Ex-Gay? Is That Even a Thing? An Interview with Steve Gershom (part one)

On June 19, the ex-gay ministry Exodus International issued an apology for the harm it has done to LGBT people. The organization is now shutting down.Many secular organizations who embrace homosexuality as healthy are overjoyed to see Exodus go; but many Christian organizations — even those who see homosexual attraction as disordered — are also glad. Aaron Taylor of First Things, for instance, says that Exodus’ views and methods show that their idea of heterosexuality is just as disordered as homosexuality.

Steve Gershom is a Catholic blogger who has same-sex attraction and who lives a chaste, celibate life. In a Catholic Exchange article called The Truth About Same Sex Attraction, he recommended Growth Into Manhood by Alan Medinger, the CEO of Exodus International.

I called Gershom (a pen name) to ask about his experience with the ex-gay movement, and to ask whether it’s possible, or even desirable, for someone with same-sex attraction to become heterosexual.

Here is the first half of our interview. I’ll post the second half tomorrow. Gershom has also written a four-part post about orientation change on his blog.

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In the past, you recommend Medinger’s book, a retreat sponsored by Exodus, and other resources which imply that you think that it’s at least possible for someone to change their sexual orientation. Do you still believe that? Or are there some problems with trying to do that?

Gay man, especially a gay Christian man, can focus really strongly on the question of orientation change, especially since the culture is really focused on getting married. And if you don’t achieve that, it’s hard to not feel like you’ve failed. Some people spend decades and thousand of dollars doing everything they can for reorientation therapy, and the kind of progress they make is slow and maybe ambiguous, maybe frustrating.

So many think they’ve succeeded, or even trick themselves into thinking they have — and then you hear about them later, and they’re with some guy. I do know several gay guys who are married to women and are making it work, but I don’t think they would claim they’re 100% straight. I’ve never heard any convincing anecdote about someone who’s completely changed.

But you think that some degree of change at least might be possible, or worthwhile?

I do think some degree of change is possible. I think that partly because of anecdotes. You can find anecdotes to support both directions.

But my own experience is that some degree of change is possible, by which I mean I’m less attracted to men then I used to be. The nature of the attraction is much less compulsive and much less urgent, much less troublesome then it has ever been. So that in itself may or may not be evidence of what someone might call “change,” regardless of whether you think of homosexuality as a pathology. Pathologies do exist in gay men. And in me.

What kind of pathologies?

Things like tendency toward codependency in relationships, and an intense experience of not belonging to the normal group of men. I think whatever your theories of the genesis of homosexuality, the point is that these kind of insecurities and mental anguishes among a lot of gay men fuels a lot of sexual promiscuity.

So, when you talk about reparative therapy, you can call it orientation change, or just call it developing a more integrated sexuality. You know? I don’t feel like I need to find a truck stop in the middle of the night! There’s all the difference in the world between a gay guy who’s cruising, and a gay guy who actually is just looking to find a nice guy. The second one has a more integrated sexuality, not a life-shattering sexuality.

So, are you saying there’s such a thing as a totally integrated homosexual sexuality?

No. There is no such thing as an integrated homosexual sexuality. I know a lot of Catholics and Christians would disagree with me. I understand that you don’t want to say that someone is to blame for feeling one way or another. And many people are coming out of a place of self-hatred, out of feeling contempt from the world. It’s really hard. But there are two propositions that you can’t hold at the same time: that homosexual acts are disordered, and that the desire for homosexual acts is not disordered.

But you say you are less attracted to men than you used to be.

Yes, and I am somewhat attracted to women, which I would not have said 2, 5, 10 years ago. That’s all something I don’t even know what to make of. I don’t talk about it a lot because I’m open to the charge of self-deception.

Does that mean you’re less gay now? What would that mean?

One thing we should talk about is the word “queer,” that many people use. Being queer is less about who you want to sleep with, and more about what is considered normal behavior for someone of your gender: attitudes, traits, characteristics. And so a lot of people who might say there is such thing as an integrated Christian homosexuality would say it has to do with being “queer,” which is to say you have a need for more emotional connection in the world of men, or more introspection or sensitivity. Those things that gay guys are famous for, right? There are men for whom those things are more natural; they have gifts and talents. But I would also say those things don’t have anything intrinsically to do with wanting to sleep with other men.

I read this book Images of Hope, by William Lynch (who wrote Christ and Apollo). It’s not specifically about homosexuality. He talks about the mentally ill. He talks about the tendency to treat mentally ill people as if they’re something outside of the human . . . because then we don’t have to sympathize with them, or admit that it’s possible that what’s happening to them could happen to us. I think homosexuality is perfect example of that. Lynch says as much. The experience gay men and women have is on the continuum of most people’s experience. I only learned this talking to straight guys about homosexuality.

It sounds like a really liberal thing to say, that homo- and heterosexuality are part of the same spectrum. But people are just trying to sort out what other people are to them, and who they are to themselves.

Yup, that sounds familiar!

Yeah. This is a phrase I keep coming back to, because it’s so expressive: Melinda Selmys’ phase “sexual authenticity.” She’s a lesbian Catholic married woman who still considers herself lesbian or queer or something. She said part of being gay is not just who you’re attracted to; it has to do with involuntary strands of homoeroticism through out your whole personality.

So there’s two reasons you could have hostility toward the “ex-gay” movement: one is believing you just have to fix this one bit, and everything will be okay. The second is actually believing you do have to fix the whole thing, and that your personality has to be completely redone.

It’s like, the fact that I’d be interested at all in having sex with a man is not some strange, isolated quirk. You can’t have someone who’s just like a straight guy in every other way except that he wants to be having sex with a man. Everyone who knows anything about people knows that doesn’t make sense! Anyone who thinks that really is damaging people.

Who you’re sexually attracted to affects how you relate to both genders on an everyday basis. Or the other way around: how you relate to people affects who you’re attracted to.

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[This ends the first half of my interview with Steve Gershom. I will post the second half tomorrow. Steve has also written a four-part post about orientation change on his own blog, SteveGershom.com.)

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