(Source: The Flying Teapot Project)
Nothing better than an example to rebuke the supposed efficiency of treatments to convert sexual orientation, which claim that gay people can “go” straight. The English and philosophy teacher, also a theologian, Sergio Viula, 42, born and resident in Rio de Janeiro, was one of the founders of the Movement for the Healthy Sexuality (MOSES), an evangelical NGO which helps people interested in quitting homosexuality. He got married, had two children and saw by himself the very methods of ‘sexual re-orientation’. In an exclusive interview, Sergio talked to me and showed that methods to change sexual orientation are useless, causing pain and suffering to those who are willing to go through any of them.
How did your life within the evangelical church begin? How did you get in?
- I started at 16, in a neo-charismatic, but later on I migrated to a Baptist church. I was converted by the preaching of some friends’; it was not a family tradition, which was catholic. Nowadays, some of them are catholic and some are evangelical.
At that time, had you already realized you were gay? Had you already had relationships with other boys?
- I’d actually had relationships with gay guys, but I’d never assumed I was gay, as I used to think it was something temporary. My first relationship was as early as the age of 12, with a little older boy, and in secret, of course. It lasted two years, though. Actually, I wanted to think that it would be temporary due to the pressure at home. My family used to be very conservative.
How was the process of “becoming ex-gay”?
- In fact, ex-gays don’t exist – it’s pure self-suggestion. I started going to church and noticed that homosexuals didn’t know how to deal with their ‘difficulties’, due to lack of orientation by their leaders, so I decided to found the Movement for the Healthy Sexuality (MOSES), with João Luiz Santolin and Liane França. That was when I started saying – at very opportune moments – that I was ex-gay.
Didn’t you ever get convinced that you had become ex-gay? Did you ever know that you were deceiving yourself?
- Today I know that I was deceiving myself. But back then, I thought that every sentiment or attraction was a mere case of ‘temptation’ and that it could be overcome with prayer and dedication to god. In the group, we used to think, basically speaking, that being gay was a sin, which should be confessed and abandoned and, therefore, we would proselytize, counsel, pray, preach, recommend certain books, read the Bible – things that believers usually do, but focusing on homosexuality itself; unfortunately, always demonizing homogenic love. I worked 18 years totals with the church, MOSES started in 1997. In 2003 I was out. I spent about seven years within the group. We counted on psychologists and volunteers. Once, we packed a bus and took everybody to Miss Brazil Gay in Juiz de Fora (a city in the neighbor state of Minas Gerais) with the only purpose of evangelizing LGBT people who attended the event, but the director board was composed by about 10 people.
But how was this process of ‘abandoning the sin’? Was it like a treatment?
– That didn’t really happen, after all. It was like the so-called discipleship, which happened to be brainwashing, indeed. You have to get isolated from your former circle of friends, start attend church meetings, go through counseling sessions, pray, fast, and stuff like that. When somebody happened to get involved with another homosexual, he had to confess what he’d done. THAT’S FUCKING CRAZY! Sorry, but even nowadays I feel angry when I remember that.
– Nobody really quit being gay. There were relationships even within the group, between an activity and another, they would always find time for that. Can you figure out how much suffering to myself and to all of those who have already worked or been influenced by this kind of ‘ministry’? That’s enraging! And there are people repeating that stupid discourse until today.
What do you feel when you see people like pastor Silas Malafaia doing the kind of preaching that you used to do? Is it a similar discourse?
– He is a complete idiot! I was a boy when I got involved in all that. I had way too little life experience and there wasn’t so much information as there is today. He, on the contrary, acts out of bad faith, with financial interests, power projects, etc. He says that he’s never been gay, hasn’t he? I am very suspicious about people who spend so much energy and money to fight something that has nothing to do with them. I comprehend straight people who understand the risks involved in homophobia, but I can’t understand heterosexuals who have a fit for just realizing that gay people are happy, healthy and producing for the nation …
Isn’t it all about raising a flag nowadays? Gaining visibility, whatever …
– It’s still bad faith, though. It just confirms my thesis.
When did you decide it was high time you finished? Did you leave the movement at the same time you came out?
– That’s right. I left at the same time I came out. It all happened when I was sure I had done and believed to the fullest of my abilities. The last drop was a trip to Singapore, where I met a Philippine and made out with him. I returned to Brazil determined to put an end to that panacea. I did so and immediately started to re-think several of my approaches and beliefs, but it would take me two years before I could finally say everything that I’ve been saying since I came out. There was persecution by MOSES, many people were in shock, but they had to bend to it, as my involvement with the group had been massive. Most of my projection, however, was within the church. I was a pastor, the editor of an apologetic newspaper called Desafio das Seitas (The Cults’ Challenge), which reached its highest level during that period, and so on …
And within your family? What was the reaction?
– My parents were shocked, but my children have never created any trouble, they were just puzzled at me leaving the church, as I used to be so dedicated to godly affairs. I divorced their mother, but that hasn’t apparently caused any big problem. They just frankly asked me about the issue at 12 (my daughter) and 11 (my son). Both understood it all very well and have always been my friends. They get on really well with me and Emanuel, my partner.
Do you feel whole and happy today?
– Yes, I am in peace with myself today, happy, and I wonder how I could stand such useless existential castration for such a long time.
Do you think that what you (in MOSES) used to do was an act of violence against yourselves and the others?
– Yes, it was an act of violence against ourselves, as we had internalized the homophobia that surrounded us from early childhood, as well as against the others, because we reproduced that very homophobia which they had internalized by themselves long before. We just reinforced it even more.
You didn’t only leave the church and the movement, but you quit believing in god… How did it happen?
– It happened principally due to my honest and daring inquiry about god/gods, Christian and other religions’ scriptures, the church and other religious institutions. My current thought and approach to the idea of god/gods is not mere result of suffering within one or another church or belief. Actually, many churches opened their doors to me when I came out of the closet. They confessed their interest in getting me minister as their pastor. Troy Perry, founder and bishop of the Metropolitan Community Church, told me that in person. It was not thanks to believers’ misbehavior either, as I know some who I consider fantastic people until now (both from the evangelical and protestant mainstream and the modern inclusive churches). Bearing that in mind, neither god nor scriptures or churches pass through the sieve of reason, and I am not referring to the reason of a brilliant mind, such as Nietzsche’s, Darwin’s, Sartre’s, Hopkins’, Dawkins’, etc., I refer to the reason of an average mind like mine. I can’t go against myself and that which I so distinctly see. Nonetheless, I defend freedom. And that’s why, believing or not believing are things which cannot be controlled, restrained, unless they put human rights at stake.
To conclude, what would you tell a gay youngster who is going through that process of ‘spiritual healing of homosexuality’? Is that worth it?
– Religious conversion which does not admit and CELEBRATES your homosexuality does not deserve your time and talent. If you want to attend a church, search for one which is mature enough to even question the validity of its own religious statements. But, preferably, live your life without relying on existential braces whatever they are. I take the opportunity to suggest the reading of a post written by me (in Portuguese). This post was born from a lecture that I delivered in the Ecumenical Church of Copacabana during the celebration of the Bible Day in the catholic calendar. It was this year.
If you feel that you are tormented by uwanted same-sex attraction then the answer lies in loving and accepting your true self not rejecting or self loathing. The term 'unwanted same-sex attraction' adds to the denial. It is not an attraction it is an orientation. It is far deeper than just an attraction or behaviour and is a part of your brain wiring, thought processes, hormones and behaviour. People nedd to examine the 'unwanted' part of the statement not the orientation itself.
Before you invest the time, money, emotional energy and possibly years of your life trying to go from gay to straight, ask the ex-gay leaders what guarantee they can give you that it will work. If they are honest with you, the best they will be able to offer you as a degree of ‘heterosexual functionality’, but the gay never actually goes away. Then ask yourself what would be the best way to spend your time, money and emotional energy…..rejecting yourself or accepting yourself.
After 22 years of trying to change including ex-gay programs, exorcisms and 16 years of marriage, I came to the realisation that loving myself was far healthier than hating and rejecting my true self. Like 1,000’s of others today, I finally discovered that I can live a wonderfully fulfilling, moral life as an openly gay man and still have my faith.