Do You Feel That Those Years Spent In Conversion Therapy Are, ‘Lost’?

What is it like to have spent 20 years not being able to be your true self, no matter how sincerely? What is it like to start over in the dating pool when you’re not 20?  Do you feel, in any way, that those years are, “lost?”

Steve S

First question, “What is it like to have spent 20 years not being able to be your true self, no matter how sincerely?”

Great question, the first time I was “out” in the ’80s, I was not a very healthy person. I didn’t have good coping or relational skills. I operated from core dysfunction that was a result of abuse and trauma. So when I became a Christian, I didn’t have a broad sense or definition of “true self” to begin with. I was prime for the confusion and self-loathing I adopted through conversion therapy. It was all new to me; there was minimal healthy personal experience to counter the indoctrination.

The world I had entered into disarmed my skepticism with seeming humility, compassion, and friendship. Alan Downs, in his excellent book “The Velvet Rage” describes that type of dynamic very well. He calls it “inauthentic affirmation.” They taught, encouraged, and affirmed a false reality. My former friends, of course, didn’t see it as “false” and genuinely believed it was their only real way to affirm me. Because I was starving for attention and affirmation, I allowed it to happen. Then I internalized and echoed the systemic bias. False or not, any affirmation on a core level was like food to the starving. And, I ate it up.

In my heart of hearts, I knew I was not living out my “true self.” However, I was also afraid of the consequences of “going back.” Since I had not experienced life as a healthy gay man before that point, the stigmatized views I had adopted kept me where I was for a very long time.

What might be surprising to some people is that “overcoming homosexuality” wasn’t the only topic taught in these groups. I did develop healthy coping skills, overcame co-dependency and emotional dependencies, and overcame the fear of other Christians. Lots of peripheral issues were addressed that did impact my life for good. I also discovered my innate gifts and strengths that I still operate in today. So, because I was experiencing some forms of healing and growth, I thought my sexuality was “changing.” It was taught that dealing with all that would help me “overcome” my “same-sex struggle.” Plenty of things changed except, of course, my sexuality. Now I know that the peripheral issues should have just stood on their own and not be forced into the Gospel according to Conversion Therapy. As a gay man, I should have found those same lessons in the broader church environment and resources, not sequestered away in the church closet with unattainable goals.

Next: What was it like to start over in the dating pool when you’re not 20?

Being married now and that being the third guy I ever dated :), I don’t have much “dating” experience. But, I will share what did happen. I tried a few dating apps early in 2015 and didn’t enjoy them. Life is SO different than when I was out in the ’80s. I dated two guys before Dan, one for about six weeks and the other for almost six months. I respect and love them both. While neither can hold a candle to Dan, I am glad the universe saw fit to bring those two men to date, love, enjoy, and learn from. I was lucky in that I didn’t have a disastrous dating experience.

Well, except for the ’80’s. Goodness…

Having healthy dates came on the heels of spending two decades trying to convince me that I was divinely “called” to celibacy. I dated one woman during that time for a year (2005), but other than that, I conditioned my brain to think of life stemming from a celibate frame of reference. It was hard to get my brain in the game of being open to dating. Not because I didn’t want to, I did. But I was so used to not doing it; it’s hard to recognize when a fella might be interested. But, then, when I flirt, I am such a goober goofball!

Seriously, think about it, 23 YEARS of thinking I would be single till I died. Now, even though I am with my husband, with who I can hold, enjoy, and love life, my habits and thoughts still have to be reprogrammed to think of myself in relationship and not alone. Decades of programming doesn’t come undone overnight or even quickly. I also recognize I am learning lessons and having experiences many people obtain when they are younger goober goofballs :). It’s weird being a 53-year-old dealing with the romantic feelings, notions, and lessons usually experienced in the early twenties. Some of it is very humorous, and at other times I feel embarrassed.

All of that said, I am a quick learning goofball, and Dan is very patient :).

And the biggie (to me), “Do you feel, in any way, that those years are, “lost?”

The “what if my life had…?” game is not something I like to play around regarding the past. However, for over 20 years, I didn’t allow myself to ask “what if” type of questions in the present. I lived in a world of inauthentic affirmation that, in effect, blinded and limited me from true romantic love, personal fulfillment, and the freedom to explore life from my God-given core relational state of being as a gay man. Asking “what if…?” is a critical and catalytic question for me in the present. It’s a question I did start asking a few years before we decided to close Exodus. I believe that God led me down that path and out of that false ideological prison and toward this life-giving new marriage and journey.

The way I arrived at the observations in the above paragraph has been raw and sometimes, especially before Dan, awful. Early on, I wept, grieved, even despaired a couple of times for the “lost” opportunities. I’ve struggled with bitterness over “what ifs” had I not been involved in the exgay world. That said, being intentionally grateful and trusting the Universe for timing, I am in a much better place than even a few years ago.

Yes, I “lost” quite a bit because of being involved in that world. But, our Creator is good, and being gay is one of the many gifts he has built into my life. So, I am at peace with being a big gay goober goofball, maybe for the first time; and that’s ok. I also hope that by sharing my experience, other young people will steer clear of exgay ideology and not make some of the choices I made.

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