Shadowproof

Being Special in the Ex-Gay Movement-and sex at church!

Anyone remember Burger King’s big ad campaign a few years back?

Hold the pickle.

Hold the lettuce.

Special orders don’t upset us.

In their attempts to position themselves in the fast food market, BK encouraged customers to “have it your way.”

Being a vegan, I am the queen of special orders. Restaurants in the US, Canada, Europe and the UK have accommodated me with my non-animal product-based diet, sometimes begrudgingly and with attitude.

When I attended the Love in Action residential ex-gay program in Memphis, TN, I needed to suspend my vegetarian lifestyle. Each participant took turns cooking the evening meal. With a budget of sometimes less than $20 for 14 people, participants served lots of casseroles filled with greasy ground beef. Although no one ever challenged the inappropriateness of it, at least twice a month someone served up corn dogs.

I stayed away from the beef and hot dog products, and for my turn most always prepared a vegetarian dish (my baked ziti was a house favorite). If someone wanted a special diet, they had to finance it themselves. With monthly fees of $950 per month (which was A LOT of money in Memphis 10 years ago) no one had extra cash on hand. And if we did somehow make it happen, no doubt someone in the house would challenge us and the special diets for being, well, special.

The unwillingness to accommodate participants extended to other issues beyond the kitchen. One young man came to the program from a Christian faith tradition that worshiped on Saturdays (technically the Sabbath). He felt morally and spiritually convicted to find a similar church in Memphis. The staff forbade it. One could not go to a church of one’s own choosing until at least the fourth phase of the program (which back then could take up to two years to attain).The staff demanded all participants to attend Central Church, an Evangelical mega church with its own fitness center and congressman. No matter if you were Catholic, Adventist or Methodist, the program required each participant to assimilate into the white Evangelical Church semi-Charismatic tradition. We dressed in business casual attire to blend in with the gender norms of the church. We joined the righteous band of Promise Keepers with our straight male mentors in tow to show us the way.

Not that the church was necessarily a safe place for an ex-gay. One Sunday morning a Love in Action participant got cruised by a teen (of legal age but just barely) in one of the many restrooms in the big church. Over the next few weeks he routinely met up with the young man for sexual trysts. (Subsequently the participant, weighed down by the guilt and shame of failing in his program, attempted suicide and barely survived. The young cruiser’s parents eventually shipped their son off for ex-gay treatment at Love in Action. Um, after how they witnessed the program in action, did they really think that was the best place for their kid???)

Conform. Assimilate. No special orders. No regard or respect for a participant’s convictions. In order to get freed, they placed us in straight jackets. In order to get saved, we had to lose much of ourselves.

The closet holds much more than just our orientation. Whole parts of our personalities, preferences and expression get stuffed in there next to our dreams and desires. That we emerge and reclaim our lives is nothing short of miraculous.

That I choose to be part of a faith community today after having one imposed on me so aggressively, I find hard to believe. But I have emerged and integrated my life after years of living a fractured existence. You see, change is possible. And special orders are welcome.

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