Over the weekend I had the opportunity to watch Fish Can't Fly, a documentary that presents the stories of several ex-ex-gays and their experiences in Exodus-affiliated programs. I could definitely relate to much of what the speakers shared - the false expectations about "change", the shame, the denial, and the ultimate realization that the real lie is the pretense that we're all just repressed heterosexuals who haven't properly affirmed our masculinity (or femininity, as the case may be).
Peterson Toscano summed it up best with an analogy that his father came up with (and I paraphrase): you can throw a fish across the room and make it think that it's flying, at least until it smashes against the far wall. Hence the name of the documentary.
For a number of years I psyched myself into believing that I was "growing into" heterosexuality and developing an attraction toward women. I even tried the dating scene. Ultimately, though, while I could certainly enjoy the company of women as friends, there was never any spark there, nothing that could compare to the tumultuous feelings that I continued to experience around certain male friends and acquaintances (and that I desperately fought to shove down as far as possible).
And I'm not just talking about lust, though I certainly struggle with lust as much as anyone. My feelings for other men run far deeper than the physical; in fact, the handful of times that I've really fallen in love it had little or nothing to do with the other guy's looks. In short, it's every emotional dimension that I'm supposed to experience (the key words here being "supposed to") in a heterosexual relationship.
Granted, Fish Can't Fly only presents one side of the story. There are individuals who have positive experiences in ex-gay programs and stick with it for the long haul, and their stories need to be acknowledged too (as Exodus would be quick to point out). But good luck getting Exodus to acknowledge that there are people who come out of their programs with legitimate grievances.
In fact, good luck getting Exodus to acknowledge anything that doesn't advance their agenda. I can understand why Exodus spokespersons avoid admitting the fact that they (and/or many of their affiliates) have perpetuated false stereotypes about gays, promoted obsolete psychological theories, employed questionable counseling methods and even engaged directly in what could be considered spiritual abuse. After all, in the political arena you simply don't ever admit when you're wrong; such a display of weakness would be a field day for your enemies.
But Exodus is also supposed to be a Christian ministry and, by extension, an arm of the church. Last time I checked, honesty and humility were still regarded as Christian virtues - and it's in those "weak" virtues that the church's true power lies. By engaging with the world as a political entity, Exodus has lost its true power and become just another special interest group swimming in the Washington, DC cesspool.
Exodus could once again become relevant to the people it was created to help, if its leaders were willing to humble themselves, admit the mistakes they've made and apologize to those that they've hurt along the way. Such a move would most likely crush their political ambitions (and they'd quickly find out which of their religious right "allies" were merely fair-weather friends), but ultimately they would gain far more than they lost.
Will it ever happen? Certainly not under Exodus' current administration. And so those of us who seek real answers to life's difficult questions will continue to look elsewhere.