Ex-gay – Do terms matter?

We have been moving around this topic again for awhile. I thought I would bring it back after reading a well written post at Disputed Mutability regarding terms and how same-sex attracted people describe their changes or lack thereof.

Here is a quote from DM’s post:

We have an important responsiblity to communicate clearly, honestly, and accurately. We might find it unfortunate that the world should use and understand words in a certain way. But we have a responsibility to be aware of how our words will be understood, and to take care that people will not get the wrong idea. Civilization as we know it depends on words not being able to mean whatever we want them to mean. If I am “completely heterosexual,” all is permitted.

DM also makes three broad suggestions that might provoke some discussion here:

1. We ought not to be absolutely allergic to speaking in terms that people will understand.

Even though we may dislike certain words with their common meanings, sometimes they are the best way to convey the truth. Sometimes, if someone asks you if you are gay or homosexual, the best answer is “Yes, but…” or “Well, sort of, but…” We have to recognize that in most cases people who ask us these sorts of questions, though their conceptual foundations may be messed up, are primarily interested in our sexual attractions, or sometimes our behavior. They are generally not primarily interested in our sense of identity, especially if they already know what our beliefs are. So we need to acknowledge this in the answers we give to them, and answer in a way that communicates the truth. If our attractions are predominantly homosexual, and we are responding to the questions of someone who may not be able to understand a complex explanation of our views, sometimes the most accurate, honest, and IMHO most God-honoring answer to the question “Are you gay?” or “Are you homosexual?” is “Yes.”

2. We can turn our conversations toward a vocabulary we find more suitable.

We’ve done this pretty well with “same-sex attracted,” I think. (I personally prefer “homosexually-attracted” or “homo-attracted”, partly because they’re easier to understand, and partly because I think a lot of people just need to get a grip when it comes to applying any “homo-” word to themselves, but whatever.) Some of us don’t feel that words like “gay” or “homosexual” accurately convey what we’re talking about, so we use different terminology.

I think it’s fine to tell our conversational partners that we can’t express our views fully in their preferred vocabulary, and to share our own with them. And with minimal creativity and effort, we can explain our sexuality and our convictions without using any orientationist buzzwords at all. We can say things like, “Well, I’m attracted to men, but because of my religious beliefs that sex belongs in the context of marriage between a man and a woman, I’m not looking for a sexual relationship.”

I honestly think this is the best way to handle both how we present ourselves to others and how we think of ourselves. If you’re really worried about gay identity, then stop thinking and speaking of yourself in gay-related terms altogether! Saying “I’m not gay!” buys into a gay identity worldview just as much as saying “I’m gay!” does. You cannot “move beyond” the latter without moving beyond the former as well. The same goes for “heterosexual” and “homosexual.”

If we don’t like the orientationist vocabulary of “gay,” “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” “sexual orientation,” and the like, we can simply decline to use it, for the most part. We do not have to abuse it by employing it in a way that misleads others.

3. If we’re going to use the world’s words differently from how others are using them, we ought to make that clear.

So, my personal feeling is that we ought not apply the adjective “heterosexual” to ourselves unless we are overwhelmingly predominantly attracted to the opposite sex. And, we ought not to describe ourselves to outsiders as “not gay” or “not homosexual” if our attractions are predominantly directed towards people of the same sex. (Within exgay circles and with those Christians who understand what their words mean, I suppose people can use whatever lingo or dialect they want. I’m mostly concerned with how we present ourselves to those who won’t understand our linguistic eccentricities.)

But, if some of us feel that we absolutely must say, “I’m not homosexual,” then we ought to explain why: “…because I believe that nobody is really homosexual,” or whatever the reason is. If we are predominantly same-sex attracted and we say, ”I’m not gay…” we had better add “but you see, I think that gayness is a matter of identity rather than attraction.” Specifically, if we are going to talk in non-standard terms, we ought to be explicitly crystal clear about our attractions. “I consider myself heterosexual…but when I’m real stressed and tired and lonely, I sometimes still get turned on by a good-looking guy.” Yes, we might sound like idiots, but better to sound like an idiot than to deceive others. And that fact that saying those things sounds idiotic may indicate something about whether we should be saying them at all! (See my two preceding suggestions.)

There’s more good stuff in the post but that should be more than enough to get us going. I know some like the term ex-gay whereas many do not. I wonder what will become of it.

CNN segment on Ted Haggard

I may add some additional comments later but I wanted to post the transcript of the Anderson Cooper CNN segment (scroll a bit over half way down the page) this evening regarding Ted Haggard’s rehabilitation.

The report was quite interesting with several points worthy of discussion. I felt Alan’s tone and responses were reasonable and quite consistent with the sexual identity paradigm. The stance of the Human Rights Campaign representative was less so in my judgment.

COOPER: Mark, you know people who have been through this kind of therapy. Some call it reparative therapy. In your experience, does it work?

SHIELDS: Again, absolutely not. Every bit of evidence we’ve seen is that it does not work. And at the Human Rights Campaign, we believe the only choice there is about being gay is, you know, whether or not you choose to be open and honest about it, if that’s how you were born.

I think that people have the choice that they can try and hide that or try and deny that piece of themselves, but ultimately, that’s not healthy for them or for their loved ones.

COOPER: But Mark, if someone is not happy being gay, as Alan clearly wasn’t as a child, what’s wrong with him trying to change?

SHIELDS: You know, again, the mental health professionals tell us that, in trying to change or fix something that’s not broken, you can actually cause a great deal of harm to yourself and ultimately to those that are around you.

You know, I wonder if Ted Haggard had been told as a child that it was OK to be gay and that he could have a rich, full life, if his life story wouldn’t have been less painful and contorted

Here is an example where the Shidlo and Schroeder study of possible harm relating to reorientation is referred to but not cited. Also, the real picture regarding research on etiology of sexual orientation and outcomes of sexual identity integration efforts is of course much more complex than depicted by Mr. Shields.

Another interesting point was the agreement between Alan and Mr. Shields that being gay does not preclude happiness. When I said this in the October, 2006 LA Times article regarding the NARTH controversies, I was the target of some conservative fire. I wonder how things will go for Alan.

Kevin Jennings and Brewster revisited in light of Exodus discussion

I re-visit this story of Kevin Jennings of GLSEN to see what current readers think of how Mr. Jennings handled Brewster in light of our conversation about reporting abuse. We have been over this article some in the past, but I thought of it again in light of the Youth Standards discussion. Should Mr. Jennings have reported the behavior Brewster told him about? If any of my readers have access to GLSEN’s youth standards, perhaps we can discuss them here.

More on Exodus youth standards

Recently Peterson Toscano wrote a series of posts describing his belief that Exodus International provides inadequate guidelines to protect the safety of youth involved in it’s programs.

In the first of three posts, Peterson stated:

On June 26, 2006 I initially left voice messages for Alan Chambers of Exodus International and another national ex-gay leader about inappropriate incidents that affected youth at an Exodus member ministry. I will not go into the details at this time, but I shared three specific situations that happened within the previous year. The shocking details of the third situation compelled me to contact Alan and this other national leader.

This post set bloggers to posting with headlines like: Former Ex-Gay Says Exodus Admits Mistreatment of Youth but Stalls on Safeguards and Exodus Without Guidelines.

However, some commenters on ExGayWatch and Peterson’s blog raised questions about why the “shocking incident” was not reported to the police. In Peterson’s second post, he said:

Although clearly inappropriate, the incidents that I related to Alan Chambers last July did not include criminal acts. The incidents revolved around interactions between adult and youth participants in an Exodus member ministry. Even though the incidents did not require contacting authorities at that time, the situations and the conditions that existed, (and as far as I know still exist), at the Exodus member ministry where these situations occurred, were such that minors were at risk for potential harm.

But then in his third post on the subject, he said:

Thank you to those of you who have shown concern for the youth in Exodus programs. From your comments and your questions, e-mails and calls, I see that many of you really care about these kids and wanted to make sure that if any child is at risk, that all necessary and possible steps have being taken. And they have, at least for the situations I alluded to in my last posts. Proper authorities (and parents) had been contacted, action had been taken. When faced with an immediate problem, Exodus dealt with it. That has never been the issue.

Some of the uproar over these posts may be have inflamed somewhat by the original title of the ExgayWatch post, which used the word “abuse” in the place of “misconduct” as it is now. However, I think it might have been more clear for Peterson to specify what the incidents were up front. It still is somewhat confusing to me, in that in the second post above, he says “the incidents did not require contacting authorities at that time…” but then in the third post, he says, “at least for the situations I alluded to in my last posts. Proper authorities (and parents) had been contacted, action had been taken.”

So from his accounts, readers are left in the dark about the nature of the incident(s).

I asked Alan Chambers about his view of the matter and he sent this email which he gave me permission to post:

As for the actual issue, Peterson called two other leaders and I (separately) during the Exodus conference [June 27-July 2, 2006]threatening to go to the media about an 18 year old former client of a member ministry who met a 40 year old client through that same ministry. At the time the 18 year old was 17. Once the young man turned 18, the two announced they were going to move in together.

The two leaders in question and I met and agreed that the authorities and parents needed to be called and that the leader of the group was the one to do it. The authorities and parents were called immediately and Peterson was informed that this wasn’t an issue between he and Exodus, but one for the authorities. I don’t understand why Peterson never even hinted at wanting to report it, even months later.

Prior to this, Exodus was in the process of revising its standards for member ministries to clearly state that no youth could ever be involved in adult groups or have any interaction if a ministry was to be a member of Exodus. Those standards are now being used during the annual renewal process. By February all ministries seeking renewal will be complete.

As for attempted sex between a minor and adult that never happened. In fact, I am told that the 18 year old and 40 year old didn’t actually end up together.

I also was sent the guidelines that are currently in place for Exodus member ministries which seems to address many concerns that have been raised. Some of the rhetoric over this issue could be interpreted as concern that Exodus had no standards in place; however they did have guidelines in place with revised guidelines coming in gradually. As member ministries renew membership, they must agree to these guidelines. The last of these updates will be complete by February of this year. So, it seems to me, that the upshot of this whole episode is that Exodus handled an unfortunate incident appropriately and that Exodus had guidelines in place to protect youth. Furthermore, they have an internal process that reviews them and updates them as necessary. Pretty much nothing has changed. I suspect any feedback from readers here will be taken seriously by Exodus leaders as the standards are revised in the future. Furthermore, where the guidelines are not followed, as far as I can tell, Alan and the Exodus board is committed to enforcing them. Anyone aware of discrepancies should provide that information to Exodus.

The Exodus standards for programs involving youth

I have read with interest posts on several blogs about Exodus International and guidelines for programs involving youth. I requested a copy of the standards that Exodus hold ministries to and they sent them along with permission to post them here. Most member ministries have already agreed to adhere to them. At renewal of membership, a ministry must agree to any changes. February, 2007 will complete the renewal process for all current member ministries.