This article is an excerpt from the book From Wounded Hearts: Faith Stories of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered People and Those Who Love Them, compiled and edited by Roberta Showalter Kreider, with a Foreword by Peggy Campolo, published by Chi Rho Press.
I was not raised in a Christian family, but it was a homophobic family. I became a Christian when I was 9 years old, and began listening to radio and TV preachers, as well as reading the Bible and Christian literature. I was always attracted to women, long before I knew there was a name for it, and the message I got from my parents was that ” someone should line them (homosexuals) up against a wall and shoot them.” When I discovered the name for my feelings, I knew I had to keep them a secret in order to be safe in this world.
In college, I called Jesus People, USA, in Chicago for help (long distance-I got their number from a Christian record album-but it was the only place I knew to turn). They put me in touch with Outpost in Minnesota, and thus began my 5-year involvement in ex-gay ministries.
During that time, I spent countless hours getting counseling by phone, mail, and in person. I read books, tracts and newsletters, bought audiotapes, and went to conferences. $1500 later nothing had changed. My sexual desires hadn’t diminished or been redirected to men. I began to be skeptical of the messages I was getting from the ex-gay ministries. They saw the homosexual “condition” as one that was the result of early emotional trauma, such as sexual abuse, growing up in a dysfunctional family, and the famous “lack of love from the same-sex parent.”
My disillusionment with the ex-gay movement began when I realized that there are many heterosexuals who have been sexually abused. If abuse is the cause, then why weren’t they homosexual? If a lack of love from the same sex parent causes people to be gay, then what causes them to be straight? Does it mean they lacked the love of the opposite sex parent? And who didn’t grow up in a dysfunctional family? I know gay people who have grown up in loving, stable homes, and straight people who grew up in chaos. The profiles just don’t fit and there were enough exceptions to make me wonder if there wasn’t more to sexual orientation than what could be “healed” or even explained.
Here is a chronological account of the events that led to my actual healing, not from homosexuality, but from depression, fear, and self-loathing:
June ’86 — Attended week-long Exodus International Conference; this summer marked the height of my involvement in ex-gay ministries.
August ’86 — Went to Reading, PA, for week-long training in the 12 Steps of Homosexuals Anonymous. Certified to start H. A. chapters.
Oct. ’86 — Attended Outpost Conference in St. Paul. Two weeks later I attended Mobilized to Serve Christian Singles Conference. I was feeling desperately lonely, and squelching any expression of sexuality, until it began to surface in unhealthy ways. While working at a Christian TV station, I would stay after sign-off and tune the satellite dish to porn channels, waiting for scenes with women together. I felt frustrated and degraded everytime I’d do this.
The pornography was not satisfying because I started to realize that I really longed for companionship. I had always believed that as a Christian, sex outside of marriage was sinful, so I tried to believe I had the gift of celibacy. But I longed to slow dance with a woman, and to kiss a woman, and to do the kinds of things most Christians do with their heterosexual boyfriends/girlfriends before they get married, without any guilt or condemnation by the church. I began to see this as a double standard, and rather than attribute it to society, or the church, I wrongly attributed it to God.
I began to be angry at God for my condition. God seemed cruel, sadistic. Why would He curse me with sexual desires, and give me no legitimate way to fulfill them? Why would he require a higher standard of me than of my heterosexual friends, whom at least had the hope of marriage, and in the meantime, could date? To deal with my anger issues, I sought counseling with a male pastor, who soon manipulated me into talking about my sexual orientation, and trying to change it, to which I responded with more repressed, seething anger. At one point, he suggested I have sex with a man, saying, “You’d love it. You’d love it.”
Jan. ’87 — I was at a breaking point. I had sex with the first available woman, a gay friend that I had warned to stay away from me because I couldn’t handle the temptation. She didn’t. So I didn’t. This was the beginning of yet another 5-year period. I didn’t want a one-night stand, so I decided to try to make a commitment to this person. It was a disastrous relationship that ended when she left me for another woman. Although terribly painful, our permanent seperation in May ’92 was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
June ’87 — I had a nervous breakdown and spent a month in the hospital for depression. When I got out, I felt forsaken by God, wasn’t sure what I believed anymore, lost my job, and my church, had nowhere to live, (my partner and I had separated, even though we later got back together-an incredibly stupid mistake!) I was not out to my parents who were clueless as to what was going on, and was staying in a motel trying to find a place to live in a new town, with a car that kept breaking down. I thought often of suicide, as I had for the previous several months. Thank God I never went through with it!
But while in the hospital, I was visited by some people who did not see homosexuality as sinful and incompatible with Christian faith. This was a surprise to me and I was skeptical for over 3 years, during which time I didn’t pray or read the Bible, didn’t listen to Christian music, or teachers, and didn’t go to church.
Then one day, God broke through my defenses with a verse from Hebrews that popped into my head: “I will never, ever leave you; I will never, ever forsake you.” And so began my long process of healing. I realized that I had just accepted what I’d always been told about homosexuals. I never questioned. I never studied the passages for myself, or read any different interpretations of Biblical passages I was told condemned homosexuality. I began to see that it was not the conviction of the Holy Spirit based on my own reading of the Bible that was forming my opinions about my sexual orientation; it was, instead, my own sense of low self-worth.
I distinctly remember as a child always feeling guilty that I wasn’t a better daughter. I also remember in college feeling that God loved everyone but me — that I was too bad! It was all disparaging of self, but anything but humble. How egocentric! I needed to repent of my pride — the pride that dared to say my lousy opinion of myself overruled the opinion of the God who loved me and gave Himself for me! Years of accumulated self-hate, and guilt, and internalized homophobia were lifted from me.
I gradually began to integrate the sexual and spiritual parts of me. What I once viewed as a curse has now become a gift. I am celibate for now, but it’s not a mandatory life-long celibacy imposed on me by God or by others to prove my relationship with Jesus Christ, or my love for God. It is instead an expectant waiting, knowing that the God who knows what I need will bring a godly woman into my life when she and I are both ready; knowing that God wants the best for me, and that I also want the best for me, and am willing to wait for her. No longer afraid of my sexuality, I also accepted my femininity and my body. I lost 50 pounds, let my hair grow long, and began dressing in ways that were more flattering to my figure.
I feel like I’m alive from the dead! I have a faith which is my own, and an optimism about the future because I’ve seen time and again how God uses “bad” things to bring about our growth and ultimate good. My anger has been replaced by overwhelming gratitude! Those who know me know that I’m not looking for a license to sin, — I’m looking for a license to serve!
I am convinced that the Bible does not condemn homosexual identity, or orientation; neither does it condemn all homosexual behavior, any more than it condemns all heterosexual behavior. I believe God has the same standards for everyone. The church, like the Pharisees, has too often been guilty of heaping burdens on other’s backs while not lifting a finger themselves. Christians regularly impose standards on gays that they would never impose on heterosexuals, or embrace themselves.
It’s as if there are 2 gospels. The one for heterosexuals goes like this: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For God so loved heterosexuals that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but should have the approval of the church and the world to marry, to be sexually active, and to tell everyone about it.” The one for homosexuals goes like this: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and commit yourself to lifelong celibacy, and never allow yourself to have a sexual or romantic feeling or thought, or at least every time you do, if you feel guilty about it, and confess it as sin immediately, you shall be saved. For God so loved heterosexuals that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him and forsakes human companionship might become heterosexual too!”
I also believe that somewhere in the future Christians will look back at us and be amazed that we could ever have been so homophobic to have interpreted the Bible as prohibiting all homosexual activity for all time in all contexts, just as we look back with disbelief and embarrassment at the churches that vehemently defended slavery, and later, segregation, in the name of Biblical faithfulness. I hope my story helps to hasten that day!
Writer, workshop presenter, Bible teacher and speaker on issues involving homosexuality, theology and the Church, with a special emphasis on the Bible and the ex-gay movement, Donna Brooks is also a travel writer/columnist, Biblical storyteller, and leader of workshops and retreats in group recreation and play, prejudice reduction, and nature awareness. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from California University of Pennsylvania. Donna is a member of Soulforce and the Shepherd Initiative.