After twenty years of marriage, I left home, at my wife’s request, because of my being “mentally homosexual.” There had been few homosexual experiences — only a couple of encounters during my younger years. I was 53 years old, very much a believer in the biblical teachings of my Southern Baptist background which included the belief that homosexuality was an abomination unto God. Therefore, having been “kicked out” by a wife who knew my thoughts as a result of reading my journal, I determined to get myself cured of this “leprosy” and located a group under the auspices of Exodus International which met weekly in Tampa at a church annex.
My first encounter with the group promised to be a frightening experience for me. I had never been around gay people and drove to the meeting with fear and trepidation, knowing, however, that what I was doing was “good.” To my surprise, the participants at the meeting, both male and female, could have been members of my Sunday School class. I was greeted warmly. As I sat among the predominantly male group, I wondered why they didn’t look “different.” They looked like me.
During the nearly three years that I participated in this group, I was never asked to have sex by any member of the group nor did I seek anyone sexually. The purpose of the group was to deliver one from homosexuality, and I took that commitment seriously. After all, I had an ex-wife and three children who were counting on me. Week after week I attended, saying nothing, but listening to stories of confession, repentance, recommitment. Finally, I was confronted and asked to tell my story, which I did. From then on, I felt accepted and looked forward each week to rejoining this group of fellow seekers.
One week I met Joey, a young professional dancer, who was dying of AIDS. The group prayed for Joey, and I realized I had had a superior attitude toward AIDS victims as I could not have been infected. The realization that these were not “bad” people turned my negativity and snobbery to sincere caring, and I visited with guys infected with AIDS several times with friends I had met in the group.
I did fall in love. My love affair was with a fellow younger than myself who paid much attention to me and confronted me regarding attitudes that he found were not Christ-like. I found myself drawn to this man but unable and unwilling to call it love. Nevertheless, I learned so much from him and discovered that he was trying to deal not only with his own gayness but with a father who had been murdered by a gay man whom he picked up. The experience left me breathless as I had never truly been in love as I was with this man. It was a totally new experience…and exasperating.
During my involvement with the group, I did everything I was instructed to do in order to change what was in my head — fasting, prayer therapy, confession, crying into my pillow, guilt, seeking to find the cause of my gayness. Most of the group that assembled were totally sincere and dedicated. Of that assemblage, I know now only two who are celibate and believe that homosexuality is a sin. One who has married a female has confessed to me his continued desires for companionship with males.
My assessment of the Exodus group is both harsh and kind. I think it was dangerous in that it refused to allow anyone to admit he/she is homosexual, which caused negative self-images and continual anguish. The fact is that only when I could utter the word “homosexual” about myself did I began to experience healing. One young fellow in the group, who was married and had children, eventually killed himself. He had tried suicide many times.
No one was allowed to discuss whether gay could possibly be acceptable. We were “sick” and had to be cured. God can do all things; therefore, he could change one’s sexual orientation. When that didn’t happen, we were told to work harder, look for the sin in our lives preventing our change, and to pray “without ceasing.” On the positive side, the group allowed me for the first time to meet in a church setting gay people whom I had avoided all my life and to learn that they were not perverts or abominations but people like me, seeking an understanding of themselves.
Frustrated at my inability to control my mind, at some point I addressed God and told Him that I was accepting myself just as He had created me — as a gay man. I was not going to continue fighting His creativity as I had come to believe I was acceptable in His eyes. At that point, I began a new life by accepting myself as a gay man. That acceptance has brought me great happiness and a new self-image that is positive, despite rejection by my dad and stepmother and my only brother. Most of the members of the group in which I was involved eventually dropped out and either have been or are involved in gay relationships, most very productively and healthily.
When I advised the group of my decision, I was asked to leave. Although I have written the leader telling him of my gratitude for his efforts on my behalf, I have never had a response.