Understanding the Mind of the Ex-Gay Christian
Life lessons of a loving gay Christian
People who are “ex-gay” Christians want to disassociate themselves from those who identify as “gay Christians.” There is more than merely an “ex” difference.
Please note. I have never been an ex-gay Christian, but I have counseled or met with many such men. While I dislike the concept of an ex-gay Christian, such men are my Brothers. I want this article to be nothing but full of respect and dignity for a class of people who exist today. The paper intends to understand the way an ex-gay person thinks. If you are an ex-gay reading this article and find it offensive, please hold me accountable.
So with malice toward none, come with me and learn the mind of the ex-gay Christian.
Homosexual practices were generally condemned by American religion, government, and mental health by the mid-20th century. The term “gay” likewise became common in American culture around this same time. The term generally became synonymous with hedonistic homoerotic promiscuity, mental disorder, and a threat to the military, government, education, family, and religious culture.
In the 1960s, America went through a cultural war regarding sexual expression and rights. Thus, if you identified as a gay man during this era, you were viewed as an insult to masculinity plus a threat to national secrets, family order, and cultural norms. Many of the gay men of this era were “out and proud” — mockingly exaggerating their appearance and defiantly challenging the social norms.
However, throughout history, there have always been “homosexuals” — men who experienced a same-sex attraction (SSA) to men they found attractive. Furthermore, homosexuals had a very strong preference (if not exclusive) for homoromantic and homoerotic relationships. To admit to being a “homosexual” was a very shaming experience.
However, calling oneself “gay” was a militant, in-your-face, “screw you” declaration of identity.
By 1970, the famous Stonewall Riot occurred, followed by gay pride marches. Gays were no longer willing to be bullied and shamed. Such men wanted equal rights to employment, housing, and family. The 1970s were also filled with public television reporting that portrayed gays as disordered, weird, sick, and revolutionists. If you called yourself “gay,” you were generally part of the gay rights movement during this decade. Those using the “homosexual” title were apt to be closeted.
Also in the 1970s, the “Jesus Movement” was sweeping America. Countless people were becoming spiritually “born again” in their commitment to Jesus. Concurrently, a charismatic movement emerged — with signs of miracles and a belief that God can do all things (if enough prayer was given). Some of the gay men from this movement claimed to have been changed into being straight. Such men began calling themselves “ex-gay” — implying a complete spiritual change, behavioral change, and sexual orientation change.
Additionally, in the 1960s and 1970s, there arose a therapeutic practice for attempting conversion of someone’s sexual orientation. Psychodynamic theory presumed that the cause of one’s homosexuality was a broken (insufficient) relationship with a boy’s father. Thus, the homosexual male needed to “repair” his self-conceptualization (as one who would return to his natural state of heterosexuality). Conversion methods included more socialization with masculine males and homoerotic and homoromantic stimuli reduction.
Furthermore, Christianity began assuring gays that they could become straight. Their conversion methods tended to focus on more prayer, Pentecostal “slaying of the Spirit,” and a “faith” that God can (and will) do all things for those who love Jesus.
Thus, in 1976, a group of ex-gay Christian men formed Exodus International (a.k.a., Exodus). Exodus developed local support group chapters — providing anonymity and group support among fellow ex-gays. The groups’ healing combined the professional counseling methods (i.e., “reparative therapy”) with religious disciplines. Examples of the spiritual disciplines included faith, prayer, confession, charismatic healing, and the presumption that God would return the ex-gay to his God-designed orientation of being straight.
And many, many ex-gay Christians publicly declared that not only “change can happen,” but that orientation change did happen! Such men highlighted that they are now married to a woman (and, in some cases, had children). And their testimonies invited millions of gays to “become healed” like they were — become an ex-gay.
But, wait — there’s more.
The tragic irony is that the ex-gays were not eliminating their same-sex attraction. They had not become straight. Some had significantly reduced their homoerotic behaviors. Some had developed an opposite-sex attraction (usually to just one woman — their wife).
To be personal for a moment, I had years of conversion therapy and my marriage depended upon me eliminating my same-sex attraction. Yet, despite tremendous efforts on my part, my SSA remained fully intact.
Later in my life, I became a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. Most of my clients were homosexual Christians, some of whom wanted to convert their sexual orientation. I thought conversion might be possible (i.e., just because it did not work for me, perhaps it would work for others). What I discovered was that none of my clients lost their SSA! So, I revised both my belief that “change can happen” — and instead focused on helping them believe that Jesus loves them exactly as they presently are. My clients’ sense of thriving greatly increased while their SSA remained static. So, my counseling method became novel and revolutionary. Once the ex-gay ministries learned of my disbelief in orientation change, my therapy practice dried up.
As of today, I have coached, counseled, and mentored thousands of SSA males. And I have yet to meet even one person whose SSA has disappeared!
To become “born again” is a great game-changer for many, many people. Suppose one is a promiscuous, sexually addicted gay man who gives his life over to Jesus. In that case, aligning with Jesus may result in dramatically fewer hookups, life-killing addictions, health diseases, and a lonely lifestyle. Such changes can feel enormous to the gay man — so much so that he swears that he is no longer gay. For such ex-gays, a newfound hope and lifestyle replace one of despair. They still have SSA but no longer want to identify as “gay.”
Just like the alcoholic who becomes sober, an ex-gay may want to develop an identity that shows his progression away from what was previously dysfunctional. Thus, pride may grow. The ex-gay may emphasize that he has become “whole” — and that you can too! The ex-gay may lead support groups that focus on behavioral change. The ex-gay may even champion the efficacy of charismatic healings.
But what the ex-gay will not do is call himself “gay.”
To do such feels like an admission of defeat and disorder. And after devoting himself to days, years, and decades of efforts to change, the ex-gay wants to be respected within his church. The formerly gay person was probably belittled and scourged by the Christian Church (typically fundamentalist, traditionalist evangelical). Now that he is an ex-gay, he wants to become equal in his church. And he believes that by emphasizing his progress (i.e., declaring himself to be an ex-gay), he can acquire dignity.
Everything mutually works well between an ex-gay and his evangelical denomination. The ex-gay is repentant, and the church appreciates “success stories” of miraculous changes. In such religious communities, the ex-gay can become a leader. Furthermore, he can brag about how Jesus (and his disciplined efforts) produced sanctification. “Such were some of you,” said the apostle Paul — and such were I, says the ex-gay.
I understand ex-gays. I know them really, really well.
Here is where I can sympathize. Such men live in church communities wherein the word gay is loathsome. Repeatedly, they hear of how gays are sick, disordered, selfish, hedonistic, and insurrectionists. And who wants to be known for having those awful qualities? Ex-gays want dignity from their family and their church family!
Their efforts to change have been like an eternal treadmill: always straining to stay on track. Don’t look at that attractive man. Don’t look back at that attractive man. Don’t be alone with an attractive man. Don’t hug an attractive man. Don’t fantasize about homoerotic thoughts about that attractive man. Confess every infraction. Confess it with your accountability group. Regularly take a lie detector to prove your word.
In sum, do everything that is not normal for you.
Such is Herculean work.
To My Ex-Gay Christian Brothers
And to my ex-gay Brothers who are now reading this article, please receive my sincere hug [I know — you cannot accept hugs from a gay man]. I want to tell you to your face: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I deeply admire your persevering, straining attempts to be accepted, trusted, and applauded. No one wants to feel like a loser.
You, my Brother, are no loser.
Personally, I would hope that you develop a rock-solid confidence that Jesus loves you exactly as you are. You need not change one iota of your sexuality in order to be forever loved by our dear Christ. I know you have been indoctrinated that feeling SSA is a sin and that you must never engage in any form with a gay man. Perhaps you have longed to have a marriage with a woman, plus children of your own. Do not let me spoil your enjoyable warmth of your tub. Please know, though, that we who are gay Christians likewise enjoy a whole ocean of enjoyable warmth.
I and you do not use the same sexual identity term. I call myself gay; for you, it’s ex-gay. I attend progressive churches; yours are traditional. I believe physical affection is vital for SSA men; you avoid it as though it is the covid. I am married to a man and am delighted. You might be married to a woman who delights you.
I and you will probably not meet here on earth.
But I am certain we both will be hugging in heaven.
Dr. Mike Rosebush is the founder/author of GAYoda and writer for Backyard Church. He has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor with nine years of counseling and mentoring thousands of gay Christian men. A short synopsis of Dr. Rosebush’s life can be found at I Lived the Most Unusual Gay Christian Life Ever. Please read the complete set of his articles here. You may contact Dr. Rosebush at firstname.lastname@example.org.