Sunday, January 16, 2011

I Wouldn't Go Back

Well, what do you know?
Well, what do you know?
In front of me now
Is an open door.
I'm moving ahead,
Not sure of the way,
And yet there's a light
That I'm heading for.

Now if someone had said to me a year ago
That I would take the trip I'm taking now,
I would have said "You're crazy.
I'll be better off right here."
But here I am amazed to find that
I can turn and walk right through the door,
And what is more -

I wouldn't go back.
I wouldn't go back.
As strange as I feel
I'm simply couldn't go back.
I'll never go back
Where I was before.

from "I Wouldn't Go Back" from Closer Than Ever
Music by David Shire and Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr.

Jonah and I had an interesting conversation last night. He was interested in my experience with reparative therapy. He asked me if I felt it had helped me or if it had been damaging, and he asked if I thought reparative therapy was damaging in general. He asked me about what specifically I had gone through in my therapy, and I told him I had written it all down at the time (back in 2001, before and after 9/11), and that if he were interested, I'd be glad to read him my journal entries. So I was on the phone with him for about two hours just reading my entries about my therapy sessions from long ago. It was interesting to see what changes have occurred to me since then and, surprisingly, what things have stayed the same. Much of it seemed like it had been written by a different person and some of it could have been written by me yesterday.

Here are some things I liked about therapy:

One thing I have always appreciated about my therapy was that it finally gave me an opportunity to really give voice to a lot of issues and problems I kept inside for so long. Just being able to discuss my sexuality and the issues that came with it was very freeing emotionally. Therapy also helped me learn to share my inner-most feelings and secrets with others - something I was not in the habit of doing at the time. That has been valuable.

Therapy helped remind me that God already knows the deepest parts of ourselves, even the parts we wouldn't necessarily want anyone else to know. He knows the fierce battles that go on in each human heart that no one else ever sees. And He still loves us just for who we are. We are not diminished in his eyes because of our weaknesses or foibles.

Therapy helped me learn that no man is an island. No man can live life on his own. He needs others to survive. So much of my life was spent closing myself from others because I had been hurt in the past, and if I only relied on me, I wouldn't risk being hurt or disappointed by others. Therapy helped me be more dependent and reliant on others; not just myself. Therapy helped me to be less selfish.

Therapy was useful in helping me understand that fears are far more scary than the actual reality and that you also can't live life based on "What ifs?".

Here are some things I didn't like so much:

I found my therapist somewhat condescending, with this attitude that I was some sinner that needed to be fixed, and he was going to be the one to do it. He would read me scriptures and talk to me at times as if he were higher above me on a righteousness plane and that he was imparting this useful information that would help "save" me. I just found his attitude very self-righteous, and I didn't appreciate it at the time nor do I appreciate it in retrospect.

It was LDS Family Services, so of course there was an agenda; a goal: to "fix" me and to make me not be gay anymore, but I do wish I could have maybe gone to a more neutral therapist at that time in my life, but I was trying so hard to do what the Church (and what I felt God) wanted me to do at the time that I went to LDS Family Services. I just wish it hadn't been a so biased form of therapy. But I guess any reparative therapy is going to be biased towards "fixing" gay people.

I didn't appreciate the fact that this particular therapy tried to make me feel that my dad had somehow emotionally "rejected" me or been "less than" as a father-figure to me and that I had somehow sexualized my desires for a father-figure by transferring it to people of the same gender as myself. I don't feel this is true, and it really bothered me at the time.

While a lot of what I learned in therapy was valuable and useful, some of it felt at the time (and still feels) like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and overly-simple solutions and "easy fixes" to very complex issues.

I also think it was unfair of my therapist to proclaim me "not gay" after a few sessions of therapy simply because I was dealing with it better. I remember him telling me how much success he had had with helping people change, and it dawned on me that I have never spoken to him since I completed my therapy with him, and that he might still consider me one of his "success stories." I wonder how many people he "helped" that have acted on their homosexual feelings since then? I have a feeling it would be telling.

Of course, the main thing I don't like about reparative therapy is the idea that gay people can or should be "fixed." And in this particular therapy there was always the goal of steering me towards an eternal companionship with a woman, and I think that can be damaging in the long run. I wish society and religions could just let gay people be gay. I've found it to be a far happier way to live my life than when I was trying to force myself to live in a box I just didn't fit in.

Jonah asked me if I regretted going through therapy. I don't. Like I said, some valuable lessons were learned, some which I still apply in my life today. And I think everything I've done on my journey in life has some merit. Each experience is important.

Obviously, reparative therapy failed in its main goal, which was to make me straight. And I do think reparative therapy can be damaging for those who want to change and think they can, but can't. On the other hand, I know people who feel it has helped them control or suppress their homosexual feelings to the point where it is at least manageable. Are they fooling themselves? I couldn't say. I'm not them, I'm me. All I know is reparative therapy was a short-term fix, but ultimately unsuccessful in dissipating my homosexual feelings and desires, which I no longer believe even needed to be eradicated.

As I read through my journal, I felt sorry for this poor kid who thought he needed to change; who felt that God would be unhappy with him if he gave in to his homosexual desires; who was trying so hard to fix something that didn't need to be fixed; who believed there was only one path to happiness, and it didn't involve homosexuality. Life wasn't all bad when I was in the closet and trying to be straight; but it is certainly better now.

Falling in love with Jonah really changed my perspective. It gave me a good reason to come out. It gave me a good reason to pursue a committed relationship. And what I've learned since then and since I was excommunicated has actually strengthened my knowledge of who my Father in Heaven is and my relationship with Him.

If I was told I could be rebaptized into the LDS Church today if I gave up my relationship with Jonah, I would not do it. At one time I would have thought that meant I was choosing Jonah over God, but I do not believe that for one second now. I have both Jonah and God in my life. The love of both is very present and very strong and very worth what I've done to get where I am now. Others may not understand or appreciate that without being in my shoes, but I know it is true.

I look at who I was and who I am now, and I can say very firmly, "I will not go back to that repressed, sad, angst- and confusion-filled life." There's too much joy, fulfillment, happiness, and love to be found where I am now.

Life used to be filled with so much guilt, fear, and unworthiness. Perfect love casts out all fear. I have a life of love, worth, authenticity, and I know who I am and am happy being who I am. No, indeed, I wouldn't go back.


Dad's Primal Scream said...

Good for you! I can't say what I went through was every really "Reparative Therapy". It certainly wasn't what you experienced, but part of me is thankful for being able to give a voice and a name to thoughts and feelings, as you mentioned. Take the good and learn from the bad...Nice post.

FindingMyWay said...

I wonder why it is that therapist's try to push the Daddy and Mommy issues. I was absolutely convinced that the reason I was having sex with my best girlfriend was because I lacked a decent relationship with my Mommy. While that's true about the relationship, I was NOT looking for a mommy figure to fix everything. I'm a lesbian! I would love women whether or not I had a good nurturing mother.

You've learned a lot on your journey and I appreciate reading about it. Thanks for sharing!

J G-W said...

This is a great post...

I loved this part: "Therapy helped remind me that God already knows the deepest parts of ourselves, even the parts we wouldn't necessarily want anyone else to know."

I remember the moment when God reminded me of this himself, when I was on my knees pleading for God to help me in a small student apartment in Helsinki, Finland in 1986. That moment changed my life.

I was talking about reparative therapy with a friend last night, and was talking about how others I've spoken with have also felt it was not all bad.

But I too have found extremely annoying how folks coming from this perspective what to force everybody's experience into that "distant father, domineering mother" mold. I had a talk with this guy once who wanted to insist that even though I always had a very close relationship with my dad, that my dad must have "rejected me" somehow -- otherwise I wouldn't be gay. He said something ridiculous about how maybe it would have been something as subtle as how my father held me when I was a baby... I realized at that moment, there was no talking about this with this person because he had decided he knew what "caused" homosexuality, and he was determined to force everyone into that mold.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks for your comments and thoughts. I really appreciate them.