My Ex-Gay Life :: Choosing Heterosexuality

by David Foucher

EDGE Publisher

Wednesday July 11, 2007

[Editor's Note: this article is the first in a four-part exclusive EDGE series on "ex-gays."]

"It became clear to me, as I really thought about it, - and really prayed about it - that homosexuality prevents us from finding our true self within. We cannot see the truth because we're blinded by homosexuality." - Michael

Such were the words of Michael Glatze, posted to a conservative Christian website on July 3rd 2007, less than one week after three leaders of an ex-gay ministry called Exodus publicly apologized at Soulforce's recent Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference for their roles in creating patterns of "guilt, anxiety and self-loathing" in the individuals who, struggling with their homosexuality, sought their help, indirectly or directly, to be "cured" of it.

There are currently over 150 Exodus ministries in 70 countries worldwide, actively counseling those who seek to no longer be gay or lesbian. Gay advocates deride these ministries, as well as other types of "conversion" programs, as harmful.

The remarkably-timed crossfire is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over the questionable mutability of the LGBT community's sexual core, amplified by the fact that Michael Glatze was, a few years ago, a gay activist. He ran, alongside his boyfriend at the time, a magazine called Young Gay America.

"It was meant to fill the void that [XY Magazine] had created - namely, anything not-so-pornographic," he explains in his article.

Reports differ on the success of the venture; the magazine printed only a handful of issues since 2004, which, according to some bloggers, might have constituted sufficient shame to at least partially explain his sudden dislike of the gay community. Glatze's departure from the publication was capped by an articulation of his self-perceived personal failure: the perfunctory message "Homosexuality is death, and I choose life" left on his computer as he vacated the premises. In talking to EDGE, Glatze denied that his sexual shift was related to any lack of success at YGA; he credits it to a revelation brought on by far less commercial circumstances.

"I was diagnosed with Celiac disease," he confides, referring to a digestive condition that interferes with a person's tolerance of gluten. "I was anemic, and my heart was palpitating, and my Dad had died of a heart condition that was genetic, and I thought I had inherited that. It's the quintessential you-think-you're-gonna-die story. When I figured out I just had Celiac disease, I sort of laid back on my bed and stared at the ceiling and said, thank God. And that was the first time I really understood and had a strong sense of what 'God' was."

Michael does not present as an ill-informed, imbalanced individual making a snap decision; after his bout with intense fear, he set about taking action the way an intellectual might: he followed his instincts and began reading.

"I'd read queer and feminist theories, I'd studied Judith Butler," he says. "But at that point, I began reading the Bible. And as I did that, I realized that the words that Jesus was saying - they weren't religious, they weren't strange, they were very kind of almost self-help. They were pretty cool."

Those teachings are, of course, also interpreted by a variety of Christian denominations to be decidedly anti-gay; for many inductees into conversion programs, this interpretation and the resulting range of implied or direct admonishments from unworthiness to eternal damnation have proved to instigate a desire for change.

Glatze, however, deviates from this more prevalent path; if the genesis of his soul-searching can be found in the text of the Bible, his cognitive justification for follow-through is decidedly secular.

"I kept an open mind, and I started to learn about a lot of stuff on the right-hand side of the scale," Michael asserts. "And a lot of the things people were saying made sense.

"We are naturally heterosexual; it's about life. We can talk about it in religious terms, or talk about it in terms that everyone agrees on. It's about life. If you're not having sex with a woman and having a child, then you're not giving life. I have the capacity for creating life, and I'm very excited to do it. Five years ago, I would have told someone maybe I would have a kid because I can have an adoption, but the reality of the situation is that those were all excuses I was making because I felt guilty about being gay. Homosexuality prevents life. So homosexuality is equal to death."

That blunt sentiment caused EDGE's staff to report on Michael's announcement, and his earnest reply to our story via email caused us to chat directly with him - and to look further into the reasons why a small percentage of gays and lesbians decide to pursue an ex-gay life.

"It was easier for me to give up being gay than it was to give up my faith." - Darlene

Unlike Michael, whose rationale is formulated upon a rigid construct of a "natural" state of heterosexuality - he believes that homosexuality is a deviance - it was a simpler, untenable Christian point of view that drove Darlene to try to exorcise her unwanted same-sex attractions.

"In college I became involved with a woman," she relates. "And every time I went to church, I would hear you can't be Christian and gay; so then I would feel bad about my sexuality, because I knew that my faith was of primary importance to me. If I was out in the gay lifestyle, you know, then I was not able to openly live my faith, and if I was openly living my faith, I could not claim these same sex attractions. It was very frustrating."

The year was 1977.

"I guess I just decided it was not working," she says.

Darlene wrote articles about her struggle with faith and her sexuality; ultimately she discovered Exodus, at the time a one-year-old ministry preaching the theory that it was possible to "free" oneself from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ. A quick convert and already an assistant pastor of a local church, she agreed to begin an Exodus ministry in San Francisco's East Bay.

"I was more than happy to get up and say, yep, I was gay and now I'm straight," she summarizes, "and that my same-sex attractions were dead."

Ultimately, Darlene became one of the most recognizable female proponents for Exodus, making appearances on the Jerry Springer show, Sally Jesse Rafael, 48 Hours, and other television shows, along with authoring two books and speaking publicly on Exodus' behalf.

To Jeremy Marks, who founded ex-gay ministry Courage UK before himself becoming the President of Exodus International Europe, Darlene's story is a familiar one.

"People came to the ex-gay ministry because, like me, they were brought up in a homophobic environment," he says bluntly. "They believed they had to find an alternative to being gay - either to be able to be content with a celibate life, or even better, to change, become 'normal' and marry (heterosexually). Like me, they felt there was no alternative if you were to be a true Christian."

Biblical denunciation is one of many potential reasons that gays and lesbians voluntarily seek help for sexual attractions they no longer desire. Robert-Jay Green, PhD, Executive Director of the Rockway Institute, a national center for LGBT research and public policy, points out that shame and fear might result just as easily from pressures applied from a subject's direct family.

"Often they feel conflicted because they were raised in a traditional family that was very religious and that have literal interpretations about the bible," he says, drawing on 32 years of psychology in a practice that evolved from family therapy to LGBT issues. "But they may also simply have conventional ideas about gender, and they internalized many of these anti-gay attitudes when they were growing up, and are still struggling about them as adults."

The gay community may be partly responsible for some cases of conversion, particularly in men, who are often judged by potential partners on terms of youth and beauty; Green suggests that men facing rejection may reject the entire lifestyle.

But Michael proposes that the gay community, in these instances, is merely losing members that ought not to have self-identified as gay in the first place. He believes that adolescent persons grappling with their sexuality may, in this age of increasing political and social support for the gay lifestyle, more rapidly succumb to an identity that is, after hundreds of years of oppression, coming into vogue.

"When I was around thirteen, I didn't know what was happening to me," he relates. "My Dad had been decidedly unmasculine - he taught me that Ronald Reagan, who was president at the time I was growing up, was a stupid cowboy and that his masculinity was responsible for a lot of the evils in the world. Then he goes and leads by example by cheating on my mother and breaking up the family. So now I'm afraid of masculinity, and I push it away, and when I encounter boys who are masculine it both scares me and turns me on.

"And of course at this age I'm entering puberty, and my friend Carl comes down and sits next to me and says, 'Hey, did you hear about gay people?' And he spells out this notion of the gay identity, that it's possible to have sexual desire for another man. I hear it packaged like that, this identity marketed for me, and then I, being a self-aware young man, I say, 'Oh, that must be me.'"

While psychologists point out that there is no evidence that any family pattern of relationships is associated with sexual orientation in adulthood, there is some evidence that children who are less gender conforming show a higher incidence in same-sex attraction as they mature.

"Kids who report from an early age they were different in terms of their gender conformity are somewhat more likely to turn out to be lesbian or gay," Green explains. "That doesn't mean that future gay boys were markedly effeminate, but it means they were more androgynous in general; likewise for future lesbians. It's also true that there's some evidence that kids who are at the extremes of gender nonconformity are much more likely to turn out to be lesbian or gay."

Does this provide support for Michael's argument?

"We don't know why people are gay," counters Jack Drescher, M.D., a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York City who is a renowned writer on gender issues. "We don't know why people are straight. We know there are some signs but nothing is definitive; there seems to be a contribution from nature and a contribution from nurture. We just don't know."

"I was raised Roman Catholic in a liberal Italian family outside of New York. I grappled with this issue. You believe in absolute truth, and if you're wrong on one point that you believe in, suddenly, billions of questions arise about the other stuff you believe in. Then you have to question everything, and that's terrifying. That's the process I went through, and it was easier to say I can't be both Christian and gay." - Peterson

Gay advocates usually characterize the various catalysts for those who enter conversion programs as impositions from outside the individual: religious persecution, societal pressures, direct pressure from friends and/or coworkers who generate anxiety, shame and/or fear. These assumptions are naturally skewed; ex-gays are understandably skeptical of any pro-gay research study or advocate. A 2006 study by of some 189 men from that site's online support groups asked them to describe what they perceived to be the most significant motivator for their desire to change - and the #1 issue identified was personal spirituality.

"I was 17 when I had a conversion experience and became a born-again Evangelical Christian," Peterson says. "Being a good Christian meant you were republication, and you were staunchy anti-abortion. And you were NOT gay."

When Peterson could not deny his sexual impulses - he explains that by the time he was born-again he had a high libido and was already sexually active with men - he followed what he thought was a logical path to resolution.

"I began the process of prayer, bible studies, and pastoral counseling to straighten myself out," he reports. "And I had a really hard time denying my sexual desires. And when the church route didn't help, that's when I started thinking about support groups.

"I went to a support group in New York city called Life Ministries. I got to hear testimonies, teachings - and it was a chance to get together with other gay guys in an acceptable way," he continues. "At that time you could be gay or Christian, you couldn't be both. And they created a middle space. It was also the 80s - the height of the AIDS crisis - and you had people running from sexuality for fear that they could get AIDS."

The program didn't work for Peterson.

"I got involved in a Pentacostal church that cast out demons," he recalls. "And that finally helped. I really stopped having sex with men. My fantasy life was still about men, but less so, and I wasn't masturbating clearly as much. I even married a woman."

That goal - having a wife and child - was #2 on the survey's list of reasons for change.

"Once I had that ring on my finger, and people know I had a wife, I was treated in a much more legitimate way," Peterson says. "I noticed that as soon as I was perceived as straight, other men treated me with more respect. I was considered more established, and trustworthy, in a way I never felt I was before."

For Michael, the desire to procreate is at the top of his list.

"I think that God gives us free will," he asserts, "and if someone chooses not to have kids, I wonder why. What is better? What is more important? Your own financial success? And you're not just hurting yourself, you're hurting others. You know as well as I do how much there is in the gay community of trying to turn other people gay. There are plenty of guys who are interested in hooking up with straight guys.

"Because of that, homosexuality cannot just co-exist with heterosexuals. It doesn't work that way. In fact it is - please, if this word is hard I'm sorry - it is a cancer. It continues to metastasize further and further throughout the culture, starting with our schools, taking people away from their life-giving abilities."

Many psychologists, however, point out that a heterosexual marriage is not always an appropriately safe place for an ex-gay to test out his or her newfound freedom.

"As we know from the three exodus leaders who just recently said that they themselves had not been able to transition from homosexual to heterosexual, some of the people in these studies probably will come to re-accept their underlying lesbian or gay feelings, and start to live as a lesbian or gay in the future," Green retorts.

Moreover, there have been no statistically-sound longitudinal studies to nail down the long-term effectiveness of conversion programs. While estimates of short-term conversion rate success ranges from 90% (a figure reported by Living Waters, which publishes a 12-step program for ex-gays) to less than 10%, Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus, claims a 33% success rate for his organization.

To Drescher, a 66% failure rate is unacceptable, particularly when many conversion programs actively encourage their subjects to practice their newfound heterosexual lifestyle by starting a family.

"What happens to that family when they revert?" asks Drescher. "They may get divorced, or if they're very religions and don't believe divorce is acceptable, do they stay married? What happens to the kids?"

Glatze says he is absolutely certain of his choice, and is determined to stand as an example that a permanent conversion in sexual orientation is possible.

"I was extremely attracted to guys, there are people out there who think I'm straight and I was pretending all along," he scoffs. "I was no different from any other gay guy - and I could have continued to do that, but obviously I didn't. Now, here I am today extremely heterosexual... when I think about any of those gay activities, I actually feel repulsed.

"It's important for people to know that this was not easy for me," he adds. "Pragmatically, I had to leave a relationship of nine years. My friends and family didn't really know what I was doing, they thought I was confused or sad. There's a lot of fear out there, and a lot of people who are afraid of what I'm saying this week."

To Jeremy Marks, Michael's path is one he himself traveled, and he anecdotally points to his own history working in conversion programs as both a potential comfort... and a warning.

"I gradually discovered that more and more people were seeking this change because of the opinions of others," he says in partial explanation of his defection from Exodus. "I found that if I asked, 'What would you want to do if God changed his mind about homosexuality and said you could have a same-sex partner - what would you want to do?' And invariably they realized that if they were free to make their own choices, they wanted a same-sex partner."


Click here to read Part Two, "My Ex Gay Life: On the Road to Salvation."


On the net:

Exodus International:
Courage UK:
People Can Change:
The Rockway Institute:

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.