This week, TLC aired “My Husband’s Not Gay,” a program featuring repressed Mormon gay men who married women. These men chose this tortured path because living honestly and openly would bring social stigma and condemnation. While these couples feigned happiness for the television cameras, their unctuous glee likely concealed the hellishness that frequently results from such forced arrangements.
The most disturbing aspect of the show, however, was that it studiously concealed “ex-gay” activism in the guise of entertainment. “My Husband’s Not Gay” is part of a major “ex-gay” messaging overhaul and a strategic rebranding campaign. Having been widely discredited by the closing of key programs, such as Exodus International, Love in Action, and Love Won Out, as well as a number of scandals and high profile defections, “ex-gay” activists have turned to deceptive guerilla tactics.
An August 2013 blog post by Voice of the Voiceless best sums up the “ex-gay” industry’s shifty new plan:
“If we are to change the way our society is going, we need to adapt to our current social environment and use the legalization of tolerance and non-discrimination to our advantage. For example, we need to adjust our approach from negatively talking about homosexuality, to talking positively about the benefits of abstaining from homosexual activity and supporting those who choose to undertake psychological treatment for homosexual feelings and desires.”
By airing “My Husband’s Not Gay,” TLC inadvertently created a disturbing platform for “talking positively about the benefits of abstaining from homosexual activity.” They did so in an irresponsible way, by not highlighting the negative outcomes and consequences of suppressing one’s sexuality. There are support groups, such as Bonnie Kaye’s Gayhusbands.com and the Straight Spouse Network, that help people overcome the trauma of sexless marriages to gay partners, where the participants are emotionally estranged, deprived of affection, and survive by going though the motions. It is inexcusable that TLC did not take a few minutes to highlight these tragedies that actually represent the vast majority of such marriages.
Furthermore, TLC lied to the public when it released a statement that read: “The individuals featured in this one-hour special reveal the decisions they have made, and speak only for themselves.”
This statement is demonstrably false. TLC is obscuring the fact that these couples worked for virulently anti-gay organizations, such as Evergreen International and North Star. It is unconscionable that TLC allowed these rabid activists to appear non-judgmental by refraining from “negatively talking about homosexuality.” Prior to this show, their stock in trade was demeaning and dehumanizing LGBT people, or offering junk science resources that do the dirty work for them.
Sadly, this strategic sleight of hand appears to be paying dividends. A few gullible members of the media have taken the bait, such as Theo Merz, who penned a ridiculous op-ed for The Telegraph, a newspaper in the United Kingdom. According to Merz:
Wayne Besen, executive director of the Truth Wins Out campaign group called the programme “an advertisement for the fraudulent ‘ex-gay’ industry.” The problem with these objections is that nobody in the show says they are ‘ex-gay’ or endorses ‘conversion therapy’ – which claims to be able to turn people straight and really does put young LGBT people in harm’s way. The three featured husbands speak openly about their attraction to men and discuss it with their wives; in every case the wives were informed about this early in their relationship.
(Actually, this is not true. One of the men, Curtis, waited 16 years into his marriage to reveal to his wife, Tara, that he is gay.)
The danger of “My Husband’s Not Gay” is the deliberate concealing of intentions. If the show succeeds in recruiting members, the incontrovertible truth is that they will be indoctrinated with reparative therapy. For example, a webpage for a North Star “wives conference” offers “resources from past conferences & recommendations by past participants.” It is a veritable “who’s who” of reparative therapists, including the infamous Richard Cohen. His book, “Coming Out Straight” is the reparative therapy Bible for groups such as North Star, People Can Change, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX), and Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH).
Another book recommended by North Star is “Growth into Manhood” by the late Alan Medinger. His title morphed into People Can Change’s “Journey into Manhood,” an expensive “ex-gay” retreat in the woods where gay men sit in a “cuddle room,” hugging and caressing one another in the name of “healing. It is not mere coincidence that North Star’s Jeff Bennion, who starred in the TLC show, echoed Medinger when discussing his affinity for men. Here is what the late Alan Medinger told The Wall Street Journal on April 21, 1993:
“If an attractive man and an attractive woman enter a room, it is the man I will look at first.”
This is what Bennion said on “My Husband’s Not Gay”:
“Who will I notice first, a beautiful man walking down the street or a beautiful woman walking down the street? I’ll notice the beautiful man 9 times out of 10.”
Here is another telling comment uttered by Bennion on the program:
“I’m playing basketball to feel connected to a part of masculinity I felt excluded or rejected by.”
Is this an original insight from Bennion? Or, did it come from Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). He writes in his book, “Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach”:
“Clients report that when they engage in vigorous physical activity, especially competitive sports, they feel more masculine…One client describes the connection between physical activity and masculinity: ‘While I wrestle with a friend or play a hard game of racquetball I feel real masculine. I may be thirty, but something clicks and there is an acceleration in me, an energy, and I feel real masculine….I played racquetball the other day, then we got the usual after-game drink, Gatorade…That’s what you’re supposed to drink. It felt good to be sweaty. Then I looked out and there was a newsstand and a singles magazine. There was a woman on it and I was attracted to her. I thought, Where is that girl now that I’m ready for her.’” (Pg. 193)
If Merz doesn’t think that TLC’s show stealthily introduces the concepts of reparative therapy, it’s because he doesn’t understand reparative therapy. “My Husband’s Not Gay” is the equivalent of a Scientologist’s “stress test” or an anti-abortion activist’s “Crisis Pregnancy Center.” They are cynical exercises in deception designed to hoodwink the unsuspecting into supporting the views of religious fundamentalists. The reason these extremists don’t wear their views on their sleeves and rely on chicanery, is because their ideas have been discredited or they are not popular.
The shift in “ex-gay” tactics is tied to the implosion of the movement. Alan Chambers, the former president of Exodus International, closed down his ministry because it was not achieving the desired results. John Paulk, who was once the poster boy for the movement, appearing on the cover of Newsweek in 1998 with his then wife, now is living as an openly gay man, and is doing the hard work of apologizing to those who were hurt by his work. Recently, Yvette Cantu Schneider, who once held prominent roles on the religious right advocating for reparative therapy, recanted her past work and now speaks out as an advocate for LGBT equality. John Smid, one of the former stars of the “ex-gay” movement, recently married a man in Oklahoma, and has been working to repair the damage done by his previous work.
In December, Christian Schizzel came out as a gay man. He had appeared as an “ex-gay” spokesperson on several high-profile television shows, including Oprah and Dr. Drew. His failed therapy sessions took place at Janet Boynes Ministries and Bachmann & Associates counseling centers, owned by Marcus Bachmann, husband of former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
“Coming out publicly and sharing is important to me because my sexuality has been exploited my whole life by the Christian community, both knowingly and un-knowingly,” Schizzel told Religion News Service.
Today, former Exodus International spokesperson Randy Thomas came out in a blog post:
“I am gay. I am ok with who I am. I hope we can continue to journey together.”
With the movement in shambles, the remaining dead enders had to change their brand. No longer able to promote a “cure” or openly spew anti-gay epithets, they settled on disingenuous messages of tolerance, religious freedom, junk science, and sexual choice, grossly distorting the scientific concept of sexual fluidity.
Far from beacons of sexual liberation, “ex-gay” groups create narrow, ridged gender roles and uniformly support heterosexual supremacy. This was made clear at the beginning of “My Husband’s Not Gay” when one of the men said, “The whole [homosexual] act is against the teachings of the gospel.”
NARTH therapist James Phelan’s workbook, Practical Exercises For Men In Recovery Of Same-Sex Attraction, has a section called “Allying your wife or girlfriend.” In it he writes:
If you are married or dating, in most cases, your wife or girlfriend has not struggled with SSA (same-sex attraction) and will not understand your recovery process. It is up to you to help educate her about your needs…Tell her, also, “I need to be the man of the house. Let me be the man of the house. Dominant women only demasculinize men. A man has got to be the lion of the den.” (p. 61)
The greatest example of the cynical “ex-gay” change of strategy and tone was the extremist makeover by Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation. Cohen had long been an aggressively hateful “ex-gay” activist. Here are a few choice quotes from his book, “Coming Out Straight”:
“The penis and the vagina fit together. Two penises and two vaginas don’t work.”
“Oppositional behavior is an integral part of homosexuality.”
“I’m very certain that people who have same-sex attractions suffer from arrested development.”
“A man with same-sex attractions may have a chameleon-like nature.”
Cohen, permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2003 for multiple ethics violations, revealed his seething hatred for LGBT people in the 2008 documentary “Chasing the Devil.” Here is a clip:
Yet, in 2013 Cohen launched a superficial new website, Coming Out Loved, designed to trick people into believing that IHF offers an accepting environment, rather than the fount of judgment it truly is.
The videos on that site are in sharp contrast to his previous work. In one syrupy video, Cohen is eerily calm and speaks in a soothing voice as new age music floats softly in the background. Wearing a white, preppy tennis jacket, the “ex-gay” therapist tries to portray himself as a conciliatory figure by declaring, “Us versus them is so over.”
Here is a clip:
North Star is tied to Richard Cohen, who is the spiritual guru for PFOX, JONAH, North Star, and Journey into Manhood retreats that the men starring in “My Husband’s Not Gay” repeatedly attended. Another meme perpetuated by this show is that groups such as North Star are based on science and simply want to allow people to explore their sexual fluidity. During the show, one of the men, Tom, declared:
“If you look at the studies of sexuality, it changes. It’s fluid.”
Actually, that’s not what the studies say. There are three general categories of human sexuality, which are heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. Each person is on a sliding scale within a range of sexuality that they fall into. For example, a man who has a strong preference for men – will most likely always retain that preference for life. However, he may also like women if he is in the middle of the scale. Those who are at either end of the scale are exclusively homosexual or heterosexual.
Fluidity is a different phenomenon. It is more complex, less understood, and appears to be rarer — though more studies are needed to confirm these findings. It means that one can exhibit no attraction for the same or opposite sex one day — but on another day this dynamic changes. The groundbreaking work of University of Utah researcher Lisa Diamond shows that there are individual women who – much to their surprise and even dismay – found themselves to be sexually fluid. They had previously not been attracted to the opposite sex – then suddenly found themselves to be.
Dr. Diamond makes it clear, however, that such cases are relatively rare, and sexual fluidity cannot be willfully altered or attained through prayer, therapy, or wishful thinking. In fact, she has consistently had to set the scientific record straight when reparative therapy groups distort it. Here is an example of Dr. Diamond condemning junk science groups for misrepresenting her work:
There is a reason that the “ex-gay” industry embraces sexual fluidity. If they can peddle the notion that people regularly jump back and forth between homosexuality and heterosexuality, they can position themselves as yoga instructors for sexual flexibility. This also allows them to fight against legislation to ban abusive “ex-gay” therapy for minors under the auspices of sexual choice. Why shouldn’t we let youth explore their “heterosexual potential” they ask? (Such laws have been passed in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia)
But empirical evidence offered by “ex-gay” programs speaks not to fluidity, but the to fixed nature of sexuality for most people. Before disbanding his ministry, Exodus International’s president Alan Chambers acknowledged the unlikelihood of altering one’s sexual orientation.
“The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction.”
It is important to remember that the members of Exodus were among the most highly motivated people in the world to go from gay-to-straight. They wanted to undergo sexual conversion for social, as well as spiritual reasons. Yet, their orientation was about as fluid as Mt. Rushmore.
There was one more study that claimed people could change their sexual orientation, which was conducted by Columbia University’s Robert Spitzer. However, upon further review he dismissed his study and said it was invalid:
Unfortunately, this evidence didn’t stop The Telegraph’s Merz from concluding:
“If you look at most of the studies that have been done about sexuality, they’ll show you that sexuality is fluid,” said Tom, a man featured on the show.
That’s not a quote from GLAAD, but from one of the men in My Husband’s Not Gay. It’s ironic, too, that it takes a Mormon on a reality TV programme – not a people or a genre known for their respective flexibility or subtlety – to remind us of that.
No, what’s ironic is that Merz quotes Tom on human sexuality – a visibly conflicted man who admits on the TLC show that he is a 34-year-old virgin who has never kissed a man or a woman.
The drowning “ex-gay” industry has a strategic plan to resuscitate its dying fortunes by obfuscating its dangerous intentions. Between lazy journalists who are easily duped, and opportunistic cable networks looking for cheap ratings, this far-fetched plan by “ex-gay” activists has an outside chance of gaining traction.