When Peterson first suggested to me that I write a personal narrative focusing on my struggle with compulsive sexual behavior, I admit, I groused at the notion. This is not exactly what I want to be known for. But, as I considered the proposition, I realized, this needs to be talked about, maybe this will help someone else.
I know my story is not unique. I know there are many gay men out there who have this struggle because I’ve met them.
I was raised in a conservative fundamental Christian home. I 'knew' from an early age that my attraction to the same sex was bad and to act on it would be sin. At age 14 I became an ardent follower of Jesus. While I had been raised in a Christian home, my Christianity was just how I was raised. At 14 I made a personal decision to “follow Jesus.” By the time I graduated from high school, I had read the bible several times and memorized a great deal of it. Jesus was my life.
Something else happened when I was 14 years old. I had a dream. It was about Randy, a classmate. Up to this age, though I was attracted to guys, my desires had mostly been at the periphery of my thoughts and feelings. This dream brought my attraction to guys front and center. The dream wasn’t particularly racy, it was just a kiss. A simple, tender kiss. I had never thought about Randy in a romantic sense before, he was just a casual acquaintance. And, so he remained. I, like so many raised as fundamentalist Christians felt I had to ‘resist’ my attraction to guys, because “God” dis-approved.
I called out to God to deliver me from my attraction to the same sex. There was never a hint of a question in my mind that I was bent, warped, deviant, and that I needed to be saved from this. I knew God would be my ally in this fight. At least I wasn't alone, God was with me. After all, wasn't it God who didn't want me to be attracted to men?
As a young teen, I was consumed with the desire to follow of Jesus. I also had the raging hormones and a major fantasy life of the typical teenaged boy…except my fantasies were all of guys. I felt shame for being attracted to guys and guilt every time I would fantasize about being with one. I longed to have 'normal' fantasies and normal “sins” to resist like everyone else. A day never went by (often all day long) when I wasn’t begging God to deliver me from this attraction or when I was asking God to show me what to do, how to resist my...self. I even tried fasting thinking I had demons and they would only come out “through prayer and fasting.”
When I was 19, I figured maybe the key to freedom was confession to other believers. I was a member of a small, in the home church. We got together often to talk about Jesus, read and discuss the bible, pray and “wait upon” God. “Pride” and “the fear of God” were popular topics with our pastor. After years of struggling with my desires by myself, I concluded my failure to overcome my ‘sin’ was because I was proud and didn’t fear God, because I was keeping my attractions secret. One day when our church was meeting, I decided I needed to “confess” my attraction to guys to the church and pastor. I had to "crucify" my pride. This was the 70’s, and people didn’t talk about being gay, especially in church. The membership was mostly quiet when I opened up, but the pastor took the lead. She gathered everyone around me, they all laid hands on me and prayed. The subject was never mentioned again after that. Nothing changed. Nothing except I realized I was on my own and that the church didn’t begin to understand. It had taken every ounce of courage I had to open up and tell my secret. Still, I trusted in a God who would ‘free’ me. I guessed God must be using this to test my faith and faithfulness.
At 21 I married a Christian girl who I had known since high school. She was a member of the same church I attended, and had been present at the time when I had “confessed” my attraction to guys a few years earlier. A couple of weeks after we were married, I told my new wife that I continued to struggle with attraction to men. I quickly assured her that God was certainly going to fix me, not to worry. Naively, I figured she would become my ally in the struggle. Instead, she was only devastated. We were kids in a world that didn’t talk of such things, so we didn't talk of it again after that. I realized again that I was still alone.
At 25 I had my first same sex experience. Ironically, I was doing some weekend volunteer work helping to restore a Christian ministries hospital ship. They roomed me with a member of the crew. That night, after work, he came on to me and I tumbled. It was dark in the room, not a word passed between us. When I awoke the next morning I wanted to talk, he had disappeared. He avoided me until I had to leave. I felt extremely guilty and ashamed and at the same time exhilarated. The next week, when I again saw this guy (we didn’t get roomed together), he acted as though nothing had ever happened. I felt crushed. Still, my encounter with this guy sealed it for me. I told my wife I was
living a lie, that I am gay, and I separated from her. I didn’t tell her what had happened. I was ashamed. I was also afraid of hurting her further and I figured our marriage was over, so why add to the hurt? I believe this started my slide down the slippery slope of compulsive sex. I believe not telling her was cowardly and wrong. She deserved to know the whole story of why I was leaving. She deserved to know of my infidelity.
Before I left, I also “came out” as gay to my parents, brothers and sister. I left my wife, kids and California, and moved to Virginia. I could not reconcile my faith with being gay, so I decided I could no longer call myself "Christian." I experienced euphoria and a sense of release I had never felt before in my life.
After being in Virginia for a month, I met a guy while walking at the beach. He introduced me to all the types of gay sex that I had only fantasized about until then. He seemed to like me and want to be with me. He called me often, and seemed to like my conservative ways. While I had lost my faith because I couldn't reconcile it with my attraction to men, I still believed in Christian ideas of love and fidelity. He seemed to enjoy my telling him not to party and to take care of himself. His passion for me came and went very fast, within two weeks.
Though I had not met any other gay people, I began to fear all the stories I had heard about the fast and easy gay community, that they might be true. I was alone and afraid that I had just given in to wrong desires. I missed my wife and was filled with guilt and shame for abandoning her and my young sons. I "repented" of being gay and asked God’s forgiveness for my infidelities. Once again I accepted the notion that the “gay life” was sin and that I needed to get back on the “narrow path.” I wanted my wife back in my life. We wrote back and forth, talked on the phone (I had been staying with my sister, jobless and poor). When I landed a job, I asked my wife and kids to join me in Virginia, and we were reunited. My wife asked whether I had been with anyone while we were apart, I lied and told her no. I was afraid she would not take me back, I was afraid of hurting her. I believed I was now certainly over my attractions to men, that I had gotten it out of my system. I knew I didn't want a life of shallow relationships without commitment. I believed I could make marriage work and be faithful to her.
Within a short period of our reuniting, I realized that I wasn’t “over” anything. My attraction to men was right where I had left it, with all it's former strength. I was angry and ashamed of my failing God and my wife. I could not understand why I couldn't win this fight and control my attraction to men. I did not understand why God would not help me resist this but I figured I must be doing something wrong, I just hadn’t figured out what that something was yet. I had to retain my faith. I believed God was going to give me the key to freedom, I just had to fight as best I could in the meantime and wait for God to answer my daily prayers (okay, by this time prayer had turned to pleading) and help.
Meanwhile, I forged a chain. I discovered places where I could get anonymous sex and began to frequent those places. I continued to fight my desires, begging God to help me resist my feelings, I even ‘succeeded’ much more than I failed. For every time I failed, I resisted my desires several times first. But honestly, my “success” was just a delaying of the inevitable. I never got past my feelings, they never lessened. Still, I believed in a God who was going to help me, I had to maintain my ‘faith’ in one “called alongside to help.” At best I would resist my desires for a couple of months, and normally I didn’t do that well.
As part of my fight, I made a rule that I would not have a romantic or emotional relationship with a guy. So, the connections I had with guys were anonymous and physical. Somehow, those encounters seemed like I was being less unfaithful to my wife. I came to refer to those encounters as a “fix” and used them to quiet the raging desire inside.
I found I could not control myself, and thought of myself as addicted. This was hard to admit to myself because it violated my faith. I believed “if God be for you, who can be against you?” Not even my self could win against me if God was for me. My "fixes" would quiet my craving for awhile. Just like a drug “fix," this behavior was slowly killing me. Guilt, shame and self loathing were my constant companions. I could not shake them because I could not stop the behavior that caused them. I believe the lies I told to cover my behavior did even more destruction than the cheap, quick, physical acts. I craved a relationship with a guy that included a romantic emotional bond, not just sex. But, I didn’t believe such a thing could be, because that was “sin.” On top of that, I was married and didn't want to hurt my wife. I believed with God, I could change and become a proper husband. Resisting the emotional side of my need gave me an odd sense of success. I might have been failing on a physical level, but believed I was succeeding on the emotional level.
After six years of this endless, sickening ride, I hit a brick wall. My wife got sick. I was petrified that I had given her AID’s. I wrestled with God, begging him. If he would just make it not so, I would confess, only please, don’t let me and my sins kill my wife. I confessed what I had been doing to my pastor, and then to my wife. The confession destroyed my wife. At that point we had been married 11 years, and she suddenly came face to face with the constant lie, there was “nothing left but ashes."
Amazingly, my wife stayed with me with the stipulation that if I ever had sex with a guy again our marriage would be over. I was both crushed and relieved. I reasoned that it must have been my secrecy that created a "stronghold." That stronghold of secrecy gave my compulsive behavior power and protection. I believed that, at least now, finally, I could find freedom since now all my sins were revealed.
My pastor and his wife introduced me to Exodus, and I entered a program of reparative therapy. I was also introduced to Leanne Payne and “inner healing.” The pastor’s wife was a licensed counselor. I went to her for counseling and entered the "Springs of living Water" program. I was hopeful that finally I would get help and find freedom from my attraction to men. Now everything was in the "light." These people claimed to have the answers, so I threw myself into the program whole heartedly.
My desires never left me, but fear helped me keep them in check. After about six months, I found fear and depression was not enough to change me. We had changed churches during this time. At our new church, my wife made an appointment with the new pastor and his wife. During our meeting, she told them everything I had done while I sat and listened. Shortly after we joined this church, I once again felt my desire to be with a man pushing towards the surface of my life. In a panic, I went to my new pastor. He had already heard all the sordid details of my life. I told him I felt myself ‘slipping.’ He told me not to worry, that God was going to “deliver” me. He was a former alcoholic and apparently this is how it happened for him, and he assured me it would be the same for me. I was afraid to go to my wife. My wife didn’t put merit on the ex-gay programs. She believed my “problem” was that I hadn’t “repented.” I felt her solution of “repenting” was something I had been trying to do all my life. I didn't think she would believe that I had tried hard enough or done the right things to change, I still blamed myself for failure. I certainly couldn’t blame “God.” I must be doing something wrong.
I once again turned to Exodus for help and they referred me to a counselor. He turned out to be Mormon. This seriously rocked my boat. I was a fundamentalist Christian and I had been taught that Mormons are a cult. When I questioned Exodus, they told me this was all that was available in my area. The counselor was a nice guy, but I wondered about God and his choices. This was all God could get me? I talked to God constantly about my being attracted to guys and trusted God was listening to my prayers, that God was working through these people. I trusted Exodus too, they claimed to know God’s will on the gay thing. I went to this guy for several months and when he started giving me Mormon books, I stopped counseling with him. That’s all I needed was to be gay and Mormon, I’d be going to hell for sure. Besides, while the counseling was interesting, it wasn’t changing my attraction or even helping me to resist it. I began to wonder, does anyone have an answer? It never occurred to me that maybe the question was flawed. During this process, I again slid back into the anonymous sex pattern, I felt doomed, but continued to seek God for the answer, while thinking of myself as an utter failure. But, by this time failure was my constant companion. I don’t think I could have hated myself more.
In 1998 I got arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for sex, I was charged with a felony and rode hand cuffed in a police car. They finger printed me and took mug shots. I felt utterly alone and gutted. I went running back to Exodus. I felt surely that getting arrested was that “bottom” I had to hit, how low could I go? Now I was a criminal. I had gone below hitting bottom. I had been instructed by Exodus ministries that being gay is just like alcoholism or drug addiction. So I hoped this must be my “bottom,” though “God” and I both knew how low I had felt most of my life. I could not understand how I could feel so shameful for so long, how I could hate myself and still do these things. How could I want to change for so long and not be able to do so if what I am is wrong? No one else could answer these questions for me either. I was simply told I needed to keep at it. This “ministry” affirmed me as a failure.
I went through another Exodus program, and also went to another Christian counselor who practiced “reparative” therapy. None of this changed me or helped me cope or resist my desire to be with a man. I considered suicide often, but wasn’t brave enough to do it. I considered castration, but knew that wouldn’t change me.
In January of 2006, I de-converted from fundamental Christianity. My jury is still out on whether or not there is a God. I think I am the world’s slowest learner. If there is a God, God’s certainly not the one I thought I knew or that I was calling out to all those years. I can no longer fathom such a God. I am not angry or disappointed in God. I am amazed at my own tenacity, holding onto erroneous ideas of ‘who’ God is for most of 35 years.
I accepted that I am gay.
I am still married. I am trying to figure out whether I can live authentically as a gay man and remain celibate and married. My wife has “forgiven” me. She is a fundamental Christian and believes that living as a gay is against what God wants, so our marriage is...difficult.
I hate telling this story. It is a story of guilt and shame. So why tell it? I know I am not that rare and maybe this will help someone else avoid or escape the torture chamber.
Ironically (since “de-conversion”), I now have my ‘miracle’ after 35 years of tortuous struggle. When I stopped believing in a God who does not accept my attraction to men, something in me changed. I was able to accept that part of my self. I’ve found friends for the first time in my life, gay and straight, who know me, accept me and even love me for who I am. I’ve learned that the gay community is not that stereotyped group I was taught to believe it is. Gays are like anyone else with all the same dreams and challenges. With acceptance came the freedom of self control. I learned the hard way that repression doesn’t work.
I had spent my life trying to kill a part of myself, but my instinct was to live. Once I stopped trying to kill my attraction to the same sex, that part of me became content to just be. Not that my attraction to the same sex is gone, it is not. But since I have accepted who I am, my compulsion for sex is gone. Turns out that homosexual is two words, it’s not all about sex any more than heterosexuality is. I am reeling, even after being free from compulsion since 2006. I discovered what I needed all along was simple acceptance. I am no longer alone. I am no longer living a lie or acting in a way that damages me or others.
My story isn’t over, in many ways, it’s just begun. People speak of "gay pride." I understand that, but I don't really relate to it. I do now understand the need for dignity and realize the damage that having that taken away can cause.