Otto Elkins

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I grew up in a church that taught me to love God and introduced me to a loving Christ. However, in the faith tradition I was raised, it was not acceptable to be gay. This was a problem because I’d known since the 5th grade that I was gay. I was constantly bombarded by the message that God loved me, but if I loved God, I had to change this part of me. I struggled with “same-sex attraction” (“SSA”), and I hated this part of me. 

I went to several different faith-based therapists and counselors starting in the fifth grade to work with me in correcting the SSA. I visited my last conversion therapist when I was 29 years old. My mom said he came recommended by the local Exodus chapter (an ex-gay organization that has since dissolved). The therapist guaranteed that he could cure SSA in five one-hour sessions. My mom urged me to try it, my health insurance covered it, so I went.  His therapy worked on the theory that there was a specific event that triggered the SSA. Whatever the event, the theory was it had the affect of inflicting me with SSA. The sessions with the therapist were to find this specific event, and once it was discovered, we would pray and (no kidding) have Jesus, who is not constrained by time, undo the event in the past so that, in the present, my SSA would be immediately gone. He asked if I had been molested. He asked if I had a bad relationship with either parent. Were my parents divorced? Did they hate each other? Was I abused? Did I do drugs? Did I listen to secular music? None of the typical culprits seemed to be in my past. He got visibly angry with me and accused me of lying. He said, “no one is just born gay.” After buying the books he prescribed and my insurance paying for hours of this therapy, there wasn’t the least change in my SSA.

I had friends from my Christian college who were kicked out for being gay and who now reported to be ex-gay. So, I met up with each of them to ask how they did it. Each and every one of them admitted to me that the SSA never went away. I sought out others in my extended circle of friends who claimed to be ex-gay, and they all admitted that the SSA never went away. I asked why they identified as ex-gay and they all had some nuanced definition of “gay” that included promiscuity, drugs, bar culture, etc. that they had given up, so they believed they could claim to be “ex-gay” even though their attraction for the same sex had never diminished. By that distorted definition, I’ve never been gay–I’ve just always been attracted to men. In my twenties, my pastor gave me the book “101 Frequently Asked Questions about Homosexuality.” One of the early questions was the difference between gay and homosexual. The book defined gay as a socio-political identity and claimed that homosexuality didn’t exist. This is the common theme in ex-gay/conversion therapy; they say they are no longer gay*, but the asterisk is silent. My brother-in-law, a senior pastor of an Assemblies of God congregation, invited me to hear an ex-gay speaker. In his presentation, he said he was no longer gay. After the event, I asked him how he defined gay. He, not surprisingly, used a definition other than what is understood by those who heard it, and he conveniently failed to explain his different definition to the audience. I asked him if he understood that his use of that word with his secret definition had a very different meaning to the audience. He acknowledged that it might, but that was what it meant to him.

I spent over twenty years desperately trying to not be gay. Despite therapy, prayer, fasting, and even exorcisms, I couldn’t pray the gay away. Conversion therapy is a harmful and dangerous lie. I watched ex-gay friends get married to opposite-sex spouses. And over the years, I’ve watched the toll that denying their SSA has taken on them and their family. I didn’t get through the conversion therapy unscathed–I know first-hand the harm it does. I have healed a lot. I know that my parents and church, though dangerously misguided, urged me to change sexual orientation out of love, concern and ignorance. I pray that the church learns from the harm it’s already inflicted and denounces the practice of conversion therapy.

When I was 30, I discovered the Gay Christian Network (now Q Christian Fellowship). This organization was critical to reconciling my faith and orientation. Q Christian connected me to brothers and sisters in Christ (gay, straight, bi, trans) who have challenged and strengthened my faith, deepened my understanding of God, and helped me live the two greatest commandments in a more genuine and consistent manner. 

Living authentically has allowed me to flourish. My relationships with friends and family have been strengthened because I don’t wonder if they love the person I was projected to be when I pretended to be straight or as one struggling with SSA. My attempts to change my orientation reinforced a feeling of being unloved by others and unlovable by God. However, living as an out Christian man, I receive God’s love and the love of friends and family.