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PALM SPRINGS -- Among the gay literati, the Lambda Literary Awards signify welcome recognition for authors writing about LGBT topics. Whether fiction, memoir or nonfiction, it’s a great honor to get nominated for the prestigious award.
So it was a real pleasure to revisit with our very own local columnist Dr. Jallen Rix when we got word his book, "Ex-Gay No Way," was nominated for a 2011 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Nonfiction.
His book is a wonderful exposé of the damage and abuses the Ex-Gay ministries perpetrate on the LGBT community in the name of Christianity. Jallen takes to task their methodology and sheer hypocrisy in their quest to save people from homosexuality – boasting that it’s a curable condition.
Yet besides unmasking the movement, Jallen’s book also illustrates his experience and how he learned to reconcile his sexuality with spirituality. If you know any ex-gay survivors, this book is a must read. Actually you don’t even need to be a survivor to gleam valuable lessons to overcome the pervasive messages of shame heaped upon our community from the oft-intolerable society we live in.
The BottomLine: What prompted you to write your book, “Ex-Gay, No Way?”
Jallen Rix: Well, it’s in my book [laughs]. But mainly because I saw a lot of people out there that needed help. After I had gone through my ex-gay experience and come out the other side, and then was in years of therapy and realizing I was pretty screwed up. There were ways that I was broken and not the way the ex-gays said. My spirituality was kind of glorified, my sexuality was demonized and I realized, ‘oh, you know, those two separate things – that’s not really how a person should be.’ We need wholeness. How were we born? We were born as these little bundles of emotions but we’ve divided it all up.
So as I was putting that back together, I was seeing other people that even had fewer resources than I. Some ex-gays went to really bad therapists, or quote unquote therapists, or people who weren’t even trained that they were talking to. They would come out of their ex-gay experience and they would not even step foot into a therapist’s office because they’ve already had horrible, horrible experiences.
I did not have those types of experiences – I had a really good connection with my therapist. There were people who came out of these experiences and have very little resources or people that they felt comfortable to reaching out to.
So gradually, over time, I would just offer my two cents – even to the point that I would type up what I learned and Xeroxed it and passed it out [to these ex-gays]. And it seemed to be helpful.
So how many people in our community are we talking about that have been through that type of conversion therapy at the hands of of the ex-gays?
There’s a lot. A lot of people don’t talk about it. Now that this movement has been occurring for several decades there’s quite a few.
We’ve also been able to identify the fact that many people go through their own self-induced ex-gay experience. Just by going to a church that uses religion abusively; the sexual hang-ups are going to be right there.
You can even say straight people have to deal with this kind of sexuality abuse because they’re being told that unless you are married with a person of the opposite sex you can’t be sexual. That’s pretty abusive since the vast majority of the population doesn’t abide by that – straight or otherwise.
What are the worst emotional scars left in the wake of conversion therapy to heal?
It’s different for different people, depending on their experiences. But there does seem to be this overriding sense of shame. It’s almost like a Pavlovian response. You’ve had these years of thinking about what it would be like to have sex with another guy and then you punish yourself and that pattern is incredibly engraved [upon you].
So even as a sexoligist, when I work with clients, there’s a number of them that don’t even want to have an orgasm because they know that afterwards they will be wracked with guilt. I even had that at times, but with lots of practice I’ve retread that pattern of thinking.
It’s mainly shame, but there’s also a lot of relationship dysfunction. I don’t know why this is, but especially for the women, though the vast majority of ex-gays are men; there’s a significant underlying emotional current to not allow yourself to get attached. If the ex-gays saw two women become friendly they would separate them immediately. For the men it was more, ‘keep your dick in your pants.’ Now I talk to lesbians who have a hell of a time getting close to anyone.
Do you believe there's a rebound effect for gays sexually after accepting their sexuality and suppressing their needs and desires for so long?
Yes there is definitely. The other thing, and especially for me, it is an enormous challenge for me to learn to trust in a relationship. It really takes – it’s one thing to be responsible for yourself and be an individual with another person and things like that. But to really cohabitate and collaborate as a couple – it is really difficult. That’s because there’s been so many ways that I have connected with people and then been betrayed or that my sexuality has been used to cut those ties – it’s very hard to be honest with a partner.
Internalized homophobia - whether culturally, familial or religiously induced-continues to be a core issue for many LGBTs. What is key to healing the shame?
I think we really need a place to be a community – a place where people can be themselves. Unfortunately the ex-gay environment has demonized the LGBT community so harshly that most people coming out of an ex-gay experience, whether they’ve been kicked out or they’ve left of their own accord, are so afraid of the community. And of course, rightly so, the LGBT community has some pretty deep wounds from the church.
So these people coming out of the ex-gay environment are like, ‘Great, I’ve got to totally reject my spiritual upbringing just to feel a part of this community.’ I joke that a lot of these people feel like they’re with either gay Christian haters or Christian gay haters. That’s a real tough position to be in. Now a lot of times I admit it’s in these people’s minds – if they would just relax a little they’re going to find that there’s a community out there that will accept them. But they got to look for it. That’s what’s kind of frustrating. And that’s why I’m one of the co-facilitators for beyond ex-gay, which is the only, I believe, gay positive website for ex-gay survivors. It’s so they can see they’re not alone. They can read other people’s stories of their experiences and how they healed. I encourage people to check it out at beyondexgay.com.
Whenever there's a story about an ex-gay advocate, like George Rekers being busted by the media indulging their homosexuality, does that evoke pity or anger for you?
Both, both, it’s a mix. Especially in Reker’s case. I want to point out that man has disappeared of the face of the earth. That’s what I’m curious about. Did he just run back to his family, to his wife and they all just kind of went, ‘Let’s just keep going on like nothing ever happened’?
I think what’s fascinating is all the ex-gay organizations, like within a week, just took him off their lists – he was gone! And I’ve used that to illustrate how this is the kind of environment the ex-gays promote. Here it is that one of the leading guys of the movement and he falls, quote unquote, and it’s like he doesn’t exist anymore. That’s the kind of conditional love you get from an ex-gay environment.
To pick up a copy of Jallen’s book, visit his website or you can also find it on Amazon. Jallen is also a practicing sexologist with practices in Palm Springs and San Francisco. If you’re interested in setting up an appointment email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t miss his sex positive column, Sex Ed In Bed, in every issue of PULP magazine.
To read the original interview, click here.