt, embarrassment wanting all this to just end.
Two years turns into 12, hundreds of dollars turn into several thousands. Alas, you still are who you are. You decide you've done all you can to please God except one thing; accept how he made you and live your life as he's designed it, no longer listening to others tell you how you're supposed to live your life. You realize there's no such thing as should, normal or supposed to...or even try. Try is just another term for confusion, stuck, indecisive, non committal. You step up and step out of the programs.
Then, you learn of this statement of apology. The fact that someone in the program is sorry for putting you through all that suffering for no reason, to fix what isn't broken in you. You're out 12 years of your life, thousands of dollars. You're angry, maybe you've left religion as a result, you might get involved in more self-destructive behavior because it's all you know to do from your ex gay experience...you get into drugs or alcohol, become promiscuous, become anti-social and other coping mechanisms people choose when they feel directionless and incomplete.
The apology hits you hard. It brings up feelings and emotions you've been trying to silence externally. It asks you to forgive those who wronged you. The range of emotions sways and then you realize you just got the biggest gift anyone could have given you. Someone who harmed you actually said they were sorry. How often does that happen in our culture? What a gift. You decide to accept their apology. It frees you like you've never felt before. You feel like a backpack of weights are taken off your back for the first time since you were 16. You get it. You come to self-acceptance finally. You don't hate yourself and beat yourself up anymore. You start to love yourself and in turn are now available to love others healthily. The smile returns to your face. You finally feel happy. No more struggle. Sure, you could have done this without the apology, but this apology sure is nice, isn't it.
I'm proud to know and have in our movie one of the authors and signatures on the apology, Darlene Bogle. There's a series of photos and YouTube videos from the Conference event, you can see how it went down for yourself. The apology spans across all of us who have or had a struggle around homosexuality and religion. Forgive them, for they know not what they do....