Many people may already be aware of the story of Bryce Faulkner, a young man who as far as we know has been coerced to leave his boyfriend and attend an ex-gay program somewhere in the US. I wrote about Bryce's situation here.
Many have expressed their outrage and concern through blog comments and by joining a Facebook group in support of Bryce. The story is tragic and outrageous and should not happen in this day and age when it is clear that one can be gay and happy and healthy. Fear and ignorance cloud the minds of ministers and parents turning them into tyrants of LGBT youth.
In several blog entries and comments I see references to the story of Zach Stark, who when he was 16 back in 2005 had been forced to attend the Love in Action Refuge program for minors. While parts Zach's and Bryce's stories overlap (they both come from the Mid-South with religious parents and seemingly were not conflicted about their sexuality before it became an issue for their parents), there is one key difference.
Zach was a minor, while as far as I can tell from the information we have, Bryce is not. Zach was legally obligated to submit to his parents; Bryce is not. When Zach Stark at age 16 was forced against his will to attend the LIA program, he had little choice. As a minor, he was a victim of a church culture that his parents bought into and which encouraged them to do harm to their son. From their own words they believed they were saving their son from what they felt certain would be a dreadful life, and LIA only reinforced that misinformation. Zach had no easy legal recourse to resist his parents. (see video This is What Love in Action Looks Like)
In these cases of ex-gay coercion once someone is no longer a minor, they no longer become pure victims. Although it is difficult and terrifying to resist, if someone is over 18, they can legally say “NO! you cannot make me do this!” and as an adult, they can then live with the consequences. I understand that the financial impact of this can be huge, but not impossible to overcome, especially with the assistance of a boyfriend's affirming parents and a community committed to taking care of each other (which I know doesn’t always happen.)
Many of us who as adults agreed, even begrudgingly, to take part in the ex-gay process need to take responsibility for our part in it, even if it was a small part. This is essential for overcoming the harm we experienced. Although we lived in a world that stood against us, and it seemed far easier to go ex-gay, as adults we could have stood against that tide. It is painful to admit, but also freeing when we acknowledge, “I let them do this to me.” In my case I even paid for it with my own money as well as with my parents'.
The problem we face in framing the parents as the bad guys and the young person sent to the program as the helpless victim is that we can misrepresent the situation. By foisting all the blame on the parents, we absolve the adult gay person from all responsibility. We reinforce that we had no other choice but to succumb to the anti-gay pressure against us.
I feel for Byrce and the intense pressure he must have felt (and still feels) from his family and most likely from his church insisting he must go into ex-gay treatment, but it sounds like he ultimately complied and agreed to do so. Once he is free to tell his own story in his own words, we will better understand the circumstances.
Bryce faces an awful unfair choice–the real consequence of losing family and financial security or the painful consequence of leaving his boyfriend while he must repress and fight his gay orientation. Many of us did similar things in our own lives–not only in ex-gay programs–but as we chose to stay stuck in the closet, as we tamped down our gender differences and orientation, and as we lived inauthentic lives in order to please others.
As a minority population, gay, lesbian and bisexual people can pass as something that we are not. We can bow to the wishes of others, hide parts of ourselves, keep secrets from others, and even live out a whole other life that is not ours to live. As we do so, we can feel seduced to play the victim. We can see a story like Bryce's and cry foul painting an adult gay man as a helpless victim thus justifying the many years we obliged others and lived in shame instead of taking responsibility for our lives and our sexuality.
As I have been reading the stories and the comments about Bryce, I've been asking myself several questions.
- Why Bryce? Why this handsome young white man? What does he represent to those of us moved by his story? How do we relate to him and possibly morph his story into something that it is not?
- What other stories do we not hear where people may have stood against the tide and now suffer the consequences, need a job, a place to stay, money for school?
- How can we channel our outrage towards the homophobia and turn it into action whenever we see members of our community–lesbians, trans people, queer people of color, gay men–disenfranchised because they choose to be authentic and resist the compulsion to change or fit in?
- Who can we assist today who suffers because they have chosen to be open and authentic?