In spite of Colmes's bias, I felt the interview was excellent at teasing out the very reason why I left the ex-gay movement: confusion, misleading double-talk, baiting-and-switching terminology. In the following clip, see if you can understand Mike Ensley's convoluted explanation of his present orientation, his former orientation, and what Exodus actually claims to be able to do.
UPDATE: NG has posted links to recordings of the entire interview between Combes and Mike Ensley.
After five years with Exodus, I left because my orientation hadn't changed at all. The orientations of my friends in the programs hadn't changed. Moreover, I had come to learn that the orientation of the leaders of Exodus hadn't changed. Everyone was still gay. I was so disillusioned that the "change" Exodus had claimed was possible hadn't happened, and I was stunned by the fact that no one in Exodus seemed to have experience the "change"!
My questions about the elusiveness of "change" were met with confusing, convoluted explanations similar to Mike Ensley's words in the radio interview. On one hand, Exodus leaders argued that that gay orientation is a fiction--that it doesn't actually exist--and therefore, since no one in Exodus was ever "really" gay, there was nothing to change. This argument seemed deceptive. If this is the case, isn't it lying for them to advertise that "change" is possible? Shouldn't they instead advertise that "there's nothing to change" or "come discover that you're not really gay in the first place"? I guess those slogans aren't as catchy as "change is possible" though...
On the other hand, some Exodus leaders argued that change does occur, but that it occurs in sexual behavior not in orientation. These leaders would claim that they themselves had changed--not because they had different attractions, but rather because they had stopped having sex with people of the same gender. For me, having never had sex with a guy before or during my Exodus years, this argument was completely worthless. There was no sex for me to stop. This nuanced definition from Exodus's lexicon seemed extremely deceptive to me. This was not the operative definition of "change" that I had in mind when I entered the program. Perhaps they should put an asterisk in their slogan (i.e. "Change* is possible") and add some fine print with their in-house definition of change.
I would also like to draw attention to something Ensley mentioned that I think was passed over all too quickly in the interview. Ensley mentioned the core motivator of folks that enter the ex-gay movement: religion, "biblical" Christianity in particular. People with religious conflict over their gay feelings stream into the ex-gay ministries in hope of finding a way to make the gay part of them go away. They hang on the power and promise of the word "change": if they could only be straight, then the huge struggle between their faith and their orientation would disappear.
Since religious convictions are so deeply set among the people in Exodus, it seems they have developed all these complicated, elaborate apologetics to convince themselves that they have been able to rid themselves of "gay" in some sense. As bizarre and incomprehensible as Ensley's words may have sounded to your ears, I believe the number one audience of his complicated words is not Exodus conference-goers; it's himself. I believe Ensley has developed this strange double-talk as a part of an elaborate "self-talk" routine that he uses to convince himself that something about the gay part of him has changed and therefore there is no longer a struggle between his faith and his orientation.
Of course, I don't truly know the thoughts of Mike Ensley. But I feel reasonably confident in making these guesses about his thoughts based on a consistent pattern that appears in the testimonies of many who have left the ex-gay movement and have shared their personal stories of their experiences within Exodus. There seems to be a theme among these stories of people succeeding for a time in convincing themselves that the gay part of their identity had changed.
I do want to give props to the Exodus leadership for refusing to call themselves heterosexuals. While Ensley's description of his present orientation is complicated and confusing, I'm very grateful that he avoids claiming he is straight. This is a wonderful glimmer of truth (or at least an absence of falsehood) in the sea of Exodus double-talk. It gives me hope that all is not dishonest within Exodus.
Epilogue: Reading back over this post, I remember the religious conflict and deep sense of fear that drove me into Exodus in 2000. I was so scared of "being gay." I had so many fears of the "gay lifestyle" described by the leaders of the ex-gay movement: promiscuity, loneliness, addiction, disease, death. I feared rejection by God, by family, and by friends. Who in their right mind would choose such a life! I realize now that I wasn't in my right mind. I had been deceived.
I wish I could go back and have a conversation with myself fifteen years ago. I wish I could talk to myself back before my name changed--back when I was Joe Conservative. I'd love to sit down with Joe C and ask him to talk out his feelings, fears, and conflict about his gay feelings.
I wish I could tell young Joe C how much the lives of real gay men differ from what he believes all gay lives look like. I wish I could introduce him to the wonderful gay and lesbian couples I know--happy, healthy couples celebrating 15-, 17-, even 25-years together. I wish I could describe my own life to him--how thrilling and fulfilling it is and how entirely different it is from his expectations. I'd love to introduce him to my fiancé, the kind, attractive, affectionate young man I've dated for over two years now, the man who will become my husband in just three weeks now (Huzzah! The wedding day is so close!).
And I wish I could blow his mind by telling him how happy I am to be gay. How I would not choose a different orientation today if I were given the choice.
I'm grateful to God and the many people who helped me along the way (some of whom are reading this). God gave me many marvelous friends who helped me gradually deconstruct my fears and misconceptions and gradually identify and understand the truth. My life is immeasurably happier, richer, and more satisfying today. I am such a fortunate guy.
I wish the same for all who are presently in ex-gay programs or are considering them. May God also lead them into the truth, into lives of healthiness and happiness. :-)
hat tip: Ex-Gay Watch