Trapped in the Ex-Gay Board Game
Hello, my name is Vlad. I have been in this Homo No Mo Halfway House for 27 days. Here in Homo No Mo Halfway House we have Five Phases, we do 12 Steps and there are approximately 275 rules. First I tell you about the phases. When we move from phase to phase, this is called a “Phase Bump,” and technically only the staff is allowed to bump you.
-Excerpt from Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House
At the Love in Action program the staff led participants in game of sort known as the Five Phases & the 12 Steps. Participants preoccupied themselves with moving up (and down) these artificial gradations much like the Chutes & Ladders game I played as a child.
- In Phase One the staff forced participants to look at themselves in order to acknowledge they had a problem, in fact that they were a problem— sinful, addicted, broken.
- In Phase Two the focus turned to God, the ultimate perfection and means of escape.
- Phase Three pointed the spotlight onto the family where we created new mythologies about our childhood and family dynamics to fit in with the program theories about dysfunctional families and the developmental model.
- In Phase Four we deconstructed former friendships rebranding them as unhealthy, emotionally dependent, and sick with the charge to develop new, healthy relationships with heterosexual mentors from the church.
- Finally, we moved to the Fifth Phase where we began to transition into the world outside the program.
While slowly working through the phases, the staff also pushed us through an intensive 12-Step program always emphasizing that our desires for people of the same sex had to be wrong, sinful and addictive. We needed to account for every sexual encounter in our and reframe them to fit in with the addiction model the staff gave us. Through our weekly “Moral Inventories” we wrote about and discussed our former sexual experiences reworking them into a clinical narrative designed to reinforce the construct provided by the staff. Instead having sex with someone to express our love or even because we had just been horny, we had to recast our motives so that they instead sprung from our own emotional, psychological or spiritual “illnesses.”
The Steps, the Phases, and the hundreds of written moral inventories required many hours of concentration and will power. The effort distracted me from the reality that “change” was not possible and was not happening, other than the negative changes resulting in depression, hopelessness and faithlessness. Instead my advancement through the Steps and our celebrated “Phase Bumps” (which took on the quality of a some sort of tribal celebration with participants clanging pots and pounding the walls) gave the illusion that we experienced actual headway and growth.
Whenever we faltered in our resolve to sublimate our sexual desires and personalities, the staff and fellow participants urged us to work the program. Instead of questioning the failure or the methods, the staff compelled us to dive into the “therapy” with greater effort and intensity. When we did make progress in the Steps or Phases, the staff then lessened some of the many restrictions placed on our time and activities thus giving a false sense of autonomy. Once we failed again to meet program expectations, the staff placed us an earlier Phase slapping on restrictions and sanctions to our time and hard-won privileges.
At times it felt like I lived in an elaborate board game where I got to move three spaces forward only to find that I somehow landed back in jail. I spent so much time and energy on the structure of the program and the hurdles I had to vault that I had little left to question just how ineffective the process proved. We labored towards the goal of graduation when we would stand before the community affirmed by the staff—victors of the game—examples to others that we could achieve success. Little did I know how much the staff deluded me (and I deluded myself) into believing that program success equalled some sort of real change.