Looking at Ex, and Ex-Ex-Gay in the Philippines
A.R. Rodrigo*, 32, joined a few years back a conversion therapy in Makati City, a “long, long way away” from his hometown of Davao City, but something he says “I thought I really, really needed to embrace our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
“For the longest time, there was this conflict in me – knowing I wasn’t like everybody else, but not liking it a bit. There had to be a way to ‘correct’ my situation,” he says, stressing that he thought it was “what I had to do, because it was what God wanted me to do – I was made to believe that for as long as I can believe.”
And the “solution” came in the form of a conversion therapy.
CLOSING IN ON EX-GAYS
Better known as the ex-gay movement (The two are interchangeable, though advocates of conversion therapy claim theirs is not necessarily religious, while ex-gay is – Ed), the approach is used to refer to persons who once identified as gay or lesbian (though also bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, and intersex, completing the GLBTQI) who turn away from such identification for various (usually religious) reasons.
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia, in outlining the origins and subsequent development of ex-gay, states that it can be roughly be traced to the time of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who, in 1896, published his ideas on psychoanalysis, where he mentioned his belief in the “innate bisexuality” of humans, and that the manifestations of heterosexuality or homosexuality may be a result of “environmental factors interacting with biological sexual drives” – obviously easy to interpret as a way to control, so to speak, the “direction” sexual identification can be led towards, even if Freud himself (for all his phallic obsessions) once noted (in a letter to a mother who asked him to “treat” her son of homosexuality):
“By asking me if I can help (your son), you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way, we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies which are present in every homosexual, in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.”
Freud added: “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness….”.
Still, then, procedures to “cure” homosexuality abound, with treatments including pharmacologic shock and/or electronic shock treatment, hysterectomy, hormone treatment, clitoridectomy, ovariectomy, and sexual stimulants and/or depressants, among others – many of them still actually used nowadays.
The first ex-gay ministry, Love in Action (LIA), was formed in 1973; merging with other ex-gay organizations three years later to form Exodus International (EI), which, to this day, remains the largest ex-gay organization in the world, with “ministries” all over the world, from the US to Canada to Asia and the Pacific, under the umbrella group Exodus Global Alliance. Since EI is interdenominational – i.e. of/for homosexuals of different religious denominations, other organizations have been formed to specifically respond to religious groups, e.g. Courage (in the US) and Encourage (in the UK) for Roman Catholics, Evergreen International for Latter Day Saints (or Mormons), JONAH for Jews, Transformation Congregations for Methodists, OneByOne for Presbyterians, and Straightway Foundation for Muslims. Aside from religious groups, other ex-gay organizations have also been formed to deal with specific needs, e.g. Witness Freedom Ministries for people with color, Exodus Youth for the youth, Homosexuals Anonymous (modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous).
For the ex-gay movement, there are various way to turn homosexuals “straight.” There’s the Sexual Identity Therapy, developed by Warren Throckmorton and Mark Yarhouse, which achieves its intention in four phases: Assessment, Advanced/Expanded Informed Consent, Psychotherapy, and Social Integration of Valued Sexual identity. There’s Gender Wholeness Therapy, designed by ex-gay David Matheson, which focuses on developing “gender wholeness” by reducing homosexual desires, thereby allowing the building of healthy connections with other men. There’s a play in Ivan Pavlov’s conditioning, e.g. Kenneth Zucker of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health helped developed reparative therapy, a “treatment” wherein children are “helped” to be more content with their biological gender, at least until they are older and can determine their sexual identity, mainly because the “treatment can reduce social ostracism by helping gender non-conforming children mix more readily with same sex peers, and prevent long-term psychopathological development (i.e., it is easier to change a child than a society intolerant of gender diversity)” – activities include making girls play ONLY with dolls and socially defined toys for girls, et cetera, though concerns on intersex people are not discussed, as their gender identification are presumed to be defined by their guardians. And then there’s Context Specific Therapy, designed by Jeffrey Robinson, which uses the theoretical backgrounds of the clients, e.g. use of fear of God for Christians to go “straight.”
These are largely considered as “professional” methods – though there are also “non-professional” methods, what Wikipedia notes as “entirely outside the purview of professional health associations, and hence do not have to obey professional ethics guidelines.” An example are sessions given by coaches (people offering services given by psychologists, sans licenses), e.g. International Healing Foundation, which provides classes to “train” people into heterosexuality. There are retreats (usually also by coaches) that intend to diminish same-sex desires, e.g. the Journey Into Manhood, organized by People Can Change, uses a “wide variety of large-group, small-group and individual exercises, from journaling to visualizations (or guided imagery) to group sharing and intensive emotional-release work.” And then there are pastoral services, with churches actually releasing specific instructions on how to minister to gays and lesbians, e.g. Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination from the Roman Catholic Church, and The Path to Freedom: Exploring Healing for the Homosexual from the Presbyterian Church (US).
In Metro Manila, A.R. Rodrigo himself experienced “pray-overs, supposedly so the Holy Spirit will come to enlighten me, make me find my way to (heterosexuality),” he says. “The more people want for something to happen, the more God listens – or so we believe; so they lay their hands over me, praying over me, so God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, will make me see the light, the path to righteousness.”
It is in the variation of approaches to deal with homosexuality that the ex-gay movement and the conversion therapy have distinct difference – for the former, homosexuals turning heterosexuals is the only way to salvation; while for the latter, “curing” homosexuality is not necessarily the answer, but a “possibility of change” for those unhappy with their sexual orientation is possible, and even deemed preferable.
In a write-up for Outrage Magazine, Richard Mickley, OSAe,Ph.D., the abbot of the Order of St. Aelred, says: “Human rules may reject people. But, for us who are Christians, we can be sure that there is not one word, one verse, one story in our entire Bible that condemns our love. And we take it from there.”
No matter the processes, however, the reasons for wanting to change do not drift too far from the desire to change for others. “Just who tries to change? Not the average gay man or woman. Would-be converts, say psychologists, typically come from deeply authoritarian backgrounds where homosexuality is branded immoral or a sin, while others are married and cannot reconcile their family commitments with their erotic desires,” states the Psychology Today.
“Simply, some of us are not happy with our sexuality (read: homosexuality) for, usually, religious reasons, and we want to be ‘normal’ – to not be a source of shame for our families, and not be rejected for that, so we can have our own families who’ll (look after us) when we grow old,” A.R. Rodrigo says.
It is social pressure that, therefore, usually causing “high levels of emotional stress for (GLBTQIs that lead them) to feel forced into attempting to change their sexual orientation,” adds the American Psychological Association (APA).
EX-GAY PINOY STYLE
In 1990, Frank Worthen, LIA founder and EI co-founder, came to the Philippines and established Bagong Pag-asa (New Hope) Ministries (BPM), an ex-gay ministry in Makati City aiming to help “people struggling with homosexuality leave their past lifestyle and to fully embrace their true identity in Jesus Christ,” the group states in its Web site. When Worthen left the Philippines with his wife Anita after four years, BPM became autonomous, yet still with the same principal goals: “To rescue (homosexuals by presenting) the truth to all who will listen – meaning to nurture those who will surrender to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, befriending them and pointing the way to change; and to educate the Church on how to meet the needs of those making such a life altering decision (through) special seminars for counselors, Christian workers, and leadership training classes for future leaders.”
“(BPM) upholds God’s standard of righteousness and holiness, which declares homosexuality as sin, but also affirms that His love and redemptive power are able to bring wholeness and restoration,” BPM states, adding that “at BPPM, we do not view homosexuality as an inborn unchangeable fact of life or as a viable alternative lifestyle. Instead, we believe that God’s love and redemptive power are able to bring restoration to the entire individual, including their sexuality.”
BPM’s approach is to provide a “safe, supportive environment in contrast to the environment that fostered and nurtured their homosexual desires. The roots of homosexuality usually extend to early childhood. Often, the man struggling with homosexual desires has no idea what early life events implanted his same-sex attractions. (So) during the program year, we will take a look at the insecurities that contributed to the condition he now finds himself in. We will also track the wrong choices that expanded his problem and advise new ways to make right choices.”
Specifically, BPM’s “residential program balances teaching, prayer, relationship-building, and accountability.”
Another ex-gay advocate is Pro-Life, which states that “what God’s Word says about homosexuality is more important to my life than the latest scientific findings (that homosexuality may have physiological basis, correcting it means changing nature’s – and God’s designs). Even if these studies proved that homosexuality was generic, I would still know that homosexual activities are sin. And I know that all of humanity is born with many sinful tendencies – to violence, hate, selfishness – which we must resists through the power of Christ,” the group states in its Web site.
Quoting from Life is For Everyone (1998), Pro-Life even recommends ways when dealing with friends who come out. Suggested responses include reading “good Christian books on the subject, and take advantage of any other materials that give understanding, but realize that ministering is much more than just having all the right answers (and) your help will be most effective when you concentrate on knowing more about the solution – Jesus Christ – than on the problem; separating the person from the behavior (since) the principle ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’ applies here; giving hope to change since often, they have never heard that change is possible (1 Corinthians 6:11); and confronting in love.”
The main concern of the ex-gay movements is that, since homosexuality does not only affect the homosexual, it has to be controlled so as not to “hurt” other people around any homosexual – a move that focuses more on what others will say (locally, working on the Filipino concept of hiya or shame), as opposed to finding personal happiness (thereby sacrificing oneself to make others happy).
Despite the “good” intentions (as its proponents may argue) of conversion therapy/ex-gay movement, however, even the World Health Organization (in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision or ICD 10, a coding of diseases and signs, symptoms, abnormal findings, complaints, social circumstances, and external causes of injury or diseases), states that “sexual orientation by itself is not to be regarded as a disorder.” Meaning, as there is no “illness,” there is nothing to “cure.”
In fact, no mainstream medical/scientific organization endorses conversion therapy, with many actually expressing concerns over some of the ethics and motivations surrounding the practice.
Among others, the APA, in 1997, noted how “the ethics, efficacy, benefits, and potential for harm of therapies that seek to reduce or eliminate same-gender sexual orientation are under extensive debate in the professional literature and the popular media. The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by a patient.”
Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association (APA2) groups reparative therapy with crystal healing and dolphin-assisted therapy, expressing its concern about conversion therapies “and their potential harm to patients. Any person who enters into therapy to deal with issues of sexual orientation has a right to expect that such therapy would take place in a professionally neutral environment absent of any social bias.” Thus, “the American Psychological Association urges all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientation.”
Others critical of conversion therapy include the American Medical Association, American Counseling Association, National Association of Social Workers, and National Education Association.
SEEING THE LIGHT
For now, even as APA is calling for more scientific research to further discuss conversion/reparative therapy, studies from the “1950s to 1980s generally reported rates of positive outcomes at about 30%, with more recent survey research generally consistent with the extant data,” states Wikipedia.org (quoting from E.S. Talbot and Havelock Ellis in Journal of Mental Science). In fact, adds Wikipedia.org (this time citing R. Bluely in Cybercast News Service), in a survey of 882 people who underwent therapy, 22.9% reported they had not undergone any changes, 42.7% reported some changes, and 34.3% reported much change in sexual orientation.
Nonetheless, a more (relatively) recent APA study (2002) found that 88% of therapy participants “failed to achieve a sustained change in their sexual behaviour, (with only) 3% reporting changing their orientation to heterosexual. The remainder reported either losing all sexual drive or attempting to remain celibate, with no change in attraction.”
With studies still limited, most of the basis of the effectiveness of conversion/reparative therapy is anecdotal. And there are many “proofs” that abound, e.g. EI president Alan Chambers, who self-identified as gay when young, but married and had two children; and American theologian Andrew Comiskey, who started Desert Stream Ministries, has a wife and had four children.
Largely because of the hypocritical “holier-than-thou” attitude of the ex-gay movement, however, their “successes” have frequently been overshadowed by their failures, usually scandalously eating away from any credibility they have. One Terrance Lewis, a minister and former counsellor at Providence Bible College in Winnipeg, Canada, was found guilty (only this February 2008) for sexually assaulting a young man who sought counselling to make him heterosexual – the therapy included “touch therapy” that had them kissing and fondling each other, and engaging in sexual role playing. EI’s co-founder Michael Bussee and his partner Gary Cooper, also an ex-gay counselor, actually quit EI to hold a life commitment ceremony together. Colin Cook, founder of Homosexuals Anonymous, was in 1986 discovered to be engaging in sexual acts with his patients – though he saw them only as nude massages necessary to desensitize men from homosexual desires. And John Paulk, former leader of Focus on the Family (he appeared in Oprah Winfrey’s show, and in 60 Minutes; as well as making the cover of Newsweek), who was photographed leaving a Washington, D.C. gay bar in 2000.
Of course, practitioners are easy to refer to this as merely relapses, “and that if/when we tried harder, we can still go back to living rightfully,” says A.R. Rodrigo, who, himself, experienced the so-called relapse: “I had sexual relations (while here in Metro Manila).”
Somehow for him, though, things have changed. “The things I was told used to often reverberate in my head. But now, only at times. I don’t feel bad (having homosexual relations as I did) back in Davao City, where almost everyone I know does,” he says. “I think it was more a concern of others’ way of seeing me than anything else – and now, not anymore.”
Pressure, indeed – and not just from peers, but society, in general, since “even if I marry, I think people will still see me as a (former) gay man who wanted to be straight and married (to prove I’ve become straight). I doubt I’ll ever be seen as a straight guy – at least not completely, ever,” A.R. Rodrigo says.
In this, he sees the problem, finally, as “not me – I’m willing to change my way of living; but the society, I doubt, will ever change the way it lives, thus the way it sees me. So even if I succeed, I’ll always be a failure. The problem isn’t from my end, really, is it?”
While conversion therapists stress the need to focus, especially since “sexual orientation can be changed instantly and completely, but instead believe that they can bring about a gradual change to heterosexuality,” the APA would rather look at sexual orientation as fluid, stating that “some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime.”
And here, finally, is where A.R. Rodrigo finds comfort.
“If you think it’s for you, no matter its ill-effects, then go for it,” he says of conversion therapies, shaking his head to express “sadness, not disappointment, to those who would, as it won’t help you any, that’s for sure.” “But as for me… Well, I may end up becoming (heterosexual) after all,” he laughs, “but I’m… gay now. I don’t see why I should see anything wrong in that.”
And then, smiling widely, he adds: “Let’s just say I’ve seen the light. Finally. It’s not the light (conversion therapists have been) telling me to find. It’s not even the light I thought I’d find. But it’s the one that makes me happy. And I really don’t see anything wrong with being happy. So should you.”
*NAME CHANGED TO PROTECT THE PRIVACY OF THE INTERVIEWEE