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Breaking Hearts & Telling Lies at “Love Won Out” – Pt. 1

Jim, over at Box Turtle Bulletin attended the “Love Won Out” conference in Phoenix, Arizona earlier this month. I can only imagine what it was like, but I’m sure I’d be loathe to subject myself to it. And that’s a shame, because I don’t know first hand what’s said and done at these conferences. Fortunately, after taking what was probably some very necessary time to digest the experience, Jim has begun posting a series of essays about what he saw and heard at the conference. He begins with an explanation about why he chose to attend.

I often say that you should never take anyone?s word for anything if you can observe things directly for yourself. So if I?m such a show-me kind of guy, if I believe so strongly in going directly to the source, why should I let my perceptions about Love Won Out be shaped by what others are saying? Why am I not practicing what I?m preaching in this case? The more I thought about it, the more obligated I felt to go directly to the source itself ? just like I always try to do with everything else.

There are one or two things that surprised me in the first couple of essays, including some that I disagree with ? like Jim’s suggestion that gay activists no longer use “hate” to describe what goes on at “Love Won Out” or similar gatherings, which I’ll get to a bit later. But what stood out to me initially was Jim’s assessment of the smallest and largest groups at the conference, and his picture of one couple representing the largest group of conferees.

That was the first surprise; the largest group of attendees. According to Jim, the smallest group of attendees were those “struggling with same-sex attraction.” (Jim says those he observed seem to want to be left alone, and there actually wasn’t much on the conference agenda specifically for them.) They were followed closely by church leaders and others attending the conference as “part of their ongoing Christian education.” No surprise there.

The largest contingent was parents of gay and/or lesbian children, who’d come out to them.

But the third group ? and this was by far the largest group (I think about two-thirds according to a show of hands during one of the general sessions) ? consisted of relatives of those ?affected by homosexuality.? And by my unsubstantiated estimation, it appeared to me at least that most of these were either parents or grandparents of gays and lesbians. The rest were brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or close friends. Because of their sheer numbers, this was the most approachable group of the three.

I?ll probably address the relevance of Love Won Out to the first two groups, but it?s the third group, especially the parents and grandparents, who I want to keep in mind as I tell you about Love Won Out. I don?t think anyone can really understand what Love Won Out means without looking at it through the eyes of the mothers and the fathers of gays and lesbians, particularly those with children who came out to them and continue to live as ?gay- or lesbian-identified,? to use Love Won Out?s way of speaking.

And it’s this group Jim is speaking of when he says this.

Folks, I can now state categorically that this is not true and we need to stop saying that. Now mind you, I can?t look into the hearts of the conference leaders and I?m certainly won?t mount a defense on their behalf. They will have to defend their own actions and motivations however they can. But those who attend Love Won Out don?t go there because of hate. To say otherwise is to commit a terrible slander and we should abolish that kind of language from our discourse.

I appreciate and understand the distinction Jim makes between the conference leaders and the parents and relatives of gay & lesbian people who attend the conference. However, while the term “hate” may not be applicable to the parents in attendance, I’d reserve the right to apply it to the conference leaders and the organizations that underwrite such conferences and “ex-gay” groups.

I do so because they, the conference leaders and underwriting organizations are in the business of breaking hearts and telling lies. And I don’t believe they can legitimately claim to be doing so out of love, when they opportunistically abuse the love that these parents and relatives obviously have for their children, for their own political purposes.

To illustrate his point, Jim describes one couple who attend the conference because they have a gay son.

For a long time, this gentleman had been wondering why his very good-looking and popular son hadn?t gotten married yet, when about eight years ago his son came home for a special visit in order to explain why that wasn?t going to happen. This father was very forthcoming in telling me that he took the news very badly, and he said a lot of things that he shouldn?t have said. And when he talked to his son more in the months that followed, he repeated some of those awful things which brought their relationship to a terrible break.

Since then, he?s talked to his son on the phone many times, but too often it often hasn?t gone very well. There are too many times when the conversations between them break down as old patterns repeat themselves. There?s just too much pain and anger on both sides, although he?s careful not to blame his son. He wishes he knew how to talk to him, and as he said this he began to cry very softly. His wife, who had been standing silently next to him the whole time, gently reached for his hand and she began to cry as well. But she remained silent. She never shared her side of the story and I didn?t ask.

I just stood there and watched this man?s heart break before my very eyes. His lower lip quivered ever so slightly as he continued speaking ? the hopes that he had for his son, the many things he admired about him, his pride in his son?s successful career, and yet, his utter puzzlement that his son could possibly be gay. Eight years later and he still can?t quite bring himself to fully believe it. All he wants is for his boy to come home.

And his boy probably wants to come home. But his boy can’t come home as who he is. So he doesn’t come home. He decides that home isn’t home. And he builds one of his own.

I know, because I’m one of those boys. I couldn’t read the description of the father above without thinking of my own father and the very last time I talked to him.

I?m a 37 year old black gay man whose parents are aging. One of them, my father, is dying. I went home a week ago, alone, to be with my family and see my father again. I tried not to go with any expectations, but I guess it?s difficult for a child to ever completely stop desiring his parents? acceptance and approval. And despite the fact that they didn?t react well to my coming out and have always stated their religious objections to my life, I guess I held out hope.

It started and ended at my dad?s beside. I sat and talked with him for a while after I arrived, and we exchanged I-love-you?s and said some things we needed to say. Then my folks explained me they had not told their friends or our extended family about my “lifestyle” and suggested that they?d rather it not come up during my visit. I attempted to accommodate that, out of a desire not to add to the stress of the situation for the rest of the family, though now I wonder if I should have.

When the time came for me to head to the airport on Sunday, I went in say goodbye to my dad and our last two conversations ? within five minutes of each other ? ended up with him urging me to find Jesus, get “saved,” and renounce my “lifestyle.” I tried to change the subject the first time, when I went in to tell him I was loading up the car. I tried to avoide it the second time when I went in to tell him I was leaving, until my father tole me he was worried that he wouldn?t “see me in heaven” and that come judgment day I would “lift up my eyes in hell.” And I saw how much pain it caused him to believe that.

And since I know there?s no chance of my adopting his version of his faith, and renouncing my family in the process, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I lied. I lied and told him I would “promise to try,” knowing I have no intention of ever doing so. It may have been the last time I?ll see my father alive, and the only thing I could do to give him what peace I can was to lie to him, so he won?t die believing there?s no chance he?ll see me in his idea of heaven, and being pained by that belief. The only way I could give him hope, as we spoke for what could be the last time, was to lie.

If I said it broke his heart to believe that, I would be far from the truth. It broke my heart that, in our last moment together, the wall erected by that belief was still very much intact, and insurmountable by the. Yet, I know without a doubt that my dad loved me. But because of his beliefs he couldn’t see or understand that I was exactly the person he raised me to be. It wasn’t until the day after his funeral that I could finally tell him. I drove out to his gravesite that morning and talked to him. And, though I don’t remember everything I said, I remember closing with this.

I’m a good person. I’m a good husband. I’m a good father. I’m a good man. And I am all of those things because of you, because that’s what you taught me to be. That’s what you hoped I’d be. And I am, because you were all those things, and I learned how to be all of those things from you. I’m just sorry that you couldn’t see it, because what you believed kept you from seeing it.

And though I’m pretty sure my parents never attended one of those conferences, I can see them in the couple Jim describes. And I can see what their beliefs about their son’s homosexuality is doing to their family. It’s tearing them apart.

There are three hearts breaking in that family; the parents’ and the son’s. They’ve been breaking for eight years. And there are people making sure their hearts get broken and stay broken. That’s their job. And it starts with telling lies.

In his second essay, Jim goes into the theories of homosexuality shared by some of the speakers at the conference. And while Jim avoids a detailed critique of those theories, the quotes he shares are startling in and of themselves. The first speaker he quotes is Joseph Nicolosi, from NARTH. The same NARTH which, until they dismantled it, posted articles on their blog justifying slavery and saying that teachers should let students ridicule gender atypical classmates. So, it’s no surprise that Nicolosi spouts stuff like this.

Homosexuality is not a sexual problem, it?s a gender identity problem. And this is the foundation of our understanding. Gender identity is one?s sense of oneself as male or female. Homosexuality is not about sex. And homosexual apologists will say it?s only about sex. But rather, we understand homosexuality to be about a person?s sense of himself, about his relationships, about his past hurts, about childhood wounds, self-image, personal shame, and his belief in his ability to establish and sustain relational intimacy.

Homosexual behavior is always ? my wife says when you speak publicly you never speak in absolutes, always and never ? I?m telling you homosexuality, homosexual impulse is always prompted by an inner sense of emptiness. It?s not about sex.

Keep in mind that Nicolosi is speaking to an audience two thirds of which, according to Jim’s estimate during a show of hands, consists of parents and/or family members of gays and lesbians. He’s talking to the couple Jim introduced in his first post. He is talking to them about their children, their brothers, their sisters. Their family members. He’s telling that their family members are confused about their gender.

And he wastes no time in trotting out the same Freudian tripe that lays the “blame” for their children’s homosexuality at the feet of the parents; the classic “domineering mother”/”distant father” paradigm that supposedly applies to every gay or lesbian person (though Nicolosi appears to focus entirely on gay men). And then he tosses in this gem.

We advise fathers, if you don?t hug your sons, some other man will.

That’s a slight improvement from James Dobson (whose Focus on the Family organization sponsored the conference, by the way) telling dads that showering with their son’s will keep them from turning out gay.

Meanwhile, the boy?s father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son?s maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son, in ways that are decidedly different from the games he would play with a little girl. He can help his son learn to throw and catch a ball. He can teach him to pound a square wooden peg into a square hole in a pegboard. He can even take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help but notice that Dad has a penis, just like his, only bigger.

Nicolosi then drops this bombshell.

The guy with a homosexual problem does not trust men. When he begins to trust men, his homosexuality disappears.

So, lemme get this straight. (Pun intended.) For the last 7 years I’ve been sharing my life with a man I don’t trust? I exchanged rings with a man I don’t trust? I acquired a mortgage with a man I don’t trust? I’m raising a family with a man I don’t trust? I’ve put a man I don’t trust in my will? I’ve given medical power of attorney to a man I don’t trust? I’ve intertwined my life in every way possible, and as far as I’m legally allowed, with a man I don’t trust? And he’s done the same? Even though he, according to Nicolosi, doesn’t trust me either?

Then again, neither the hubby nor I have a “homosexual problem” (we’re gay, but we don’t have a problem with it), so maybe Nicolosi isn’t talking about us. But he’s talking to a room full of parents and family of guys like us.

Dobson and Nicolosi aside, my dad hugged me plenty. He wasn’t distant, though I don’ t think he ever fully understood me. He always tried to reach out to me. My mom wasn’t domineering either. If anything my folks had a remarkably equal relationship, given the generation they came from. (Look up “old school.”) From what I could see, they made their decisions together and managed to work out whatever differences they had. Yet I’m a Kinsey six if there ever was one.

But Nicolosi says his model applies to all gay men. Including, the sons of the parents in that room. And his basic message to them is this: “You’re boy is homosexual (a terrible thing in Nicolosi’s view), and you did it to him.” You made your son “empty” inside. You “wounded” him. You destroyed his “trust” in other men. And, as Jim points out, his accusations are just vague enough to stick when tossed out to his vulnerable audience.

His cold, clinical descriptions of homosexuality, while alien to much of what I know to be true in my life, seemed to resonate with everyone else in that audience. After all, it matched everything else they had heard from their pastors and moral leaders. What?s more, it matched some of the more personal memories that every parent has about raising their children. What father cannot say he wished he could have spent more quality time with his son? What mother could say she was never overprotective or overly assertive? This is the story of every parent.

He’s saying this to the heartbroken couple Jim spoke of earlier.

But Nicolosi was just the opening act. He was followed by “ex-gay” Melissa Fryrear, who had even more devastating news for the conferees, which can be paraphrased thusly: You’re kids are gay because somebody abused them. And you didn’t even know it. She starts off well enough, soothing parents with the idea that their kids’ homosexuality is due to faulty “self perception,” saying ” You know as parents that one thing you cannot control in your child?s life is his or her perception.” Then she lays this one on them.

I can draw anecdotally from having been a part of an Exodus member ministry for almost a decade, and in those years having met hundreds of women with this struggle, I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman. And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life. [Emphasis mine.]

Your kid is gay because he/she was molested.

Take out the four words in the middle and listen to that again, but this time with hear it with the heart of a worried parent who’s hearing it for the first time: your kid was molested. Your kid was molested and you didn’t do anything about it. Your kid was molested and you didn’t even know about it. Your kid was molested and your just hearing about it now. Your kid was molested and you didn’t do anything about it, you didn’t even know about it, and you’re just hearing about it now. And because of that your kid ? every gay son, lesbian daughter, brother, sister, grandson, or granddaughter of everyone in that room ? is homosexual.

That’s in addition to your being too distant, to domineering, too close, or not close enough to your child. And how did it the parents take it? If you take all of the above as true, you’re naturally going to wonder when it all happened, how it all happened, and why didn’t you see it or do something about it. If you’re hearing all this with an already heavy heart, it can’t help but be heavier.

Sometimes, these suspicions got the better of them. Before that day, it had never even occurred to one mother that her son might have been molested. Now after Fryrear?s talk, she was momentarily certain of it. ?There?s no other explanation!? she exclaimed. But as she thought about it, she remembered that she had no reason to suspect this, and that the only ?evidence? she had was Fryrear?s statement. She was finally able to calm herself down after those around her reassured her that it probably didn?t happen.

Besides, she already had so many other reasons to think about for her son being gay. Yet I couldn?t help but feel that this mother?s burden was unnecessarily heavier now. Her long list of things she heard experts describe that ?went wrong? in her son?s life ? a list that she already blamed herself for as a mother ? was now longer because of a hideous crime for which there is no reason to suspect to have happened in the first place.

And it hardly matters if it’s not true. Are they gay men and lesbians who were sexually abused as children? Yes, just as there are heterosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered persons, and people from every walk of life who were sexually abused. And then there are people like me. Queer as a three dollar bill, and never sexually abused. In fact, I was a virgin until I went to college, and then I didn’t so much lose my virginity as I gave it away, happily, willingly, and as soon as I could get rid of it. (That’s right. I came out as gay when I was around 12 or 13, but didn’t have sex with anyone until I was 18. Now, if you’re going to ask “How could you know you were gay then?” I invite you to answer this question “When did you know you were heterosexual?”)

Fryrear, and probably Nicolosi too, would dismiss the above by saying that I probably was abused and just don’t remember it, because that’s the only (or one of the only) explanation. And if I don’t remember anything like that, it’s probably because I don’t want to remember, because I don’t want to “change.”

It’s my fault. Or, actually, it’s my parents fault that I turned out to be gay, which Nicolosi and Fryrear make out to be among the worst things anyone could ever be. It’s the fault of the parents at the conference. It’s the fault of the sobbing father in Jim’s earlier post. There’s a word that comes to mind when someone comes to you with a broken heart and you break it further by lying to them or reinforcing the lies that broke their hearts in the first place. And Jim names it.

There was tremendous cruelty in the ?nevers? and the ?always? that were thrown around with such ease at the conference. It?s a cruelty that these parents didn?t deserve. And what?s more, this cruelty is without merit. I will talk more about that in a later post.

Is there ever kindness in cruelty? Is there ever compassion in cruelty? Does cruelty ever heal anything? Or does it merely make moreso what’s already broken?

[More to come in a second post, because this one’s too long already!]

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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