I think the earliest I ever realized I liked other guys in a romantic sense was when I was in the fifth grade. I was sitting out on the playground with a few friends and one of them started talking about and making fun of “queers” and “fags” (those were his words). I remember not really knowing what he was talking about, and so I asked him. He said it was guys who like other guys. At that moment, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I’d already been noticing other guys in that way. What I learned from this is that if I didn’t want to be made fun of or lose any friends, I’d better keep my thoughts to myself. More than that, I learned that I didn’t want to be gay.
Throughout middle school and high school, I was made fun of a lot by other guys who thought I was gay. There were lots of jokes and innuendos. Maybe no more than anyone else experiences, but it was still enough to make me feel as though there was something wrong with me.
I heard people at church and at home, friends, and family alike, talk about how homosexuality is a sin. I read the bible and concluded the same thing. I believed it is, and to some extent still believe it might be, a sin for two men to be in a sexual relationship with each other. But I believed something far worse, too. I believed it was sinful simply to have those sorts of attractions. I believed there was something about me that wasn’t supposed to be. I believed there was something wrong with me.
After high school, I experienced a really lonely and confusing time in my life. And it got so bad—I struggled so bad—that I very nearly took my own life. Thankfully, I was too scared to do it, and cared too much for my family to put them through such a thing, to carry it out. Thankfully, God heard my prayers for help and guided me back onto solid pavement.
After a very poignant rescue, and another month or two of thinking things through, I determined not to worry anymore about being gay. I realized if God would save my life as He did, that He must not have abandoned me. I knew in my heart that even if others may hate me for being gay, God didn’t. I felt a great deal of hope from that, and I used that hope to turn my life around. I put aside thoughts of taking my life, worked to build up my faith, to work harder on finishing goals in life, and to simply try my best not to give into temptations to sin. I determined that so long as I wasn’t actually giving in to my desires to be with another man, the temptations I felt to do that were nothing more than temptations. I determined that those temptations were not sinful in and of themselves. I still, however, cared about what others might think of me. So, I still tried to keep my sexuality to myself.
In 2005, my brother found out I was gay. His response was one of total rejection. It meant a lot then, and it still means a lot to me now, what my brother thinks. His response literally threw me into one of the worst states of depression I’ve ever been in. It opened up many old wounds and made me question a lot of my decisions. It made me question the hope I’d previously found. And it made me determine more than ever that I didn’t want to be gay anymore.
I ended up at a point where I knew I needed help. I knew I needed to be able to talk to someone about my struggles with homosexuality. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually do any talking with anyone about it. I went online instead and eventually came across Exodus International. I read the testimonies and some of the books listed on their website and connected to their message. I felt understood for the first time in my life.
I eventually found a wonderful Christian minister through Exodus who was willing to counsel me. He was actually willing to listen to me. He was never judgmental. He never pushed me do anything I didn’t want to do or wasn’t willing to try. He was just kind to me. He offered advice, encouragement, prayers, and a shoulder to lean on. I owe him so much for the help he gave me.
Yesterday, I found out Exodus International will be shutting down.
I don’t know exactly how to feel about this. On one hand I feel a profound sadness about it; sadness, because I know how much I was helped through Exodus, and how much others have been helped by them. On the other hand, I feel it is for the best.
I can’t deny what help, what hope, strength, encouragement, and wisdom I gained through Exodus. They helped me not only feel more understood, but for me to understand myself better as well. I made friends through them. I started this blog (in a roundabout way) because of them. Knowing all of this, I don’t see how I can ever completely say that Exodus’ closing is a good thing.
However, I will concede that Exodus’ closing may truly bring about a great deal of good. I know not everyone Exodus worked with was helped as I was. Seeing so many negative responses toward Exodus now and throughout the last few years, it really has made me wonder if maybe I simply lucked out for some reason. I do believe, perhaps, that I understood their message slightly differently than most others. I was never told that changing my sexuality should be a real goal of mine, only that it was possible for God to bring about such a change—and that if it happened, it would be His doing above any efforts of my own. Perhaps others were told something different, or perhaps they understood it differently than I did, I don’t know. But I will say now, as I have many times before, that Exodus’ approach was not the best.
Reparative therapy is not the best approach to use when dealing with someone struggling with their sexuality. Exodus used, believed in, and advocated those practices throughout the years. I don’t believe they work. That is, I don’t believe they can ever really help bring about a change in one’s sexual orientation. The only reparative therapies I was ever willing to engage in were gender role related, and I can say that they helped me better understand myself and know how to better relate to other men. Rather than be a sort of blank slate as I felt I was beforehand, they helped me figure out and embrace those things I like best about being male. But these therapies, I certainly do believe can and have brought about a lot of pain for a lot of people, including false hope.
What I would really like to see happen out of Exodus’ closing is that a new bridge can be created between the Church and LGBT individuals. I would love to see those who worked for Exodus, or who was helped by Exodus, go forth and bring awareness to those issues which unnecessarily, undesirably, and regrettably separate LGBT individuals and otherwise from inclusion in the Church. Reading the reasons for which Exodus is being closed, I do find some hope that that will happen. For that reason, I can’t be too very sad to see Exodus come to an end. From its death, I see and hope for a new birth—the result being something far better than what was before.
With that in mind, I pray, “Lord, please help your Church be able to better reach out to others. Please help us to make a positive difference in the lives of others and to show them your love and grace. Please help us to better understand each other, Lord, and to be more accepting, forgiving, and smarter in our dealings with others. In your son Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”