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"It didn't Work!".

A gay man goes undercover to explore the strange world of home-to-hetero conversion

Since I am the product of a fundamentalist Christian family, my coming-out experience has not been an easy one. When I came out six years ago, my parents and other family members pleaded with me to enter into "Christian" counseling.

I had put their offer out of my mind until I opened the Los Angeles Times one day this summer. There I found a group of smiling, happy ex-homosexuals looking back at me from a full-page ad stating that were "standing for the truth that homosexuals can change."

Now, after all these years, here was the chance to oblige my family's request and find out if it really is possible to change. Thus, I volunteered to go undercover for The Advocate to see what really goes on inside the ex-gay movement.

After searching the Interact, I decided to visit four of the oldest and most prominent ex-gay ministries and psychological organizations. My choices covered the range of options available to would-be ex-gays. One was a group meeting, another was a 30-week program, and two were individual counseling sessions.

The first group I sought out was Safe Passage. Located at St. Jude's Episcopal Church in Burbank, Calif., Safe Passage is a spiritually based support group that convenes weekly. The group met in a run-down meeting hall. The large, sparsely furnished room looked as if it hadn't been remodeled since the late '60s.

When I arrived for the 7 p.m. meeting, a handful of men and women were mingling around the table. Eventually the group swelled to nine. (Some names have been changed in this account to protect individuals' privacy.) Almost immediately the group's leader, Sonia, grasped my hand with both of hers and warmly thanked me for coming. Sonia was attractive in a disorderly way and reminded me of an intellectual hippie--the type you might find working in a science lab or, for that matter, at a gay and lesbian organization.

Among those present were John, a tall, attractive man in his late 30s, and Paul, who was smaller and more effeminate. I was amazed to discover they were in a relationship. While John had been struggling with reconciling his Christianity with his homosexuality, he openly admitted his love for Paul.

Around 7:15 p.m. our meeting began with a discussion of why it is wrong for two people of the same gender to have a loving relationship that involves sexual intimacy. Sonia chose her words carefully. While not directly quoting scripture or condemning homosexuals, she likened homosexual relationships to sex outside of marriage or adultery. Compassionate and thoughtful, she openly discussed her own 25-year struggle with homosexuality. She even admitted at times that she does not have all the answers. She implored each of us to look within ourselves and pray in order to "draw nearer to God" for the answers. Cheryl, a young Latina woman, did not take the same low-key approach. "Just read Romans," she admonished.

After about an hour, John began discussing his increasing bitterness. As a Christian, he felt cut off from the love he was supposed to feel for others. Paul sat silently as John told of his years of unsuccessful attempts at changing to heterosexuality. What should he do now?

Cheryl responded that he must be patient: "It takes time." Sonia then explained that while the temptations might never go away, if he prayed and drew nearer to God, he would receive the strength to avoid succumbing to them.

I finally broke my silence. "Shouldn't we be encouraging John just to draw closer to God and let God give him the answer?" I asked. "He's been asking God to change him, and perhaps he should have been asking for acceptance of who God made him to be."

The room was silent for a moment. Sonia soon recovered and somewhat shakily agreed with me. As the meeting neared its close, Sonia made a comment that seemed to delineate the complexity of trying to be a compassionate "change" worker. While deploring homophobia in the churches, she also explained that she thought the "cultural war" being waged against gay men and lesbians by people like the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, and Senate majority leader Trent Lott might have a good effect in bringing morality back to Christianity. On that note, I departed.

No other group would offer me the same exposure to a wide range of people. My next stop on the ex-gay circuit came four days later, when I visited Desert Stream Ministries. Located in Anaheim, Calif., Desert Stream is one of the largest ex-gay ministries in the world. It operates as a partner and tenant of Vineyard Christian Fellowship, whose corporate modern glass building could house a large insurance company. Marisio, my Desert Stream counselor, met me in the massive lobby and escorted me upstairs to a sparsely decorated counseling room.

A native of Venezuela, Marisio resembled Pedro Zamora. He was soft-spoken but straightforward as he began asking me about my relationship with my father and mother. Had there been a "break" in the relationship at some period of my life? Had my father hugged me and told me he loved me when I was a child?

Marisio told me about his own path, which had begun three years earlier in Venezuela. People in his church had given him more love than the gay community ever had. He came to Desert Stream to be trained to conduct its Living Waters program, the cornerstone of Desert Stream's ministry, and implement it in his own country. He explained that Living Waters groups meet once a week for 30 minutes of worship and 45 minutes of teaching, followed by small-group discussions led by facilitators. The 30-week course costs anywhere from $150 to $500.

Marisio ended the meeting by asking if I would like him to pray for me. He thanked God that I had been sent to Desert Stream and continued for several minutes in what was past sermon, part prayer. After the prayer ended, we went back downstairs to the lobby and he gathered some materials and an application form for the program.

Two slick booklets about Desert Stream were included in the packet.

One explained that the goal of Living Waters students is "to relate intimately but nonerotically to the same sex." The second booklet listed books and tapes for purchase on such topics as "What Would Jesus Say to Ellen?"

The following week took me to Journey Christian Ministries, based in Fullerton, Calif., which offers one-on-one and group pastoral counseling by licensed mental health professionals. I was referred to Jody, whose office was located in a two-story building behind the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Santa Monica, Calif. Jody, a friendly woman with curly hair and rosy cheeks, ushered me into the large office, which was decorated in a cutesy early American theme.

After I briefly explained the conflict with my family and my desire to explore the possibility of changing to heterosexuality, Jody provided an overview of the "change" and "healing" process. A former assistant director of Living Waters who had recently earned a master's degree in marriage and family counseling, she explained that Journey's program, which combines spiritual elements such as those found in Living Waters with traditional psychotherapy, offers the greatest chance for success. When I asked her to explain what "success" means, she offered that she knows few who are completely free of temptation. In general, she said, the process takes four or five years.

We discussed at length my pain over the rejection of my parents. Jody told me that I must learn to place less emphasis on their acceptance of me and more on my acceptance of myself. While offering to counsel my parents and me together, she cautioned that sometimes as adults we must stand up for what we believe in and respectfully inform our parents to let us live our own lives.

As the session neared its end, I felt a closeness with Jody. I asked her if she would continue to see me even if I decided that I didn't want to change. She surprised me by replying that even though she had a "bias," she would certainly continue to provide counseling.

She handed me a sheaf of papers that included a questionnaire, a release form, and financial data. She informed me that she would like to see me once a week and would offer a $50 rate instead of the usual $85 since I didn't want to spend so much money weekly. Even at the reduced rate, five years of therapy would cost $13,000. Jody handed me a receipt for the cash I paid her, and our session came to an end.

Two days later, on the 13th floor of a gleaming luxury high-rise office building in Encino, Calif., I began my final foray into the ex-gay world. I was at the offices of the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. Both groups are operated by Joseph Nicolosi, perhaps the most famous "change" therapist.

The waiting room was small and furnished with a couch and two end tables, with a glass window partition separating it from the receptionist's office. It could have been any doctor's office except for the presence of the Bible and a Focus on the Family book as reading material. Russ, the counselor I had been assigned, greeted me in a few minutes and escorted me to the large, tastefuly decorated office at the end of the hall. Two walls were floor-to-ceiling glass, offering a beautiful view of the city below.

With his blond hair and all-American looks, Russ looked as if he could have been one of my fraternity brothers. He began the session by asking what had led me to the clinic and then asked me about my sexual background. I recounted my first sexual encounter with a man. Russ offered that often during same-sex encounters men feel loved, accepted, and wanted by another man. R is important to explore these feelings, he said, because they lead to the root cause of homosexuality--a "break" in one's early childhood that results in the displacement of feelings of affection by sex.

Nicolosi's method, as the materials Russ gave me explained, "does not concur with the American Psychiatric Association's official position" but instead "believes the homosexual condition does not represent full psychosexual maturity." Russ estimated that a minimum of two years of one-on-one and group counseling is needed to see results. At a standard rate of $100 per session, I would pay more than $10,000 before I could expect any results.

Russ proposed that we meet three or four additional times to determine if the match was a good one. When asked if he had himself gone through this type of change therapy, he replied that he was not; a homosexual but chose to work with Nicolosi because he saw so many men dealing with the issues of male-to-male intimacy and masculinity.

I had had enough. At this point I decided to bring my journey through the ex-gay movement to a close. I had met some obviously compassionate people, and I had learned an important lesson: I am happy that I am gay and wouldn't ever change--even in the unlikely event that it is possible.

Miller lives in Los Angeles and is the author of Prayer Warriors: A Gay Son, His Christian Fundamentalist Family, and Their Battle for His Soul, to be released by Alyson, Publications in May 1999.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Liberation Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:a gay man visits groups that claim to help convert gays to heterosexuals
Author:Miller, Stuart
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Abstract
Date:Nov 24, 1998
Words:1937
Previous Article:Peddling the cure.
Next Article:Conversion rates.
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