Whilst the fundamental core beliefs (homosexuality is a flawed, unnatural human experience, a choice, a sin, and it can be changed) remain the same, many things within the ex-gay world have changed over the last four decades since its formal existence (Exodus founded 1976). The most dramatic of these being the recent rejection of the reparative therapy model.
A more subtle and often unnoticed change has been around wording and terminology.
For the first twenty or so years, ex-gays and attempting ex-gays used terms like 'freedom from homosexuality', 'struggling with homosexuality' or having a 'homosexual problem'. It is difficult to pin point exactly when the shift in terminology happened or who introduced it but around the late 90's and early 2000's the term 'unwanted same sex attraction' became the vernacular. Hence you will hear people describe themselves as 'struggling with unwanted same sex attraction', 'suffering from unwanted same sex attraction' or 'overcoming their same sex attraction'.
Why the change in terminology?
There were several reasons for the change.
Firstly, Christian men and women who were same sex oriented didn't want to use the term homosexual let alone adopt the identity. This shift had already happened within the lesbian, gay and bisexual worlds many years before as there were too many negative connotations attached to the word homosexual. The word homosexual these days is mostly used in a clinical/academic sense (homosexual/heterosexual) or by religious anti-gay groups and people who refuse to use the term gay. For people wanting to rid themselves of their homosexuality the term unwanted same-sex-attraction was nicer/softer.
Secondly, using the phrase 'same sex attraction' was a way of distancing themselves from the term 'same sex orientation' that was becoming popular in academia. A sexual orientation (same, opposite or bi) is far more fundamental/innate than an attraction. Having unwanted same sex attractions could be perceived as being more about feelings, thoughts or emotions than behaviour or who you are oriented to fall in love with. The term same sex attraction is often used in academia these days, particularly with youth. The acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) had a Q added to it. This often referred to the inclusive word 'queer' but was also used for 'questioning', meaning young people still trying to sort out their identity and not able or willing to take on a gay or lesbian identity at their stage in life.
Finally, the change to 'unwanted same sex attraction', was a way for ex-gay organisations to have the pressure taken off them from pro-gay groups. In other words they could say things like 'we only work with people who have 'unwanted' same sex attractions'.
More recently, terms like 'sexual brokenness' or 'relational brokenness' are used to describe the same thing. If you do an analysis of 'ex-gay' stories, particularly the high profile ones, you find common elements. They ARE broken. They always include stories of sexual abuse, sexual addictions/obsessions and screwed up childhoods and relationships. What they fail to see is that their brokenness is not caused by their sexual orientation itself but their response to it including self-hatred, denial, suppression, fear, secrecy and unhealthy behaviours. No wonder they end up in such a mess.
The term 'unwanted same sex attractions' is also being used these days on Islamic websites and forums.
Why is the same sex attraction 'unwanted'?
This is the big question but pretty obvious when you think about it.
- If you are locked in a Christian culture that is ignorant about sexual orientation then it is most likely 'unwanted'.
- If you have heard ill-informed sermons or messages that Sodom and Gomorrah were full of homosexuals and that God condemns it then it would be 'unwanted'.
- If you think that the acceptance or rejection of your sexual orientation has eternal consequences (heaven or hell) then it would be 'unwanted'.
- If you think that coming out or accepting your same sex orientation will mean your family, friends or church would reject you it would be 'unwanted'.
- If you have only heard 'stories' about people who have 'overcome' their unwanted same sex attractions and are now married with children then it would be 'unwanted'.
- If you have never met a well adjusted, fulfilled gay man or women then it would be 'unwanted'
If you want to know why the unwanted same sex attraction message is no longer relevant you can read this article. 'Spiritual Gays' ......an oxymoron?
Peter Janetzki, on the Brisbane Christian radio station 96.5 FM, talked with Paul Wegner from Liberty Inc about unwanted same sex attraction. I think this ten minute snippet from the two hour show will give you some idea about how defensive people have become about the term 'unwanted same sex attraction'. Maybe one of the reasons they were so defensive was because of this.
© Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, 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 was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.