Monday, 8 February 2010

Why I'm not convinced by 'ex-gays'

A few weeks ago I did a bit of a Q&A with a Christian friend from my Bible college days. One of the questions he asked was what I made of ex-gays, ie Christians who say they have been turned from homosexuality to heterosexuality. He cited the testimony of a mutual acquaintance who claims to have been healed of homosexuality literally overnight, and is now married with children.

I'd like to post my response here, since it struck me as a good summary should anyone ask me the same question again.
In evaluating ex-gay testimonies, I’d point to three things.

First, my own experience. I was a Pentecostal and I fought “same-sex attraction.” I can testify from my own experience that the capacity to con yourself into thinking you have overcome or are overcoming your basic sexual orientation is huge. I was in denial a long time, knowing deep down that I was still basically attracted to men. There were times when I was so “victorious” in the Christian life that I thought infrequently enough about men that I could convince myself I’d changed or was changing. I tried desperately to exploit the 20 percent of me that was attracted to women (yeah, there’s a hint of bisexuality in me). For periods I could “triumph,” but it never lasted. Nothing fundamentally changed.

Second, other people’s experience. In the whole ex-gay movement, the examples of people who claimed to be “healed” of homosexuality only later to turn back or be caught out are numerous. At least two founding members of Exodus, the world’s biggest ex-gay organization, left the movement and admitted they were still gay. Another of their head honchos got married, but had to leave too when he was photographed chatting up guys in a gay bar. Jeremy Marks, an Anglican who founded Courage, one of the UK’s main ex-gay ministries, did a total turnabout on the issue when he realized after years it just wasn’t working for him or anyone else. I talk to people every day who have survived the ex-gay movement, some of whom have spent thousands on therapy, counseling and ministry over the years.
To this I might add that even the most impressive ex-gay testimonies I have heard turn out to be more complicated once you scratch beneath the surface. A common report is that attractions resurface and temptations still occur when the subject is feeling down, stressed or weak. That suggests to me that they are managing their attractions, but their basic orientation towards males remains unchanged.
Third, the scientific evidence. There basically is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be made to change through therapy, ministry, prayer etc. There have been two or three deeply flawed studies, but even the best of these (carried out in the US a couple years ago) points to a minuscule success rate. The consensus of psychologists and psychiatrists is that this kind of therapy is useless at best and dangerous at worst.

That’s not to say sexual orientation can never change, of its own accord, say, but can it be made to change? Everything I know to be true says no, it can’t.

So what do I do in the case of [our ex-gay acquaintance]? Assume he’s lying? No. There are many possible explanations. Maybe he grew naturally into heterosexuality? (As I said, sexuality changes, it just can’t be forced to change.) Maybe he was bisexual all along? Maybe he’s kidding himself? (I kidded myself a long time about my success at changing.) All I can really say is that based on my experience, others’ experience and most importantly the scientific research, that God made him straight overnight is the least likely explanation.
I write regularly about the "ex-gay" phenomenon at


  1. I agree with this completely. I don't know what is going on with the ex gay thing but I am willing to bet it involves a whole lot of denial!

    That is not to say that orientation is not sometimes more fluid, it can be. What I really object to is that the "change" a small number of people have experienced - or say they have experienced- should be used to bludgeon or manipulate other people into repressing their sexuality to the misery of so many involved.

    High time there were law suits against these ex gay organisations by those whose lives have been destroyed.

  2. Great post. There'll always be a battle of bigotry dressed up as Christianity versus the sexuality in all its complex forms.

    It's encouraging that ex-gayers can become ex-ex-gayers. I hope more will change their minds because they realise honesty and compassion is much more important than deciding how to rule other people's lives.