I’m not sure how many of you have gone to see it, or how many of you will. I haven’t yet, but I’m slowly reading through the book. For those of you who haven’t heard or read about it, the book (and movie) is essentially the story of Garrard Conley, a young gay man who went through conversion therapy at the insistence of his religious parents. It dives into the types of things that were taught, the way any non-hetero sexual urges were handled, and the struggle he had knowing he was still gay. After being suicidal, he eventually came to terms with his sexuality while attending college.
First off, I’m glad he’s telling his story. It needs to be told, even if its a hard one to hear – and I realize I am glossing over a ton of detail and nuances in my summary that should never be glossed over, because the negative impact that conversion therapy has had on the past generation (and is evidently still going on???) is horrendous. I should know. I was married to someone who also went through it for the first 10 years of our marriage. It destroyed him… and I never knew how much until he told me one night through tears that he loved me, and he hated the how much he knew he was hurting his best friend, but he couldn’t keep this part of his identity hidden any longer. I never knew he was suffering so much. There was so much he never said. So much I overlooked. All out of love, because love endures all things, hopes all things, never fails.
And so, with all the media coverage on Boy Erased, I can’t stay silent. There is another side of the impact of conversion therapy and/or teaching that ignores sexual orientation that probably won’t ever be made in to a book (unless I write one) or a movie: What happens when someone who is LGBTQ marries someone who is not (and either hides it or promises they will work on their “same sex attraction” because its the right thing for a Christian to do). Or because they have been taught it will make them straight, or they have been told it is the only option. Because…. who knows the other reasons. But they marry and raise a family and dream dreams with this other person who commits their whole self to the relationship.
The other side is what happens when the realization comes that its not working. The drive is too strong, the orientation yells for validation, and the only way to make peace with self is to end the relationship.
We are the ones who get left in the wake of sexuality being hidden for so long.
The children who end up with stories they never wanted.
The young adults who now wonder if real love is actually possible, who now look back and wonder what they saw of their parents’ love was real?
The spouses who suddenly find themselves single after having married with the expectation they would grow old with their spouse. The loss of a best friend, the loss of dreams and hopes and … the one they thought was their “person”.
Don’t get me wrong, friends – this isn’t easy for the one that is coming out either. It’s heartbreaking for them too. How the relationship ends is critical. It can get very ugly, or it can be full of sorrow, grace, and forgiveness in a very unique way. Ultimately, both have to decide what they want this to look like… but “hard to go through” doesn’t even come close. Death would be more like it – for both spouses.
Sometimes what happens is that the one who is coming out leaves to find community where they will be accepted, because they are not accepted in their friend or church groups any longer. There can be great celebration when someone who has hidden their sexuality (or had it forcibly shoved down due to external pressures) is finally able to come out and realize who they really are. There is a mountain of shame to overcome,there are courageous steps they have to take to fight back voices and lies and hurt and only God knows what else. If any of you know me or Jon, you know this is what he has dealt with, and this is what he has fought for in the past year. I cannot begin to imagine what its been like.
Others stay hidden and wrestle with where they fit in, feeling lost but knowing they cannot stay married. This might be the harder road, but the impact is no less. I have a new friend that is going down this road and it’s just as painful to watch.
What you must understand though, is that I am not writing this to get support or sympathy. I am not writing this to say that what I and the girls have gone through is anything near what Jon has. We have all been broken in this. We have all hurt. BUT we are all healing and we are going to be ok. God’s grace IS enough for us. If my older daughter’s recent Facebook post isn’t proof… I don’t know what is.
I am writing this because although the media coverage is exposing the pain of conversion therapy and church teaching, it isn’t talking about the impact it has had in the lives of those who ACTED on the advice and recommendations. It’s not just that we need to understand how harmful conversion therapy has been for so many.
We need to realize that because of it, there are families that are broken that never should have had to go through such hurt and pain. Choices are made to break covenant by people for whom covenant is real and binding, and so it hurts like hell to know you are breaking it — yet who would ever understand or believe that laying down your life in love can be the very act of letting your LGBTQ spouse go? None of the love and the memories and kids that come out of these marriages bring regret, mind you. The marriage was never a lie. The love and care and concern for them was always there and still is. The families created mean the world to both spouses. But regret for the hurt and pain? Yeah.. there’s that. Lots of it. There is a great deal of trusting God can heal things in ways that we can’t even begin to know how to make right. There’s the work of not letting yourself get lost in a pity party, or villianizing your former spouse. There’s the choice to parent the kids in a way that is honoring to both people (regardless of age). There’s the choice to believe that grace can help navigate the narrow way of still being kind to each other, and want the best for each other. It doesn’t come easy…. but it is possible
I know the Body of Christ is divided over same-sex marriage. I am not addressing that here. Yet I think the church (big “C”) needs to think carefully about this one. Can we at least make the church safe enough so that someone who does identify as LTBTQ can be honest about their sexuality and not feel ashamed? Can we welcome them – their gifts, their personality, their faith – and not think they are less than, or are only valid if they marry the opposite sex?
Whatever we do, I am begging you, please don’t think that telling someone to get married will “fix” their sexuality. I’m not saying a mixed-orientation-marriage (which is a marriage where one spouse is opposite sex attracted and one is not) can’t work – but if its something two people are considering, they need to go into it with eyes wide open to the challenges they will face. They are real.
Something has to change. It starts with us.