Beyond Ex-Gay

Responses to Ex-Gay Harm–Let Me Count the Ways 

seeing through a window being washed

Jim in Seattle

wow this really hits me. yeah, that's me and what happened to me.

Image of a man holding a picture frame
Sexual Harm--Although I had sex before I entered the ex-gay program, I was naive about all the public places where people found sex. After a few months in the program, I learned far too much about cruising.

Relationship Harm--I married a woman and really believed God that it would work. I mean there were so many examples of ex-gay leaders in photos with wives and children. Ugh, it was a disaster and I deeply wounded my wife and sidetracked her life.



Thank you for posting so lucidly Peterson. It has re-awakened memories of a large chunk of my life. Like many, I underwent the angst of wondering if I was gay, and denying the evidence for years.

When I first contacted Christian therapists/groups offering hope, it initially felt like a great release. At least now there were people who I could talk to about what I'd been bottling up for so long.

But that well of hope ran dry. Looking back on the 15 years or so that I spent in my ex-gay 'struggles' I see so many of the ways of harm that you mention.

There was a sense of immense shame, frustration and failure when I didn't live up to the heterosexual ideal.

A painting of three figures There was emotional isolation. I couldn't be close to women for fear that they might get feelings for me that I knew I couldn't reciprocate. And I couldn't get close to men for fear that my feelings for them might grow too much, OR that they might perceive that I was gay. I was in asexual limbo.

There was fear of being thought of as gay, inside an institutionally homophobic church.

There was loneliness - building much of my social life inside a church where there were few remaining singles of my own age; a sense of being an outsider amongst couples (despite those who showed warmth); a sense that I was a bit weird for not being married. It almost felt like I'd only be a full part of the social side of church again when I was old enough to join the widow and widowers group.

In the four years since I came out to myself, I've been processing why I held on for so long in the ex-gay/celibacy groups. It's been partly my own procrastinating nature.

However, looking back, I'm angry at the ex-gay proponents for their misuse of scripture; their clinging to discredited pseudo-psychology; their blindness to the obvious failure of their "therapy"; and their demonisation of gay peoples' "lifestyle".

I'm angry at the church that would rather sweep the issues (and the people) under the carpet, and wish it all away.

I'm trying to put that behind me, and I think I'm getting there slowly. I realise that I need to let go of all this to help me move on.

In the process I've lost my faith, for a mix of reasons, only partly linked to my coming out. For those in the church, that has been seen as a tragedy, and the anti-gay ones might even use that to bolster their demonised views of homosexuality.

I look back on the lost years. Years when I could have been giving and receiving love. Hopefully there is still time for my life to bear some of that fruit.


Steve Schalchlin

It's not simply the ministries that cause this harm, but the entire religious error that underpins the movement. Those of us who grew up in conservative anti-gay religions bear the scars and the wounds inflicted upon us for our entire lives. It's the rotten core theology must be challenged and defeated through healthy applications of love and understanding.

The culture war is our enemy, not the human beings. The untruths are what hurt us. The people who propogate them are deceived, not evil. There is no war if we do not participate in the violence being waged against us. But relentless non-violent "push-back" is mandatory. And we push back with our stories and our truths.


-Eric Leocadio

"Friends who rejected us because the conditional nature of the friendship. Once we no longer identified as ex-gay and a struggler, they ended the relationship..."

I know you gave us a warning to be somewhat prepared but this one really hit me.Distance between a couple

I've had a friend for just about 9 years. He's always been supportive of my struggle and "journey" but once I began to reconcile my faith and my sexuality it became uncomfortable for him. I didn't fit in his box of what he thought about gay Christians and those "open and affirming" churches. He got to a point to where he articulated that I short-circuited his belief system and needed some time away.

This still has hurt me tremendously. I thought I had a friend who was walking with me but that wasn't true. Rather than continuing to walk with me despite how it challenged his paradigm, he chose to distance himself to repair his original theology. Knowing me screwed him up. And it hurts accepting the fact that he really wasn't walking with me. His compassion for me was limited by his conditional acceptance.

Man that hurts.

After speaking with you, Peterson, on the phone last night, I was on my way to a meeting where he was at. Alot of the pain resurfaced.

I had always referenced him as someone who walked with me. But I think i just liked the idea of saying he walked with me. The truth is, he hoped my journey would lead me back to an ex-gay belief system. When it didn't, he abandoned me.

Fortunately, I wasn't alone. Christ really has been the only one who never bolted. He had been walking with me the whole time.  


Auntie Doris      

I am someone who has stood alongside my friends who have walked the journey out of the ex-gay ministry and into freedom. I just want to say that it is equally hard to stand by and watch someone who is in pain. It is hard to know what to say for the best and how to cope with someone elses immense emotional pain. It is hard when your beliefs are being challenged by someone elses behaviours and values, and it is really difficult when you thought you had shared some of that journey together, but then they have gone off on a different track.Image of pensive older woman

For me the choice was to rethink my own value system and make changes or to resolutely stick to what I believed. For a while I did the latter but it made me so unhappy and it meant that I could not be the friend I believed I was called to be. So, I had to change. That has been a long and painful journey of self-discovery. My aim was to pursue truth and honesty, whilst somehow maintaining my integrity as a Christian.

I am not saying it is harder for me than it has been for my friends. I am just saying that my journey has also been rocky and the consequences of standing by my gay friends has been that I have fallen out with many of my so-called friends. The isolation which is experienced through these traumas is not limited to the person going through it, but also to those to choose to ally themselves with those who are on that painful journey.



The spiritual Harm- even still now I think God is evil and wants to sent me to hell even though I have reconcilled my faith and sexuality and have been with the same-sex partner for almost three years. the roots go deep. At times I was sucidel but waht kept me from killing my self was I do not want to go to hell. Why do I think i am going to hell so much? How do i get those voices out of my head?

The relationship harm
I have lost friends who have found out that I am gay. And then some I have distanced my self from because I know they will reject me. Lost family, church, and christian university

The developmental harm

Spent many years trying to change my sexuality in secrete and learned to put on a show to others. I am so use to that show taht it is difficult for me to be authentic with others, so much so that I distance others from me. Because well... they will reject me anyways


Just Me--Titration

Good post! The thing that hit me hardest here was remembering that I ended at least one relationship because the people at a ex-gay type of conference said I should if I was "too close" to them. And I threw away stuff of people who I loved and who loved me (who I wasn't intimate with) because they said that would help me be less "attached".



I'm a male named Ryan from Philadelphia area. I'm fortunate in that I'm only 22 and only experienced only dabbling in some ex-gay stuff for about 2Image of bound hands years while trying to come out and get OK with myself. Although I agree...I still sometimes feel that I'm going to hell for simply being this way. I'm also afraid of any sort of physical intimacy because I was told to avoid this at all costs. I just hate how these "ministries" trick people in to thinking they can have the life they have always wanted-wife, kids , etc. They must all follow a format since the ex-gay counselor I was going to see was excited when I was trying to date a girl, yet objected to me having a friendship with another gay guy because of "emotional dependence" Fortunately I didn't listen, and am very thankful for that friendship, and several others with Christian GLBT people that I have developed over the past several months.


Ohio Cowboy 

I'm 63 years old and still deep in the closet for many of the reasons mentioned in other postings. I only had a couple years of dabbling in an ex-gay ministry because I thought it was "the right thing to do". I'm not sure how it contributed to harm me but it probably slowed me down in accepting myself for who I really am.

How many years I've wasted living in fear, shame and disgrace--all the while feeling like others that you cannot be gay and Christian. Many times yet I am still so unsure of myself--isn't it a shame that I cannot get a hold on it all and live free and happy as God has desired for all His children? I get so tired of living a lie--when will I accept that God made me and give thanks for that, rather than worry about what others think?



I attended a church ex-gay group for one year and was required to see a psychologist. I was kicked out of the ex-gay group when I fell in love with another younger guy in the group. I continued with the psychologist for another year or more.

Emotional Harm--I was so hurt by the psychologist and loss of friends, that I do not feel I can trust anyone, making it very difficult to find any level of relationship.

Psychological Harm--When I was kicked out of the group I was suicidal and later was put on medical leave by a psychiatrist with a diagnosis of "hopelessness".

Image of a ball in a maze

Spiritual Harm--When I found that there was no resolution to "being" gay, I began to wonder if there is a God. If He didn't care enough to "heal" me of my gayness, then either He didn't really love me or He didn't exist. I later found a place where I thought I was accepted, but after other men tried to control me, I have withdrawn from church altogether. Ten years later and my faith in God is restored, but I don't trust any preacher (gay or straight) to preach truth.

Relationship Harm--Without going into specifics, I was told that my family of origin was to blame for my gayness. There was hurt in general with societal and religious discrimination that the added weight of that thought caused so much more pain that I broke off all remaining relationship, and even to tear up all of their pictures.

My marriage was already fragile due to my coming out, but when I was kicked out of the group with no hope of change, my wife and I separated for "time apart". My inability to get it together caused the separation to last until she moved away 5 years later and we divorced. Three of my four children still speak with me, but as it is with any divorce it is somewhat strained. There is much pain that my oldest will not speak with me.

I lost all of my church friends. They did not know what to do with me. I am cautious about finding new friends.

Financial Harm--There was no fee to be in the church ex-gay group, but with one Exodus conference, books and tapes, etc. and the psychologist I spent close to $8,000.

Career Harm--My depression and the medical leave affected my employer's trust of me. At first they denied me return to work, then did not give me meaningful work, and later fired me using an excuse of "lack of work".

Sexual Harm--While in the church ex-gay group, especially the small group sessions, I learned more about how to fulfill my gay desires than how to overcome them. I learned more about specific acts of gay encounters, where to hook-up with other guys, where to get "toys" and about gay bars and good gay sections in regular bookstores.

Developmental Harm--Because of the harm I have also lost many years. I was like a zombie. I stopped living, focusing my energy into "surviving" and the "recovery" process limiting growth in other areas.Image of bombed building

I still am trying to overcome all of the loss. I have no real friends. I avoid church. I'm afraid of Christians. I'm afraid of gay men who I fear don't want me for me, but just want sex. I have no support and don't think anyone cares. My faith is supremely important to me, and I have been unable to find "committed" Christians (gay or straight) who will love me "just as I am".

Yes, in order to try to save my family, I did allow myself to be subjected to the ex-gay process, but knowing that it was me who allowed it does not translate into accepting the loss, nor recovery from it.


Reparitive Therapy… what a time. In the course of four years I wasted my life trying to be something I wasn’t. After realizing I was attracted to men I told my parents I was depressed so I could speak with a counselor. The man I sought to counsel me seemed to be a great Christian guy. It turned out that he too had “struggled” with his sexuality at a younger age. Our sessions seemed to be very honest and encouraging. He told me I should pursue a relationship with a gal friend of mine. Then he began to be blunt with me, often telling me how he wished he could do certain things with me.

My counselor molested me when I was 19. It wasn’t until then that I even thought guys would be attracted to me. So from there my view of sexuality was skewed. Something that God had made to be a beautiful thing in my life became a shameful indulgence. I still couldn’t reconcile my sexuality with my faith. In my view at the time giving up on my therapy would be the worst sin I could commit. I believed I would lose everything. Image of burnt out forest

Attraction never went away and even in the midst of my sessions with a new mentor I was miserable. There were times when I’d abstain long enough, days or months and feel victorious. But even in those moments I was asexual at best. My relationship with Christ was one of fear, not love. I tried to save myself, ex gay therapy taught me that God’s grace wasn’t enough, I’d have to work for the rest of my life to have freedom.

Now I am comfortably out of the closet. My life is not over, I’m moving forward in life. I realize that God made me special for a reason. And knowing that I could meet a great guy somday and fall in love is something very dear to my heart. I realize that sex is a BEAUTIFUL thing, but I still struggle with old tendencies of settling meaningless “action”. Conservatism, not Christianity, I feel has hurt me the most in my progress. I would love to share my heart with a good man that loves Christ like I do, but so many men have been wounded by harmful words coming from well meaning Christians.



I'm finishing up work on the video documenting the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and thus have been pouring over and over so many of the stories that were shared there. Reading through these comments continues to move me. I am saddened by all the hurt that I see but so encouraged by the way ex-gay survivors are standing up, speaking out, and reclaiming their lives.

As someone who shot down a pastor's brief attempt at ex-gay counseling, I feel blessed to be a part of this journey with you all.

It is truly inspiring.



Peterson, thanks for opening up so many spaces for people to discuss the harm they endured. bXg, the Survivor's Conference, now this... I think it's all critical for informing others of the damage done. And I think it's simultaneously encouraging because we can see how people have "moved on" and are working to heal their wounds.

I would add the following experiences of mine to those already mentioned:

Psychological Harm - after 3 years in Exodus, I became clinically depressed. After 4 years, I became suicidal. I went on medication. I secured a gun license in my state. I attempted suicide. Thank God for a dear friend who stopped me before I carried out my plan.

Physical Harm - during the last six months of my 5 years with Exodus, I began to cut my body with razors, steak knives, and meat scissors. I etched defaming phrases into the flesh of my arms and chest (phrases that remain visible to this day in the form of scar tissue). Additionally, I gained a significant amount of weight while on antidepressants.Photo of clay heads

Relational Harm - With great regret, I remember giving my dad a copy of A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality by Joseph Nicolosi. Sometime later, I received a phone call from my father. During an insomnia-ridden night, Dad had picked up the book... and couldn't put it down. He called me at 9am the following morning--sobbing deeply and apologizing profusely for "making me gay." To this day he believes he is responsible for my "abomination." :-(

Sexual Harm - Thanks, Peterson, for bringing this up. I might not have thought of this otherwise. I do recall learning about "quality" pornographic websites in the context of other ex-gays sharing their "struggles." I also recall a guy in my ministry talking about his encounters at a particular interstate rest stop in Texas. Although I never did visit the rest stop, I did visit the websites...

Professional Harm - My graduate work was sidetracked during my depression and ultimately derailed when I attempted suicide. I remember breaking down in my research advisor's office two days after my attempt and resigning from my program.

To the list above, I think I would add another category of harm--one that was particularly significant to my ex-gay experience:Image of barbed wire

Intellectual Harm. A significant part of my coming-out process involved going into university libraries and personally reading the studies of gay relationships and sexuality, and material on the history of the 1973 APA decision to delete homosexuality from the DSM. After months of reading dusty old academic journals, I found myself angry. I felt that I had been deceived. Lied to. The leadership of Exodus has taken so many statistics out of context as twisted them to conform to their horror picture of the "gay lifestyle." I discovered that medical science, social science, and history has been misreported (should the ex-gay perspective on the 1973 APA decision be classified as "revisionist history?").

In this regard, Jim Burroway over at the Boxturtle Bulletin has become a hero to me. His careful work has helped me debunk some of the statistics that were claimed by the leadership of Exodus. I think a great triumph of the work of folks like Jim Burroway occurred this spring when Exodus finally removed from their website the Paul Cameron "statistic" that the average gay male dies at 40 and the average lesbian dies at 42. Complete balderdash! But I specifically remember being told that number at my very first Exodus counseling session.

But there are many more "statistics" like it. The claim that the average gay relationship lasts 1.5 years and includes 8 sexual partners outside the relationship. The claim that the 1973 APA decision was based purely on political correctness and not research. Shoot, even Exodus' slogan "change is possible" is at best misleading and at worst a statistical falsehood.

In my mind, the biggest harm I believe the ex-gay ministries inflict is that of bearing false witness.

And all in the name of Christ.


Christine Bakke

I have avoided reading this post and the comments here for a few days, because I was afraid of getting close to some still-fragile places.

While I have worked through a lot of the grief of what I lost, and the damaging messages I received and believed, it still hits like a ton of bricks to read this post and these comments.

I have finally starting creating art again, after eight years of creative slumber, a casualty of shutting off so much of myself. My art right now is still very much about my ex-gay time and the hopes, dreams, desires, and great loss.

The biggest problem I still face is fear of close relationships with others - especially women. Fear of "emotional dependency" or "enmeshment." Fear of needing someone. Fear of...I don't know. Just fear, and now just a consistent inability to wholly participate in friendships with others. "In Mesh" - Art by Christine Bakke

I know that it's not true - that while some relationships can be unhealthy, most are not. And closeness and yes, even at times emotional dependency should not be demonized. There are times when we all need others, and to be shamed for relationships that we had while ex-gay, those that others deemed unhealthy; relationships that may have been getting us through some of the tougher moments in our ex-gay is a great harm and a great disservice to us at a time when we were the most vulnerable, and the most laid bare, needing others around us.

I am 36 years old and beginning a new life. I am still trying to put some pieces together, and still trying to figure out relationships. Still trying to untie myself when it comes to closeness with others; needing others; being able to receive from others.

I have lost much, and I could talk about how much I have now gained, and all these things (many real) that we do to convince ourselves that "all things work together for good." I know that I now live with great authenticity, and that I have the strength to use my story to help others. But tonight, in the aftermath, it hurts, and I'm feeling it.

I appreciate everyone's contributions here. Thank you all for being vulnerable, to showing us your soft underbelly. For trusting those of us who are in this journey with you; trusting us with your stories. I only hope I can continue to do the same.



Image of a figure walking in snow

Thanks for this post, Peterson. Reading this post takes me back many years to the early 90's before I left for LIA. I remember having a break down in a voice lesson at University about three months before I left to go to California. I was feeling the weight of so much shame, but the thought of LIA and all it had to offer was so close, I knew I could go on...

When I left the safety of the gay ghetto, shame found me again. I felt shame because I knew when I left LIA that I was still gay. How could I go back to my family, church, and everyone who had supported me and tell them I was still gay. I couldn't, so I found myself back in the closet, again.

Finally, 13 years later, I am beginning to love myself just the way God made me. I'm living my life shame free. I've got a ways to go, but I'm pushing myself towards freedom. You know the Bible is correct...I will know the truth, and the truth will set me free!



Reading through this post and these comments, again and again, has been poignant and stirring for me. I realized I've not yet given my own experiences the attention yet that they deserve, and that I need to give them to fold them into my personhood in the manner in which God intends.

That said, one mode of harm/damage is very near to me right now. My wife, who loves me deeply and who, as the partner of a transgendered person, is making her own ex-gay journey of sorts, and is on the eve of telling her parents my story--the story she has embraced as her own over this tumultuous year. We have long feared this moment because her mother and father are very conservative Christian people, and we feel quite certain this revelation will be incredibly challenging for them to accept, perhaps beyond their abilities or desire.Image of bride

My heart breaks as I watch my wife finally arrive at this point, the point of having to choose between a comfortable relationship with her own birth family and her commitment to me and to our future together. It seems so unfair for this to happen to her, and I feel the heavy burden of the responsibility of marriage as I never have before. My years of denial and self-hatred, and the lies they generated in the form of the false persona I presented to the world, make me feel like the cause of the pain she's suffering right now.

Perhaps my in-laws will surprise us; that has happened more than once as I've shared the truth with those close to me. But it seems much more likely that we will soon experience deep relational harm. The effects of that harm will extend beyond me to my wife and my children, and will actually impact them far more deeply than me.

The generational nature of this damage shouldn't be overlooked in this discussion. How many partners have been robbed of their parents, brothers, and sisters by ex-gay teachings? How many children have been robbed of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins? That those who hold these anti-gay, anti-trans ideas consider them (and themselves) to be "pro-family" is one of the saddest ironies of all.


We would like to hear from you. Please consider adding your thoughts and share with us some of the ways you have experienced ex-gay harm.