I grew up in a conservative Christian home. I was aware of homosexuality from a young age and knew that it was “bad” and repulsive. High school was a difficult time as I began realising that I was different. I started becoming aware of my attraction to men and struggled to ignore it.
In Standard Eight I met a teacher who told me about “Christ-following” (as opposed to just going to church) and I was immediately attracted to it. I loved being part of a Christ-following community and became as involved as I could; working on youth camps as a leader and as part of the worship teams. While this was happening I was very aware that the Bible I believed in was telling me that a part of what was emerging in my life was wrong. So I started to pray and fought any thoughts that had any vague homosexual connotation.
When I left school and went to University I desperately wanted to be myself, but I was so afraid; afraid to disappoint God, myself and most of all, my family. I only wanted them to be pleased with me – and admitting I was gay and living a life that openly portrayed this would mean rejection. So out of love, I hated myself more…
After university I started working full time for the church as a youth pastor. No one knew what was lurking beneath the surface and I was petrified someone in the church would suspect. I came across a book on ‘counselling the homosexual’ (I could buy that and read it freely since I was working in a counselling capacity). And let me tell you, I devoured that book – looking for some morsel of hope that would free me from my gayness. It mentioned an organisation in the States that provides tools for gay men and women to change and live their lives as straight people. I found a South African branch led by a man who was now called ‘ex-gay’ and married with a daughter.
Meeting him was nerve-wracking. For the first time in my life I had someone asking me to divulge the darkest secrets of my life. He wasn’t shocked or offended. He gave me a reading list and asked me to come to the support group. And so began my journey into becoming ‘ex-gay’.
Let me tell you how the ex-gay ministry works. You have reading material and support groups where you discuss what you’ve read as well as anything happening in your ‘journey’. Prayer is an important part of the ministry; much time is spent praying for your healing. There are also conferences where people who have ‘journeyed’ out of homosexuality speak about how they have done this and how they remain on the ‘straight’ and narrow.
They are very forthright. There are no claims that you will be straight and find women attractive: the belief is that God does not replace one lust for another but that you choose to walk away from the lifestyle of homosexuality. You are never straight, you become ex-gay. They talk about redefining your masculinity; from giving you basic advice on how to sit in a more masculine way so that you are able to integrate with straight men, to discussing how being gay is a ‘broken’ version of masculinity.
The theory is that people become gay because of their circumstances. There are basically two roots to becoming a gay man. In the first, a young boy is abused and has a distorted view of his sexuality or, and this is the more common one, the cause lies in the way you are fathered.
“Like any form of repression, it has the potential to erupt at any time…”
Simply put, the ex-gay ministry believes that we come from a generation where fathers have been absent from our lives at a formative time (and some add to this the idea that the mother was more dominant) and this lack of father results in a yearning for male love. This love becomes eroticised over time and a child starts feeling attracted to members of the same sex.
I was a part of the ex-gay ministry for seven years. I moved to Cape Town after being a youth pastor and became part of a New Covenant Church where I was a leader in the worship team, a cell leader and led conferences with the senior pastor in Malaysia and Singapore. This gives you an idea of how immersed in the church I was.
Around this time I met a woman that I really did love. The ex-gay ministry encourages you to date women as a way of moving forward. They advise you to be honest with the person (which I was) and to not see them as your trophy to heterosexuality. We were together for almost three years. She was a part of every step I took and was with me as I walked away from the ex-gay ministry – and ultimately from her.
When I realised after ten years of being in the ministry that nothing had changed, I was heartbroken, and in turn I broke her heart. While the ex-gay ministry believes we can be healed of our homosexuality, I realised that this ‘healing’ was actually the repression of my feelings and desires. Like any form of repression, it has the potential to erupt at any time and, when it does, it can do damage.
I’ll tell you the cracks I saw in the ex-gay ministry which led me to walk away:
I was never going to be straight. All they could offer was being ex-gay. I remember being in counselling with one of the guys in leadership in Cape Town. We were in his lounge chatting. His wife arrived home and I could see the tension that arose because she was concerned that he was alone with another man in the house. She had married a man who believed he was no longer gay and the faith and trust she needed to have must have been enormous.
In the conferences I met more and more men who were in the same position I was: having been in the healing ministry for years but still struggling. Most eye-opening was meeting a man who was married with two children, was HIV positive and had probably infected his wife. His children were devastated at the revelation of their father’s status. He had been having secret and risky affairs with men on the side. I realised that this man could be me in a few years. He was just as hopeful that God would free him initially and wanted nothing but a ‘normal’ life.
Ultimately, the biggest realisation was that I felt no different when it came down to my base desire to connect with someone intimately. I was attracted to men and after years of not wanting to be and believing that I could change – I had to admit that I still was. This was not easy to accept.
Over the years, I have seen more and more men that I knew from the ex-gay ministry returning to the place they started – as gay men. You see, I do believe in a God who heals – but not always as we want Him to.
God has healed my relationships with my family. Their acceptance of me as a gay man has been the most powerful form of love I’ve experienced because it’s an example of God’s love – unconditional. God has also healed the way I perceive myself as male – I am no less a man because I’m gay.
A verse in Romans says that nothing will separate you from the love of God – and that includes being gay (somehow the church seems to have forgotten that). I experienced that through my family. They have no expectation but for me to live my life and be happy.
I know the Bible speaks about homosexuality in a negative light. It does the same with divorce. If you take scripture at its word – you must take it all at its word. Being selective in scripture you choose to enforce is prejudice.
Barbara Johnson, a Christian writer, said something that really changed the way I see things. In her biography, where she deals with her son coming out and his disappearance from her life as a consequence, she writes, “God’s love does not demand that you change, God’s love changes you”.
So that’s where I