Sunday, July 08, 2007

My Ex-Gay Survivor Story

My name is Eric Leocadio. I am an Ex-Gay Survivor.

To say that I wanted to be straight is an understatement. I knew that I was gay since I was 9 years old. Even at that early age, I knew how socially unacceptable it was for me to like other boys my age. It was never anything I had to figure out. I simply knew that I was gay and no one could know.

By the time I reached my freshman year in high school, I tried to kill myself. I was a teenager and the message that I received for so many years by my friends, my family, my classmates and myself, was that I was not acceptable because I was gay. I looked in the mirror and I hated that guy. So I wanted to die . . . .

I was tired of feeling rejected. I was tired of feeling different. I was tired of feeling like no one really knew who I was because there was a part of me that had to stay a secret. The closet is a lonely place.

I was 14 years old when I cupped both my hands together, filled them with pills (asprin, Tylenol, and such), swallowed every one, and washed them down with water. Then I fell asleep. Three hours later I woke up in complete regret as I began the process of having my body involuntarily spew out the contents of my stomach. I vomited for several minutes, divinely timed, from 7:00 PM through 5:00 AM every hour on the hour on the dot. These were grueling sessions with what I refer to as my “porcelain punisher”. I experienced 10 hours of bile-filled hell. After living through this, I wanted to die!

I didn’t tell anyone at home what I had done. No one would have taken me to the hospital. So God, before I knew Him, pumped my stomach for me. I realized, then, that He wasn’t done with me yet.

I survived, in pain, my own suicide.

I eventually became a Christian when I was 16 years old. I grew in faith and in my knowledge of God and I embraced a Church family and Church culture that I desperately wanted to be a part of – to be accepted by. This was a culture that valued heterosexuality as prime and superior. To come out as anything but straight would have been social suicide. And I was a part of this culture. For over 12 years, I believed, taught, and advocated that it was a sin to be gay. My only outlets of expressing my sexuality were limited to those things done in secrecy. This further fractured my sense of self as I maintained a dualistic life – one lived in public light and the other lived in private darkness.

I had pleaded with God to change me. I had pleaded with God to forgive me. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made some mistakes. I have done things that I regret. But you cannot develop a healthy sexuality in the secret places. I explored my sexuality in unhealthy ways, without the input of my spiritual community because talking about it would have meant revealing the secret that I was gay. And the Church isn’t so good at talking about its own taboo secrets.

I decided that I needed help so I participated in ex-gay programs of Desert Stream Ministries. For roughly two years from 2002-2004, I was a part of their informal support groups called Cross Current. In 2004, I completed their six month program called Living Waters designed to assist people with their “sexual and relational brokenness”. At the time, I believed along with them that homosexuality was a form of brokenness. I thought that I was broken. They told me that embracing a heterosexual value system was needed in order for my restoration and wholeness.

After spending several hundred dollars and countless hours in the ex-gay program, I graduated still believing that being gay was a sin and that being straight was the ideal. Unlike so many others who have survived traumatic experiences from programs like these, I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t exit the program terrorized. Perhaps, it was because I bought into their notion that I may have to live with being gay for the rest of my life but that there were tools that I could implement to suppress my homosexuality so that I could outwardly present myself as straight – as ex-gay.

Over the years, I used to participate and sometimes lead prayer groups against the gay community. But while praying these things to God, at the same time He spoke back to me over a period of months asking me two things: Why are you praying against a people that you don’t even know? Why are you praying against them when you are one of them?

God led me to realize that I really didn’t know gay people because out of my own shame I avoided them. He also challenged my hypocrisy. I realized that I couldn’t own my beliefs that it was wrong to be gay. I believed such things because that’s the only thing I was taught. So in 2005, I began my own personal journey of allowing my two dualistic worlds to collide, to enter what I call the “hot zone” – that place of conversation where the issue of faith and sexuality and God are no longer the taboo subject.

I invested countless hours in prayer – but this time it wasn’t for God to make me straight but rather it was for God to show me His heart for gay people. I spent time in the Scriptures and studied, for myself, the passages that referenced homosexuality and also looked at the Bible as a whole and in context with this newer lens. I began to meet gay people absent of any conversion agenda. I wasn’t going to convert anyone to be either straight or Christian. My intention was simply to get to know people and to build genuine relationship. What I found changed my paradigm.

I discovered that God was present in the gay community. I previously assumed in error that it was full of darkness but I discovered that God was among them. I met friendly gay people who loved God and/or wanted to learn more about Him. I met gay Christians with a genuine faith. I met gay people who were actually having spiritual conversations in coffee shops, bookstores, clubs, bars, and in restaurants. I met gay people who affirmed a lifestyle of commitment and monogamy and faith.

Being a witness to these things opened a can of worms for me. I saw God among the very people that the Church interpreted to be unclean. Great! Now what? What does this mean for all of my previously held faulty assumptions about gay people and their place in the Church? I was wrong. I had to change my paradigm based on what God was revealing to me. I realize how hard this is for people (like me) who had been so confident about such assumptions about gay people. It requires humility. The truth is that since God is present and working and moving and touching, there is light within the gay community and I discovered that it was indeed possible to live a lifestyle of genuine faith in God within the context of being a gay person. So I reconciled my faith and my sexuality.

I acknowledged that I am a gay Christian.

I chronicled my journey on this blog at Two World Collision. It served as an outlet for me to process my raw thoughts. I received incredible feedback, including countless emails from people around the world who were relating with what I was journaling. As I shared my story and as we discovered each other, suddenly, we weren’t alone anymore. There was someone else somewhere out there that understood. Over the past two years, I’ve received a global readership with over 61,000 hits to the blog. There’s been a kind of community that has developed, as I’ve been increasingly willing to be vulnerable with my story.

I have since realized that ex-gay programs and the mainstream Church presents a mixed message to people like me. They tell us that God loves us unconditionally but that the Church will conditionally accept us as long as we conformed to their interpretation of “wholeness”. It is this mixed message that leaves people with a difficult choice: to renounce their sexuality or to renounce their faith.

These are the casualties of ex-gay programs.

The truth is that we are a part of God’s Church. Regardless of whether or not the Church would accept us as part of itself, God has accepted us through our faith in Christ.

It’s okay to come back.

As an ex-gay survivor, I know what it’s like to be in a spiritual climate hostile to my sexuality. I survived suicide. I survived my own attempts to manipulate my identity. Now I’ve found peace and healing through authenticity.

I may not be perfect but I am whole.

I’ve made difficult decisions in my life. I’ve done things that I regret. However, my character is not defined by the mistakes I’ve made but instead by the lessons I’ve learned.

There is a difference between being gay and expressing one’s sexuality in unhealthy ways. Both gay and straight people are fully capable of making poor decisions. The issue is not about whom we should love but rather it is about how we should love.

As a community of people who value God, faith, and each other, whether gay or straight, let’s explore what it looks like to love better.

Watch my YouTube video story on my time with the Ex-Gay Program here.

20 comments:

Suzanne K. Richards said...

Hey Eric. Thanks for continuing to stand up for truth.

It's interesting that we posted similar themes on the same day. (I posted mine at midnight.)

I hope more people like us continue to stand up for truth! Peace to you.

Mike said...

Eric,

I've been following your blog for a while now, and I just wanted to thank you for your openness and honesty in sharing your story, knowing some of the sorts of reactions it's bound to provoke. This post reminded me very strongly of a meme that's been going around the world of Christian blogs, entitled "Formerly Known." The meme was started by Bill Kinnon at Achievable Ends, and I posted a contribution called "A Former Footsoldier of the Christian Right" at my own blog. This post of yours struck me as something that is important for discussion among all believers, whether we call ourselves gay, straight, or otherwise, and seems to fit as part of that "Formerly Known" conversation whether you intended it to or not. I've shared some of my thoughts on your post here.

Anonymous said...

Eric-

I am so honored to be your friend. That is all I can say right now. I love you.

B

The Brian said...

Glad to see you're doing well. Keep up the good work.

Janine Kahn said...

Eric, hi. The article I was writing is up on ocweekly.com and you're in it...so check it out when you get the chance.

Hope all's well,

Janine

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric -

This is Dave. I was your leader during Living Waters and I'm sad to read about your experience as you've shared it in your blog. Obviously we disagree on the issue of "being gay" vs. choosing to sin, but that's not what I wanted to write about. Mostly what I wanted to share with you was that the goal was never heterosexality, as you laid out. The goal was understanding your true identity in Christ, and if I misconstrued that, I am incredibly sorry. I hope that as you continue to search for truth you'll find your home in Christ, not in your sexual identity. Much love, Dave

Anonymous said...

what ever you are, please dont be tortured!

Douglas Mitchell said...

Eric, I recently got onto myspace and took a moment to see who was out there. I remember the days of going to church with you when we were in high school. I remember accepting Jesus as our savoir. I had no idea the fight you were going through. As I been reading your blog and myspace page I see that you have come to terms with God. You seem to know who you are are. If at any time I had said anything to make you uncomfortable during the years we knew each other I apoligize. My views today reflect a tolerance for people's personal belief. Even if it is not of the mainstream.You are a good person and you have not waisted any of your talents. I hope you see this and it finds you in good times.

Casandra said...

Hi, Eric. So far all I've read on your blog is this post. I appreciated very much your sense of humor and integrity in dealing with The Collision. And I had to share after reading your words.

For my 2nd masters degree - this one in marriage and family therapy - I wrote a senior paper that had to be presented to the entire senior class, those in my major as well as those with other majors. It was the PASTORAL students who took issue with "God's Bottom Line," exploring the practical application of loving GOd with everything we are and others in the same way (you know, Matthew). I described several different ways in which we as Christ's Body do not love each other well and need to be aware of - men demeaning women, women demeaning men (don't get me started on some of the jokes from the pulpits or exchanged among men and women about the opposite sex), parents with power trips over rather than respect for their children, Christians with a superiority complex against non-Christians, one denomination against the others. And it was the section about how the Church as a whole has treated GLBT folk that the pastors took issue with.

See, my 1st masters degree is an M.Div., so I studied lots of theology and Greek and Hebrew and hermeneutics and everything needed for that degree. But because I said, "Let's love," I was accused of compromising God's truth, using (gasp!!) liberal exegetical techniques, having a shakey hold on theology, being easy on sin, and generally representing Satan on earth. And I didn't even say "It's OK to be gay and everyone in the Church should just be OK with that." All I said was "Let's love better."

That was 3 years ago, and I still get heated when I think about how frequently we use love language to cover up our hatred. (So many stories to tell about that!) Imagine what could have happened if I'd outed myself as a lesbian. But I'm coward enough to hide when I can hear the lions roaring in the nearby arena....

Again, I appreciate your...integrity, in so many areas. There's no other word to use.

child of god said...

hi this is Tatiana
i have read what u had to say about ur life exprience and the thing that struckt me the most is that u was so close to really finding jesus and who he wanted u to be. did u know that satan does put words into our heads aswell he canot read our thourghts but yet he can suggest words and thats what i bellieve from what u wrote happended to ur mind as soon as u saw the gay community thats when the darkness filled ur soul. bellieve it or not its true if u read the whole of romans in the bible u will see what i meen. a scripture says that gays deserve to die but yet god is such a loving child he has just turned his back on them left them to do as they wish and to think as they like yes he can hear ur prayers and yes he might answer a few to try and reach closer to u and change ur gay ways but trust me on this dont call ur self a friend of god because ur not. he loves u and will always love u but the fact is u been gay is wrong god said live as my son lived on this earth and last time i check jesus was not gay and if any1 any soul tries tricking u to think diffrent bellieve me in this they are people of satan. so many people want to go heaven but not change or follow the correct bible ways so they keep to what they want and still call them selfs friends of god but jesus sees our hearts he will always love us but not accept our bad ways he wants us not to be perfect but try even he knowes that we connot be. i pray that u will truelly find god i pray that u understand everything or atleast abit of what i have written for i would hate to see u get so close like u did and then be destroyd at the last minute and remember god puts us throught test in life trying to keep us away from temptations that could of been one of urs that u just fell for when u ment to come out of it stronger and who knowes just at that time u could of relised that yes god has taken my gay feelings away everything takes time everything happens in gods perfect timing he will never give u somuch that u cant handle and he would never leave or forsake a soul but yet he can turn a away from any1. dnt fall for satans lies stay strong and jesus will show the correct directions. dnt be foul to bellieve in lies and fals statement.

2Hawkeyes said...

Your story is similar to mine I knew I was different at 6 years old. I am Catholic and went to catholic school all my life Most Christians tell me I am not a real Christian when ever I go their church. Right there I am in judgment. I go to mostly Christian churches because I generally like the message and I can use it in my life. When I was growing up I talked to the priests (none of them tried to molest me or touch me). Throughout my life I have talked to religious people from around the world. The message for me is very simple. No man can pass judgment on you and your life for only God can do that. We are all sinners and will be judged by the sum of our life. Like you have became a steward for the salvation of our earth. Those that destroy it for greed may not be viewed with favor in Gods eyes. God is a loving and forgiving God you should not fear him ad he is not going to pass judgment solely on the fact that you are gay. I find a lot of zealous Christians & Catholics get so caught up I their beliefs they resort to violence to condemn a group of people. The abortion clinics that get bombed and the doctors and nurses who get shot & beaten is not n the name of God it is in the name of man. It is their judgment that drives them to that point that their actions are in conflict with their values. I do not know who is right or who is wrong. I do not believe in abortion, nor do I believe we should force a woman to raise a child she does not want and can barely care for herself. Instead of bombing the clinics go in and adopt the child before it is born that is the right thing to do a “Christian value” Satan is used to create fear and control, there is no Satan but the struggle in our heart to do the right thing. I cannot tell you what is right or wrong but share a few points to think about. I will pray so you will come to some peace inside and the strength to continue to serve mankind.

Anonymous said...

The Bible says that two men that lie down together is a sin and that they will be punished. Which is what aids has done to gay men.
Although it is a birth defect and you cant help it, something is wrong in your genetics. But the church will gladly take anyones money.

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Eden said...

Eric - I'm a few years late reading your story, but I still have to comment. You and I share an amazingly similar story, including involvement with Desert Streams and in particular Living Waters. I met a lot of wonderful people in LW and DS over a span of 2-3 years. My experience was that they were primarily focused on participants coming to know Christ in a deeper way. They obviously believe that God intends for all his children to be healthy heterosexuals, which doesn't necessarily mean having to be in an intimate hetero relationship, but getting to a place in which one operates in healthy relationships with both genders. (A worthy goal for anybody). There were some subtle messages that heterosexual marriage represented the ultimate sign of recovery, or of "finally arriving." I sensed this by some of the guest speakers, etc..., who had dramatic transformation stories and were now married. It was also sometimes evident to me by the reaction of leadership to news of someone dating, etc.
One particular experience I had had a significant impact on me. A board member of the local ministry that put on LW each year, spoke to us one night and administered communion. He is a LW alum and now a Baptist minister, married and has children. He has quite a dramatic story. After communion I approached him and told him that I was troubled that I still wasn't attracted to women and had no reason to believe that that would ever change. He shared with me that that even after many years of marriage to his wife who he dearly loves, he still has no sexual attraction to her. I found that very troubling. I respect his life and his choices, and don't want to judge him in any way. However, that spoke volumes to me. I know he intended what he shared to be an encouragement to me, but it had the opposite effect. For me, his life was not a picture of what I would find acceptable, not to mention enjoyable.
My journey is not over by any means. I continue to grow in my understanding of myself and in particular how my faith and my being gay reconcile. 2010 will go down as the year that I finally decided to quit caring about what other people think of this issue, and what their interpretation of scripture is, and how they think I should live my life. It is the year that I finally decided to claim my life. It's been a long time coming.

Eden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wes said...

Hey Eric, I came across your post while diddling around at work. Great story. I am also a committed follower of Jesus Christ x about forty years now, and came to grips fully with being gay some years ago. I'm glad to read your story. Apparently there are more of us than I realize.
Wes

Anonymous said...

Hi-I am working with Director Ron Davis (see www.docutainmentfilms.com) finishing a project for HBO, and starting exploratory research on the Ex-Gay movement. My credits include Diagnosis Bipolar: Five Families Search for Answers (HBO); I CAN'T DO THIS BUT I CAN DO THAT: A Film For Families About Learning DIfferences (HBO); God is teh BIgger Elvis (HBO)

We are interested in speaking to those who are ex-gay movement survivors to hear your stories. How you came to be "ex-gay" and what lead you to leave the movement.

This is a very important story to tell as there is still a great deal of fear, confusion and a lack of understanding, despite the years since Stonewall, the degree to which the country has changed in its perceptions of homosexuality. We are hoping to make a film that is neither biased nor sensational, but one that through stories will allow the viewer to come to their own conclusions as to what the truth is.

If you would be interested in speaking with me, have questions or have suggestions, please e-mail me at nancy@docutainmentfilms.com

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