I had a dream when I was around 12 years old. I dreamed that I was living in an apartment complex where each of the doors was labeled with the word "fag" instead of the name of the person inside. As soon as I woke up, I analyzed the meaning of the dream. I concluded that it represented my fear that if people knew I was attracted to men, I would immediately be labeled. I was afraid that, becuase of the label on the outside, no one would want to open the door to find out who I really was on the inside.
Although the dream was unique, the fear I experienced upon realizing I had homosexual feelings was not. I was just one of many young people who begin to wonder how they will survive as homosexuals in a heterosexual world.
I was scared to death.
I can remember the night that I first acknowledged my homosexual attractions. It was the night before my tenth birthday.
As I lay in bed, my mind spinning in every conceivable direction so as to completely eliminate any potential that I might fall asleep, I had a breakthrough. For some reason at that moment, the denial I had been experiencing since discovering my homosexual attractions-the constant repeating voice in my head that assured me that I was not gay-just stopped.
I can remember the intense, seething horror I felt when I realized who, or what, I was. I began to think about the things I had heard people say about homosexuals during casual conversation. I was taking an opinion poll in my head. How do people feel about homosexuality? How will people feel about me?
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t think of a single time that the subject had ever been brought up outside the context of a joke. My mind took me back a few years to a moment at my grandparents’ lakeside cabin. Some of my cousins were telling jokes about homosexuals, and I was laughing with them, not even knowing what a homosexual was. But now, I knew. And making the connection between this thing I could tell that people detested, and what was going inside of me was extremely painful, even traumatic.
As time went by, I sought information on homosexuality wherever I could find it. I was afraid to check out any books on the subject for fear that my parents would find them. If they did, I’d have some explaining to do. No one could know about this struggle.
When I turned thirteen, my parents gave me a book about human sexuality. I was so relieved. Finally, I thought to myself, maybe this will explain what’s going on inside me. But all the book said about homosexuality was, “It’s very rare, it won’t happen to you, don’t worry about it.”
I was devastated.
In the radio and television messages of the 1980s, I could hear the back and forth motion of the culture wars swinging like the pendulum on the grandfather clock in my living room. “Gays can change.” “No they can’t.” “Yes they can.” “Well you’re homophobic!” I was so confused.
The first time I ever heard anybody say they had changed their sexual orientation was on the Oprah Winfrey Show, but the audience was skeptical and so was I.
I would have given anything to change. Not primarily because I was worried about what my friends or my family or society in general would think about me (a fear commonly referred to as “internalized homophobia”), but because I wanted to change. Not that I didn’t care what people would think of me. To the contrary, I was scared to death of being rejected. But I’m just not the conformist type, and my fear of rejection wasn’t motivation enough for me to change myself. The desire to change came from within.
Sometime later, I decided to share this struggle with a counselor I had been seeing for clinical depression. It took me two sessions of staring at the floor in silence before I could drum up enough guts to tell him what was going on inside me. Besides the fact that he didn’t reject me, which to me was a heroic act in itself, my counselor explained me to me that homosexuals can change. If fact, he had personally counseled many of them through that process.
Although the brain is far too complex to explain homosexual development with a single theory, he told me that men who experience homosexual attractions are, unconsciously, trying to recover their father’s love in the arms of another man, and woman are looking for their mother’s love in the arms of another woman. This phenomenon, he explained, is why so many people who experience homosexual attractions report poor relationships with their same sex parents or peers. The un-met need for love and affirmation from someone of our own gender somehow becomes eroticized when we hit puberty.
This was me growing up. When I reached adolescence, my body started telling me I wanted sex from a man but, in my heart I knew it wasn‘t about sex. Even before adolescence, when I used to fantasize about certain men that I looked up to and respected, I didn’t fantasize about sex. My fantasy was that a man would just wrap his arms around me, look me in the eye, and tell me that I meant something to him.
That’s what I was missing.
It wasn’t a desire for sex; it was a desire for genuine love and affirmation from someone of my own gender and I’ve found that as those needs get met, my homosexual desires fade. In fact, the most healing experience I’ve had since realizing that I didn’t have to be gay was meeting a man named Lenny Carluzzi, who had walked away from homosexuality twenty-eight years ago. He now lives in Washington with a beautiful wife, two kids, and a dog named Grumpy.
When I first met Lenny at an Italian restaurant in Chicago, he instantly wrapped his arms around me, looked me in the eye, and told me that he loved me. That moment was the beginning of my healing process. Since then, I have been blessed with dozens of friends who have given me the non-sexual love and affirmation that I need in order to change. Because of this, I have experienced extraordinary victory over my homosexual desires.
Many books have been written about the process of changing a person’s sexual orientation. Scholars have debated, and scientific papers have been published in major scientific journals. But for me, the start of this process was very simple. I just needed to be loved.
Non-sexual affirmation from members of one’s own gender can devour homosexual attractions. The power of this concept was brought home to me when I went on a three-day pleasure trip to Colorado with two college guys from my church, Justin and Ben. To them, we were just three guys having a good time, but to me, the intensity of the experience was almost overwhelming.
Besides the fact that we had an enormoous amount of fun during those three days, the constant stream of affirmation from two guys my own age rendered me a complete disgrace to the homosexual orientation. I couldn’t have drummed up an erotic attraction to another guy even if I tried!
As I have traveled to speak at high school and college campuses, I have encountered people who call my message “dangerous” and tell me that it’s contributing to the suicides of gay youth who need to be accepted for who they are. I understand their concern; I really do.
I can understand how lesbian and gay youth, many of whom are often mocked by their peers and humiliated even by their teachers, could view my message as a personal assault. That’s why I have never told anyone they have to change their sexual orientation. However, whether or not students see changing their sexual orientation as beneficial, they at least deserve to know that it can be done.
I have spoken with many people who, after years or even decades of trying to change their sexual orientation, came up short. These people feel not only as if they put themselves through torture for no reason, but also that they wasted years of their lives. However, for many people, the exact opposite is true. Consider the following comments:
A common accusation I receive during speaking engagements is that my desire to change is not really my desire to change. Rather, it is our homophobic society that causes me to want to change so that I can avoid being misunderstood or ridiculed for my homosexuality. But I find this logic hard to swallow because I have been harassed and misunderstood as an ex-gay just as much as I would if I had embraced the gay identity. In fact, probably more so.
Now, I have learned to be Proud of Who I Am, and I try to help others who are ridiculed or mistreated because of their homosexual feelings by speaking in public schools on the dangers of homophobia and the possibility of change.
If you are struggling with homosexual feelings, it's important for you to know that you can change if you want to. For more in-depth information on the process of change, visit the Questions & Answers page, or send us an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 “Narth’s Response to ‘Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation and Youth.’” www.Narth.com.
Last Updated 4-4-06
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