April 12, 2002

So-called "ex-gay" causes controversy

The "ex-gay" who gave a talk entitled "Homosexuality-Biology or Choice?" Tuesday night at Ida Noyes had the misfortune of being conservative to the point of nuttiness and inaccurate to the point of being laughable in front of an audience for whom scientific accuracy and open-mindedness (if not a degree of self-righteousness) appeared to be the norm.

For starters, the entire premise of this man's speech (let's call him E.G.) looked silly from the get-go. Despite his crew cut, khakis, and prominent, butch-looking beer belly, E.G. brought to mind a combination of the South Park characters "Big Gay Al" and "Mr. Garrison." From his voice to his body language, E.G. seemed more stereotypically gay than just about any openly homosexual male I've ever met. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Since this is merely an observation, and not a comment on whether E.G. truly likes women now that he loves Jesus, consider some other, more concrete, elements of his speech. At one point, he made a Freudian slip along the lines of "homosexuality, I mean heterosexuality, is what God wants from us." Where an audience of his cohorts may have winced, the U of C audience either chuckled or remained silent. According to his own speech, E.G.'s "ministry" involves going to gay bars and looking for male or somewhat-male prostitutes, one of whom he visited with "weekly." The audience was to understand, of course, that he counsels these men. I'm sure he does—though there's something awfully masochistic about the idea of a man who admits his own homosexual inclinations not only getting married to a woman, but also placing himself in a potentially tempting context on such a frequent basis. E.G.'s "street outreach" (his words) sounded like something that could easily cause him to lose the "ex-" in his qualifier, though I could see ex-husband becoming a new one for him.

While I am not a Christian like E.G., I can see the appeal of the belief that transformations from gay to straight are possible. I can see this because I am a straight female. Would that I had a chance with the hordes of gorgeous men in the audience, most if not all of whom had come to laugh at or solemnly critique all that E.G. stands for. Of course, E.G.'s story was not one that gave hope to the women out there who have dreams of conversion. I do believe that E.G. has undergone a transformation, albeit one along the lines of a spiritually-flavored brainwashing. Under the influence of extreme, cult-style faith, people have been known to do much stranger things than sleep with members of the opposite sex. Religion and denial of pleasure are, as we all know, not exactly mutually exclusive. That E.G. could, in the name of a sect of Christianity, suppress his desire for men is hardly surprising. Does this make him "ex-gay?" Ex-rational would better describe his current state.

After his talk ended, E.G. was faced with a question and answer period, which strangely resembled the stoning scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian. When one man asked of the audience, "How many people believe you can be spiritual, gay, and happy?" nearly all hands shot up. While some of the audience members who asked questions did so more cordially than others, none expressed any support for E.G.'s "transformation" or for his belief that such transformations are necessary for homosexuals who wish to avoid an infernal afterlife. Some questions addressed the logical or factual flaws within E.G.'s talk, while others were primarily assertions that E.G. and his pals are unfair to gays and are, if nothing else, masters of self-deception.

How sad it is that a man who professes to have spent his childhood being taunted for his behavior should choose as a career speaking in front of people who laugh at his most firmly held beliefs. While I cannot say for sure what E.G.'s reception is like at other schools or arenas, whether he is shot down by angry gay people, or greeted by depressed, closeted young men and women, I can tell you for sure that at this school, he came across more like a spectacle at a freak show or a village idiot than like a speaker at a university. While many in the audience rightly believed that ideas like E.G.'s, if they are widely accepted, can cause a great deal of harm to non-straight youth and adults, within the room at Ida Noyes, the only person I felt any pity for was E.G. However, since it seems E.G. gets off on masochism, perhaps his line of work—from talking to, but not sleeping with, actively gay men to pitting himself against audiences like the one he dealt with on Tuesday—does more for E.G. than would an open life with a man.