Why Did Melissa Fryrear Leave Focus On The Family?
May 12th, 2010
The Colorado Springs Gazette’s “The Pulpet” blog makes note of the news that Melissa Fryrear, the longtime “senior analyist on gender issues” at Focus On the Family, is no longer with the organization. Neither Fryrear nor Focus will comment on her leaving, although Carrie Gordon Earll, Focus’ senior director of issues analysis, told The Pulpet’s Mark Barna that Fryrear resigned to pursue speaking opportunities.
Fryrear, you may recall, has been an integral part of the Love Won Out ex-gay roadshow, in which she consistently asserts that she has never met a gay man or woman who has not been molested or sexually abused.
Fryrear’s departure comes after it was announced the Focus On the Family would no longer co-sponsor and produce the Love Won Out conferences with Exodus International. Fryrear not only directed those conferences when they were under the Focus umbrella, but she was also a keynote speaker and conducted several breakout sessions as well. Fryrear did give her keynote speech at the first all-Exodus LWO conference held in San Diego on March 6 of this year, but it appears that she did not give any of her usual workshops. Sometime after that, Fryrear was either separated, or she separated herself, from Focus On the Family. Circumstances and timing remains murkey. Fryrear is also no longer speaking at upcoming Love Won Out conference scheduled for June in Irvine, California. This led Barna to try to learn why:
Attempts to reach Fryrear at her east Colorado Springs home have been unsuccessful. Having learned of my attempts to contact Fryrear, [Focus spokesman Gary] Schneeberger told me Saturday that she won’t speak to me.
Has Fryrear had a change of heart toward faith-based reparative therapy, leading to her resignation?
A ministry colleague of Fryrears doesn’t believe that is the case.
Karen Keen, who operates an online site called Pursue God, writes on her blog that in conversations with Fryrear over the years she’s expressed a desire to “pursue other ministry opportunities not related to homosexuality.”
“Love Won Out” Scales Back
October 24th, 2009
Yesterday’s installment of CitizenLink gives a little more insight into the recent announcement that the Exodus International will take over the lead role from Focus On the Family for planning, producing and promoting the “Love Won Out” ex-gay conferences. That transfer of responsibilities also appears to signal a significant cutback in the scale and frequency of these conferences. According to Melissa Fryrear, who had served as director of the events:
Exodus will scale down the event and not offer as many sessions or include as many speakers. They will, however, add sessions designed to more fully equip churches generally and pastors specifically.
She also said that the next Love Won Out event will be March 6 in San Diego, and another one will be announced in the Fall. This pace is down sharply from years past, when they normally would typically schedule about six Love Won Out conferences in various cities per year. Fryrear will continue to be a part of the conferences, serving as the keynote speaker.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”
Pat Robertson: Gays are Gay Because They Were Abused
June 10th, 2009
Televangelist Pat Robertson advised a mother of a gay son that she needs to understand what causes homosexuality before she can begin to understand how do deal with the “problem.” Robertson is convinced that most people are gay because they were abused by “a coach or guidance counselor or some other male figure.” Here’s the video and transcript:
TERRY MEEUWSEN (co-host): This is Theresa. This is difficult. She says, “How should we, as parents of a homosexual son, handle the ongoing challenges facing us, such as staying true to our faith and following the commandment to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’? This is very difficult for us.”
ROBERTSON: Well first of all, he’s not your neighbor, he’s your son. That’s a different thing. You owe him, you know, advice and counsel and guidance. You’re his parent.
First of all, you didn’t say how old he is. Secondly, I am not at all persuaded that so-called homosexuals are homosexuals because of biological problems. There may be a very few, but there are so many that have been made homosexuals because of a coach or a guidance counselor or some other male figure who has abused them and they think there’s something wrong with their sexuality.
So you need to get deep into why he is what he is, instead of just saying, “Well, he’s a homosexual so how do I handle him, and how do I be Christian?” Well, I think you ought to tell him, “Listen, son, you know, here’s what the Bible says about this, and it’s called an abomination before God, so I’ve got to tell you the truth because I love you.”
That’s what I think. All right, what else?
MEEUWSEN: And then you do that — you love him.
ROBERTSON: You love him, of course you love him and you accept him. You love him, but at the same time, you can’t let him just go, you know, he’ll wind up…
MEEUWSEN: Without knowing truth, yeah.
ROBERTSON: Well I mean, if somebody’s on their way to hell, they’ll… I mean you’ve got to love them to rescue them.
This is an extremely common belief in evangelical circles, that gays are gay because they were sexually abused. Some would have you believe that sexual abuse is a universal formative experience among gay people. Focus On the Family’s Melissa Fryrear always makes a point to tell Love Won Out audiences that:
“I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman. And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life”.
Fryrear, of course has been told publicly and privately by many gay and lesbians that they have never been abused. But not only that, I reported on the very painful heartbreak that some parents experienced upon hearing her confident and pointed assertion that their sons and daughters have certainly been abused — even though before attending the conference these same parents had no reason to suspect that their child had been abused.
Yet that bone-chilling fear is essential to the ex-gay message. Without fear, they have nothing. And because of that, I am willing to bet a steak dinner that when Fryrear speaks at the next Love Won Out conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan this coming weekend, she will repeat those same cruel words yet again, and she will induce once again unwarrented fear and heartbreak in yet another crop of unsuspecting parents.
Not only is the myth of gays-abusing-children as a form of recruitment cruel, but it simply isn’t true. Researchers have looked long and hard at the gays-as-predators myth and have found nothing to support that belief. It’s not out and openly gay people who are abusing young boys in large numbers, it’s men who steadfastly say they are straight — and research bears them out in their claims. They are married or have girlfriends, they are fathers and step-fathers, who no one would even think twice about being gay. And when researchers look at their adult romantic sexual attachments, they are almost never interested in other adults of the same sex. Those are just the cold hard facts, whether Robertson, Fryrear, or anyone else wishes to acknowledge the truth or not.
But on a logical level, it doesn’t add up either. Dan Savage responded to Robertson’s latest tirade by blowing the myth this way:
Who’s raping all these Christian kids?
Not openly gay people. Fundamentalist Christian parents don’t allow their children hang out with openly gay men and women. Openly gay men do not get hired to work as a guidance counselors at fundamentalist Christian middle schools; out lesbians do not get hired to work as coaches at a fundamentalist Christian high schools; openly bi graduate students don’t get to serve as dorm captains at fundamentalist Christian colleges. So it isn’t out gay men and women—openly gay coaches and counselors and youth pastors—who are raping all these Christian kids and leaving them “confused” about their sexualities. Most fundamentalist Christian kids have never met an out gay or lesbian person. Which can only mean…
All these Christian kids are being raped by straight-identified, nominally-Christian coaches and counselors and youth pastors and dorm captains.
If you buy into Robertson’s theories on origins of homosexuality then you have to embrace a highly unflattering picture of Christian America.
UCLA to Study Identical Twins
May 31st, 2008
Anti-gays cling to the mantra “there is no gay gene” to comfort them when troubled about their efforts to legislate discrimination. As long as sexual orientation is not genetic then they can claim it is not innate and therefore gay people can be blamed and punished.
Anti-gays know we can’t change our genes, but if they can convince themselves that orientation is brought on by environment, well then it can be reversed and they can insist that gay persons choose to change. And if we don’t, then they have every right to deny us marriage, redress from organized bigotry, the opportunity for housing or employment, and the rights to serve our country, raise our children, and care for our own.
If “there’s no gay gene” and gays choose to stay “in the lifestyle”, then anti-gays can convince themselves that they aren’t monsters, but that we are.
Hey, we all have to find a way to sleep at night.
One of the “evidences” that anti-gays use to insist that sexual orientation is not based in genetics is the fact that not all identical twins have the same orientation. As Focus on the Family’s Melissa Fryrear puts it
The third major study trumpeted as “proof” of homosexuality’s genetic link was also conducted in 1991 by psychologist Michael Bailey and psychiatrist Richard Pillard. Using pairs of brothers — identical twins, non-identical twins, biological brothers, and adopted brothers — Bailey and Pillard attempted to show that homosexuality occurs more frequently among identical twins than fraternal twins.
Again, what the majority of people do not know, and what the media did not accurately report, is that this study actually provides support for environmental factors versus genetics! If homosexuality were in the genetic code, then both of the twins would have been homosexual 100 percent of the time, yet this was not the case.
Most researchers see the differences of orientation matching (50% in identical twins and 20% in fraternal twins compared to a general population rate of probably less than 6%) as an indication that genetics are a factor. But anti-gays magically find just the opposite. Since Melissa’s research credentials are, well, not particularly solid, she relies on NARTH’s Neil Whitehead to back up her assertions.
Identical twins have identical genes. If homosexuality was a biological condition produced inescapably by the genes (e.g. eye color), then if one identical twin was homosexual, in 100% of the cases his brother would be too. But we know that only about 38% of the time is the identical twin brother homosexual. Genes are responsible for an indirect influence, but on average, they do not force people into homosexuality. This conclusion has been well known in the scientific community for a few decades but has not reached the general public. Indeed, the public increasingly believes the opposite.
Fryrear may be excused for having but a layman’s understanding of genetics. But when Whitehead implies that genetics can be disregarded he is either demonstrating a willful ignorance or is cynically seeking to play on the public’s lack of expertise.
Genetic influence is not limited to a gene’s presence. Identical genes do not behave identically. And a research team at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Gender-Based Biology is setting out to study just what role genes play in determining sexual attraction. Out in America reports
Identical twins provide a unique model to study the role of gene regulation: “Both twins have the same genes, but they might use these genes differently,” says Bocklandt. “And that difference in gene use could explain the difference in sexual orientation.”
“If we can identify specific genes that are ‘turned off’ or ‘turned on’ among our gay and straight twins, we will have excellent genetic targets for further investigation with respect to sexual orientation,” Bocklandt adds.
Study researchers will measure the chemical signal attached to the DNA that controls if and when a gene is turned on and off. Utilizing novel DNA-chip technology, large parts of the human genome can be screened for differences in gene regulation between the twins. “Because identical twins have the same DNA sequence, we can study a ‘gay genome’ and a ‘straight genome’ within one single genetic background, and that’s extremely powerful,” says Bocklandt.
The study is headed by Drs. Eric Vilain, Cisco Sanchez, and Sven Bocklandt. Drs. Vilain and Bocklandt were part of the team that observed the extreme skewing of x chromosome inactivation in the mothers of gay men. Bocklandt also worked with Hamer on his earlier gene research (which was horribly misreported) and is one of the “gay sheep guys” who researched the variances in the brains of same-sex attracted rams. These researchers are at the very forefront of studying how genetics and orientation interplay.
This research promises to add to the growing knowledge on what does and does not contribute to sexual orientation. It may help understand whether genes can be solely, significantly, or only minimally responsible for the sex to which each of us are attracted. And while I doubt that a “gay gene” that indisputably determines orientation is likely to be the result, additional information in this field of study is very welcome.
The team currently has about 20 sets of mixed-orientation identical twins and is seeking to double that size. If you are an identical twin whose sibling does not share your orientation, check out the study to see if you would like to participate.
If you are not an identical twin but are a gay man with a gay brother, please consider contributing to the work being performed by Dr. Sanders at Northwestern University.
Part 4: “Love Won Out”: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
April 12th, 2007
In the weeks leading up to the February 10 Love Won Out conference in Phoenix, Focus on the Family and Exodus put up a billboard off of I-17 that proclaimed, “Change is possible. Discover how.” Meanwhile, Love Won Out’s web site promoted the conference, saying, “Focus on the Family is promoting the truth that change is possible for those who experience same-sex attractions.” Then, three weeks before the conference, Melissa Fryrear, Director of Focus on the Family’s Gender Issues Department was quoted in a press release, “We want to let people know that change is possible for those who are unsatisfied living as gay or lesbian.” Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, told an NPR reporter on the day of the conference that homosexuality “is a condition that people have found freedom from, they have changed.”
Earlier I described how most of those who spoke at Love Won Out used a very carefully crafted language to impart a particularly narrow view of homosexuality. It is a view that separates one’s sexuality from one’s sense of self, which is very different from how most people experience their sexuality whether they are gay or straight. Instead, for gays and lesbians only, their sexuality is treated as an exception, as something foreign or as an external “issue” that they “struggle with”.
But as precise as everyone was in how they defined homosexuality, they were startlingly imprecise when it came to defining “change.” Just when you thought you understood that “change” meant one thing (a change in one’s sexual attractions), you were suddenly presented with another concept of change (a change in identity only), or maybe it meant something else (a change in behavior only).
As I said before, there were remarkable few gay people attending Love Won Out. Most of those who were there were relatives or friends of gays and lesbians, and many of these relatives were parents. And in my conversations with them, it was clear that they saw their loved one’s homosexuality as a terrible tragedy, as something awful that happened. Some were quite desperate in their hope to see their loved ones changed.
During the lunchtime hour, Love Won Out set aside a room where parents and loved ones could gather together in fellowship. There, they shared their experiences, consoled each other, and spoke words of encouragement and hope, and they held hands and prayed together that their loved ones would experience “freedom from homosexuality.
The hope for change was paramount in the minds of these parents. As it was, many of them had a very strained relationship with their children. For some, their relationships were at or near the breaking point. And so it seemed to me that Love Won Out had a special responsibility to do two things to meet the needs of these parents. The first thing they needed to do was to provide practical advice on how to maintain their relationship with their loved ones. Love Won Out did that much better than I thought they would, although there are certainly areas I found wanting. I’ll talk more about that in another post.
But the second responsibility that Love Won Out had toward these parents and relatives was to set realistic expectations for what change was all about and how likely that change would be. And here is where I think they failed in that responsibility. And they failed for two reasons: 1) They didn’t provide a coherent definition of change, and 2) without a coherent definition, they couldn’t provide a realistic basis for an expectation for change.
What Is Change?
For a conference to advertise itself as proclaiming that “change is possible,” then one reasonable assumption might be that this “change” would refer to a change in one’s sexual attractions or orientation. This was certainly the base assumption that was rigorously reinforced throughout the first part of the day.
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi was the lead-off speaker, and as far as he was concerned this sort of change was the only thing that mattered. In both of his talks that day, he consistently drove home the point that changing one’s sexual orientation — as defined by one’s sexual attractions — was possible for anyone as long as they followed through with his program. And in some of his examples, that change was complete and unambiguous. Just as his talk was getting underway, he described one client this way:
He just told me in our last session, he said to me, “I have no more homosexual attraction.” There’s a lot of talk about how it diminishes but that it never goes away. Just today, in my last session with him, he said, “I have no more homosexual attractions.”
And how does this change occur? According to Nicolosi, when a gay man’s sense of masculinity is restored, when he no longer looks to other men for the parts of his masculinity that is missing in himself, then his same-sex attraction “disappears”:
The healing of homosexuality is “I want a man to see me as a man,” and to have that experience repeatedly until it becomes internalized. And when it becomes internalized there’s no more mystique and there’s no more eroticization.
Sometimes this disappearance of same-sex attraction was very dramatic according to Nicolosi’s descriptions. During a breakout session later that afternoon, he claimed that a teen client’s sexual attractions experienced a virtually instantaneous change. This change reportedly occurred when the boy and his father made an emotional breakthrough during a therapy session. With this connection between the father and the son, the son’s homosexuality became “nonexistent.” And what was Nicolosi’s evidence for this change? He asked the son to do an impromptu experiment:
I said, “Let’s try an experiment. Right now,” I said to him, “try to have a homosexual fantasy.” And only a fourteen-year-old boy would do this because, you know, your mother and father are there, you think he’d say no? So he does it. This is what he does … Now, this is what I said to him. “Try to have a homosexual fantasy” and this is what he does. … [silence] … He can’t generate it. He can’t generate. And that’s the whole therapy. If you make emotional connection, the homosexuality is nonexistent.
That’s right. Dr Nicolosi’s “evidence” was the failure of his teenage client to enact a command performance to conjure a sexual fantasy — in a doctor’s office with his parents present, parents whom the boy would probably like to please since he’s getting along with them so well at the moment.
Exodus board chairman Mike Haley’s testimony immediately followed Nicolosi’s talk that morning, where he reinforced Nicolosi’s message about a change in sexual orientation. While he didn’t directly address his own sexual attractions to the Love Won Out audience, he left little doubt that it had changed when he ended his testimony with pictures of his wedding and his two beautiful children. Alan Chambers also talked about his wife and kids, as did Joe Dallas (founder of Genesis Counseling and former Exodus board chairman) and John Smid (executive director of Love In Action and Exodus board vice-chairman).
While the other speakers could hint at the extent of their change by referring to their wives and children, Melissa Fryrear, who is single, had to be much more direct if she was to remove all doubt. She humorously described all of the things she had to learn in order to become a heterosexual woman (clothes, make-up, panty hose, etc.), and she even went so far as to describe her ideal man — “tall, red-headed, looks good in a kilt!” — as a photo of her sitting beside a Ronald McDonald mannequin bounced comically onto the multimedia screen behind her. Yet through all the laughter, her message was unmistakable: she was thoroughly heterosexual.
By the time Melissa Fryrear’s talks concluded at 11:00 that morning, there had been only one type of change discussed in all of those morning sessions: the change of sexual attractions from same-sex to opposite-sex attractions. And each speaker up to that point was absolutely unambiguous on that point as the audience heard one success story after another. All that was needed was a re-connection with the father (for gay men, according to Nicolosi) or with the mother (one of many theories according to Fryrear), and a deep commitment to Christ (according to Haley and Fryrear).
A Magic Blessing
But the strangest example of change was given by Dr. Nancy Heche during one of the general sessions that everyone attended soon after lunch. Dr. Heche is the mother of Anne Heche who, you may remember, was the partner of comedian Ellen DeGeneres from 1997 to 2001.
Dr. Heche used her testimony to talk about her own change of heart, from what she describes as her “hard heartedness” after having endured the humiliation of her husband’s death from AIDS and her daughter’s “public lesbian affair.” She described her anger at the “gay community” and for gay people in general during that period. But over time, through reading scriptures and much prayer, she said she was able to set aside her anger as God changed her “hard heartedness” to a soft heart. But her talk, which might have been a very good talk on how to come to terms with life’s difficulties, instead ended up becoming something of a formula for changing her daughter’s sexuality, at least in the minds of some of the parents.
Dr. Heche described how she learned about blessing from reading her Bible while flying on a small plane to Nantucket. She read Acts 3:26, which says, “When God raised up his servant [Jesus], he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” She then described a blessing as asking “God to interfere, … to take action in one’s life to bring them in the desired relationship with Himself, so that they are truly blessed and fully satisfied.” She took that to mean that when Jesus blessed her, He turned her from her ways to His ways. And she also took that to mean that she could also bless others, and in blessing others, she could be a part of God’s plan in doing the same:
Now that I’ve been blessed, and turned from my way to God’s way. I could be part of God’s plan to bless her [Anne] and maybe turn her from her way to God’s way. I could bless her now.
So in that little plane with my Bible on my lap, I confessed my hard heart. And I blessed her, and I blessed her friends. And as God would have it, that was the weekend she ended her lesbian affair.
Sometimes I hesitate to tell this part of the story because it sounds like “ooga-booga!” Like, poof! I sent up a magic blessing and they broke up. Well, there’s no “ooga-booga.” And the real magic or mystery that was revealed in that little plane was the work that God did in my heart.
Now I need to acknowledge two things here. First, I must acknowledge that she did not literally claim credit for her daughter’s relationship breaking up. In fact, she explicitly denied it. I also must acknowledge that Nancy titled her talk “It’s All About Me,” to reinforce the idea that as a parent, she needed to change herself and overcome her own anger rather than focus on changing her daughter.
But it is also true that even though she said “sometimes I hesitate to tell this part of the story,” she nevertheless goes ahead and tells it every single time she speaks at Love Won Out. It’s even on the DVD of Love Won Out testimonies that Focus on the Family sells on their web site and at the temporary book store they set up that day. She’s been a part of Love Won Out since June of 2005, and as far as I know, she has never omitted this detail from her testimony.
She really doesn’t seem to hesitate at all. And the fact is, her testimony would be just as valuable to those parents and family members without throwing in the hope that if you change your heart and bless your child, your child will change. But since “change” is the very central theme of the entire conference, it magnifies the significance of Dr. Heche’s inclusion of Anne’s “change” to everyone in the auditorium. And even though she explicitly denies this direct connection, what other conclusions would the audience draw? That Anne just “happened” to have left Ellen on the very same day her mother blessed her?
Remember, this isn’t an audience that is given to believing in coincidences. It’s an audience that is predisposed to believing in miracles. And this is exactly the kind of anectdote that many audience members will likely cling to in desperate hope for many days or even years.
That is very unfortunate, because Anne Heche’s side of the story is decidedly different:
This Nonsense about my mother praying for me is really making me angry. My mother never approved of my relationship with Ellen. Her hatred for our relationship is one of the many things that ultimately led to my breaking off all communication with her. (My mother, that is, not Ellen.)”
… The fact that my mother is using my name to promote this movement makes me even sicker…. I do not believe that homosexuality is something that should be brainwashed out of someone. I do not believe that homosexuality should be anything but celebrated if that is the thing that makes an individual feel good about their life. I believe, as I have always said, that people should love who they want to love.”
As far as I can tell, Anne is still estranged from her mother despite all her mother’s blessings. And because many of those parents in that audience were also experiencing different levels of estrangement from their children, friends and relatives. holding out hope for such miraculous conversions doesn’t bode well for them when their gay or lesbian loved one dismisses the possibility. And to consider that these estranged parents are listening to advice from a mother who is still estranged from her daughter, that also doesn’t bode well for those families’ futures. Messages like these are only more likely to more firmly entrench these family members in their ongoing estrangement.
After Dr. Heche linked her self-described change of heart to her daughter’s ending “her lesbian affair,” she encouraged the audience to participate in the same two-step formula with a closing prayer:
So I close by saying now it’s all about you. I invite you into the heart of God. You and I are not going to wipe out homosexuality, but we can wipe out hate and fear and anger and confusion. We have the ultimate winning strategy. Love trumps everything. So will you hold out your hands to receive a blessing?
I ask God to bless you, to interfere in your lives, to bring you into the right relationship with Himself so that you are truly blessed and fully satisfied regardless of your circumstances. I ask God to release His power in your lives to change your character and your destiny.
And now, reach out your hands to give a blessing to your loved ones.
Father, we ask You to bless our loved ones. We ask you to interfere in their lives, to take action in their lives, to bring them into the right relationship with Yourself. We ask You to bless them, to release Your power in their lives to change their character and destiny. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
What Other Kind Of Change Is There?
During the afternoon as people attended various breakout sessions, some cracks started to appear in the presumption of change. But those cracks were only evident to those who happened to attend the right workshop. And with different speakers running different workshops simultaneously, it was often the luck of the draw as to which explanation for change one would hear.
For example, when Melissa Fryrear held her question and answer session on lesbianism at 3:45 in the afternoon, someone in the audience was still confused about “change” and asked for clarification. As he did so, it was obvious that he had been paying attention — notice how he framed his question using Love Won Out’s dialect. But learning that dialect didn’t’ bring him any closer to understanding change. Melissa tried to clear it up as she read the question off of an index card:
“Do people still struggle on this journey?” And I appreciate the honesty of that question. And we try to be genuine about our own stories. I think it’s important to mention that it looks different for every person, and that if we consider that continuum again, that individuals have fallen in every place and in every place in between.
I know some people that God — and it’s their testimony — that God did an instantaneous work, and they never have had a homosexual thought or temptation or idea again in their lives, and moved on to heterosexual… heterosexuality, and that identity — marriage, children — and it was an instantaneous moment for them.
The majority of the people with whom I’ve talked, it’s been a journey and a process, that we didn’t get involved overnight, often don’t get out overnight. And so it does look different for different people. Many have moved on to marriage and families, and I know some individuals that, much of the contributing factors have been resolved, and opposite sex attraction hasn’t fully blossomed, if you will, in their lives. It may never, or may come further down the road. But their commitment is to the Biblical sexual ethic, and that they want to live chaste and celibate lives.
It’s clear here that she’s still describing the “struggle” in terms of sexual attractions, but now the certainty of “change” is starting to crack. It doesn’t always occur. In fact, it often doesn’t. And it’s important to note that her acknowledgment wasn’t exactly a grudging one. During two of her workshops where she addressed change, she was reasonably candid that this change in sexual attractions wasn’t necessarily in the cards for everyone.
And yet, she remains ambiguous about both the nature and the likelihood of change. Here, she also reinforces Nancy Heche’s possibility of a miraculous “instantaneous work” — she said she knew these people herself. Again, I wonder how many in that audience clung to that part of her answer in hope that a miraculous change may come to their son or daughter as well.
But whatever unrealistic expectations Fryrear may have reinforced among some, she did also include an acknowledgement that change in sexual attractions doesn’t always happen. She also mixed her notion of a change sexual orientation with a change in a commitment to behavior. In Fryrear’s talk, it was much more evident that the more important change was a change in faith and a commitment to what she described as a “Biblical sexual ethic.” And under this understanding of change, it didn’t matter so much of a person’s sexual attractions changed much. The more important question was whether that person’s behavior changed in response to a religious conversion
So whoever posed that question to Fryrear was very lucky to have heard at least that much of an answer. Imagine if he had instead attended Nicolosi’s “Prevention of Male Homosexuality,” which was being held at exactly the same time as Fryrear’s Q&A. His understanding of change would certainly have been very different because Nicolosi only talked about one kind of change: a change in sexual attractions. And to hear Nicolosi describe it, likelihood of change seemed rather high and had very little to do with faith. It was all about clinical therapeutic outcomes, not a commitment to Christ.
And as I said, he was very self-assured about the prospects for change. He described only two cases of failure in his workshop. The first case was because the young man “did not continue” with therapy. The second case was because the father didn’t follow through with Nicolosi’s instructions. Not only are father’s responsible for their son’s homosexuality according to the theory Nicolosi espoused first thing that morning, but this particular father was also blamed for the son’s failure to be cured. But aside from those two cases, examples of change abounded, lending further encouragement for those family members in his audience.
One Candid Exception
While I believe most of the descriptions of change were neither clear nor realistic, there was one candid exception that I wish more parents could have heard. During the first set of breakout sessions just before lunchtime, Alan Chambers gave an excellent talk entitled, “Hope for Those Who Struggle.” As far as I was able to hear, he was the only one who set out to establish realistic expectations for change, and he was the only one to thoroughly and accurately describe what change really means. But only about 75 people attended his session, and that is very unfortunate. It should have been one of the general sessions for all 700 attendees to hear. Instead, only a tiny fraction of the overall conference heard what he had to say.
I was going to include his talk in this post, but it is already running quite long. And besides, I believe his talk was so important that it deserves a separate post. Just as he gave his talk to a small group of people, it was almost like attending a completely different conference. It shouldn’t have been that way. Because what he had to say was far more candid and useful — and far more realistic — than any magic blessing or hopes for an instantaneous work that anyone else had to offer.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”
Part 3: “Love Won Out”: A Whole New Dialect
March 6th, 2007
One of the first phrases that we learned in high school Spanish class was how to say that you like something. In English, it’s a simple three-part sentence: “I like ice cream.” I, the subject, does something, namely, like. And the object of my affection, called the direct object, the thing that receives the action, is the ice cream. It can’t get much simpler than that.
But in Spanish, there is no word for “like.” The word they use instead, gustar literally means “pleases”. So instead of saying “I like ice cream,” I would say, “Ice cream pleases me.” Notice how this turns everything around. In English, if I don’t like something, it’s up to me to explain myself since I am on the acting part of the verb — Why don’t you like it? But in Spanish, if something doesn’t please me, it’s not my problem. You need to look to the ice cream to understand what’s wrong with it.
I’ve often though about that example and wondered if that subtle difference — do we like something or does that something please us? — influences how I see the world around me, and in what ways that influence might be different for someone who’s a native Spanish speaker. If it’s true that language shapes how we view the world — and I join Madison Avenue and political spin doctors in believing this to be true — I thought it might be worthwhile to examine the particular language that I heard at Love Won Out.
For me, attending the Love Won Out ex-gay conference in Phoenix was very much like being an anthropologist on Mars, as Oliver Sacks once put it. I observed a culture with its own vaguely familiar language and customs. And learning its language was key to understanding the framework and worldview from which Love Won Out operated. But as is true with many cultures, it almost requires a total immersion inside the culture of Love Won Out to pick up on the nuances of those terms and customs.
There’s nothing particularly odd about this. Every group of people has its own version of “inside baseball.” And at Love Won Out, much of their dialect is built upon the common theological expressions that are a part of the Evangelical Christian movement. But what was spoken at Love Won Out went beyond the language of Evangelical Christianity. The language of Love Won Out represented a particular dialect of the larger Evangelical Christian culture.
The Study of Language
Focus on the Family and Exodus, among others, exercise an amazing degree of message discipline, and they construct their messages differently according to the particular audience they’re addressing. This is why their messages have been so effective. Mike Haley, director of gender issues at Focus on the Family’s Public Policy Division talked about this during a morning plenary session, and he gave a good example of how this lesson might be used:
You know, in the year 2004 when I was doing the research for my book, I found that we spent twenty billion dollars that year in the United States for the work of missions. And what do we do with that money? Well what we do with that money is we take individual’s lives — they are committed to a people group — we set them aside, we support them, we pray for them, we pour money into their lives. We help them get to that people group. We help them study and learn another language often so that they can reach a people for Christ. Those people will take the time out of their own lives and study the social nuances of that people group they want to reach, so that when they become a part of them, they won’t offend them. Instead what they’ll do is they will draw them to Christ.
And my challenge for us is how much money, effort, and energy are we putting in to reaching what one of my friends calls “the unwanted harvest” known as the gay and lesbian community? And there’s some things that we do within the Body of Christ that are incredibly offensive, and let me just offer you one, the use of the phrase, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” …
And what are we saying ultimately when we use that phrase? Well what we’re saying to someone is “I love you, but I hate what you’re doing.” But you have to see it from a gay person’s perspective. They see themselves as defined by the very thing that they’re doing. So they believe that when you hate what they’re doing, you hate them to their very core. We have got to lose that phrase out of our vocabulary. It does not translate in the marketplace.
I think Mike Haley only has it about half right in explaining why the phrase is offensive, but that’s not the point. The point is really this: you probably haven’t noticed this — because the phrase “love the sinner and hate the sin” is used so often among anti-gay Christians — but it turns out that neither Focus on the Family nor Exodus use this particular phrase much anymore. They’ve moved far beyond “love the sinner and hate the sin,” both in nuance and in sophistication. The sentiment is still very much there, but it’s expressed in a very different way. They are extremely conscious of how words are received by their target audience, no matter who that audience may be. It’s just that their audience is almost never the LGBT community. If it were, you can bet their choice of language would be very different.
Focus in the Family and Exodus have expended a great deal of resources to develop the phrases and the terminology they use. In doing so, they’ve crafted an entire language, complete with its own lexicon and syntax. For example, the terms they used for describing gay people were very different from yours or mine, and Mike Haley’s problem with “love the sin, hate the sinner” provides a glimpse into that difference. Their language is specially designed to treat people and their sexuality as if they were two completely separate entities, as if sexuality were a separate thing outside of the person. As Melissa Fryrear put it in a breakout session, they constantly work to “separate the ‘who’ from the ‘do’,” or, as others have put it more crudely in Mike Haley’s example, “the sinner” from “the sin”.
And since we’re only talking about sexuality and not romantic yearnings or affairs of the heart, this separation of gays and lesbians from their sexuality appears reasonable to Love Won Out attendees. If we included romance, then we would have to introduce such notions of soulmate, the yearnings of the heart, the love of all one’s might — all of these things which involve the whole person, which poets cannot separate and compartmentalize.
But at Love Won Out, gay romance, love or relationships are treated as evidence of a pathology. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of NARTH (the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality), describes gay relationships in men as an attempt to capture the masculinity of another man that is missing in oneself because his own sense of masculinity is broken. This reduces all notions of romance to “a reparative drive.” He sums it up later in a breakout session by saying, “Heterosexuality is complementary, homosexuality is compensatory.”
Since homosexuality is seen as something that “happens” to someone due to poor parenting, sexual abuse and other factors, then it’s not the child’s fault. When they boy grows up, he tries to “fill” his damaged masculinity with other men. Similar explanations are offered for lesbians. Following this lead, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, and Melissa Fryrear of Focus on the Family both refer to gay relationships as an “illegitimate way of meeting a legitimate need.”
Another way of saying this then, is that the problem is not that I, as a gay man, like other men. The problem is that other men are pleasing to me. Using language to separate the person from his or her sexuality is one of the most important concepts in Love Won Out’s dialect.
“No Such Thing As A Homosexual”
Since the language of Love Won Out represents a distinct dialect of Evangelical Christianity, the first order of business for the day was to teach us the elements of that dialect. First up was Dr. Nicolosi. He began his talk by proclaiming that “there is no such thing as a homosexual.” Knowing this was a head-scratcher to most people there, he repeated it again: “There is no such thing as a homosexual… He is a heterosexual, but he may have a homosexual problem.”
So here’s the first lesson: the words “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual” aren’t nouns; they’re adjectives. And even as an adjectives they are never used to describe a person. There are no gay teenagers, there are no homosexual men, there are no lesbian women. Instead these adjectives are always used as modifiers to something else: a problem, a struggle, an identity, or an issue that is separate from the person. This is important because it’s very different from how these terms are normally used in the broader culture. It is also very different from how these terms are used even by other anti-gay activists.
If this sounds confusing, believe me, I felt the same way during the first few hours that morning. These words and phrases sounded odd or stilted — as is true with the first words we learn in any new language. But by hearing them repeated over and over in the very particular ways they were used, they started to become second nature. By the second hour, their “oddness” started to wear off and by the time the conference was over, it was easy to forget that these words could be used any other way.
All of the speakers at Love Won Out clung to this grammar with incredible consistency, reflecting a highly evolved discipline that comes from discovering the particular phrases that have had an impact in the past, and sticking with them from then on. And if a speaker somehow slipped up and use these words “incorrectly,” he was usually very quick to correct himself — as Nicolosi did during his breakout session, “Prevention of Male Homosexuality” later that afternoon:
From our own case studies, we see three types of fathers who are the fathers of homosexual men… Again, when I say “homosexual,” I don’t mean he’s intrinsically homosexual. He’s a heterosexual with a homosexual problem…”
You see, he almost used the word “homosexual” as an adjective to describe men — a no-no in Love-Won-Outeese. Slip-ups like this happened occasionally — Mike Haley did the same thing when he used the phrase “gay person” in my earlier example — but they were rare.
So having laid this groundwork, it’s time for me to give you some real examples of how this worked. Love Won Out speakers had very specific ways to describe gays, lesbians, and anyone else who experienced sexual and/or romantic attractions for others of the same sex. (Bisexuals and transsexuals were largely left out of the discussions.) Generally speaking, these descriptions fell into four broad categories, and each category was described using adjectives to reinforce the separation of “the ‘who’ from the ‘do’.”
Those Who “Struggle With Homosexuality”
The definition for this group was rather unclear. Mostly, this expression was used to describe someone who experienced “unwanted same-sex attractions”, another phrase that made an occasional appearance. (Alan Chambers often went even further in separating the “who” from the “do” by using the phrase, “those who struggle with the issue of homosexuality,” making homosexuality itself even more abstract.) For the most part, “those who struggle with homosexuality” described anyone who believed that homosexuality was wrong, but found themselves to be sexually attracted to others of the same sex.
But the odd thing about “those who struggle with homosexuality” is that believing that homosexuality was wrong wasn’t always a requirement to be a part of this category. This mean that those who “struggle with homosexuality” sometimes included relatives of conference attendees — sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and so forth — who weren’t at the conference and most likely weren’t struggling at all — including gay friends and family members who were completely out to their family and coworkers, often in relationships, and who felt no conflict about their sexuality. Many comments were addressed to parents (“If your son or daughter is struggling with homosexuality…”) that assumed that being gay required that there be a struggle. If my mother had attended the conference, she might have understood that I was among those they were talking about when they talked about those who were “struggling with homosexuality.”
But if the conference speakers were really careful, they might concede that I’m not struggling. They would instead put me into the second group where I would be described as “gay-identified.” (A woman would be “lesbian-identified.”) Again, notice the separation of the “who” from the “do.” I’m not gay, I just have a gay identity. I am, at most, gay-identified. All notions of intrinsic orientation, healthy relationships or romantic attachments were ignored, except as aspects of pathology. And if indeed there is no such thing as a homosexual, then it must also be true that there no such thing as a gay or a lesbian. Our identity is just something like a coat that we put on, a coat that can be taken off as well.
Anyone who is “struggling with homosexuality” is seen as being at a crossroads of sorts, and there are two directions he or she may go from there. One direction is to accept the “Biblical sexual ethic” and begin a “journey out of homosexuality.” Failing that, the other direction is to fall into the world of the “gay-identified” or “lesbian-identified”.
This second option, of course, is considerably more tragic since the “gay-identified” and “lesbian-identified” were generally regarded as less reachable. Because they were “gay-identified,” they were, by definition, involved in the gay community and the gay “lifestyle” — a lifestyle that was fraught with all sorts of dangers and misery: sexual addictions, drug addictions, emotional addictions, impossible relationships that never lasted. The idea that gays and lesbians could be satisfied, happy and stable was a foreign concept to Love Won Out. And just as there are tribes in the tropics that have no word for snow, Love Won Out spoke no words to describe people who didn’t fit their notions of someone who was “gay-identified.”
“On The Journey Out Of Homosexuality”
When someone who is “struggling with homosexuality” decides he or she doesn’t want to be “gay-identified”, then that person is said to have embarked on a “journey out of homosexuality.” This is where the poorly-defined concept of “change” comes in. This “change” was much talked about, but never really defined except in its most important aspect: a new identity in Christ.
Exodus sometimes provides something of a non-religious public face, although that face is never entirely a secular one. Focus on the Family, however, is unabashedly evangelical in the public stage. At Love Won Out, both groups were free to be who they really are with the like-minded audience. Everyone who spoke did so from a plainly religious perspective. Even Joseph Nicolosi, the “secular scientist” closed his plenary session on male homosexuality saying, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy,” and arguing that “good psychology is compatible with good theology.” Melissa Fryrear’s personal story (known as a “testimony” in evangelical circles, and was labeled as such on Love Won Out’s published agenda) was not so much a clinical struggle to change her sexual feelings as it was an unabashedly emotional religious transformation.
And this appears to really be the only transformation that matters. As the day wore on, it became clear that Love Won Out wasn’t there just to convince us that gays and lesbians needed to become heterosexuals. The goal was actually much, much higher. Mike Haley alluded to it earlier when he described gays and lesbians as “the unwanted harvest.” In his personal testimony that morning, he attributed his “journey out of homosexuality” and, ultimately, his marriage and career to an irrevocable calling from God. Alan Chambers reinforced the religious theme by repeating that “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.” And throughout the day, everybody thanked the Lord, prayed with and for one another, and supported each other through Scripture and fellowship.
Love Won Out wasn’t a tent revival meeting, nor was it a day-long church service. But it was a day-long series of seminars that were firmly rooted in the theology of evangelical Christianity with Dr. Nicolosi providing scientific cover. As such, the “journey out of homosexuality” isn’t a journey from one sexual orientation to another, it’s a journey toward accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and with that, the faith that with Christ, all things are possible from there, including inclusion in the fourth group.
Those Who “Found Freedom From Homosexuality”
Several of the speakers at Love Won Out placed described themselves as having either “left homosexuality,” “walked away from homosexuality” or having “found freedom from homosexuality” — as if they had been released from prison, as one commenter put it. (My favorite was “walked away”, as if someone had just stepped out for a coffee.) And indeed, the testimonies of those who “found freedom” followed the familiar trajectory of all great salvation stories, of having been lost but now found.
The stories began in the misery of “struggling with homosexuality”, the misery that presumably was a common experience of everyone who “struggles,” including the “gay-identified” — a misery of broken relationships, of drug and alcohol abuse, of sexual abuse and absent fathers or mothers, and a misery of an unrelenting longing for something that is clearly missing from their lives, that their “reparative” impulse was unable to fill.
But at the end of these stories comes triumph. After all, it’s theologically impossible for a story to end otherwise after having put their faith in Jesus Christ. And evidence of that triumph was often found in references to wives and children. As far as the audience was concerned, what better proof is there that they had “left homosexuality behind?” Mike Haley’s testimony closed with a wedding photo and pictures of his beautiful children. (And his children really are adorable. No wonder he’s such a proud husband and father.) Joe Dallas and Alan Chambers also spoke of their wives and families. The only speaker who “left homosexuality” but wasn’t married was Melissa Fryrear. Since she didn’t have any wedding photos or adorable children to talk about, she was reduced to describing what her ideal man would look like — “tall, red-headed, looks good in a kilt!” — while joking, “Is it hot in here?”
And while these speakers mentioned the wives and children that came along after they “found freedom”, they were just as cautious to discourage the idea that anyone should get married to either prove they were no longer gay, or to hasten their “journey out of homosexuality.” Alan Chambers and Melissa Fryrear in particular warned against that during their breakout sessions as they described the dangers this brings to the spouses of “those who struggle with homosexuality.”
And yet, every good story has to have a happy ending. And as far as Love Won Out is concerned, that happy ending comes only after accepting Jesus as Savior, and through that, finding “freedom from homosexuality” — whatever that freedom may mean.
Why “Love Won Out?”
In the end, the dialect of Love Won Out actually served not just one, but two purposes: to separate the gay and lesbian from his or her innate sexuality, and to deliver that person to Christ. Or more accurately, the goal of Love Won Out was to encourage the pastors, teachers, youth group leaders, parents, and other relatives and friends to bring the message of redemption through Christ to their gay and lesbian loved ones, since so few people who were “struggling with homosexuality” were actually there.
From a faith standpoint, this is all well and good. Christ’s Great Commission was to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all the corners of the earth. It’s hard to expect that a Christian organization would not evangelize, or that they would discourage others from doing so — especially where wayward family members are concerned.
And if an Evangelical Christian was truly struggling with his or her homosexuality, there is, all too often, a stark choice which must be made: to either embark on the long “journey out of homosexuality” and find acceptance in the Evangelical community, or to forsake that community and join the ranks of the “gay-identified.” As far as Love Won Out is concerned, there is no other way.
Life is full of choices, and each choice brings rewards and consequences. We don’t choose our sexuality — everyone at Love Won Out was in full agreement on that. But we do have a choice in how we deal with our sexuality in our daily lives. If someone concluded that the best thing for them was to join an ex-gay ministry to conform their behavior with their religious beliefs, then that is their right.
But most of those who attended Love Won Out weren’t in the position of making that decision. They were there to try to figure out how to convince their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to make that decision. And since their loved ones didn’t appear to be interested in such a decision — most of them weren’t there after all, except for a few teenagers dragged there by their parents — I’m not sure ultimately what useful purpose Love Won Out served, except to offer some sort of hope to the families and friends of gays and lesbians.
But what kind of hope is it? Is it grounded in realistic expectations? Did they get a better perspective on the possibility of change? Did the friends and relatives leave that conference any better equipped than they were when they arrived that morning?
Given Christianity’s mission to proclaim the Truth with a capital “T,” it’s fair to ask how much of these “truths” with a small “t” we learned at Love Won Out are really true. I will explore that some more next week with the meaning of “change”.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”
Part 2: “Love Won Out” — Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
February 22nd, 2007
Note: In this essay, I will try to talk about the theories of homosexuality that were presented at Love Won Out. For the time being, I will avoid a detailed critique of these theories. That may come later time. Instead, I want to delve a little deeper into the theme I began in Part One of this series by looking at Love Won Out through the eyes and ears of the parents of gay sons and daughters who attended.
As I describe my conversations with Love Won Out participants, I have changed several important details in order to protect the anonymity of those I talked to. The individuals who talked to me have a right to expect that their stories not be made individually recognizable. Nevertheless, the situations I describe are fully accurate in their substance.
I had a lot of preconceived ideas about Love Won Out ex-gay conferences before I finally attended one in Phoenix on February 10. Some of the awful things I thought I would see, I didn’t. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find some good things to report on, which I promise to tell you about later. There were some moment of thoughtfulness and encouragement which, to me as a gay activist, were surprising.
But there were other things that I didn’t expect to encounter that shook me to my core. And before I can move on to anything, I have to get this out of the way. This is a long essay, but it’s the most important one that I will write about Love Won Out. So, please, I ask for your indulgence on this.
The parents who attended Love Won Out seemed to have a lot of questions. Based on what I heard in the Q&A sessions and in casual conversations, most of these questions revolved around two specific themes: 1) “Why is my child gay?” and 2) “What can I do about it?” The Love Won Out organizers made sure there was plenty of information on hand to answer these questions. This essay will focus on the first question.
The first session of the day was conducted by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH). He was there to provide a non-religious and scientific argument that homosexuality is “a developmental problem.” In his address, entitled “The Condition of Male Homosexuality”, he provided his theory of how gay men come into being, a theory based entirely on family dynamics.
Dr. Nicolosi began his talk this way:
Homosexuality is not a sexual problem, it’s a gender identity problem. And this is the foundation of our understanding. Gender identity is one’s sense of oneself as male or female. Homosexuality is not about sex. And homosexual apologists will say it’s only about sex. But rather, we understand homosexuality to be about a person’s sense of himself, about his relationships, about his past hurts, about childhood wounds, self-image, personal shame, and his belief in his ability to establish and sustain relational intimacy.
Homosexual behavior is always — my wife says when you speak publicly you never speak in absolutes, always and never — I’m telling you homosexuality, homosexual impulse is always prompted by an inner sense of emptiness. It’s not about sex.
He’s barely three minutes into his talk, and already he’s laid out several defining qualities of homosexuality from which he emphatically allows no exceptions. And yet, I knew from my own experience that clearly there were exceptions. He said that “homosexual apologists will say it’s only about sex”, but I had to wonder which “homosexual apologists” he was referring to. While I’m sure somebody somewhere has probably said such a ridiculous thing, I had never heard it. Everyone I’ve heard of speaks it as being about his or her personal sense of self and his relationships. More specifically, it’s about affection, love, and a particular way of caring for and relating with one another.
And when Dr. Nicolosi follows that absolute with another, that the “homosexual impulse is always prompted by an inner sense of emptiness”, I’m afraid this leaves a lot of room for doubt. When I see one absolute being absolutely false, I can’t place too terribly much faith in any other absolutes which immediately follow. I guess he should listen to his wife more often.
But that was my reaction. For the parents who attended, the reaction was very different. He was the expert after all, a man whose psychotherapy clinic in Encino “specialized in the treatment of men with unwanted homosexuality” for more than fifteen years. And because he has treated so many men and speaks with such confidence of his clinical experience, the audience hung onto his every word. He couldn’t have been more convincing if he had channeled Freud himself and spoken with an Austrian accent.
Dr. Nicolosi described the “pre-homosexual” child’s development in terms familiar to anyone who has read classic Freudian theory. He began with the first eighteen months of a child’s life, during the “androgynous phase,” in which the child is unaware of differences in gender. During this phase, he is naturally closely bonded with his mother. Then, at about the age of eighteen months to three years of age, the child enters what Nicolosi called the “Gender Identity Phase.” Here, the child acquires language, and with that a greater awareness of the world around him, which includes differences between male and female. At this stage, the child, who already has a close with his mother, is now supposed to recognize that he is a boy and that Dad is a boy, and that Dad is supposed to become the masculine role model for the little boy. When this “dis-identifying” with the mother and the identification with the father takes place, a heterosexual man is the guaranteed result.
But if his father is cold, rejecting, weak, or physically or emotionally unavailable, or conversely, if his mother is overprotective, domineering, or shows disdain for the father, that boy may not detach from his mother and identify with his father. If that happens, if the boy doesn’t identify with his father, he’ll experience what is called a “narcissistic hurt.” And this leads to all sorts of things:
And that’s why we see narcissism in the male homosexual. Narcissism is a preoccupation with oneself. It’s a high sensitivity to being hurt, being rejected, sensitized to people not liking me. It’s a defensive posture, what we call a shame posture. This boy was shamed for his masculine strivings, and so he abandons his masculine strivings.
…And that narcissistic injury produces an adult, a homosexually-oriented adult, who is cautious, fearful, easily hurt, easily slighted, easily offended, self-protective — that is what we call the shame posture. If men get to see me they’re not going to like me. There’s something inferior about me.
All of this is because the father did not bond with his boy. Either that or the mother wouldn’t let him. I began to wonder how the parents in the audience were taking all of this. I didn’t have to wonder very long, because that’s when Dr. Nicolosi let loose with this broadside.
We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.
With that, a very painful groan rose from the audience. This was probably the second-most effective line delivered that day (I’ll get to the most effective one in just a little bit). I looked around and saw heads shaking, couples looking at each other, and a general sense of horror filled the room. My cheeks flushed as I wondered how many of those groans came from fathers and mothers themselves who made up a sizeable chunk of the audience.
Nicolosi threw in several more absolutes as he went along. And with each absolute that he conveyed with such clinical certainty, his credibility seemed to grow with this audience. In the end, it would be the absolutes that everyone would remember:
If there is an older brother, Freud said a hundred years ago, if a homosexual has an older brother, it’s a feared, hostile relationship. I have never seen an exception to that. I have never met a client who is dealing with homosexuality who had a salient older brother.
The guy with a homosexual problem does not trust men. When he begins to trust men, his homosexuality disappears.
His cold, clinical descriptions of homosexuality, while alien to much of what I know to be true in my life, seemed to resonate with everyone else in that audience. After all, it matched everything else they had heard from their pastors and moral leaders. What’s more, it matched some of the more personal memories that every parent has about raising their children. What father cannot say he wished he could have spent more quality time with his son? What mother could say she was never overprotective or overly assertive? This is the story of every parent.
As I sat there listening to his lecture, I was reminded of that old joke about person A saying something terrible about person B, when person B speaks up and says, “Hey you do realize I’m in the room, don’t you?” These parents were right there as Nicolosi talked about how their failures produced a “Gender Identity Deficit” in their son, and that drove their son to be hugged by another man.
Later that morning, Melissa Fryrear, a gender issues analyst at Focus on the Family and a regional representative for Exodus International, spoke on the causes of female homosexuality. It’s odd that she would present a talk that was intended to be the female counterpart to Nicolosi’s clinical descriptions of male homosexuality. I say it’s odd because she doesn’t have a degree in psychology or the social sciences. Her degree is in Divinity. But nobody in the audience seemed to mind or even notice. Her credentials as an expert were accepted just as readily as Nicolosi’s, and because her talk was considerably warmer and more sympathetic to the parents, they seemed to take her messages more to heart, according on conversations that I had afterwards.
Her presentation was also somewhat more chaotic than Dr. Nicolosi’s “Maybe because women, we tend to be complex sometimes,” she explained. But her Freudian explanation for lesbianism was similar to Nicolosi’s, except here it was the mother who was cold and distant, while the father was stern, frightening, or even abusive. Unless, of course, the mother was exceptionally close and had a “best friends” relationship with her daughter and the father was distant. Fryrear’s mix of causes for female homosexuality was a Mulligan’s Stew of many different factors: lesbian chic, fashion, peer pressure, feminism, sexual abuse — the list was very long and occasionally contradictory.
But in very stark contrast to Dr. Nicolosi’s talk, Fryrear’s was much more sensitive to not blaming the parents for their child’s homosexuality. She peppered her talk with reassurances like this:
And I want to visit specifically with Moms and Dads, that if you have a daughter who is struggling with lesbianism, that you’re not to blame for her particular struggle. … Those of you that have children, and have especially more than one child, you know that your children are unique and their perception of the world and how they take the world in, their perception of themselves and you and the family dynamics. You know as parents that one thing you cannot control in your child’s life is his or her perception.
I don’t know what’s worse, parents blaming themselves or blaming their child’s “perceptions”. I later heard both, and it appeared that the parents who internalized the message about perceptions had a calmer sense of “what happened.” They didn’t appear as personally burdened as those who hadn’t internalized the message. In that context at least, her reassurances were a blessing. But as long as these parents are encouraged by self-described experts to look for something that “went wrong,” they will — either in themselves or in their child. There was a lot of that going on throughout the day, an activity that I can’t imagine to be very productive or healthy. I also can’t imagine it contributing very much towards family reconciliation.
But if parents found some comfort in the idea that it wasn’t all their fault, that comfort was rocked by another “cause” of homosexuality that Melissa Fryrear spoke about. Remember when I mentioned Nicolosi’s second-most effective sound-bite of the day? Melissa Fryrear came up with the grand prize:
I can draw anecdotally from having been a part of an Exodus member ministry for almost a decade, and in those years having met hundreds of women with this struggle, I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman. And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life. [Emphasis mine.]
The audience sat in stunned silence as Fryrear, her voice shaking, went on to talk about sexual abuse in greater detail. She later described her own sexual abuse as a child, and her talk had just followed a testimony by Mike Haley in which he described having sex with another older man beginning at the age of eleven. As far as this audience knew, there were no exceptions. This went a long way toward reinforcing Nicolosi’s admonition, “if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.”
So this is the point where I have to stop describing all of the so-called “causes” of homosexuality. Enough is enough. And I’ll save the examination of the social science literature for another day. There’s something much more important here that I need to get out of the way — and off my chest.
I said earlier that parents’ questions could be grouped into two themes: Why, and what do I do? I’ve described just a few of the lectures and breakout sessions which focused on the “why”, on what when wrong in the child’s life and what (and sometimes who) was to blame for that child’s homosexuality. The conference speakers were very clear: there is no biological basis for homosexuality whatsoever. Instead, they offered as a variable this uncontrollable built-in quality in the child called “temperament”, a “temperament” which helped to form the child’s “perceptions.”
This “temperament, when explained in more detail, sounded suspiciously like some sort of an in-born quality or trait that was somehow intrinsic to the child. And even though this can have a biological or an otherwise in-born basis, the conference speakers were clear in repeatedly conveying another absolute: there was no biological basis for homosexuality. (There was one exception. Mike Haley, during a Q&A breakout session attended by about a fifth of the participants, allowed that there may be a combination of biology in the form of “temperament” and developmental forces coming together. But he was otherwise dismissive of biology playing a role.)
So that pretty much left the fathers and mothers at the center of all of these discussions of “what went wrong.” While I heard some parents blame themselves, at least a few were able to “blame” their child’s “false perceptions” of them as a bad mother or a bad father.
But when Melissa Fryrear spoke so forcefully that she had never met a lesbian or a gay man who did not have some sort of experience with sexual abuse, that message would become a much-repeated refrain in conversations later that day.
It’s not fair to say that the parents and relatives were rife with suspicions, but I was surprised at the number of suspicions that did come up — and the circumstantial nature of the “evidence” which prompted many of them. I heard ex-boyfriends and babysitters suddenly come under suspicion where there had been none before. It seemed as if many of these relatives, taking Melissa Fryrear at her word, turned several possibilities over in their minds — dismissing some, but holding others for future consideration.
Sometimes, these suspicions got the better of them. Before that day, it had never even occurred to one mother that her son might have been molested. Now after Fryrear’s talk, she was momentarily certain of it. “There’s no other explanation!” she exclaimed. But as she thought about it, she remembered that she had no reason to suspect this, and that the only “evidence” she had was Fryrear’s statement. She was finally able to calm herself down after those around her reassured her that it probably didn’t happen.
Besides, she already had so many other reasons to think about for her son being gay. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that this mother’s burden was unnecessarily heavier now. Her long list of things she heard experts describe that “went wrong” in her son’s life — a list that she already blamed herself for as a mother — was now longer because of a hideous crime for which there is no reason to suspect to have happened in the first place.
Child sexual abuse, as we well know, is an all-too-tragic reality in our society. Those who have gone through it know the pain and terrible toll that it exacts on the child, especially in his or her ability to trust another human being. And every parent of a violated son or daughter goes through a period of tremendous guilt and shame over their “failure” to protect their little boy or girl. I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish that these parents must feel.
But I saw at least one parent at Love Won Out feel that same anguish for the first time. And afterwards, I felt as if I was carrying a lead weight around in the pit of my stomach for the rest of the day. I wondered what sort of conversations would be taking place the next time these parents talked to their sons and daughters (those who were on speaking terms, anyway, as most of them were.)
And I wondered whether these parents would even believe their children when they deny having been molested. After all, they had heard the “experts” describe gays and lesbians as having been universally abused. And according to these “experts”, this made them “cautious, fearful, easily hurt, easily slighted, easily offended, self-protective” and incapable of being honest with their feelings. This is a terrible setup for dialogue and familial reconciliation.
And I also wondered how many coaches, teachers, boy scout leaders, and neighbors fell under an unwarranted cloud of suspicion, all because Melissa Fryrear said she never met a lesbian or a gay man who had not been abused or threatened. There was tremendous cruelty in the “nevers” and the “always” that were thrown around with such ease at the conference. It’s a cruelty that these parents didn’t deserve. And what’s more, this cruelty is without merit. I will talk more about that in a later post.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”
Ex-Gay Programs Highlighted on CNN
Exodus President Alan Chambers appeared on CNN last night. I compare what he told Anderson Cooper with what he wrote in his book, God's Grace and the Homosexual Next Door.
February 7th, 2007
I’ll bet if you were to poll ordinary Americans on the street today, you would find the whole concept of “ex-gay” to be largely unknown. While we talk about ex-gay programs on this website, Exodus and other ex-gay ministries have for the most part escaped the limelight among the general public. Focus in the Family’s Mike Haley once told a Love Won Out audience that Exodus was “one of the church’s best kept secrets.” CNN Producer Jim Spellman says that until he talked with Melissa Fryrear, also from Focus on the Family, he had never met or talked to anyone who considered themselves ex-gay. But with Ted Haggard’s recent miraculous transformation from fallen boy-toy customer to “completely heterosexual” in only three weeks, people are starting to ask questions.
Last night’s edition of “Anderson Cooper 360″ on CNN explored the claims of the ex-gay movement. Melissa Fryrear, a “former lesbian” who claimed to no longer have any homosexual feelings, threw cold water on the idea that change can happen as rapidly as three weeks. She told reporter Joe Johns:
“It’s not quantifiable in the sense of years. It’s… For me it was gradual change that was recognizable one year to the next year to the next year. But again, the issues were so complicated contributing to my struggle that it took a significant amount of time to work through those.”
(Note: These transcripts are my own from the DVR. CNN’s rush transcript is here.)
Salon.com’s Mark Benjamin provided what is probably the most startling quote. He talked to dozens of people who underwent ex-gay therapy and said:
“I was unable to find one single person who is not on the payroll of one of these organizations that does this therapy who said, ‘yes, after going through the therapy, in fact, I’m cured of homosexuality.’”
After Joe Johns’ report aired, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International then appeared with Mark Shields of the Human Rights Campaign to talk with Anderson Cooper. Mark Shields said that Ted Haggard’s claim did not pass the “laugh test.” Alan Chambers, in probably the world’s first instance of an official of Exodus agreeing with a spokesman from the HRC, replied, “I don’t know Ted Haggard’s journey over the last three weeks, but like Mark, I would say that it’s something that… it doesn’t seem like something that is really the case.”
But what’s even more interesting, I think, is that when Anderson Cooper tried to press Alan Chambers on whether he himself was heterosexual and no longer experienced same-sex attractions, Alan ducked and weaved:
Anderson Cooper: So you entered counseling. Do you still have attraction to men, you know, you’re just choosing not to act on it?
Alan Chambers: My attraction greatly dimminished over the course of many years. Sixteen years into it my life isn’t even remotely the same as it once was. But I often say that I will never be as though I never was. And the truth is I’m a human being and for me to say that I could never be attracted to men again or that I couldn’t be tempted would mean that I’m not human and that’s just not the case.”
And a little later:
Anderson Cooper: Even now, you are essentially saying you are trying to control your thoughts, you try to alter your fundamental attraction.
Alan Chambers: No, I wouldn’t say that’s the case at all. No, what I have found over the course of sixteen years is that feelings aren’t everything about you and I live beyond those feelings. Today, ….
Anderson Cooper: What does that mean…
Alan Chambers: … my feelings are, my feelings are much, much different. And the truth is I didn’t leave homosexuality because it was so bad. I left it because I found something better. And today, my life is far better than it was as a gay man. And for those of us, and there are thousands of people just like me who choose to live beyond their feelings, who choose to move beyond the issue of homosexuality, we live wonderful lives, and that’s something we think should be available for everyone who wants it.
Anderson Cooper: And is that based on a belief that you cannot be Christian and gay? I mean is the wonderful life you’re talking about a religious life that you feel is not accessible to you as a openly [sic], proud, happy gay man?
Alan Chambers: Not at all. I think there are plenty of gay people out there who are Christians as well, but for me homosexuality wasn’t compatible with my faith and my faith was much more important than that.
This was a very interesting segment and there is so much to chew on here. Here are a few of my observations:
- Alan Chambers refused to confirm a change from homosexuality to heterosexuality in his own case when speaking to a national audience. This has been a slowly evolving shift in his message for quite some time. But in his book God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door which is targeted mainly to evangelicals, his message is a little more straightforward. On page 216, he talks about some of his gender-nonconforming traits this way: “I have always liked decorating. I love to shop. I like clothes… I can tell you what designer made what suits just by looking at them. Do these things make me gay? Apparently not because I still like those things, and I am completely heterosexual.”
- He repeated the claim that there are “thousands of people” just like him, which is an unsubstantiated statistic we’ve heard before. This time however, he now places that statistic in a category of those who “live beyond their feelings”, not as people who no longer experience same-sex attractions.
- He said he didn’t leave homosexuality, but found something better. Anderson Cooper tried to follow up on it, asking if that “something better” was a religious message, but Alan Chambers demurred. But on page 84 of his book he is much less reticent: “I didn’t leave homosexuality because it was awful. I left homosexuality because I found something better: the body of Christ. Only in the light of God’s best, though, can I truly look back and see how far off the mark homosexuality and the gay community were from the real thing.” [Emphasis his]
- Alan Chambers told Anderson Cooper, “I think there are plenty of gay people out there who are Christians as well.” But in his book, contributing author Randy Thomas talks about three degrees of homosexuality: “the militant, moderate, and repentant.” Under this classification, only the “repentant” homosexuals who have either “left homosexuality” or are in the process of leaving are truly Christians. And according to Alan Chambers, the only Christian goal for gay people is repentance and heterosexuality. Alan says on pages 217-218: “… repentance for the homosexual person and anyone else for that matter is repenting of who they are — behavior, identity, and all. This is why I believe that it is so important to clarify that just living a celibate gay life is just as sinful as living a sexually promiscuous one. The sin is in identifying with anything that is contrary to Christ, which homosexuality clearly is.”
- And returning to Ted Haggard’s claims which prompted all this, it looks like nobody believes that change to “complete heterosexuality” can happen in only three weeks. Even those who make a living as active proponents of change therapy and those who claimed to have changed themselves will not back up Haggard’s story. And this includes those who are on the payroll of Focus on the Family and those who are strongly backed by Focus.
I think the HRC’s Mark Shields summed it all up best:
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.
The False Witness of Focus on the Family
June 20th, 2006
Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, has been closely following some recent statements coming from Melissa Fryrear of Focus in the Family, who has misrepresented research twice in as many days.
Yesterday, Wayne reported on Melissa Fryrear’s claims that a recent Canadian study on youth suicide links “pro-gay advocates” with a higher number of suicide attempts by gay and lesbian youths. In her press release, she says:
“Regrettably, they think they have to embrace homosexuality because pro-gay advocates told them that they were born gay,” she said. “And that is absolutely not true.”
Unfortunately for Ms. Fryrear, Wayne asked the researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc about Ms. Fryrear’s statement, and this is what he learned:
When contacted about Focus on the Family’s claims, Saewyc, the study’s principal investigator, said she was “disturbed” by what “seems to be an attempt to make their opinions more credible by linking them to scientific research — even though the research doesn’t support those beliefs.” She said Focus on the Family draws conclusions well beyond the study results by claiming that lesbians are suicidal because they are “embracing homosexuality,” as well as other inaccuracies in their article.
“Population surveys cannot determine cause and effect,” Saewyc explained, “they can only suggest possible links. Even so, other researchers have not found these sorts of links, and neither have we.”
The Canadian Press has since picked up the story. When they asked Dr. Saewyc for a comment, she responded:
“The research has been hijacked for somebody’s political purposes or ideological purposes and that’s worrisome.”
In fact, said Saewyc, American studies have noted that gay teenagers are at the highest risk of suicide before they come out of the closet. After that, they do quite well unless they’re harassed.
“If they’re trying to kill themselves because they’re embracing homosexuality, one would logically conclude they should all be suicidal,” said Saewyc.
The Canadian Press then asked Ms. Fryrear to respond, and that’s when she chose to misrepresent psychological research for a second time:
Some clinical studies, including one by Dr. Robert Spitzer, have linked contemplating suicide to unwanted attractions to the same sex, she said.
Now, I’ve read Dr. Spitzer’s study, and can assure you it says no such thing. But for good measure, Wayne asked Dr. Spitzer directly, who responded:
“Unfortunately Focus on the Family has once again reported findings of my study out of context to support their fight against gay rights,” said Dr. Robert Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. …
“Although a third of the subjects in my study reported having had serious thoughts of suicide related to their homosexuality, not one of them blamed the gay rights movement’s advocating a ‘born-gay’ theory of homosexuality as the cause of their suicidal thinking,” said Spitzer.
Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family often seeks the moral high ground when exploring issues concerning the family and the broader culture. Unfortunately, his “Gender Issues Analyst” needs to brush up on the ethics of misquoting legitimate scientific research. Otherwise, it’s just another False Witness in the service of bigotry.