I’ve written about this before but seeing the recent uptick in articles being written about how teens are more than likely going to be forced into forms of conversion therapy, I felt the need to share my story again.
When I came out to my parents as a sophomore in high school, I was told that what I was feeling was a phase. I was told that we “were going to beat this.” As if it were cancer to be cut out of my body and soul. Within a week, my mother and I drove up to a counselors office an hour away. It turned out that the woman who saw me was not even a licensed professional, but was just a concerned woman who felt she was doing the Lord’s work.
She referred me to books that told me my sexual orientation was the result of a broken relationship with my father, that it was simply longing to connect with the masculinity I felt I didn’t possess myself. The Exodus International conferences I attended educated me even further about the depth of my depravity. I heard from folks who identified as ex-gay, who said that there was hope for change, that if I simply just held tight to the promises of God, that one day I too would be changed. And that is all I wanted. I wanted to be right with God, to be a good Christian. So I did everything I could to fill that role.
My high school days were spent pretending that I wasn’t attracted to boys, although it was glaringly obvious from my effeminate demeanor. And I felt so ashamed. Every time I had a thought about someone I found attractive, I’d punish myself.
These thoughts are perverted.
God can hear your thoughts and is disappointed.
I kept this up for years. An ongoing policing of my hand placement and posture, of how my voice sounded, of asking the question, “Do they know? Can they see it?” I was told that if people found out, I would be socially exiled. I’d lose my church community. I’d lose everything.
When I started college, my parents got separated and later divorced. That single event shook me to my very core and for nearly a decade,
I blamed myself.
I was the one who wasn’t trying hard enough. I was the one who let sin into our home. It must be my fault. Why else would God be punishing me and my family if not for the egregious sin of homosexuality?
But God, I prayed, Don’t You see? I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I’ve fasted and prayed. I haven’t ever kissed a boy. I’m looking for a wife… don’t You see my suffering?
And for a period of time, I stopped talking to God. I started dating whoever, drinking whatever, doing whatever felt like relief. I was out on campus to nearly everyone, and at home, I was still a “good Christian guy.” But it was all a lie. I fell into a period of stretching myself so paper thin on campus that I started having panic attacks, all because I couldn’t face myself.
My junior year, ironically, I ended up going back to church because my fraternity brother invited me. I had forgotten how much I missed being connected to the Body. I had missed worship. I had missed giving myself to the community of God’s people. And in an instance, I had turned 180 degrees and dove headfirst into a charismatic church community, complete with a men’s group where I could deal with my secret struggle.
Once again, I reminded myself that if just waited, if I was patient with God, God would bring me a wife. Because that is what holiness looked like. That’s how I know my healing would be complete. Week in and week out, the elders of my church would pray for me, that my attractions would just disappear. They tried exorcisms and inner-healing, and week after week, I would feel more ashamed that I didn’t have enough faith to be healed.
So what did I do to prove my faith?
I became a missionary and went around the world to prove to God that I trusted Him enough, that I had faith enough. The entire time, I was praying for a miracle. I was praying that God would make me whole. But rather than run away from my attractions, it seemed that I just felt them all the more strongly. And I felt all the more ashamed.
You see, the thing about not facing the parts of us that we hate is that as we try to silence them, the louder they scream. It’s like pushing a beach ball under the water in a pool. Try as you might to hold it there, eventually, it just pops up to the surface and smacks you in the face.
But I couldn’t let sin win. That was my thought. These feelings were a part of my sin nature. And if I was a true Christian, I had to die to myself. I had to kill my sin nature. That was where my head was at. Little by little, thoughts began to creep in about not just the metaphorical idea of dying to the self, but literally dying. Because if my flesh was weak, if my body was the thing that desired to sin, if my body was the thing that was causing me to be distant from God, then I needed to end my body.
And so when I came home, I made a plan to end my life, and I tried to execute it…
And praise be to God, I am still here.
After my failed attempt, I felt a nudge in my spirit. If I was going to live, I needed to figure out how. Because either these feelings toward men were never going to go away, and I needed to accept a life of celibacy to be pleasing to God OR… maybe there was another way to look at this whole thing.
It took me another year and a half, but I finally found my way to a place where I realized that my sexuality was not broken. I was not lacking any masculinity. In fact, the way I was created to love and connect with others, the way I was wired to perceive beauty and commune with God, all of it, my whole person—it was all very good.
I’m a queer Christian. God made me this way. God loves this version of me. Not some counterfeit straight version that couldn’t authentically move through the world.
Gay conversion therapy nearly killed me.
Its affects were instilled in me as a teen when I was so desperate to belong to community, my fervor for God manipulated so that I would listen to whatever I was told. It taught me that there was something wrong with me and pushed me to the brink of taking my own life. And it took me over 12 years to come to accept that my life was worth living.
While Exodus International and other ex-gay programs have closed their doors, there is are so many churches and pastors and communities who still advocate that folks should and can change their sexual orientation, that they should suppress their God-given gender identities. And that results in so many LGBTQ folks experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal ideation, abusing drugs and alcohol, getting involved in risky sexual behavior, sometimes even physical ailments that manifest as a result of the mental repression they experience, and none of that has to happen.
When a teen is believed and accepted for who they are, as they are, their lives flourish. When they can speak the truth about who they are and their families rally around them in support, they have a chance of leading joyful, abundant lives. And that doesn’t mean they have to lose their faith in the process.
If you’re a parent out there with an LGBTQ child, the best thing you can do is love them and tell them you will support them. Even if you don’t understand or feel like you cannot fully accept their identity, what you do understand is how much you love them. Let that be the thing that grounds you. Let that the motivation for learning more about this.
Remind them that God loves them no matter what and defend them. That is what giving them their best chance at life looks like. Do not force them to be who they are not or to hide who they are becoming. That will only result in pain for both you and for them.
I pray for the day when children will never have to fear coming out because they know how their communities, their families, their parents will react. And I hope that by telling my story, folks will find solace that they are not alone, and others will find the courage to work with their local and state governments to outlaw conversion therapy for teens in their states.
LGBTQ folks don’t need to be fixed because we aren’t broken. God loves us. And we are fearfully, wonderfully, beautifully made.
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I’ve written about my bout with suicide here.
And if you want to read a whole book about this, I suggest reading Boy Erased, by Garrard Conley. (If you went thru conversion therapy, it’s super triggering so I don’t suggest reading it.)