FEW OF US, over the course of our lives, will see our photographs and real names splashed across full-page ads in leading newspapers. In still fewer cases will the ads disclose some of the most private, intimate details of our personal feelings and sexual histories. Even less often will we be subjected to this unveiling because someone was seeking advantage in some topic of acrimonious public controversy. And least often will this happen at the wish of our "own", rather than our opponent's, side in the debate.
All this, and more, has happened to several prominent "ex-gays" within the past year or two. As everyone knows, the religious right has lately decided to accord ex-gays a central role in its agitation on the subject of homosexuality. By purchasing ads and conducting a general public relations offensive, it has sought to establish that homosexuality is not innate, and can be changed; that homosexuals can and should proceed down an "ex-gay" path typically involving some combination of fervent appeals to religious renewal with "reparative therapy" practiced by therapeutic professionals; and that homosexuals who resist pressure to go down such a path ought rightly to be held up to reproach, much as we hold alcoholics up to reproach if they resist pressure to enter treatment.
Over and over again, it has been said that the strongest support for these claims lies in the personal life stories of leading ex-gays -- men like John Paulk, Anthony Falzarano, and Michael Johnston. There is therefore no more direct way to engage the religious right's claims on this issue than to take up the challenge, and examine these life stories with an eye to what lessons they might yield. Of course it is worth keeping in mind that many thousands of persons have passed through ex-gay ministries, and we have very little reason to think that Paulk, Falzarano and Johnston are in fact typical in their histories. But presumably one of the reasons these men have emerged as leading ex-gay spokesmen is that their backers view their personal stories as among the most compelling to be found for their purpose -- the most credible in detail, the likeliest to evoke admiration in doubting audiences, and the most indisputable in documenting the claimed transmutation process from gay to straight.
"We are the evidence," is what the most prominent ex-gays are asserting, in effect. But in that case we are entitled to ask: evidence of what?
John Paulk currently works as an analyst for Focus on the Family, the prominent religious right group associated with Dr. James Dobson. Along with his wife Anne, he was prominently featured in the ex-gay advertising campaign, which landed the couple on the cover of Newsweek; he also appeared in the religious right's "Gay Agenda" video, produced at the height of the gays-in-the-military controversy.
According to Paulk's website and his autobiography, Not Afraid to Change, Paulk had an unhappy childhood. His parents divorced when he was five years old, and he was frequently teased by other children for being effeminate and poor at sports. He began drinking at the age of fourteen and in his senior year of high school entered a gay bar for the first time. Shortly thereafter, he entered into a relationship with another man, which ended after a year. Paulk was so upset by the breakup that he dropped out of college. His drinking increased and he entered into a deep depression.
Inspired by the story of a successful male escort he read in a gay pornographic novel, Paulk decided to become a male prostitute, hoping to become as wealthy and desired as his fictional "hero". He signed up for an escort service and began selling his body for 80 dollars per hour. Eventually, Paulk racked up over 300 sexual partners. However, writes Paulk, he became tired of being "sexually used". After a while, he dropped out of the escort business. Without the income it had provided, he experienced some financial hardships, bouncing checks, and having his power shut off for non-payment. Worse, Paulk developed a habit of periodically stealing cash from one of his best friends.
As a hobby, Paulk decided to become a female impersonator, adopting the name of "Candi" and trying to be "the best woman I could [be]." Paulk also began to take LSD on a regular basis every weekend, supplementing his alcohol consumption. One night, he became particularly depressed and attempted suicide. He subsequently tried to cut back on his drinking, but found it difficult to stop.
According to Paulk's account, his crucial religious experience came one night on the dance floor. In the version given on his website, Paulk spoke to God, praying "I know you can help me -- someday I'll come back to you." This story has, however, changed with regard to some rather significant details over the years. In an interview with a Washington Times reporter much later, Paulk said it was God who spoke to him on the dance floor that night, telling him, "Come back to me and I will set you free from all this and change your life." Being spoken to by God represents a considerably higher and more significant order of religious experience than calling on him for help, and it is surprising that such a memorable detail would have escaped Paulk's memory during an earlier rendition of the tale. It would be understandable, however, if Paulk could not clearly remember the details of what happened that night, since according to his book he was stoned out of his mind at the time.
Shortly after this experience, Paulk met a number of Christian evangelists who showed him a Bible and told him he wasn't born gay. Paulk says "the truth came shining through," and he promised God he would try to change. Among the things that upset Paulk about his "gay lifestyle" was the fact that his relationships with other men never lasted and that he was "sexually used" by hundreds of men, but never found satisfaction. But one of Paulk's Christian friends told him that "Jesus was someone that would never leave" Paulk. "A lover who never leaves?," Paulk asked himself. "If that is really true, Jesus is the person I've been searching for all my life."
Paulk entered the ex-gay ministry Love In Action, which sponsored a live-in program for gay men wishing to turn straight. However, Paulk and the other live-ins had great difficulty overcoming their homosexual feelings; a number of them secretly had sex, and Paulk fell in love with one of the men. That did not stop Paulk and the others from participating in an advertising campaign for Exodus, the umbrella group for ex-gay ministries. Paulk and his fellows posed for a picture with the caption, "Can homosexuals change? WE DID!" despite the fact that his group was still undergoing counseling and, by his own admission, continued to have homosexual feelings. In fact, one of the directors of the program stated frankly, "The goal of this program is not to turn you into a heterosexual by the end of the year. But if you leave this program closer to Jesus Christ than when you arrived, the program will have been a success."
After a year of therapy in the ex-gay program, Paulk says he prayed to God for three things: that he'd marry a former lesbian; that the two would have a child together; and that God would "use our story to blow the world away." Why it was necessary for Paulk to find an ex-lesbian to marry is not clear. "I just thought that it'd be cool [to marry a former lesbian]," Paulk told a Washington Times reporter. Paulk discovered an ex-lesbian named Anne and married her in 1992.
Shortly after his marriage, Paulk conceded to the Wall Street Journal that "I don't know if I'll ever have the intensity for sex with women that the average man in the street has." Nevertheless, he claimed that his attraction for his spouse was developing, even if he was not totally heterosexual. "When you begin a relationship with a woman that you believe God has led you to, then you develop attraction to that person. To say that we've arrived at this place of total heterosexuality -- that we're totally healed -- is misleading." Five years later, Paulk declared to Newsweek, "I still find men can be attractive. [But] my orientation is as a straight man." In his autobiography, Paulk quotes the philosophy of one of his ex-gay friends, John Smid: "There's a verse in the Bible that says, 'As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.' Our self-image begins in the mind; that's where changes really are born."
Among the most politically active ex-gays is Anthony Falzarano, who has just been ousted as head of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX), a small organization located in Washington, D.C. P-FOX has received heavy funding from the Family Research Council, one of the leading religious right organizations, and Falzarano has assisted the religious right by making media appearances and testifying against gay rights laws across the country.
Falzarano claims that his childhood experiences fit closely with what the traditional psychoanalytic model argues to be conducive to the development of homosexuality. Falzarano's father was frequently absent from the home, and his mother was the dominant personality of the household. In addition, Falzarano claims that he was sexually molested by an older brother in his childhood, an event which he believes played a large role in causing his homosexuality. In fact, Falzarano states he was molested by no less then five different men before he reached adulthood.
Entering the "gay lifestyle" at the age of sixteen, Falzarano says he quickly became a "sex addict," racking up over 400 sexual partners in the course of nine years. Falzarano became a prostitute to older, wealthy gays, and claims he was a "kept boy" of the infamous Roy Cohn for a short time. One night at a bathhouse, Falzarano had sex with twelve different men. The day after this memorable occurrence, the guilt-stricken Falzarano went to his therapist pleading, "I'm sick, I need help." However, he says his therapist was unhelpfully nonjudgmental.
At the age of 26, Falzarano allegedly left the "gay lifestyle" and made a gradual conversion to heterosexuality. The story of this conversion has remained murky, however, because he has told several different and not entirely consistent versions of it.
Version One was told to me personally one day while Falzarano was recruiting for the ex-gay movement in a gay neighborhood of Washington, D.C. According to Falzarano, after many years of living his "gay lifestyle," he became depressed about the fact that he wasn't in a relationship, despite the fact that he was an intelligent and attractive person. Why was this?, he wondered. He had been in relationships before, but they never seemed to last more than a year or so. Shortly thereafter, the AIDS epidemic broke out, and Falzarano watched a good number of his friends die of the disease. Falzarano became convinced that these misfortunes were due to the fact that homosexuality was inherently unnatural and immoral. As he later related during an appearance on "Good Morning America," "I ... realized, when I began to see 35 of my friends die of AIDS, that I probably made the wrong lifestyle choice." Subsequently, Falzarano left the "gay lifestyle."
Version Two of Falzarano's conversion can be found on Falzarano's web site. The website describes in some detail Falzarano's childhood and life as a gay man. It then goes on to describe how one night, Falzarano had an anonymous sexual encounter with a man who was trying to go straight. After the encounter, the man got out of bed, ashamed at what he had done. He told Falzarano that he was a Christian who had "fallen" and regretted his actions. He showed Falzarano the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible and told Falzarano that they were both doomed if they did not repent. Falzarano became persuaded by this preaching, and subsequently gave up prostitution. Gradually, he dropped out of the "gay lifestyle" altogether.
Falzarano married his wife Diane in 1983. However, he continued to be plagued by fantasies about men, which he tried to suppress. Then one day, a year after his heterosexual wedding, Falzarano received a call from a former boyfriend who was dying of AIDS, who urged him to get tested. Says Falzarano: "I remember hanging up the phone and kneeling down on the floor, and it hit me that I had slept with over 400 people in the 1970s. I said, 'God, I must be infected.' ... So I prayed: 'God, if you can give me a negative test result, I will kill this [homosexual orientation] off inside of me." Falzarano says he received his "miracle" and tested negative. Afterward, he underwent counseling at an ex-gay ministry, which helped him eradicate his homosexual urges altogether.
Version Three of Falzarano's story was told by Falzarano on a recent segment of "The Roseanne Show," on which he made an appearance to discuss the topic of ex-gays. According to Falzarano, he had been living a gay lifestyle happily for nine years. One day, in 1982, Falzarano was walking down the streets of Boston when God spoke to him (literally, not metaphorically -- Falzarano claims God's voice was "audible"). God said, "Anthony, I've been patient with you for long enough. If you don't give up the homosexual lifestyle now, you will die of AIDS." At that time, says Falzarano, the number of AIDS cases in the country was very small, and no one had any idea AIDS would turn out to be a huge, fatal epidemic. But as a result of this direct warning from the Almighty, Falzarano became an ex-gay. Says Falzarano, "God pulled me out of the gay lifestyle before AIDS hit." Moreover, claims Falzarano, until the warning from God came, he was not at all miserable as a homosexual: "I was happy being gay ... until the voice [of God] came, I was really, totally happy. I was pretty well-adjusted in the lifestyle. I had no reason to change." His only motivation to change was his "born-again" experience, direct from God.
Some of the elements of the three versions of Falzarano's story can be harmonized with each other, and Falzarano has on occasion chosen to explain his life history by combining elements from more than one version. However, other elements of these stories are in considerable tension with each other. In Versions One and Two (the latter presented on the P-FOX website), Falzarano is unhappy being gay, and this is his primary motivation to change -- nothing is said about God speaking to him, memorable though you might think such an occurrence would be, especially when it takes place in "audible" fashion. In Version Three, Falzarano is "really, totally happy" being gay and changes only because God told him to. In Version One, doubts about whether to continue in the gay lifestyle set in when his friends start dying of AIDS. In Version Three, Falzarano has gotten out of the gay lifestyle before AIDS's ravages, thanks to God's timely warning in 1982. In Version Two, Falzarano leaves the gay lifestyle, finds out a friend has AIDS in 1984, and is shocked at the thought that he [Falzarano] might have been infected back in the 1970s, leading him to plead with God for a negative test result.
At times, it might seem that Anthony Falzarano is two different people. At the 1997 conference "Homosexuality and American Public Life," held at Georgetown University under the sponsorship of the American Public Philosophy Institute, Falzarano told a sad tale of his life as a homosexual, how he was "addicted" to sex and pornography, how he continued to have sex and sell his body despite the fact that deep down he felt homosexuality was wrong, how he went to a therapist after a night at a bathhouse with twelve different men, how he desperately sought help but did not receive it. At several times during this tale, Falzarano appeared from an audiotape to be breaking down in tears. Yet a year and a half later, on "The Roseanne Show," Falzarano smiled and blithely told the audience that he was "really, totally happy" being gay and "had no reason to change" until God told him.
Falzarano's recollections of his childhood, in which he says he was molested by five different men, raise touchy questions as well. Existing studies put the prevalence of sexual victimization of males at somewhere between 3 percent and 11 percent of the general male population -- that is, approximately 3 to 11 percent of men were molested at least once as children. Being molested once, then, is a relatively uncommon occurrence. When such a child is molested more than once, the usual pattern is for him to be molested multiple times by the same offender. There is every reason to believe that the number of male children molested by five different people, as Falzarano claims, is exceedingly small. Was Falzarano as a little boy simply the victim of extraordinarily bad luck? Or could he be interpreting as molestation occurrences that not everyone would have categorized as such?
In fact, light is shed on this last point by comments Falzarano made in a friendly interview with Tom Bethell in the conservative magazine American Spectator (October 1998), which appear to take a rather broad view of what constitutes molestation. Falzarano asserted that "inappropriate touching" could constitute molestation, and added the cryptic comment that children can be "molested with candy or gifts." When pressed by Bethell to precisely describe his molestation by a family member, Falzarano admitted that the experience was not so serious, it was "really just groping, acting out." According to Bethell, it was the sort of experience that could have happened "to anyone." Nonetheless, apparently on the strength of that episode, Falzarano told a religious right group six months later that he was a "a victim of incest."
Falzarano, who claims in defiance of mainstream scientific opinion that 80 percent of gay men were molested as children, may also be prone to resort to molestation hypotheses as a explanation of why children grow up to be gay or lesbian. One letter writer to the Washington Blade described his experience as a counselee to Falzarano:
I called Mr. Falzarano. During our phone call, he went over a checklist to determine more about my orientation and possible causes for it. He asked if I had a domineering mother (no), a father who travelled a great deal (no), a good relationship with my father (very good), if I had ever been picked last for a baseball team (never), and got along with the other boys (yes). Mr. Falzarano said that he could not figure out what had made me gay, and that he had seen only one case of a gay man who had bonded with his father. Finally, he asked if there was anything unusual at all about my background. I told him that I did not learn to talk until I was 4 1/2 years old, after going to a speech therapist for a short time. Mr. Falzarano jumped on that and enthusiastically announced that I likely had been sexually abused before that age, and that caused me to be gay.
In recent years, Falzarano has claimed that he is a fully functioning heterosexual, that he is not merely repressing homosexual desires, and that he is happily married to his wife. However, even on this matter, his stories show considerable fluctuation in emphasis from one audience to the next. In 1996, on the CNN show "Talk Back Live," an audience member asked Falzarano, "Are you still attracted to men at all? When a good-looking man walks by ... does your head still turn?" Falzarano replied flatly, "No." However, in his 1998 interview with the American Spectator's Bethell, Falzarano replied to the same question as follows: "I have to be absolutely truthful. I can notice a very attractive man. Do I want to sleep with him? No." The question of whether one finds members of the same gender attractive, as opposed to whether one can resist the desire to sleep with them, is obviously relevant to whether one can accurately report having eliminated as opposed to repressing a same-gender sexual orientation.
Then there is the question of the quality of his marriage to his wife, Diane -- the sort of subject that in the case of most public figures might best be passed over in silence, had Falzarano himself not so insistently thrust it upon listeners as evidence in his case against homosexuality. According to Falzarano's website, during the first several years of his marriage, he was "happily" married, albeit while experiencing occasional homosexual temptations. However, at the "Homosexuality and American Public Life" conference, he told a different story, relating how the first four years of matrimony were a "disaster" (even during the engagement, he continued to have sex with men), and how only counseling from Exodus International saved his marriage.
Falzarano has blasted the gay rights movement as being filled with the "spirit of the anti-Christ," and his language abounds in the sorts of conspiratorial and apocalyptic tropes that one might think would embarrass some of his backers in religious right and conservative circles. At the "Homosexuality and American Public Life" conference held at Georgetown, in which such figures as ABC News commentator William Kristol and neoconservative cleric Rev. Richard Neuhaus played prominent roles, Falzarano declared that the media is "controlled by" a 1,200-member gay journalists' organization, and that "their objective is to homosexualize America and destroy Judeo-Christian values. ... Disney studios is [also] controlled by the gays." Appearing on a CBS News special report, Falzarano was quoted as saying, "AIDS comes from the devil, directly from Satan. He uses homosexuals as pawns and then he kills them." At a recent P-FOX conference, Falzarano described Matthew Shepard, the 105-pound boy who was brutally beaten and killed by thugs, as "a predator to heterosexual men." One of Falzarano's recent projects is to gather a group of parents who have lost children to AIDS to sue the American Psychiatric Association for malpractice, on the grounds that the APA's declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness in the 1970s led to the creation of a generation of homosexuals who died of AIDS.
Founder of Kerusso Ministries, an ex-gay counseling center, Michael Johnston has also played a prominent role in the "Truth in Love" advertising campaign. His mother, Frances Johnston, appeared in a television spot aired on Mother's Day. Like Paulk and Falzarano, Johnston has worked extensively with the religious right, lobbying against gay rights laws in Alaska and elsewhere.
Johnston tells his story in a video sold by Kerusso Ministries entitled "On Wings Like Eagles." Johnston says he experienced an unhappy childhood. He claims that as a result of watching the television program "Dark Shadows" as a child, he developed the idea that "there was power and there was success available in the Dark Side." One day, he went inside a closet, lit some candles, and prayed to Satan, "if you make me wealthy ... then you can have my heart." He believes that this incident might have led him into homosexuality later as a teen and adult.
While in high school, Johnston began to take drugs, and it was not long before he was "habitually stoned" and selling drugs to others. One night he met a friend who took him to a gay bar, whereupon he entered the "gay lifestyle." Over time, Johnston's life became a "revolving door of drugs, alcohol, and sex," with every weekend turning into an opportunity to find a new sex partner. Says Johnston, speaking it would appear very much for himself, "The very creed of so-called 'gay liberation' precludes any constraints on sensual pleasure or even the contemplation of so quaint a concept as self-control." However, Johnston's childhood dream of being wealthy and envied by others remained unfulfilled, despite the fact that he was "doing everything to uphold my end of the bargain with Satan."
In 1984, AIDS began to take the lives of men Johnston had known. In 1986, Johnston himself tested positive for the HIV virus. He proceeded not to tell anyone of his test result, not even his lover. Johnston claims that he felt guilty about the danger to which he was exposing the other man, however, and eventually sabotaged the relationship with the lover "for his own protection". After leaving this lover, Johnston continued his promiscuous lifestyle. When later asked by a reporter if he had put others at risk for infection, Johnston admitted that he had, but said he no longer felt guilty because of his born-again experience: "If it weren't for the fact that I knew I had the forgiveness of my Father in heaven, I would have a great deal of difficulty living with that. That forgiveness is what sets me free from the guilt."
Johnston eventually found his way to an ex-gay ministry, Love in Action, where he claims a "supernatural transformation" helped him to achieve heterosexuality. Interestingly, Johnston dismisses many of the claims for "reparative therapy" made by others in the ex-gay movement, arguing that real change is not a matter of "rational thought or rational discussion" but of divine intervention. In an interview in the Village Voice, Johnston stated, "I don't believe men and women can go into therapy and come out the other end heterosexual." Although God changed his sexual orientation, he says, he doesn't think most ex-gays have experienced a dramatic transformation. To tell an unhappy homosexual that he or she can be cured is "setting up someone for a great deal of frustration. Christian law is not about eliminating sinful desires, it's about overcoming them." In response to the argument that ex-gays are simply repressing their homosexual orientation, Johnston has forthrightly replied, "There is a kernel of truth in what they say, that those of us who have chosen to follow Christ are repressing. ... What comes naturally to us is not righteousness, it is sin."
Despite his prominent role in the history of the ex-gay movement, Colin Cook is perhaps understandably not a figure featured prominently in current religious right publicity. A former Seventh-Day Adventist minister, Cook was expelled from his ministry in 1974 when it was discovered he had been having sex with a man in his church. Over the course of a decade, Cook had sex with over 1,000 men, many of them anonymous encounters in places such as public restrooms. But by the late 1970s Cook became convinced that homosexuality was wrong and decided to go straight and marry a woman. The foundation of Cook's self-therapy was his fervent belief that that all people are created by God as heterosexual. "Man was created in the image of God, male for female. I am created as a heterosexual person."
Cook succeeded in convincing the Adventist Church that he had truly become heterosexual, and worked to set up the "Quest Learning Center," an ex-gay ministry, in 1979. The next year Cook also co-founded "Homosexuals Anonymous," an ex-gay program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.
In 1986, however, Cook admitted that he had been having sexual contacts with men who had sought counseling at the Quest Learning Center in hopes of changing their sexual orientation. (According to Cook, he had been giving nude massages to men and teenage boys in order to "desensitize" them to the pleasures of male flesh.) The Quest ministry collapsed and Cook resigned as the head of Homosexuals Anonymous. Homosexuals Anonymous itself survived, however, and was later taken over by one "John J," a man who had once served time in prison for molesting boys. Six months later, Cook was again ministering to gays, under strict Church supervision. By 1993, Cook claimed that therapy had made him "98 percent free" of male fantasies.
Cook moved to Colorado and founded a new ministry, "FaithQuest Colorado." This new ex-gay ministry of Cook's was publicized widely by religious right groups, and he appeared twice on the Phil Donahue show. Colorado for Family Values endorsed Cook and showcased him at various anti-gay conferences. In 1995, however, The Denver Post reported that Cook was again engaging in inappropriate sexual conversations with his counselees. According to the accounts, Cook had engaged in sexually provocative conversations with clients over the phone, and also given them long, grinding hugs and asked them to bring homosexual pornography to sessions so that he could help "desensitize" them to it.
John Smid directs Love in Action, an ex-gay group in Memphis, Tennessee, which sponsors a live-in program for gays wishing to become heterosexual. At one time, Smid was married to a woman. He later came out of the closet and adopted a "gay lifestyle," but returned to heterosexuality and married another woman when he became convinced that homosexuality was wrong.
Smid's Love in Action program has attracted some controversy for the methods it employs to supervise its counselees, with some former members denouncing it as a "cult." The live-in program is rigidly structured, and contacts with the outside world are extremely limited. Persons expressing doubts about the efficacy of the program are asked to leave, so as not to undermine the efforts of the group. One former participant in the program, Tom Ottosen, has stated that during his time in the program, he became extremely depressed and had suicidal thoughts. Ottosen went to Smid expressing his concerns and doubts about the program, whereupon, according to Ottosen's version of the story, Smid told him he would be better off if he committed suicide than if he left Love in Action and returned to the gay lifestyle. According to Ottosen, Smid said, "in a physical death you could still have a spiritual resurrection, whereas returning to homosexuality, you are yielding yourself to a spiritual death from which there is no recovery." Smid denies he told this to Ottosen.
Smid's own alleged transformation into heterosexuality has been less than convincing. Smid told a reporter that his sex life with his wife was "very normal," "the same as any other marriage." However, he states frankly on his website: "I am not totally healed from homosexuality. It is part of my emotional, physical and spiritual history. It will not be erased as though it did not exist. I still struggle at times. ... I will shut down with my wife at times. I periodically have sexual thoughts regarding men." He compares these thoughts to the temptations that married heterosexual men have for women other than their wives. The difficulty with this analogy is that the temptations of a "very normal" husband are heterosexual, not homosexual. A conventional heterosexual does not have to practice self-control over unwanted homosexual thoughts.
Comments that Smid has made suggest that his fervent faith may operate as something of a denial mechanism. In a recent interview, Smid discussed how difficult it was for him to adjust to heterosexuality. As an example of his struggle, Smid pointed to a gold-colored wall in the room and stated, "I want to believe that that wall is blue. ... It's blue, it's blue, it's blue. ... [T]hen God comes along, and He says, 'You're right John, it is blue.'"
While John Paulk, Anthony Falzarano, Michael Johnston, and John Smid can be regarded as among the leading current stars of the ex-gay movement, a number of other, somewhat less prominent ex-gay personalities have also been promoted by the religious right. Three such figures are David Kyle Foster, Bob Van Domelen and Steven Short.
David Kyle Foster founded "Mastering Life Ministries" in 1987 and is the author of a book entitled Sexual Healing, a guide to overcoming homosexuality. He has spoken at religious right conferences and his radio program has been carried by James Dobson's Focus on the Family satellite network. Before his conversion, Mr. Foster was a Hollywood actor and male prostitute for ten years. Later, Foster joined the "Divine Light Mission," a cult led by a self-proclaimed messiah who owned several houses and a fleet of luxury automobiles, thanks to the generosity of his followers. After leaving the cult, Foster was finally "saved" from homosexuality. Says Foster, "I was healed with a supernatural bonding with God the Father." According to Foster, the problem with homosexuals is that they suffer from a case of "arrested emotional development."
Bob Van Domelen is the director of Broken Yoke Ministries in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, part of the Exodus International network of ex-gay ministries. During his college years, Van Domelen struggled with his sexual orientation and frequented public restrooms for homosexual encounters. After graduating from college, Van Domelen became a teacher and married a woman. As a teacher, however, he developed the troubling habit of molesting his male students. Fourteen years later, in 1985, he was confronted by a former student who reported him to the police. Van Domelen was sentenced to five years in prison for first- and second-degree sexual assault against minors. He spent his time in prison studying the Bible, which led him to repent and seek to overcome his homosexuality. When Van Domelen was released, he started his Broken Yoke ex-gay ministry. Today, Van Domelen says that he is mostly healed, but that he still has to say a quick prayer before entering a public restroom.
Steven Short appears in the recently produced Family Research Council video, "Coming Out of Homosexuality: Stories of Hope and Healing." Starting at the age of 18, Short began to dress as a woman; in his twenties he underwent plastic surgery to become a woman. At the age of 40, Short became involved in illegal activities (the nature of which he refuses to specify) which led him to prison. The warden, after some consideration, sent Short to the women's section of the prison. About a year and a half into his prison term, Short says he met a "true Christian woman" who showed him the light. Subsequently, God made it known to Short through "supernatural intervention" that his homosexuality was a choice and could be changed. Today Short claims to be living as a heterosexual male.
Although each "ex-gay," like each human being, is fundamentally unique, there are some striking commonalities in what can be documented from these stories. These are before-and-after stories, with the finding of religion being the key event which divides the halves of the story. During the "before" phase, many of these ex-gays were remarkably deficient in self-control and restraint, prone to addictive behavior, and often lacking a moral center altogether. With their faith to lean on, they today lead more stable and responsible lives. This faith is never presented as less than an intense one that permeates virtually all aspects of their lives; in some instances it would be hard to distinguish it from fanaticism.
It is not unusual for people who lead irresponsible and uncontrolled lives to be deeply unhappy, and one can readily credit the ex-gays' tales of how unhappy they were in the "before" phase of their stories. But they go on to accuse the "gay lifestyle" of being inherently unrestrained and decadent. Such a claim amounts by implication to an evasion of personal responsibility, a way of blaming one's past on a handy scapegoat rather than on one's own personal folly. Some gay persons lead overindulgent, irresponsible, out-of-control lives. Countless other gay persons do not. Homosexual orientation is not a choice, but what one chooses to do with it is.
The experiences also cast doubt on one of the most commonly made of all claims for the ex-gay movement, namely that it offers a proven method of replacing homosexual desire with conventional heterosexual desire. While the accounts of leading ex-gays range along a continuum, evidence is remarkably lacking of a disappearance of same-sex desire, a striking fact given that these cases are presumably selected from among the most successful ones that the ex-gay movement has to offer. Indeed, many ex-gays have been remarkably frank about the extent to which homosexual thoughts persist.
It is hardly a secret that homosexuals are capable of marrying, having deep emotional relationships with members of the opposite sex, and having children. After all, they have done so for thousands of years, before anyone came up with the idea of ex-gay ministries. (Surveys conducted during the 1970s estimated that 15 to 20 percent of homosexual men had been married to a woman at one time.) Sometimes marriages that suffer a dearth of fundamental erotic attraction on one side are saved because other values, such as friendship or familial love, prove unusually strong. In a majority of instances, unfortunately, such values prove neither deep enough nor satisfying enough to sustain a happy marriage for a lifetime.
A recent article by Dr. Richard Isay in the Journal of Orthopsychiatry details a study of sixteen homosexual men married to women. A persistent pattern was found, in which the men were able to have a relatively successful family relationship in the first several years, albeit with low sexual and emotional intensity. But after this initial period, the desire for sex vanished, and the men became anxious and depressed. Typically, separation or divorce would occur by the 15- to 20-year mark.
If ex-gay groups are successful in their expensive campaign of recruitment, we can expect to see more persons lured into unsuitable heterosexual marriages which prove unsatisfactory and eventually fail, resulting often in broken homes and deep unhappiness for the participants. Are "pro-family" groups even capable of seeing the irony of such an outcome?