Sunday, October 26, 2014

I'm gay but in a straight marriage - help

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Introduction

A mixed orientation marriage (MOM) is where one partner is heterosexual and the other is same-sex-oriented (gay or lesbian) or bi-sexual.

The situation we find ourselves in is not usually one of intentional deception. (In some cultures, families and geographical areas this may be different however, as it is a matter of survival). For most of us in a western culture, our marriages were the result of us conforming to a society, who at that time, believed homosexuality was a crime, a perversion and a mental illness. We married thinking that it was the right thing to do and that it would help to change what we perceived was faulty within us. I know this was the case for me. I wanted to do the right thing. Having a wife and family was everyone’s ultimate goal or expectation. There are also a number of people whose same sex orientation did not become obvious or awakened till after they were married. You, I, and thousands of others are the products of an uninformed society. We are at the fault line and our generation is the one caught in the transition.

Had the current knowledge on sexual orientation been available to us growing up, our choices would have been different. If we were born 40 years earlier we wouldn’t have ever considered coming out. If we were in this current generation we would have realized our sexual orientation is natural and normal and wouldn’t have married to help fix it or felt it necessary to conform.

One Couple – Two Journeys

From my observation, the straight partner basically goes through the same process gay and lesbian people go through to accept their sexuality. For the straight partner though, it is accepting their husband’s/wife’s homosexuality and the realities and consequences associated with that.

Once we come out to our partner they begin their journey. Indeed we have forced them on that journey just as we have been forced to face the reality of our sexual orientation.  Neither of us chose this journey. It is important to remember that we never do this journey in sync together. As an example there are some straight partners who have come to a place of acceptance that the marriage possibly has no future even before the gay partner has come to accept that. It’s rare but I have seen it happen. This would make it easier for the gay partner to be open and honest about their journey. I have also worked with straight partners who have come to a place of complete celebration of the life they had with the previous partner and moved on, but the gay/lesbian partner has only been able to achieve a level of reluctant acceptance of his/her gayness.

I have identified eight stages most of us go through to finally arrive at the place where we fully accept and embrace our gay self. It is the disclosure of our homosexuality that commences our partners’ journey; we are already along the journey; maybe even at the end. Up until the point of coming out to our partner, it is most likely not a part of their consciousness (although they may have had suspicions). There was a time we were also not conscious of our gayness or didn’t have a name for the feelings we had.

The way we respond to each other will either help or hinder the others progress. Being aware of these stages, the demands of the moment and what we need to do in order to move on hastens progress but doesn’t guarantee resolution as we are dealing with two individuals on separate journeys.

The amount of time it takes and the pace will always be different. And even though the journeys are individual, at the same time they can be painfully entwined. Sadly, some can get stuck in a stage for years; some even a lifetime.

My experience in this area has predominately been with gay men and straight wives. My assumption is that straight men that are, or have been, married to lesbians will face some different issues whilst others will be very similar. The difference being that basically men and women have different brain wiring, hormones and chemistry that impact the way they approach and perceive sex, romance and relationships. Men are from Mars and women from Venus. These differences impact the outcomes.

The Eight Stage Process to Complete Reconciliation

1. Unconscious – (I don’t know I'm gay, straight or anything. I'm just a kid). The straight partner is also initially in this state. It is not even on the radar. Courtship, engagement, wedding and marriage are the things that fill the mind. 

2. Awareness awakens – (I'm different to the guys or girls around me. I'm thinking about and finding myself attracted to the same sex. Could I be gay?) Research shows that the average age when people have this awareness is around 13-14 during puberty. That makes sense because it is of course a sexual orientation we are talking about. For some there is a period when they become aware but they don’t have a word for it. Some have this awareness even younger – particularly in hindsight they see how it was always the same gender that attracted them or got their attention in movies or that they we fascinated with same gender bodies instead of opposite etc. For the straight partner there may be thoughts, suspicions or questions that arise about their partners sexual orientation.

3. Denial of the gay self. Many of us have lived in that space for years. ‘I’m not gay’ we have said to ourselves and come up with a whole range of excuses to justify that. I was drunk, I’m bisexual, I was just horny, I’m imagining things, I was just experimenting or it’s just a phase. We try and put the reality of our homosexuality out of our minds. We may have told our partners about our homosexuality even before we were married and we both existed in the space of denial for years believing that marriage would be the solution to this ‘thing’. I have met many women who, after the husband has come out, are in total denial about their husband’s homosexuality.

4. Rejection of the gay self is the next phase. This can be like denial but we actively try and rid ourselves of this ‘terrible curse’ or ‘problem’. This can involve ‘ex-gay’ programs, counselling, therapy or all manner of mental tricks to kill the gay self and its expression. We self-monitor our voice, gestures, what we wear, who we mix with…anything that might vaguely identify us with the identity we are rejecting.

When the wife/husband is in this phase she/he will most likely suggest that you get some help to change the part of you which is incompatible with your heterosexual marriage or agree that we can both work this out together. Their commitment to save the marriage increases.

5. Suppression of the gay self. When we realise that denying it or rejecting it hasn’t worked we try to suppress our homosexuality. I can control it, monitor it, it’s my secret, no one need know.  The partner may want to keep this a secret as well and encourage you to control it. They may want you to limit or have no same sex activity or only if there is no emotional attachment with the person.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross, in her well known stages of grief, talks about the third step being a bargaining stage. The third stage of grieving involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Sometimes, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time...” Can you see how these relate to your marriage and homosexuality? It is in this stage that the wife/husband will try and find ways to change the situation and bargain with you, themselves or God. They may also, during this phase, look inwardly and blame themselves or think they’re  not woman or woman enough or haven’t  been a good spouse and therefore have contributed to the ‘problem’. During this stage the straight partner may try various bargaining techniques to revive the marriage, relationship or sex life. The pressure this creates can be enormous because the homosexual partner knows he/she can never fully give what the other is wired to receive from a heterosexual spouse. For the straight partner it creates a sense of desperation and for the gay/leasbian it only increases the sense of guilt.

If the wife or husband has been prone to being a rescuer then it is in this stage that they will exhibit the co-dependent behaviours of being a rescuer. All rescuers end up becoming victims. In their efforts to try and ‘fix’ the situation or person they give and give but are unable to receive back what they want from the other person. They will make excuses for the other person, give away their power and allow themselves to be disrespected……and hence the subtle change from being the rescuer/helper to becoming the victim. The third corner in the co-dependent triangle is persecutor. Both husband and wife can end up in this corner. After trying everything to be the rescuer and then finding herself becoming a victim the wife can then turn on the husband and become the persecutor which means she may have moved on to stage four. 

6. Hatred of the gay self .This thing is too strong for me, I hate my gayness, and therefore I hate myself. This phase can be a dark phase which can include depression or thoughts of suicide or the development of other mental health issues. The hatred of self can be intense.

When the straight partner is in this stage the resentments build till there is hatred  towards the gay partner. She/he is angry. Angry at you for being gay. Angry at life (it’s not fair) or God for not answering  prayers. Sometimes when I have worked with both partners in this situation the gay/lesbian has moved on from this stage but the spouse is still in denial or bargaining. As soon as I see the anger emerge I know they are making progress. It’s not a pleasant stage to be in.  Some straight spouses remain in this stage and live a life of bitterness and resentment towards their partner, not even allowing them any contact with the children. They may create a toxic environment and poison the children against the husband/wife. ‘I will make him/her pay‘ ,they think to themselves, ‘for all the pain and heartache he/she has caused me.’ This is a phase we must both work through and our response will either help or hinder the other from moving on. Ultimately though it is their journey and they will be responsible for the choices they make…….as we all do in life.

7. Acceptance of gay self. This can be both healthy and unhealthy though. It is wonderful to come out and accept our homosexuality. But there are also some people, like I was for years, who have accepted their sexuality but it is only a reluctant acceptance. I had accepted the fact that I was gay but because my ‘straight’ life had been so wonderful and initially my gay life quite traumatic, deep down inside I would have preferred to be ‘straight’. In essence though this is tolerance, not complete acceptance; we tolerate the gay self because we know there is no other option. People who prefer to be heterosexual can never fully embrace their true selves and enjoy the sense of freedom that brings. They exist with a subconscious belief that life is unfair; they still live with a sense of shame and some even believe they will inevitably go to hell because they ‘gave in to their homosexuality’.

The straight spouse that has moved on from the hatred stage may only be tolerating and not completely accepting. This will be evidenced by occasional digs and reminders of what homosexuality has done to them, and the marriage. I have spoken with many men who tell me their wives have accepted the fact that they are gay but from other things they have said it is obvious they have not fully accepted it. This can go on for years, never allowing each individual to move on and truly be themselves. It is a life of restriction not freedom. Sometimes this surfaces when the man finally falls in love with another man. Jealousy rises to the surface in the wife who up to now has professed acceptance.

8. Celebration of the gay self means I actually love being gay; all negative connotations of guilt and shame have been removed. Not every gay man or lesbian has moved to this stage but it is the beginning of living a life of authenticity and congruence. The person who celebrates and embraces their sexuality lives a powerful life that transforms those around them because no one can deny what they have………a wholesome and profound love of self.

You know when your straight partner has moved on to this stage as they will speak positively about the life you had and be grateful for the children and the years of marriage together. You are invited into the home as a lifelong friend. They have no problem meeting your new gay friends and rejoice with you if you find a partner. All bitterness and resentment is gone, replaced by unconditional love and forgiveness. This is, as I’m sure you realise, healthy for her/him, you, the children and those who are dear in your life. This is the same for heterosexual couples who are divorced. Not everyone gets to this stage it takes complete honesty with yourself and others, courage and respect for the stages we must both journey through to find complete healing and wholeness.
© 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 CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Roman Catholic and Hillsong Church Homosexual Hip Hop

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In an extraordinary week, both the Catholic Church and Hillsong appeared to be making progress re their attitude, if not their beliefs, about LGBT people.

It's a dance. Two steps forward one back. 

Roman Catholic Church



Hillsong Church



This is not an uncommon process. Some of you might remember the farce with World Vision earlier this year. The seismic shift in tone was initially incredibly refreshing but then conservatives, feeling threatened, had to flex their muscle. Sadly the march to progress is never a straight line.

Dragging an entrenched religious belief systems into the realities of the 21st century is like trying to turn a huge ocean container ship. No one moves from anti-gay to gay affirming in one step. There is actually a process of seven steps.

Some denominations have taken this journey and are at the final stage in the process which is advocacy. Some are stuck in stage one.

As I said to a megachurch pastor a couple of years ago "The question is not if you will change but when  will you change"

As we have seen with other societal consciousness shifts in equality, such as the right for women to vote or equal rights for people of colour, once the question is asked, the course is set for an inevitable outcome.

The world has changed. Gay and lesbian people exist. Some have a Christian faith and many have created families. The ideal of one man, one woman together for life is the exception not the rule in our world of modern families and never will be again.

But if churches don't face the realities of life in the 21st century they will slip off the horizon of irrelevancy and The Gulf Factor I wrote about concerning the closure of Exodus will come into play.

The dance continues..........but

What many church leaders fail to realise is that when they backflip because of a conservative backlash it has tragic consequences. The hopes of LGBT people are initially raised for themselves and that future generations will not suffer as they have. Then the step backward becomes another kick in the guts to LGBT people who've experienced abuse and are still living with wounds inflicted by the church and Christians. It hurts deeply. It creates a bigger gulf, turns more people away and sets the conversation backwards. To say nothing of the impact on those who love and support their LGBT friends and family.

This week, once again, has been a clear example of why Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International church consultancy work is so vital.

© 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 CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.8 The Midlife Factor

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8.   The midlife factor


Yep..... something I think many people have missed is possible the influence of midlife I believe. Maybe I'm more aware of this than others are because it happened to me like clockwork and I've worked one on one with so many who are in midlife facing similar issues. Coming up to my 40th birthday something was happening. A shift. It wasn't pleasant. Midlife is a transition where, particularly for men, many things have to be faced. One of those is unresolved issues and that some things you dreamed were going to happen may never become a reality. At 40, I faced the reality that I was, am and always will be gay. As a high profile preacher, married with two children facing this reality had enormous challenges, as you can no doubt imagine. Those who don't face up to what comes up at midlife are plagued with it for the rest of their lives. If they are not conscious of what is going in then they slip into midlife crisis mode.

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.7 The Evolving Faith Factor

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7.   The evolving faith factor


People in evangelical/Pentecostal circles have a strongly biblically based faith. This type of theology has been at the core of the ex-gay movement and you'll often find it clearly stated on ex-gay websites. An evangelical/Pentecostal faith is all very neat and tidy. It's black and white. There are no arguments. No wiggle room. Doubts and questions are not encouraged. I remember well the slogan, "God said it. I believe it. That settles it".

The problem with this kind of theology/faith is it doesn't take into account interpretation of what God "said". Not only has Christianity been smashed into 1,000's of denominational pieces because of interpretation, it happens within denominations as well. Do you know how many breeds of Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Pentecostals there are in each of those groups? Each one believing they are right, which of course makes the other wrong, in error or apostasy because they have strayed from "the truth".

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.6 The Listening Factor

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6.   The listening factor


If people are going to reach out to dialogue there has to be a willingness on the other part to engage. Of course their willingness to listen depends largely on the approach and the language used to reach out. No one is going to engage if they are attacked and the language consistently accusatory or defamatory. I don’t bother with emails or people like that myself. Alan's words in his response during our interview probably sums it as well as anything. When I asked him the question "I’m here, and you said ‘I’d love you to come,’ so that’s probably intriguing for a lot of people as to why would you want Anthony Venn-Brown to be attending that conference and so what was all that about?" 

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.5 The Bridge Building Factor

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5.   The bridge building factor


When I first wrote briefly in my newsletter about being at the Exodus Conference and the 37 year old organisation was closing a lovely person responded via email saying "Thank you.......etc etc". I laughed aloud. Oh dear, this person was under the allusion that somehow, singlehandedly, I had managed to bring the world's largest ex-gay organisation to a grinding halt. I replied thanking them for their gratitude but that I was a very very small cog in the wheel. Others have been far more influential in the long saga.

Monday, September 08, 2014

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.4 The Honesty Factor

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4.   The honesty factor


Azariah Southworth, Christian TV host, like many, paid a high price for his honesty
Yes, simple honesty contributed to this tipping point. The message for decades was "Change is Possible". The goal of people who sort out ex-gay organisations was always to rid themselves of homosexuality and become heterosexual/'normal'.  Even though some groups and leaders profess today that heterosexuality is not the goal they still constantly refer to now being married and fathered children......thus setting up a false hope.

Alan Chambers was once of these people. "Our organization hears from thousands of teens and young adults each year who are desperate for information and resources beyond the one-sided 'born-gay' message that saturates our culture".

In a written testimony he said, "In 1998 my ultimate earthly dream came true when I married my best friend. My wife, Leslie, is the embodiment of all I consider to be godly, pure and beautiful. She is not my diploma for healing, nor is she proof that I have changed."

Alan like many others in Australia like Rev Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic Party, Bill Muehlenberg, Ron Brookman – Living Waters, Peter Stokes – Salt Shakers and Margaret Court repeatedly have told us about the 1,000's of people who had left the "homosexual lifestyle" and were now married.

First it was 1,000's then 10,000's

Thursday, August 28, 2014

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.3 The Internet Factor

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3. The internet factor


The influence of the internet to gain information and connect people cannot be overestimated re the downfall of Exodus. 
When I resigned from the ministry and came out in 1992 internet usage was in its infancy and not the commonplace entity it is today. I am a little embarrassed to say that for years, I really believed that I was probably the only Pentecostal minister in the entire world who had resigned because he couldn't "overcome" his homosexuality. It wasn't until after 1996 when www.PlanetOut.com was launched and I joined the internet that I actually found someone just like me. Searching various criteria on PlanetOut I found an African American Pentecostal preacher who was gay ....and out. I was over the moon. Then I found Jallen Rix, the first former ex-gay person I'd ever met. Talking with others who had similar experiences was reassuring. No longer did I feel so alone or like I was a freak.  Probably a similar feeling that young people got when they finally connected with an ex-gay group (point 1 in this article).

During the 70's 80's and 90;s, before the internet, where did the 1,000's of gay men and women who'd "failed" and left ex-gay programs and anti-gay churches go? They went into another closet. 

A few found love like Michael Bussee and Gay Cooper (Exodus originals) Love changes everything. Those who found love realised that their homosexuality was not a sin but an orientation which created the most beautiful human experiences of love, intimacy, affection and finding a partner for life. Others left the ex-gay programs with an even greater sense of failure and shame. Years of conditioned internalised homophobia continued to play out in self destructive behaviours. They had been told for years about the "homosexual lifestyle" and assumed this was how they should live once they accepted being gay so went straight to the tip of the iceberg. Many had been traumatised and developed mental health issues like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To go back to these experiences reminded them of the pain of some of the darkest days of their lives so they just kept quiet. Some just wanted to move on and forget about it.. For others it all became too much. They'd failed to become straight, rejected by family and friends, disillusioned by their experiences in the tip of the iceberg; they choose suicide. The horrendous toll that ex-gay thinking and organisations have had on individuals lives can never be fully documented.

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.2 The Gulf Factor

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2. The gulf factor


Born in 1951, I grew up in a generation when racial slurs and sexist jokes and poking fun at people with disabilities were commonplace and accepted. No longer would anyone dare say something like "A woman's place in the home" Imagine the outcry, because we know these things are completely inappropriate in this day. But once, it was the common belief. A racial slur can get you sent off the playing field or straight to the Human Resources manager. It is not tolerated in a civilized society, workplace of sporting arena. Our society says you can't discriminate and there are laws to penalize you if you do. We are a better and fairer society for dismantling prejudice and bigotry and creating equality.

8 FACTORS THAT CREATED THE CLOSURE OF EXODUS - No.1 The Society Shift Factor

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In Malcolm Gladwell bestselling book, "The Tipping Point", he describes several key factors that, put together, create the phenomena of a shift in consciousness and/or society. 

Exodus closing was not an insignificant event. It is/was a tipping point.  For LGBT people, the Stonewall riots in 1969 were a tipping point. The major factor that created this was that the harassment and oppression had gone on for too long and it ignited anger and rage in the gay men, lesbians and drag queens. The riots that spilled over to several nights on the streets of Greenwich Village, New York have been seen by many as the birth of the gay rights movement. We are still feeling the impacts of that event over four decades later. President Obama's declaration in 2012, that he supported same sex couples getting married was a tipping point. The graph below demonstrates the impacts of this.