If you are familiar with my writing or my blog in general, you know that I am a survivor. If you’ve read Enlightened-ish, then you know that my status as “survivor” extends beyond surviving religious fundamentalism and damage from conversion therapy efforts which organizations like Exodus International lied to the public about for decades. I am also a survivor of… life’s darker components such as bullying and sexual abuse. I speak about these things openly not because it is comfortable or even preferred, but because I believe that there is entirely too much fear of authenticity in our cultures of hashtags and half-assed spirituality. Thus, this post, 2 year laters reflects not only on the 2-year anniversary of Exodus International’s closing, but on the collective survivor movement that most of humanity is in, as we all go through an injustice, inequity, abuse, grief, or obstacle that lands us in the awareness of what it takes to thrive in a world that is often not always fair.
When I participated in the Our America piece in 2013, I had a feeling it would transform my understanding of activism and abuse. Recruiting survivors to be taped in front of their accuser: That’s “good TV” and appears at first, to be a motion of activism, but was it abusive as well? A group of survivors is invited to witness a respected journalist (with a net worth of $8.5 million) as she tries to remain neutral in the face of a man claiming to be apologetic about making a living selling lies about homosexuality’s “cure” through prayer and specialized suppression techniques. Are you familiar with the piece which aired a year ago? Here you go: Watch it again. Is it activism? Or is it abuse?
I personally can’t watch it anymore. Why? Because even in her “review” of her time with Our America, Lisa Ling continued to exalt Alan as a man who she believes was truly trying to attempt something good out of his efforts to apologize – Efforts which led to inequality, genocide, depression, death, and a mental health crisis among gay people, in addition to a spiritually divisive movement within Christianity. (See her respect for him in minute 4:25 of the link) This is tragic when I know from more than one source that Alan pitched yet another publicity stunt to Lisa, after the Our America piece aired. He continued to attempt to latch on the teat of her innocent assumption that behind it all, he was a good guy trying to do good things…
I don’t believe there are any segments at CNN planned, for her to take him on a trip to Africa where she can cover the story of his apology to the people of Uganda, but like I said… I know from more than one source, this guy has an ego the size of Africa – Or a guilt complex equally as large. Either way, any publicity on his face, or those like him, remains to their benefit because it actually reinforces the belief that ex-gay therapy does work. As long as anyone is still asking if the world is flat, there will be yahoos who believe it. Thus, to truly debunk a myth, perhaps we have to let the ignorant move down their paths of baseless beliefs and hopefully they die off like the plague that they are to the collective awakening to science, spirituality and common good.
But we can’t do that, can we?
In January of this 2014, when asked to participate in a hearing in Virginia, where lawmakers were given the power to prevent abuses to minors, they tabled the decision… but I went, I testified and I thought I was doing the “activist” thing. Here is the link to that drama/trauma and the consequent interview that I participated in for SkyNews.
“Do I look like an activist?” I ask myself.
Or do I look like I am being abused by a system of journalism that continues to cater to the aggressor, rather than the survivor?
Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could stay involved with the survivor movement several times before in my experience… but after these incidents, I did step back a bit and begin to ask important questions about who “wins” when survivors speak up.
Ratings for the TV networks.
Listeners on the radio shows.
Blog hits for those who discuss us.
Opportunities to spread the lies, for those who actually still believe this stuff.
As I continued to evaluate my role, what I saw from all of this attention was how it perpetuated itself in online survivor communities. Suddenly I was being re-traumatized on a daily basis through my Facebook notifications and emails. Survivors have accused one another of not being “real” activists. Those who continue to teach/preach suppression accused fellow Christians of not being “real” Christians. Allies who are compassionate to the cause of equality are accused of not being “real” advocates. Trust levels were lowered and meanwhile, the actual story of surviving these injustices is lost in debate and stats like the following, ignored:
And so, for me… I have had to redefine what activism really is in my world. I can’t judge those who are making a career of chasing after evil and simultaneously trying to convince themselves it is not evil. I cannot discern the motives of anyone but me…
My motive has always been to make sure survivor stories are told… in all areas of our survival. In fact, that is why my career shift, towards early childhood education made so much sense in 2010… because if you truly want to stop victims from being victims, we have to empower our children not to become aggressors and to stand up for themselves when there are so many words and beliefs that can offend the soul.
An ounce of prevention, is all I can offer.
That is my activism now.
I look back at Christianity and how it is arguing with itself and it is sad to watch. I hear stories of progressives who don’t feel “progressive enough” and I see how the image of Jesus is crucified in blog posts and newsfeeds… I hear survivors who don’t feel “active enough” and pastors who can’t find churches that are “involved enough” in actual justice-seeking, mercy-leading communities and lives…
But I have to wonder about this meme that passed across my eyes not too long ago: When I wrote my coming out memoir years ago, I recognize that there is “A Time to Yell…”
But what if there are activists who move within a very different world of advocacy?
What if we are quietly making a difference by creating positive change in the future, by investing in young lives today?
I’m not saying that the adult survivors don’t matter because, of course, I am one! We need community, compassion and environments where we can freely discuss our healing process. And the world needs justice-seekers, but doesn’t it also need peacemakers?
Do we need to continually share our stories in places that are designed to inflate egos or publicity?
Do we need to make ourselves vulnerable in order to increase ratings and if we do, how does that affect our own quality of life?
For me… I cannot engage in what former leaders are doing now, like it’s some VH-1 pop-up video of apologies, stats and E-True Hollywood banter. I’m over it.
Not over what they did and not over how much attention they still get for doing it…
But for me, being an activist now means being whole in my home, my heart, my health, and in my work.
My fiancee (2015 update: wife 😉 ) dreads this post because she knows that most of the time, when I post about this topic, the attention it brings literally causes me physical pain. But I have assured her, this “years later” post represents the highest intentions of doing what we all wish cult leaders and abusers would do after they have disbanded.
Rest. In. Peace.
Can survivors rest in peace too? Can they look at the places where hurtful words and beliefs left wounds and say, “I learned something and I am going to be okay?” Can they remember their trauma without shuddering? Can they learn to rebuild trust?
Can we… be at peace?
The answer is yes.
But the path to “yes” is different for each of us.
So today, on an anniversary of Exodus International’s shutting down, though it began a shit storm of rebuilding efforts by its leader and continues to be discussed in blog posts from people on both sides of the aisle, creating even deeper division within Christianity and families, I can say…
Happy Anniversary, Survivors.
To all survivors… for every year we make it to the next level, OUR next level, we can celebrate.
Let the media culture do what it needs to do to make a living… but let’s not contribute if it interferes with our own desires to make a life for ourselves.
You have survived much, my friends. I am honored to know your stories and be inspired by the tenacity of them… Thank you, for being… you.
Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.