When people say they are struggling with unwanted same sex attraction and seek to be ex-gay, their minds play all manner of crazy tricks on them in order to keep the hope alive. Insidious denial, contradictions and mental gymnastics are the only way they can maintain the ex-gay facade. It's a sad and tragic reality to live in – two realities and neither of them fully real.
This experience is not limited to people in ex-gay type therapy. It is also a common experience amongst gay and lesbian people in Christian churches who are closeted and tormented about their unresolved sexual orientation.
In a BBC documentary, this young man's conversation is very common amongst people struggling with 'unwanted same sex attraction', as they call it. In one breath he talks about the cessation of his temptations when seeing an attractive guy during the day but then talks about his addiction to gay porn. Apparently he has tried to look at straight porn to overcome his gay feelings and in the hope that it might turn him on but it turns him off - 'it was kind of gross' he says. You notice how he distances himself from actually being gay by using the term 'SSA', which stands for same sex attraction.
In Freudian psychoanalytic theory, defence mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality (through processes such as repression and rationalization), and to maintain a socially acceptable self-image or self-schema. This is clearly obvious in the person who believes that their homosexuality makes them unacceptable to God and others.
Cognitive dissonance is a term used in modern psychology to describe the state of holding two or more conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions (beliefs and reality), adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements. E.g. 'I am not gay or homosexual I have SSA' or 'I'm struggling with unwanted same sex attraction'.
I hear this constantly when I listen to ex-gay testimonials. In one breath they speak about overcoming, changing, being married or having children and in the next breath they speak about the temptations and thoughts that still exist; as if these are inconsequential. They appear oblivious to the inconsistency and irrationality of their statements.
Often people in ex-gay programs or reparative/conversation therapies have sort them out because they have a tortured thought life or a sexual addiction or obsession that often plays out in pornography, chat rooms, saunas or beats. There is never any real emotional connection with the other person though. Because the addicted person wants to hide it is usually brief, anonymous sexual encounters. They are afraid of intimacy as that will touch the very heart of who they are – gay. This must be avoided at all costs.
What the person is unaware of is that they have created a fragmented sense of self. The gay self is the secret self – the dark self which lives in a world of shame, guilt and fear . The other self is the public self that they believe is the one that will be acceptable and 'normal'. They live in two realities.
The other thing they fail to realise is it that the denial, suppression and hatred of the gay self is what actually creates the addictions and obsessions.
Coming out, for most of us, is like an exorcism that releases us of the darkness we have lived in for years and caused us to believe awful things about ourselves. On the other side of the looking glass though are freedom, light and an authentic life. :-)
Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom 2 b[e], Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and this year was one of four finalists for the ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International ( www.gayambassador.com ) .