Saturday, June 22, 2013

Exodus Exits: I'm Queer and I'm Not Celebrating

The momentum has been building for almost a decade now, a new generation of Christians have arisen with a desire for authenticity. Smoke in mirrors have no longer been good enough for the people of God found in many branches of faith, and accountability to the truth has tested some of the world's largest faiths institutions in the last 10 years.  It should come as no surprise, that Exodus International, small change in comparison to the cathedrals of old, but very influential nonetheless, has been tried by the same fire. At the end of a period of internal reflection, and interfacing with others in a forum of dialogue, understanding and forgiveness, the queer community and the world is met by a public apology, and immediately followed by a very surprising announcement that Exodus is shutting its doors, for good.

For the gay community at large, most of whom have never even stepped foot through the doors of Exodus or an affiliate ministry, see this as a clear victory, the breakdown of an old mentality that sexual orientation can and should be changed, a belief that many uphold as part of the root causes of homophobia and intolerance in the church. But for many who have been through the difficult and often painful experience of ex-gay and reparative therapy, it's not quite that simple. It's important that even in this conversation, that we uphold the sanctity of the situation.  It's troubled me that while we're so advanced in our ideas, philosophies and shiny gadgets we can't seem to grasp that life, its people, ideas and intentions are not so black and white. So it shocked many when they expected me to jump for joy a the wake of this news, and I did not. They said "ding dong the witch is dead" but I couldn't put on the ruby slippers. I didn't quite know what to feel.

When I heard Exodus was shutting down, I felt like I was about to attend the funeral of someone I once loved who I no longer knew. I thought about the people I knew personally in positions of leadership, and what they must be going through. I think about my friends who believed in the message of Exodus, who are trying to live lives in line with their teachings, and I think about what this means for them and their internal monologues.   I wonder about the relationship between LGBT people and the church as a whole.  I know some of you have been hurt and confused by the teachings of ex-gay ministries. I have a hospital bill, an empty bottle of anti-depressant medication, a plastic bracelet with my faded name printed on it, that says that I was, too. But part of growth is seeing the world from a place beyond the jagged edge that separates friends and enemies,  the good and the bad.

I went through my period of anger and hurt. It was partially what got me over the hump of the confusion I was living in, and the tail end of a long period of depression. There was a moment where I even thought about filing a lawsuit against Exodus, and devoting time, money, and energy to affecting policy, so that ex-gay ministries could become illegal. Yes, my emotions drove me to fantasizing about being part of a liberal fascist state. But as I grew up, I started to take ownership of the choice I made to participate, and how at the time, given the information I had, it was the best I could do.

Exodus ministries and the people I met there, were among the first people I came out to. I will not undermine my background, faith and culture, to think that it should have been so easy for me to come out to anyone outside the context of faith, and my relationship with Christ. I could not have done so without erasing the first 15 years of living. When there was no one else, and no where else, they gave me something to hold onto. Actually, before Exodus, I thought there was one of two answers: condemnation, or faithlessness.

Then there was friendship. The tears I cried back then were real, they were deep, and they were plentiful. There were arms that held me, who let me just express what I needed to. These arms had no intention to take advantage of me, as time certainly told me. But they gave me water when I was thirsty.  But the largest thing i got from  my experience, was my view of self.  Their beliefs triggered me in a way that showed up as a great deal of shame, when I did not measure up.  But something else happened.   "I'm straight" and "I'm gay", are statements that amplify a cultural harmonic that ones sexual orientation is a large part of one's identity, and that sexuality itself is static. Reconciliation with ones sexual orientation is given a lot more importance than other areas of life, not limited to faith and vocation. When we as humans amplify a single facet of our existence, we become imbalanced. I have seen this on both sides of the coin, gays and ex-gays alike. And after my coming out, that stayed with me.  I'm more than who I want sleep with.

Exodus and its leaders have evolved to a more balanced and honest place. So why are they leaving the conversation?   Less compassionate groups will fill the gap when Exodus says goodbye.  Will this be better?

In fact, we need more people in the conversation about faith and sexuality, even to the point of disagreement!  But to lose momentum in this area, and to cease struggling to find a place where people can be their best selves, would be the greatest loss of all.  I look at the things in LGBT culture that no one questions, and hold onto as a cornerstone of what it means to be gay, and I wonder why we point fingers.   Have we ever stopped to think that aspects of the status quo, the mobile apps, the meaningless sex, and venues for pleasure without boundaries is possibly causing damage of an entire different nature than ex-gay therapy?   How many have told me how hopeless they feel in the journey to find partnership and commitment because everything we could ever want is accessible, there's no need to stick around for it anymore.    I will not celebrate Exodus closing their doors until there's a cultural shift towards integration and wholeness. I hope to see it in my lifetime.  I hope to be part of the change.