Trigger warning: In this article I talk very frankly about alcohol abuse, suicide, and depression. Please read at your own discretion. Thank you.
I’ve met a lot of different people in the past seven months since coming out. Many of them also went through reparative therapy programs. We often joke about trying to “pray the gay away” and what a silly concept it is. And then I realize that there are many people out there who are still trying this. People are desperate to believe that there is a way to change their sexual orientation because they believe that they are broken in some way.
Unable to reconcile their faith and sexuality and/or gender identity, there are many who fall into depression, some who lead double lives, struggle with addiction in silence, and even some who are driven to take their own life.
As I reflected on my history with reparative therapy, and my own attempts at suppressing my sexual orientation, I realized that as much as I make light of this situation, that belief that it was possible for me to change my sexual orientation was more than destructive. It was deadly.
I tried to pray the gay away and it nearly killed me.
It was snowing that night. I remember that quite clearly. I remember looking at the red door on my house and thinking how lovely it was. I remembered every single Christmas gathering and birthday party, and I remember thinking, Wow… I’m going to miss this.
The house was no longer a home though. Dad had gone. My brothers were now living in different states. Probably a product of my sin. I was the one, with my homosexual attractions, who had let sin into our home. And that sin had infected everything. You have to do this. It’s the only way to make things right.
I had plotted it out for months at this point. I had silenced my thoughts about the consequences of what would happen to my family and friends. They’ll be fine, I’m sure. Sad, but they’ll get over it.
My foot slowly pressed the gas and I began to pull away from my house for what I believed to be the last time.
Our neighborhood was a golfing community. Golf cart paths weaved throughout and at the very front was a lake. It was beautiful in the moonlight. There was a part of me that thought about driving my car into that lake. It was dramatic and poetic, as was my nature. I saw the movie playing out in my head:
Careening across the field, slowly sinking into the freezing water, letting its icy cold fingers embrace my limbs and lungs and just drifting off into a sweet nothingness. And then opening my eyes to see the golden gates of Heaven, feeling the embrace of my Savior…
But it would probably be my luck that, in my attempts to attempt such a poetic end, the lake would be too shallow and I’d end up having to explain to the tow truck driver and my mother how my car ended up stuck in the lake.
That would be embarrassing.
Jesus, if I can’t stop my body from sinning, I’ll end my sinful body and come see you. I trust that you’ll forgive even this. That’s what I prayed.
Driving past the lake I giggled a touch at the foolish notion. No, what I was doing was a much better way. Much more my style.
I got to the bar, ordered a top shelf triple gin and tonic, and began talking to strangers. I wanted to know about their lives. Most were students, some were in Greek life, some were just locals like me. We danced to the terrible pop music that was playing. I took some shots, had another triple, and let my mind get blurry and dark.
What a good way to end. Beautiful strangers. Quality booze.
Not feeling anything.
When the lights started to come on, I knew it was my cue. Closed up my tab, stumbled out the door. Everything was going fine.
That was fun. I’m ready now. I was going to get in my car, turn the key, get on the highway, and probably crash and die. Maybe I’d fall asleep at the wheel. Maybe I’d crash into a tree. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. But I was ready.
And as I was walking to my car, I blacked out. I have this small blip of memory of someone. I think I knew them but I’m not sure. And next thing I know I’m waking up in my bed. My keys are on the nightstand. I look out the window. My car is parked on the street. Not a scratch on it.
…How am I alive? This wasn’t supposed to happen.
It had been ten years of trying to pray the gay away. Ten years of trying to fix myself. Ten years of struggling to grasp why I was gay and why God would allow this to happen to me—a Christian. I had been to therapists and group meetings and even went around the world as a missionary, hoping that through these acts of penance, God would grant me freedom from what I was feeling.
These unwanted homosexual attractions were something I viewed as separate from me. They were a cancer to be cured, a tumor on my heart to be cut out. I was terrified to share my torment with many people because I was ashamed. I was told that if I just prayed the right prayers, if I fasted, if I did the “heart work,” that maybe, hopefully, God would grant me the grace to overcome these temptations.
But nothing ever worked.
Not therapy, not prayer, not getting “demons” cast out of me, not fasting, not group confessions, not holy oil, nothing. For ten years I was convinced it was something wrong with me. It had to be me. I wasn’t ever going to be good enough for God because I wasn’t strong enough to overcome this trial.
This warped view of myself distorted my logic. It caused me to view my life as invaluable. It pushed me to take my life because a life full of this, what I saw as a horrible pattern of sin, a terrible addiction that I couldn’t hope to overcome, was not worth living.
So I tried.
I tried to kill myself because I saw my heart as incontrovertibly damaged.
I believed my soul as marred beyond any hope of healing.
And it didn’t work.
After that night at the bar, when I woke up in my bed with the world’s worst hangover, I asked God why he kept me alive. And it was almost like a light came on in my head, like a candle in the darkest room. What the hell was I thinking?
I knew something had to change. I knew that there had to be a different way of looking at this.Praying the gay away nearly killed me and, if I hoped to live at all, something had to change. Click To Tweet
That’s when I began reading medical journals on sexual orientation. I began exploring new kinds of theology, new ways of talking about God that I never knew were possible. I read stories of people who had walked what I’d been through. I was amazed. Something else was possible. More than that, I didn’t just have to survive, but I had an opportunity to actually thrive in this life.
The next year was still a struggle as I worked out my personal theology, but the biggest thing I look at as a clear indicator of God’s will for my life and for other people who struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity is this:
Jesus said we’d know a tree by its fruit. So what is the fruit of your life? Is what you are doing bringing you life or death?
As I worked to suppress and change my sexual orientation, continually being met by failure, I internalized those failures as being my fault. I believed God was displeased with me, that I wasn’t doing enough, that I couldn’t change.
What what was the fruit of that labor?
Literal death. I wanted to kill myself and nearly did.
So if the way of Jesus is supposed to lead us to life, I am convinced that trying to correct my orientation is not in line with the heart of Christ as it lead me to a place of death.
And this just isn’t my story. There are thousands of LGBTQ+ individuals who can tell you that the same self-hate I experienced also drove them to similar places. And enough is enough.
No more stories of people being pushed to the brink of taking their life because they can’t fix themselves.
No more transgender individuals throwing their lives away because of familial rejection.
No more marriages that are torn apart because one partner hoped and prayed and believed that a heterosexual marriage would heal them of something that is naturally a part of who they are.
No more death.
There is a better way. And it starts with embracing good science and psychology. It starts with hearing people’s stories and believing them.
God has set me free to live a life that is abundant and full of His glory. You can look at just the past seven months since I came out and see that depression, suicidal thoughts, and much of my negative self-talk has fled because I am standing in the truth. I feel like a whole new person. And I cannot and will not go back to a shame-filled, half existence when I know there is so much life to live.
The teaching that one has to change their sexual orientation in order to be in right relationship with God is wrong, dangerous, and is killing people.
There is research to support this, science to back this up, and countless stories from people like me who have survived reparative therapy practices and teachings from conservative leadership.
Regardless of where God leads an individual in this matter, we have to begin to embrace people where they are, and give them to the freedom to wrestle through their theology, and land where they feel closest to God. That could be celibacy. That could be staying faithful in a mixed orientation marriage. That could be embracing progressive theology and pursuing a same-sex relationship.
But don’t lie to people and tell them the have to fix themselves before they come into a full relationship with God.
We must choose the way that leads to life, and show others that path when they have lost their way.