My Ex-Gay Experience: White Knuckling It Through
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles about writer Apryl Prentiss’s experience in an ex-gay ministry. Read the previous article here.
My graduation from the ex-gay program was a joyous one. I walked away with a renewed sense of power, and closeness with God that I was sure was there because I had finally submitted to his will for my life. I exclaimed my renewed vigor to live a pure life so loudly that for a short while it drowned out the voice inside that was telling me to embrace my sexuality.
I believed in the program because I felt equipped with the tools I needed to lead healthy relationships in all areas of my life. I determined that I would be victorious no matter what the cost. I began trying to recruit others to join the next 20 week session. I continued my friendships with men and women from the program, feeling supported and nurtured. I could be authentic with them because they knew my struggle and I knew theirs and we talked about it….all the time.
Once the emotional intensity of the program wore off all of those friendships evolved into normal friendships instead of relationships built around defeating a common foe. That’s when my struggle to suppress my sexuality came back in full force.
I found myself in those quiet moments in the middle of the night….alone. As I left an amazing church service complete with moving music and a challenging message…alone. Yet the loneliness was not just about the absence of a person. My loneliness was punctuated by the fact that I knew it was permanent. Deep inside my consciousness where self-authenticity is required, I knew that my choice for my life had to be to stay celibate. And by that celibacy, I would honor God. I believed that’s what he wanted. I had learned to accept this fact in the program. I knew it was the right choice. But these moments of trying to force myself to be ok with it were dark—maybe the darkest of this whole process.
My prayers in these moments would be for strength to choose correctly and to keep from falling into a bad relationship. I prayed to be delivered of the depression that accompanied my newly embraced life. But most of all I prayed for peace and for the soothing of my pain—the minimization of my sexuality. God met me there but God never took away the struggle. I sought to replace my sexual identity with a religious one naively believing that this would make God, the church, and me happy.
Two months before I was due to start teaching the 20 week ex-gay program to others, in a moment where the loneliness I felt was unbearable and the need to connect with another person overwhelmed me, I “fell into sin” with the woman who is now my wife.
At the time, I was DEVASTATED and ashamed. I felt I had betrayed God and that I was too weak to be celibate. I had to confess this “sin” to multiple people on the staff at the ex-gay ministry. Each one met my confession with grace and love. I wasn’t shamed or rejected by any of them. Each of them asked me if I thought my tryst meant that I should be gay or if I thought it was just a moment of temptation that got the best of me.
I asserted emphatically that I did not want to be gay and that it had been an overpowering moment of weakness and temptation. Because this was my attitude, they decided to continue to let me teach the program. I assured them that my intentions were true and pure.
I loved teaching in the program. I tackled subjects from sexual abuse to relational boundaries. I could do all of these things with authenticity. I could not, however, bring myself to teach a lesson about homosexuality.
My biggest challenge as a teacher was in the small group counseling sessions. There I met a young girl who was such a strong reflection of me and my own struggle that I vacillated between trying to save her and encouraging her to embrace her sexuality to avoid the pain that I was experiencing.
I believed she could be saved, free of this struggle, because she had not yet had a lesbian relationship. That was the place of authenticity that I could counsel her from. But as we got deeper into the program, I found a kernel of truth began to grow inside of me. She, Ashley, could be saved because she hadn’t really experienced a confirmation of her sexuality in a relationship but for me, I knew I could not be saved. In her struggle, I met my own truth though I couldn’t recognize it fully at the time.
By the end of the program, I knew I was gay. Not straight with gay tendencies brought on by sexual abuse. Not a Christian with gay temptations. I knew I had been born gay and that to deny it (which I still fully intended to) would be to deny something intrinsic to myself. I told myself that I could survive without ever being in a true fulfilling relationship. I would have to white knuckle it through the temptations.
I left the program fully convinced that my life would be a life full of internal turmoil, full of empty awkward hetero relationships, full of church and hopefully if it was full of all of these things, I wouldn’t go looking for love to fill the void.
Apryl Prentiss is a right wing dropout. Born and raised in Virginia Beach, VA and heavily involved in the evangelical Christian community for her entire life. She lives in Richmond, VA with her partner, Adrian, and enjoys trying to dialogue with those in the evangelical community about sexuality.
Good people come in all sorts of packages and associations. We must reach out to all.April 4, 2016
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