an International Discussion of Homosexuality (TIDH)
A Map that Few Will Follow
|email Jayelle Lukash|
|I found this resource
infuriating and surprisingly compassionate, sometimes all in the same clip
Finally, the church is acknowledging that kids who deal
with homosexuality are in their youth groups ..
Map that few Will Follow
by Jayelle Lukash
December 18, 2000
The Map is an innovative product. It is the first CD-ROM sponsored by an ex-gay ministry, and one of the very first resources for young people interested in the ex-gay path. It is part of Exodus’ brand-new outreach to youth. Alan Chambers of the Fringe Youth Outreach and Jason Thompson of the Portland Fellowship, twenty-something ex-gays who formed the first-ever Exodus ministries for youth, conceived The Map.
As a 26-year-old Bisexual Witch, I ain’t exactly the target audience for this. I was quite interested anyway. I’m a former member of the Assemblies of God church, and my church’s attitude towards homosexuality propelled me out of there when I was 18. I work informally with several Bisexual youth—I co-founded a private Bisexual social/support group, and I make myself available to any sexual-minority kid who needs a "big sister". My participation in an internet-based initiative called Bridges Across the Divide gave me a unique opportunity. BA, as we affectionately call it, seeks to promote understanding among people who hold different beliefs about homosexuality. Through their e-mail list, I e-met fellow Orlandoan Alan Chambers, whose ministry is housed in the very church I left. BA Founder Maggie Heineman requested and received a review copy of the Map, then forwarded it to me.
The CD-ROM is folded into an attractive little journal that would grab a teen’s eyes without raising the suspicions of friends or parents. The introduction was a film of a lonesome highway as seen from the driver’s side of a speeding car. (I found the "highway" motif tiresome after a while, and at one point belted out, in my best Garth Brooks voice, "This ol’ highway’s gittin’ annoying…") Over the film, questions that sexual-minority youth normally ask flash: "Why do I feel this way?" "Could I have been born gay?" "What would my friends think?" The last one is "Can I change?" The reader is then urged to "Go ahead, take the journey."
It is divided into four main categories—Q&A, Lessons, Resources, and Testimonies. I found Q&A generally offensive. Free to be Me, the first ex-gay youth website, boasts sophisticated FAQs entitled "I Think I Might be Gay" and "I Think I Might Be Lesbian". They acknowledge that homosexuality may have multiple causes, that sexuality may be fluid, and that sexual-minority teens are diverse.
Unfortunately, I was far less impressed by the Map’s Q&A. I am a visual learner, and the questions were answered in the form of movie clips of youngish ex-gay leaders. Furthermore, the sound quality on my copy was lousy. Forcing myself to pay attention anyway, I learned that one cannot be gay and Christian, that homosexuality damages one’s health, and that estrangement from one’s own gender causes homosexuality. I frequently yelled at the screen. Bisexual attractions and gender-typical youth were ignored once again. (Of course, many people, especially older leaders, may not be as concerned about these issues as my Bi-femme self.) Christine Sneeringer, a pretty ex-lesbian, answered the question "How do girls become lesbians?" by relating her tragic history of her own and her mother’s abuse. She said that she did not want to be attractive or feminine, because she associated those qualities with victimhood. The possibilities of feminine lesbians or lesbians who were never sexually abused were completely ignored. I’ll go autobiographical for a moment, too. I have never shunned my femininity, and I know many other lesbian and Bisexual femmes. I grew up with "lipstick lesbians" and with attractive, feminine lesbian and Bisexual celebrity role models, including some who got paid to be beautiful. So, most certainly, did women younger than myself. Sneeringer may have dealt her own credibility a severe blow in the eyes of younger women. In her answer to "How long does this [change] take?", Sneeringer promises that change in attractions is inevitable (a promise that many ex-gay ministers refuse to make), as long as one is "serious and committed." She basically blames those who take a long time to change, or never change at all, for not having enough faith in God. Quite a few people, including some ex-gays, may be offended by this.
I was pleasantly weirded out by the notion that young "homosexual strugglers" needed to tell their friends and family about their feelings. The logic is that these kids need support systems and to be accountable to people who understand. Because I was, eight years and a lifetime ago, justifiably afraid of coming out in a conservative Christian environment, I regard this as a step forward. I was also pleased that Chambers directly told the viewers that "God loves you no matter what", and that they have the free will to change or not change.
The journal is intended to accompany the lessons, written by Jason Thompson. These bring a little bit of help to a teen who, due to fear, age, or other reasons, is unable to attend ex-gay meetings. To Thompson’s credit, he asks whether the adults in a teen’s life "want this more than you do." He asks many intriguing, open-ended questions. Lesson Three compares homosexuality to the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt. Lesson Four stresses that "Feelings DO NOT dictate who we are," and that one’s homosexual feelings need not lead to identification as gay. (Bisexual activists have sung that song for a while!) In Lesson Five, Thompson lends a little bit of realism to Sneeringer’s promise: "You may wind up getting married one day, or possibly your life could involve being set apart for ministry to God as a single person," as many ex-gays have felt compelled to do. Several lessons assume that the user faces abuse, poor parenting, or a dysfunctional family. Since those problems apply to teens of all beliefs and sexual orientations, I found this slightly sneaky—an ex-gay equivalent of "casing the client" in a faux-psychic reading.
Lesson Ten, "Temptation", compares homosexuality to "a nut-covered caramel apple" infested with maggots. In a "can’t win for losing" scenario, Lesson Thirteen, "Afraid to Get Close", discusses why teens must identify with and befriend members of their own gender, while Lesson Fourteen addresses the hazards of "Getting Too Close". Lesson Fifteen deals with the "Bad Habits" of pornography and masturbation; Lesson Sixteen encourages teens to replace them with the "Good Habits" of prayer and Bible-reading. Lesson Nineteen, "Single, Dating and Marriage", intrigued me. It asks teens whether or not they’re ready to date members of the opposite sex. There are checklists. "Bearding", or using an opposite-gender partner to "prove" one’s heterosexuality, is discouraged. Thompson writes a striking warning: "[A]n unhealthy person going into a dating relationship will only create an unhealthy relationship." While this advice read like a Bizarro version of a coming-out manual, I think that it would help prevent teens from falling into some of the unhealthy behaviors, such as premature sexual encounters, that conflicts with their sexual orientation might lead them to.
Like the Q&A, the testimonies were spoiled by the bad sound quality. There were six film clips in all. In a refreshing bit of gender parity (most ex-gays are men), three were from males and three were from females. The ex-lesbian testimonies were marred by what I consider a problem with many ex-gay ministries—they painted lesbian relationships as mutual dependency, and flat-out ignored the existence of the female libido. Two of the three women blamed their old ways on molestation. The guys blamed it on feeling like sissies, "not one of the guys". One discussed the internet’s role in his homosexual development. I usually find the testimonies the most interesting part of an ex-gay website. On this CD-ROM, I found them vague and somewhat boring, though of course it was not their job to entertain me.
The Map confirms that it is mostly middle-to-upper-class white people involved in ex-gay ministry. After all, it can only help kids whose parents can afford decent computers! Every person videotaped appeared white. However, it is part of a baby idea. As Exodus Youth matures (no pun intended!), it may become more multicultural.
I found this resource infuriating and surprisingly compassionate, sometimes all in the same clip or paragraph! A couple of years ago, I predicted to my BA friends that Exodus, faced with a generation that’s grown up with gay role models and Gay-Straight Alliances, would soon reach out to youth. I wasn’t having a psychic moment; I just knew how to read the trends. The Map indicates a more enlightened attitude in conservative churches. Finally, the church is acknowledging that kids who deal with homosexuality are in their youth groups, and treating them with compassion! The shame and isolation that my generation of Christian teens was plagued with is being lessened. I believe in every teenager’s right to sexual and religious freedom. While it will give most pro-gay activists hives, The Map may be a helpful resource for those who genuinely consider their conservative Christian beliefs more important than their sexuality.
Jayelle's article "The Children's Crusade" - based on in terviews with leaders oxgay youth ministries and exexgays who have attended them.
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