A lot of people don’t survive conversion therapy.
It’s hard to survive even when there’s no physical abuse or waterboarding or rock carrying.
It’s just hard to live long enough to tell the truth.
I was lucky.
I started conversion therapy the very second I first felt feelings for the same sex. No one needed to enroll me in classes or call my parents or ship me off to camp. I started the work all on my own. As soon as I looked across the room, saw her*, felt that warmth in my stomach, I texted my friend and said, “Make me tell you something when I get home tonight.” Later on I called this friend and told her my entire history of being abused by both women and men and how I’d never really told anyone before, how I’d never handed it over to God to let Him deal with it, and how Satan must be using it to twist my affections toward a female friend. I later told all my college friends when we are back together after the holiday break. We made a pact right there over dinner at Chilis to get me out of Satan’s grips and back inside the will of God. They wanted to fix me, and I wanted to be fixed because it was either fix the gayness or spend a lifetime apart from God’s good and perfect plan for me by living in sin and depravity. It made for a pretty clear choice.
No one had to sit me down and teach me about conversion therapy. No one even had to walk me through why being gay was wrong. I just grew up knowing that homosexuality is black and white. Heterosexuality: good; homosexuality: evil. I was sure of it. Even as an Evangelical, I don’t think I could have necessarily quoted the cardinal verses in Leviticus or Romans. I could probably quote Matt Chandler and Robert Morris and my mother about it, though, and I’d heard about the ex-gay movement from one small group leader or another. I also knew that expressing or exploring my sexuality as a woman, even in a heterosexual way, before marriage was well out of bounds. So me and my purity ring were not going to flirt with sexual sins, or as one of my pastors put it, we weren’t going to see how close to the sin we could get while still holding close to God. So feeling even one feeling for one moment for one girl meant sounding the alarm.
I didn’t feel this initial attraction until I was in college, but people had started assuming I was queer long before I assumed it of myself. In high school and college, I had friends or parents of friends ask if I liked girls, which I just knew was because I had short hair and drove a Jeep Wrangler. But my first memory of this was an accusation from my mom. I was probably around 10 or 11, playing with a friend from my volleyball team in a playroom dedicated to the art of dress up and make-believe. We had made just a huge mess of wigs and costumes, so when my mom came looking for us, I quickly closed the door and stalled her while my friend and I cleaned up a bit. After my friend left, my mom sat me down and asked me if this girl and I had been touching each other inappropriately when the door was closed. I will never know why she chose this moment to assume this behavior. There are four possible reasons I’ve considered. 1. My friend’s mom was gay, so maybe my mom thought it was contagious. 2. My mom had “caught” me looking at Playboy magazines that were out around the house from her days as a Playboy model long before I knew what porn was. 3. Maybe my mom just suspected I was gay. Or 4. Maybe it was because my mom knew, though I didn’t know she knew, that I had already been sexually abused by two females, and she was unwilling to talk about it. No matter the reason, when I told her, no, nothing like that happened, she didn’t believe me and told me not to do it again. That started a lifetime of internally reinforcing my meticulous need to appear good and perfect and upright… and a lifetime of being disbelieved and corrected by my mom and people like her anyway.
After telling my small group of friends about being attracted to this one girl for that one moment, I brought it up to leaders in our church that I trusted. Some of them reacted with, “Well why don’t you just stop it?” Others said they would pray with me and for me. One in particular invited me to her house with a group of my friends to pray with me and seek God about this new same-sex attraction. The prayer meeting started out like your average charismatic church gathering: some praying in tongues, some spontaneous worship, some prophetic utterances, etc. And then it came time to pray for me specifically. This woman had me stand in the center of the room and the others laid hands on me. It all seemed very status quo until she started trying to exorcise the “demon of homosexuality” out of me. I don’t know how much time passed while I stood there, eyes closed and probably crying in fear and shame, as she and others shouted in tongues and in English, provoking this demon to leave me. I had seen many exorcisms before being a part of this one but never one involving the spirit of homosexuality. But my charismatic indoctrination made it easy to believe that if there were demons plaguing people with other illnesses and sins, there may well be ones causing people to be gay. After the prayer I felt sure that God and His people had moved in power to rid me of my same-sex attraction. I was embarrassed but confident I’d never experience that attraction again.
That confidence lasted for a week or two.
Sometime after that I noticed a girl on campus, and my stomach felt that same warm feeling. This time I was mad at Satan for doing this to me and mad at God for letting him and for not taking it away. But some part of me had a deep, spiritual knowing that God was allowing this to happen so that I could learn a lesson that I could teach others. Over the last few months of that school year, God took me on this journey with Him to understand that the attraction wasn’t the sin–acting on it was. I didn’t have language for Side A and B Christianity, and really my only language for queerness was same-sex attraction or SSA. So all of this knowledge felt like direct revelation from God for me, and it felt like something that I was meant to share with others. So I did. One of the last nights of the year, I shared a sermon with our group that was mostly just my story of going from abused to same-sex attracted to free from the fear of living in sin (as long as I never acted on it). I even talked about how I had gone to visit my mom, confessed my same-sex attraction and how I was working on it, told her that I had been sexually abused several times, and she said she already knew about the abuse. I once again assumed Satan had been the one to confuse and blind me and take away my initial memory of my mom knowing about the abuse so that I would feel alone and misunderstood that whole time. This strengthened my story and testimony greatly, and the whole thing was powerful and moving. So many women came up to me that night to say, “me too,” and I walked them through what it looks like to stay straight in the middle of SSA. That was the night a ministry was born in me.
The following Summer I was a counselor on staff at a Christian camp. I led several men and women, campers and staff, away from the homosexual lifestyle just by talking to them and telling them my story - no exorcism required. My own attraction to women came and went fleetingly, accompanied by a very steady and strong attraction to men at basically all times. And saving these other people from sin and themselves made me feel better about my own moments of weakness. If God was keeping score, I was beating that demon of homosexuality. I was proving that being ex-gay could be done. I was winning.
The rest of college was filled with one long-suffering, seriously unrequited love affair with one man after another. That carried over into my post-graduate life, too. And I cured so many same-sex attracted people in the meantime. It was like God gave me this special, prophetic gift of knowing who in the room had ever struggled with same-sex attraction, even if they’d never admitted it to anyone before. So me and this gifting and the Holy Spirit would walk up to these unsuspecting Christians, and I’d tell them my story. This would always be followed with them crying and saying “how did you know” and thanking me for my words of truth. I would pray with them, and that was it. Cured. I was never wrong in my assumptions, and I was adding more people to my little ex-gay army all the time–and adding testimony after testimony to my own so that the story got stronger and more compelling every time. I prided myself knowing that several of the people I’d cured were in longterm heterosexual relationships or marriages now. That’s just how good God is, right?
It is worth mentioning that in the background of all of this I wasn’t dating. I didn’t get asked on a single date until I was 23, and even then I only dated him for a month before he changed his mind. So as plagued with shame as I was over what little SSA I had experienced before, I was even more so weighed down with the shame that I was undateable and unwanted by the men in my life. This was what I talked about most with God, and He gave me another ministry–one of singleness–that occupied the majority of my time and energy and attention. I was full and overflowing with wisdom for the single, Christian girl. I was on fire in my calling to speak and write about singleness, and I was encouraged by the response I was getting from other single women. Despite the series of unrequited loves I had racked up in college, it was really quite easy for me to be single and be happy about it. I didn’t understand why a lot of single Christian women found the single life and abstinence so difficult. Even when I was upset that a specific man didn’t want me or want to date me, I was never upset that I wouldn’t be having sex with him. During this time I found within myself very little patience for women who just “didn’t get it” or who refused to be content in being single. I thought it was just God giving me the grace and power needed to live the single life well and to His standards. And I knew God would reveal my husband when the time came because His timing is perfect.
My first suicide scare was in 2015.
I started counseling soon after with a Christian LPC recommended to me by my mom and her church friends. We didn’t really talk about the sexual abuse in therapy because I had handed it over to God by that point. We didn’t talk about the SSA either because I hadn’t experienced any of that in a while. We mostly talked about my friendships and not-dating-but-dating adventures. I continued to be depressed and suicidal, but I knew God would heal me. So I didn’t take meds. I just talked to Greg the therapist and prayed and worshipped and prayed and worshipped until–in 2016–I had a revelatory moment with God. During worship I had gotten visions and words from Him about both depression and SSA, and when I left church that night, I was confident I would truly never feel same-sex attraction or suicidal again. Ever. He had healed me. I told my therapist, who probably believed me but hesitantly, and then I really did improve over the next couple of months. I improved so much that Greg and I discussed me discontinuing the weekly therapy sessions.
Then I met Sydney.
I had been leading a small group of young adult girls my age at the time, and she joined my group for the new year. I was attracted to her immediately, but as you well know, I would not have acted on it in a million years. And I didn’t, but no one would believe me. I’ll spare you the drawn-out details, but what happened next was nothing short of a horror story. As it turns out Sydney was suppressing some SSA of her own, and she chose to act it out on me by first grooming me and then sexually abusing me for months. She told the church that I had seduced her. They blamed me, removed me from leadership, and ousted me from the community. So I moved several states away, lost all of my friends who chose to stay at that church, and was left alone in Nashville clinging to what little tiny bit of faith I had left.
I don’t know how I survived.
I’ve never been more suicidal than I was the first 6 months or so that I was in Nashville. I was alone almost completely. I was housebound by chronic illness and disability. I couldn’t step inside a church without having a panic attack. I had started deconstructing my faith, and I was coming out of that process holding to basically no belief that I had started with. I threw it all out. That process led me to have to question my sexuality all over again. It felt like months that I was obsessed with what I would label myself. I was taking all of the “Am I Gay?” quizzes that I could find online and talking to my one queer friend and just replaying the internal dialogue of sin and depravity and hell and living apart from God. But did any of that matter if I didn’t believe in God anymore? And was it too late to come out at 25 years old? What would people think of me coming out after years of giving the testimony that God had saved and freed me from homosexuality? So much felt so pointless because all the meaning I had ascribed to my life before Sydney and before the church rejected me was washed down the drain so, so abruptly. If I wasn’t a Christian, if I wasn’t ex-gay, if I wasn’t a singleness blogger, if I wasn’t a woman of my word… who the hell was I?
Well, I am bisexual.
And that’s a tiny, important, perfect part of the infinite fractal that is my identity. I am also on the asexuality spectrum, but just when it comes to one of the genders. I guess that’s why I had no problem with abstinence when I was living that heterosexual lifestyle (*finger guns*). When I started coming out one-by-one to people last year, I told my former therapist Greg. He said, “…um congrats?” and told me that it’s “not God’s best” for me. And he’s right. It’s my best for me, and God doesn’t get an opinion anymore. No one does. My friends back home and my family handled it the way all welcoming-but-not-affirming Christians do, and their “I love you”s mean less to me every time I hear them. What supports me now is my queer, chosen family saying they believe me and affirm me and see me as inherently good. And I have a new therapist. He’s gay and I think actually has my best interest in mind, so I’m never going to see or trust a straight therapist again–jk, but really.
I also started my mini parade of contacting people I had led into the ex-gay life so that I could apologize. It was embarrassing and excruciating but well-received. I explained that I had seen so much success in being ex-gay because I’m bisexual and experience attraction so fluidly. I think this fluidity in people is what the ex-gay movement owes most, if not all, of its success to, actually. My sexuality also has nothing to do with my history of being abused. Science and psychological research has proven that over and over now. And I have since done some serious trauma work to recover. I didn’t believe the “it gets better” people, but I think I owe them an apology. It does actually get better. I haven’t landed on any one label for my spirituality since leaving the Evangelical church, and maybe I never will. I haven’t stepped back into a Christian congregation of any kind, and I have no plans to. I don’t belong there, and I don’t want to. I don’t know exactly who I am or where I belong now that I have thrown off all of the other labels, but I do know one thing:
I haven’t been suicidal one single moment since coming out–not one single moment.
Not because God saved me. He didn’t have to.
I saved me.
Telling the truth and living my truth saved me.
And you know what they say about the truth setting you free…
* using she/her pronouns for this first person I mention is outdated, as they now use he/they pronouns