Conversion Therapy Must End

“Hello?”

“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)

#BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy

Trevor Project.png

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,

Michael

IMG_3911*Photo outside of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C.
*The name, “Chris,” is a pseudonym to protect the identity of my friend.

Let us all be more like Cole.

If you follow me on social media, you are well-aware that last week was a trying week for me. If you are not interested in putting the time into reading this post, I’ll go ahead and give you a simple and abridged version:

*SPOILER ALERT*
My car broke down in the middle of nowhere, and I was forced to build a fire, hunt for food, and live off the land.

Okay, so that’s not exactly what happened, however it was still quite the traumatic 48 hours for me. A few weeks ago, I made the creative decision that I would drive from Bloomington, Indiana to Washington, D.C., with hopes of celebrating the 4th of July and also one of my dearest friend’s birthdays. I love spending time in my car, and figured a 10-hour trip was nothing compared to some previous trips I had taken in the past. I also chose to look past 9-years of driving my car across the country, and also the well-over 165,000 miles I have acquired.

Alas, my trip commenced. The first 3.5 hours were a piece of cake – Bloomington to Columbus, Ohio was an easy drive, and I even stopped in town to dine with a good friend of mine. Following a delicious bagel, I hopped back into the car (“Huck,” as previously identified), with plans to power through the final 6.5 hours of driving I had ahead. Around two hours into the 6.5 final trek to D.C., a sharp, whipping sound came screeching from my engine-area, which ceased after a minute or two. Ah, I’m good, must have been a bird or something, I thought to myself.

Wrong. Just as I was saying a prayer for the “bird” I had just killed, every light on my dash appeared, and with blinking vengeance. Battery light: on. Airbag light: on. Gas light: on. Brake light: on. Check Engine light: on (though, I should add, this light has been on for about seven years now, but that’s neither here nor there). I was a mess. I instantly went into, please-car-if-I’ve-done-anything-for-you-in-this-life-don’t-you-dare-fail-me-now, mode. Needless to say, he failed me.

At this point, I had no clue which state I was in, and my phone’s map was listing me somewhere around the hills and border of West Virginia or Maryland. All lights were blinking, and now my radio, air conditioning, and windows were also no longer working. Going about 15 MPH, I put-putted up a ramp, near tears and nearing 6:00PM. Who would be open, and who would be able to help me at this time of day, I thought. I should also note that in this time of crisis, and with all my preconceived assumptions of the people of West Virginia, I have never been more aware of the HRC sticker on my car as I was in that moment. I was genuinely uncomfortable and scared.

Just as my car took his final “breath,” I rolled right into a parking spot at a Valero/liquor store, which also happened to be the only sign of civilization. I walked into the gas station/liquor store, approached the two women at the counter, and said, “My car broke down. I need help.” Within a few minutes of exchanges, these two had their phone books out and were flipping through the pages to help find me a mechanic or tow truck. We called several numbers of mechanics “in town” (which in this case, “in town,” meant thirty minutes away), however everyone was closed and no one was picking up. I was crushed. I went outside, took two deep breaths, and walked back into the gas station. “Please help me. I cannot be stuck here.” Megan looked at me (I needed to remember these names in case I disappeared and later needed to recount this story for my Lifetime movie), smiled, and said, “I think I can help. My boyfriend does some mechanic things.” She then wrote on a scrap piece of paper, “COLE,” followed by a phone number. “Call him. I’m sure he’ll come help.”

I thanked her profusely, then creepily called Cole. Our conversation went something like this:

“Um, hi. Cole? Yeah, this is Michael Goodman. Yeah, hi. No, you don’t know me. Yeah, I just broke down on the highway, and your girlfriend, who is just wonderful, by the way, suggested I call you.”

“What’s wrong with your car?” I answer Cole, with the most dramatic version of my despair. “Cool, I’m on my way, and I’ll check it out for you. See you in fifteen minutes,” he concluded.

Fifteen minutes later, a blue pick-up truck came whipping around the corner, and out stumbled a young and bearded 20-something, cigarette in mouth, and camouflage hat on tight. This particular truck was the exact truck we used at camp to do maintenance-like tasks, and there was a calm that came over me as Cole approached my car. We shook hands, and that’s when Cole stabbed me.

Okay, not really. But I did replay this possible scenario over and over in my head before his arrival. Cole was actually a total gem. He looked at my car, knew exactly what I needed (some belt, or something about a broke-down alternator), and then proceeded to pull out a shredded piece of belt from my hood. I gasped, Cole laughed. He then told me he needed to run “to town,” and would be back after buying this specific part. I gave him $43, which was all I had in my wallet at the time, and promised him I would mail him any additional monies spent on today’s endeavor. And just like that, Cole drove off.

An hour and a half later, and after some serious pacing around my car while waiting for Cole, my back-woods-angel showed up with the part, and an accompanying chipper attitude. Within twenty minutes, and after some tool-work, Cole looked at me and said, “I think we’re ready to jump her.” We attached the jumper-cables, charged up the battery, and started my car with a resounding, “vroom!” It was magical. Cole had fixed my car, and without any hesitation. I then begged Cole to let me pay him, to which he declined over and over. “I’ve been here, bud. I have needed the same thing done for me,” he said. I then ran inside, and with Megan’s suggestion, bought Cole a case of Yuengling. This was apparently his favorite beer, and I placed it in his truck as he was packing up his tools (along with a bottle of Oliver wine, which was in my car for the friends I was no longer going to see in D.C. later that night). Cole gave me some instructions for the next day’s travels, watched me drive off, and popped in a cigarette to accompany the grin on his face.

As I reflected on this incident through the weekend, I am reminded that Cole owed me absolutely nothing. Hell, up until that evening, I was a complete stranger to him. And as I look back at that frustrating afternoon (preceding a few minor issues the next day), I realize that I was truly lucky to have driven up to that gas station in that specific town at that specific moment (of course, I still don’t really know which town I was actually in). The purpose of this post is not to complain about my situation or to make a mountain out of a molehill (though, I did call my dear friend after all of this, who said, “Well Michael, you always do know how to make a turd beautiful”), rather, the goal for this post is reaffirm my belief in paying it forward. Doing better. Living more like Cole.

How hard is it to give up three hours of your life and help a stranger? To me, this experience was the purest form of selflessness. Cole had absolutely nothing to gain from fixing my car, and he did so out of the goodness of his heart. As I drove away, I yelled out the window, “Thanks, again. Megan’s lucky to have you, my friend.” He laughed, and I sped down the street to find a hotel for the night.

So I ask these final questions: How are you living more like Cole? What can you do today, this week, next month, to help someone? Will you offer your services, and be selfless? Or, will you merely sit by and allow others to navigate their own struggles? From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate Megan and Cole’s selflessness, and am committed to taking their lead in doing what I can to help another out. Will you do the same?

For Cole,

Michael

Be proud. Give many damns.

As I was walking into work this morning, I parked across from a man who had a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) equality sticker on the bumper of his car. When he got out of the vehicle, I noticed this gentleman was around 70-years old, and was also wearing an HRC equality hat. Very cool, I thought, I love the old gays. Although it took years for me to actually put the sticker on my car (mental block, Southern Indiana, fear, military kid, shame, pride), moments like this made me feel a sense of camaraderie within the community. Amity. Connect. Support.

We walked into the building together, and as we shared the same sidewalk he said to me, “Nice sticker on your car.”

I responded with, “You too, sir. And the hat is a nice touch. Happy PRIDE.”

He smiled, and responded, “My wife and I have found it to be important that we show pride and support for all those around us.”

Let’s pause there for a moment. Remember, I live in Bloomington, Indiana. This man was 70+ years old. A rush of appreciation came over me, and it hit me that this moment was one to let soak in. Cue word vomit. I stopped walking, and asked, “If you can get it, and have complete understanding, and while coupled with your wife, why can’t everyone else share this same understanding?” My question to him was noted with a bit of a voice crack, to which we both chuckled. My new friend then went on to share the story of a former co-worker of his wife who sparked this belief and hope, and also provoked them to march for many years in the Chicago PRIDE parade. All I could say was, “thank you.” We separated with name-introductions, and I muttered, “Thanks for making my day, Steve,” as we parted ways down the hallway. Thanks for making my month, was possibly more appropriate.

I have a student who frequently comes into my office, and we sit for quite some time, sharing stories of equality, right’s-issues, and “ah-ha” moments. I like to say we bring out the passion in one other, and it is daily that we share an article or link to something inspiring, frustrating, challenging, and/or eye-opening. This student isn’t gay, but they care about the LGBT community. In fact, this student cares about all marginalized communities. Like Steve. I have previously shared the story of a former student who called me out of the blue, and said, “Michael, I’m an ally,” after an ‘ah-ha’ moment of support for the LGBT community. We need more ah-ha moments. We need more, “I’m an ally” (of whatever), moments. We need more learning, growing, challenging, and supporting. We need more.

I was talking with a friend recently and we shared similar sentiments around the idea of being “pro-LGBT,” as either an ally or community member. At times, it feels being pro-LGBT has become so drenched in pop-culture that we have lost some of the actual active advocacy it requires to truly make change (“Legalize Gay,” “Jesus is My Homeboy,” etc., as anecdotal examples of beliefs impacted by satire). The reverse could also be part of the problem. Are we easy to become complacent in our quest for equal rights that we just assume others will be the advocates or ambassadors for that voice? Or, are we creating arrangements for ourselves that we forget the issue still exists, no matter how we’ve navigated the struggle (whatever issue, whatever struggle)?

June is here, which means, “PRIDE,” for many individuals around the world. Consequently, summer and “PRIDE” can also mean disconnect, resentment, struggle, confusion, and frustration. I have previously posted about my desire for others to live more, “out.” Though I won’t go much deeper into revisiting this challenge, I will encourage you to read the post. Be out. Be out with whatever you see needs support. Favorite a tweet, share a video, challenge ignorance. Hell, ask people about their bumper sticker. Appreciate bumper stickers. Appreciate dissonance, but stand for what you know is just. Volunteer. Don’t just participate in the party-element, the satire, or the parody – get out there and make an active change by using an active voice. Step up.

In this new week and new month, I commit to living more prideful – prideful of who I am and where I come from, who I’m meant to be. And I ask you to take this same vow. This may mean as an ally (to something, anything) or simply as someone who gives a damn. That’s okay too. Be proud. Give many damns. This world needs more allies, and its constituents need more belief, more hope, more support. Be that support. Believe. Hope. Care.

How will you continue to live in 2014?

Thankful, proud,

Michael

Bloomington PRIDE