“Michael, it’s [Chris], can you talk?”
“Yeah, of course, hold on a minute, what time is it,” I asked over the phone.
It was just after 1:00AM.
“What’s going on, are you crying? Are you ok?”
“Yes. No. Yes, I’m crying, no I’m not ok,” my friend whispered back. “I just woke up to my parents and a man from my church standing in my room.”
“Wait, what? What did you do?”
“I just laid there. They were begging for Jesus to heal me, to forgive me, to cure me. They were praying for me. My mom was crying-”
“-Oh, gosh, [Chris], I’m so sorry. That is not ok, not ok” I tried to reassure him.
“I gotta go, I think they’re still awake.” And with that, Chris hung up the phone.
I remember this conversation like it happened yesterday. I was 23 years old, and had just moved back to Oklahoma from Los Angeles. I was only out to a few people, and at that point, even some of my best friends didn’t know that I was gay. But Chris knew.
Around the time I started my coming out journey, I had a very good friend connect me with Chris, a new friend from Arkansas, who was experiencing a similar struggle as me. Chris came from a Catholic family, and we both viewed “telling our parents” as the scariest part of the entire coming out process. We had endured childhood and teenage bullying, but learned how to navigate the system. We figured out how to “pass” as straight, or at least undetectable, and checked in from time to time to make sure the other was doing well. The situation I reference above, when Chris called me in the middle of the night, was not uncommon. Chris had it harder than me. He was still around family, through college and beyond, while I had an opportunity to live somewhat independent from some of the bigger fears involved in my struggle.
Chris is now very proudly out as gay, but this was almost not the case. If it weren’t for people in his life who assured, validated, and made space for him to be his true self, Chris might have either existed in the closet (as many men do), or worse.
Worse was almost an option.
Chris’ parents gave him the option of “going to camp.” They didn’t force or demand, but they did strongly recommend. They plead. But of all the things Chris knew to be true in life, it was that he was gay. And that no camp or prayer would change that.
Much like Chris, the ongoing nature of my coming out journey was not fully positive, and even today I am still nursing the scars that were initially deep wounds created as a result of my being gay. But I never went to conversion therapy. I was never prayed over in the middle of the night. I was never beaten or physically assaulted into admitting I could or would change. And while people did attempt to “pray away the gay,”I resisted. Unfortunately, some are still trying.
If you happened to catch 20/20 this week, you will know where this post is going…
“For every camp like this, there are a hundred more that nobody knows about.”
While the progressive part of my brain wants to argue this statistic, the practical part of my experience tells me this might certainly be the case.
Conversion therapy must end.
“Praying away the gay” must end.
Physical and sexual assault as a means of conversion must end.
If you know someone who is currently feeling or physically trapped or stuck in a situation where they are not able to be their true self, please make space for them. Please validate, love, and uplift them. If you cannot make the space, or are at capacity in other ways, please invite others to assist. Remind people that they are loved, and that they are and can be who they are meant to be – their true and authentic self.
To those who might be that person I am referencing…feeling or physically trapped or stuck in a situation like conversion therapy, an abusive family, or more… Please, if you do anything today, let it be holding on. Please know that conversion therapy is not ok. Any emotional, physical, mental, and sexual abuse is not ok. And whoever sent you there or did (are doing) this to you did it without considering you. You matter. You absolutely matter.
But I imagine you are confused, frustrated, hurting.
If you are still called to Christianity, know that there are accepting churches and Christians out there. The version of Christianity or Christians that you are seeing is just one sliver of what that faith might represent. There is a bigger picture of love out there. Love really is out there. If your biological parents won’t accept you, I promise there is a chosen family out there ready and eager to accept, embrace, and adore you. I am ready and eager to accept, embrace, and adore you.
You are acceptable, embraceable, and worthy of adoration.
You are loved.
You are loved.
You are who you are meant to be.
And that person is loved.
I cannot possibly imagine what you are going through, even as my plea comes from a place built on assumptions. But please, if you do anything today, let it be holding on.
Please hold on.
For resources, references, or help making meaning, please see the following:
The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, via the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
I wish I could wrap all those struggling in a cocoon of love and support. If not physically present for you, I am here emotionally and spiritually. You are not alone.
Here, always here,
*Photo outside of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C.
*The name, “Chris,” is a pseudonym to protect the identity of my friend.