Living In Harmony With One’s Biological Design: Interview With An Ex-Gay Man

by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.

Gordon Opp ex-gay

In this December 2009 transcript, Dr. Nicolosi interviews Gordon Opp.

“There is within me, and I think there is within all of us, what I call the inner person -- the real me,” Gordon says. Sometimes the “real me” or “inner person” will be in conflict with what he wants to do.

But these desires do not change nature’s reality: men and women were designed for one another.

JN: Gordon, it’s been about eleven years since we did our last interview, which is still available on the NARTH web site. I know that interview has been helpful to many people.

Let me begin today with this question: How long has it been since you’ve been out of homosexuality?

GO: I’ve been married 31 years, and about a year before our marriage, I stopped acting out homosexually.

JN: When you say “acting out,” can you explain?

GO: There was about a four-year period in my twenties when I practiced homosexuality off and on. I experienced quite a few one-time sexual contacts with individual men and I had a few relationships that lasted three or four months each.

JN: Do you have any regrets now about leaving homosexuality?

GO: No. Not at all.

JN: So you’ve been married now for 31 years, with three grown children, and—how many grandchildren?

GO: Five grandkids.

JN: And so your life story is open, everyone knows—it’s not a big secret.

GO: No, it’s not a big secret at all. Our daughters are just barely a year apart, and when they were in junior-high school, people started asking me to give interviews about my ministry, so we decided to tell the girls then, before I became more public about it.

JN: Any advice for young people who are trying to decide whether or not to pursue a gay lifestyle? I guess for you and your own experience, you’d say that it didn’t work.

GO: No, I wouldn’t say it that way—it just sounds so trite, “Don’t pursue homosexuality—it doesn’t work.”

JN: Could you elaborate on that?

GO: Well, especially for men (and that’s been my experience, obviously), we men are attracted primarily through sight. I remember when I was going to gay parties and such in my early 20’s, I would see other guys about ten or fifteen years older—in their mid- to late-30’s—and I would think that I wouldn’t want those guys around me, because they’re already old. So I learned that for me, anyway, and for the circles I ran in, this was going to be a short-lived life—without permanency, without real roots.

JN: What other advice might help others in the process of discernment?

GO: I’d say, “Become a critical thinker.” You shouldn’t trust the sound bites you get in the news, or even the politically correct things you’re going to get in the classrooms at the universities and such. This decision concerns your whole life, so be a critical thinker and search out the truth. I did a lot of searching as a young kid, but there wasn’t much information out there.

JN: I agree. Why do you think the gay movement been so successful in taking over our culture?

GO: I think it’s because as a culture, we want to please people. We’re in the “microwave age”—we want everything to be fixed quickly and with little effort, but pursuing heterosexuality is not for the faint-hearted. For a man who’s struggled with same-sex attractions, it’s hard work.

JN: Yes. As a therapist, too, I can tell you it’s hard work.

GO: And people don’t want to work hard.

JN: What were the deciding factors in your own decision to leave homosexuality?

GO: I wanted what most everybody wants—I wanted family, security. I wanted to grow old together with somebody that I was committed to. I wanted children, a house, a job, and a picket fence, all of those things—the American dream. And I couldn’t have that with homosexuality.

JN: Gays would argue with you that certainly you can have a family and children and a picket fence, and community. How would you answer that?

GO: I’ll address the family thing first. As far as children, and the issue of adoption for gays, it’s not that the gay parent can’t love the child, but what is it doing to the child? First and foremost, I’m concerned about the child. He needs a mother and a father.

JN: What are the consequences to a child to be raised by two lesbians or two gay men?

GO: We are designed to have a mother and a father. Of course, for all kinds of reasons not every child can have that—but that is the ideal, and we hurt kids when we deliberately and intentionally deprive them of that experience. I’m a real estate agent now, and the other day, I was working on a listing—it was a home with a single mother who was raising four boys, a couple of adolescents and a couple of young ones—and I don’t know what situation occurred that put her into the position of being a single mom, but my heart just went out to her, and my heart also went out to those boys. The absence of the father in that home was just tragic.

JN: I think you’re absolutely right.

What are the factors that made it possible for you to successfully follow through on your decision over so many years?

GO: I suppose one of the beginning factors was my tenacity, to try to beat it. Going back to what I said in the beginning about being a critical thinker, I’m a Christian and whatever I do, I either want to do it wholeheartedly, or I’m not going to waste my time. So when I became convinced that Christianity was true, there was no way I could embrace homosexual behavior and practice as a good thing in the context of my faith.

You cannot support both gay unions and “true” Christianity. It doesn’t work, because they’re incompatible.

JN: I’d like to bring up the recent American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force Report, which says that there is “insufficient evidence” to prove that change is possible. What would you say to those APA Task Force members—all of whom, by the way, are activists in gay causes, and none of whom are reorientation therapists—if you could speak to them?

GO: Well the first thing I would ask the APA is, “What is your definition of change?” Because I believe the APA is asking, when it defines change, “Do you ever have any more homosexual thoughts? Then you haven’t changed.” But “complete change” wouldn’t be realistic—for a man with a homosexual background, or a man struggling with any other issue. I’m an honest person and I would say, “Yes, those thoughts are there occasionally, and they give me a little grief.” But do those thoughts and feelings control my life? No way.

I’ve been married now for 31 years—very happily married. No marriage is without its problems, but, do I have any regrets? No. I have no regrets. I have lived a heterosexual life and been faithful to my wife, and I’ve had my family and enjoyed everything that goes along with family life.

I would like to compare change of sexual orientation to alcoholism. In medical terms, an alcoholic would seem to have what we call a disease (that can be debatable, too), but let’s just say it is a disease. So let’s say I’ve been sober for 31 years. But then, I lose my job, my wife’s mad at me, and I drive home, and I drive past the bar. Man, I want to turn in and get drunk! But I don’t. Would it be fair for the APA to say, “See—you haven’t changed after all! You’re still an alcoholic!”

JN: Sure.

GO: That is how offended I am by the APA’s saying I haven’t changed—just because I, like a former alcoholic, can have the temptation. Still, pride comes before a fall, and I would be the last one to say that I couldn’t ever possibly fall; but even if I did, it doesn’t change my fundamental commitment to my identity—not as a gay man, but as a heterosexual man who has struggled with a homosexual problem.

JN: What would you say to encourage people considering coming out of a lifestyle?

GO: Each person must ask—who am I? What do I want to be? There is within me, and I think there is within all of us, what I call the inner person—the real me. Sometimes that real person in me is in conflict with what I want to do, and sometimes there are those homosexual urges. But I’m going to say no to those same-sex desires, because that’s not the real me. I refuse to be identified by my occasional homosexual feelings. My body is designed to be intimate with a female, and so that is the real me. This true heterosexual man is not going to be sexually intimate with another male.

JN: Let me give you a little metaphor to see if this makes sense to you, because the APA Task Force says you can change your identity, you can say, “I am not a homosexual…I am not identifying with homosexuality,” but that doesn’t change your sexual orientation. Their implication is that homosexuality is “who you are” whether you acknowledge it or not. But I believe that if you change your identity, it will change not only the quantity of your homosexual behaviors, but also the quality. Let me give you an example of this qualitative change. You’re sitting in front of the television and it’s 8:00 at night, and suddenly you feel hungry and you remember there’s that one slice of chocolate pie still in the refrigerator. You’re eating it and while you’re eating it, you’re saying to yourself, “I really am hungry!” But then, rewind the tape: You’re sitting in front of the television, you feel hungry, but you realize you’re really not hungry—actually, you’re bored. You eat the pie anyway to relieve the boredom, and while you’re eating the pie you know you’re just eating it because you were bored. When will you enjoy the pie more, when you believe you’re truly hungry, or when you believe you’re bored?

GO: Of course, when you believe you’re hungry.

JN: Yes, and I think that a gay-identified person is going to interpret his sexual experiences differently—as a form of genuine “hunger.” But men like yourself will reflect and then say to themselves, “This attraction I’m feeling right now is not part of who I am. It’s about my frustrations, or my disconnectedness, or it’s about the way I handle shame.”

GO: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. It describes me.

JN: You had the feelings, but they were not “you”; you didn’t accept the identity.

GO: Exactly. In the beginning, though, I questioned it. I thought, “Maybe it’s not a lie, maybe there’s just something wrong with me and eventually, I’ll fit into this ‘gay’ thing and it will feel right and feel true.” But the real me was resisting this.

JN: You thought, “If I just keep trying a little longer, I’ll overcome my internalized homophobia.” But even though you engaged in the behavior, it wasn’t satisfying. Clients will tell me, the more I understand the origins of my same-sex attraction, the more it changes the quality of the homosexual experience because I know this attraction is not happening to me just because this guy with me is “hot.”

GO: Yes. Recognizing this has helped me to understand where some of these longings were coming from. I found myself attracted to “ever-straight” guys, and I think that’s because I wasn’t really looking for sex, I was looking for something much deeper than that.

JN: Yes. For a deeper same-sex bonding.

GO: But the problem is how compelling the act is. I remember how one of your articles on the NARTH website was saying that gay sex is a whole lot more intense for same-sex attracted guys than heterosexual sex is—there’s more of a “zing” to it—because gay sex is trying to meet needs that were never intended to be met in the sexual act. And I remember in the last interview you and I did, I talked about how whenever you add sex to a deeper need—when you try to gratify that deeper, unmet need in a sexual way—it really ramps the experience up, and so there’s this zing.

JN: Yes.

GO: But when you’re trying to get your emotional needs with men met in a non-sexual way, there’s inevitably this disappointment, and it’s like, “OK, I’ve got this great male friend and he’s really attentive to me and he wants to be with me and we do good things—but why is this experience not doing for me what the sexual experience did?”

JN: Right.

GO: Then, when you’re looking at being properly attracted to your wife, you can’t take all those deficit needs that you were trying to get fulfilled through sex with a man and transfer that same feeling to your experience with wife. They’re totally different things.

JN: Yes…they originate from totally different needs.

GO: Uh huh. . And so you have a couple of things to work on—first, getting your needs met properly with men without sex, without undue emotional dependency; and second, developing your true heterosexuality with your wife and letting that relationship become the complementary one that it has been naturally designed to be.

Fortunately, my wife long ago caught on to the fact that when I was having good, healthy relationships with men, I was more attentive to her.

JN: Yes, that’s what all my clients tell me….that healthy, ongoing male relationships are essential. Now, I’d like to go back to something you said before—“I was attracted to ever-straight men”….

GO: Yes, when I was acting out, I would be in a homosexual relationship two- to three-months or so, and I would get tired of my partner because he didn’t have what I was looking for. Before too long, I could see that the other man had the same void that I had.

JN: A void in masculine identity.

GO: Exactly.

JN: Let me ask this….has anything changed for you since our last interview, which was eleven years ago?

GO: Well, a lot has changed. I’ve gotten older! By this time in my life, I’m pretty much at ease now with all men. Once in a while I am still intimidated, but that was a big part of the origins of my homosexuality—that, and everyday envy.

JN: With just about every client I deal with, those same issues are there—intimidation and envy.

GO: So the older I get, the more I can just enjoy other men. Men used to seem more “mysterious” to me, and sometimes they still do, but whenever I get to know them a little bit better and get under their skin, I find out that we’re not so different after all.

JN: Of course! They’re not so mysterious after all; they’re “who you are.” Now, can you explain a little further why you believe that heterosexuality is the norm?

GO: I believe that we were designed and created for our bodies to go together, and for our emotions go together. I believe this is pretty self-evident.

JN: So you see the evidence of our biological design—our male-female complementarity.

GO: Yes. I mean, two tomcats really aren’t friends with each other—there’s always some form of rivalry. Of course, men can in fact be buddies and very close friends, but they can’t really be committed partners who meet each other’s sexual needs in a deep and ongoing way. They’re just not made for that. That’s where the promiscuity eventually comes in.

JN: And without the stabilizing and the grounding effect of a woman in the relationship, what two men have together, just can’t be marriage-like. It inevitably turns into an open relationship, as research on gay men shows. With lesbians, it’s the other way around; there’s the natural female tendency –doubled up when two women are together—for the relationship to become excessively dependent.

GO: Right. And speaking of marriage, that’s one of the wonderful things, the blessings I’ve had—I’ve got a wonderful wife. We are blessed to have a lot of the same interests and same values. And of course, as members of the opposite sex, we complement each other in terms of gender. In our relationship, I take a leadership role; she is very perceptive and a wise woman that does not “lord it over” me in any way. We’re made for each other, as a man and a woman. A man and a man simply aren’t capable of that type of a relationship.

JN: Looking back, what do you think were the things that happened to you in your childhood that could have laid the foundation for your homosexuality?

GO: Well, I have an older brother, and then there was me, but my dad just took a shine to my older brother. By the time I came along, they had been hoping for a girl, so when I was born, my mom, on the other hand, took a shine to me. I related more to her in the things we did, and it was understood that I was hers, and my brother was my dad’s.

JN: You know, a lot of the men I work with will say to me, “I was my mother’s son and my brother was my father’s son.” There’s often that same unspoken division.

GO: Uh huh. So that was the beginning of my feeling different from other men. Looking back in my own life and especially when I see other children, I believe some kids are saved from homosexuality by the intervention of a same-sex family member—for boys, sometimes an uncle or a grandpa. When I see this intervention in other families, I say, I’m so thankful that that little boy has this adult male is his life.

JN: All they need is one man who is involved in their life.ah

GO: I was so deficient in male relatives. No one around me.

JN: Did your father ever reach out to you; did he ever try to pull you into this circle of himself and his other son?

GO: You know, there was a time when I was really hard on both my parents. I blamed them for everything. My mom would often say, “You were always so special… we just had this bond.” Yeah, Mom, and that “special bond” really messed me up. My dad wasn’t all that bad of a guy. I was just one of those kids that especially needed a dad. He didn’t know how to be super-sensitive to what was going on with me. He was kind of into himself and the things he did.

JN: So you’re saying that he didn’t reach out to you and try to work with you?

GO: I can’t say that he did. But I don’t want to really degrade my dad; he had his faults, definitely, but later in life (he died when I was 34), and the last several years of his life especially, let’s just say that he was open to having a relationship with me. He didn’t pursue it and I was pretty defensive about a relationship myself, because when you grew up with a dad not wanting to hold you…there’s a certain block that stays there.

JN: That detachment.

GO: My parents had a difficult marriage and my mother looked to me for emotional support when my dad wasn’t available. Then, they would come back together, and things would be good again. During those good times, she didn’t need me, and I resented that.

JN: You resented being made to feel special, and then being dropped.

GO: Yes, but in the marriage, I saw her as the victim, and so I had to protect her. Of course, neither of my parents hurt me intentionally.

JN: Of course. There was no awareness of how this was affecting you.

GO: My mother is still alive, and I have a good relationship with her. I think she understands all this as best as she can, and she feels bad. I don’t know if she sees it as clearly as I might like her to, but she sees it enough, and that’s OK with me.

JN: Yes. So, over time, you have made peace about this.

GO: Yes.

JN: How did your brother fit into this?

GO: I actually had two brothers; one older and one younger. I also have a younger sister. Neither of my brothers struggled with this issue. I know that my older brother always cared about me, and I appreciated that. I told him about my homosexuality during the years I was acting out—roughly when I was age 20 to 24. He was three years older and married to a great lady, and had a couple of kids and lived in another state, and at the time, he and his wife were home with our extended family for the holidays and they came to my apartment to say goodbye. I was in a bad way—depressed and stuff—and as I said goodbye standing outside the window of their car, I said, “Oh by the way, I struggle with homosexuality…” He and his wife had eight hours driving home to think about what I had said, and when he got home he called me and said he loved me and cared about me and was sorry about my struggle.

JN: So you felt this loving from him many years later….What about when you were younger?

GO: He was older and more athletic and there was this rivalry thing at school. When your brother goes to junior high and is great in sports and you come along three years later, they expect all that from you, too, and then you fall on your face…Because I couldn’t do that, not surprisingly, at that time, there was this feeling from him of rejection.

JN: Was there any sexual stuff that set you up for homosexuality anywhere in childhood?

GO: There was one thing when I was eleven. At summer camp there was a counselor…he was probably 21 or 22. I just needed male acceptance, and here was this counselor that dotes over us—you know, boy, was he important to us kids…. The third night we were there, my bed was next to his, and he had his hand on my penis. But you know what? I never told anybody about that. At the time I didn’t think of it as bad.

JN: That’s very often the psychology of the abused child; they don’t think of what happened to them as significant. But here you were, a boy who craved male attention and esteem, and unfortunately, when the attention came to you, it had sex attached to it.

GO: Yes. But I never thought he was a bad guy for it. I just always thought of him fondly.

JN: Do you think this experience did you any harm?

GO: Looking back now, I think it did. It really fixated the object of my same-sex attraction. The guys that I’m most attracted to, are like he was—they are built like he was.

JN: If the sexual contact did not happen then, you would not have been fixated so much on that image?

GO: No, I think I probably would not have been fixated on that. I think I still would have had a lot of problems, though….Yeah…now that you mention it, it is funny I never thought that event was significant.

JN: I don’t know if you remember, but a number of years ago a prestigious journal of the American Psychological Association reported a study, and the conclusion was that boys are not necessarily harmed by sexual contact with an older man, and in fact in many cases, the boys remembered the experience positively, and considered it beneficial. So the authors of the article said we should stop using judgmental terms like “sexual abuse” to describe “positive” childhood experiences like these.

We protested this conclusion. As psychologists, shouldn’t we know that what feels, to the child, beneficial, can in fact be very harmful? Dr. Laura Schlesinger got involved in condemning the study—even Congress got involved. The APA had to issue a clarification and a partial disclaimer. That was the biggest public-relations crisis of the American Psychological Association, and it was NARTH that brought it to public attention. Before we got involved, no one in our profession had noticed the harmfulness and simplistic conclusions of the study…there seemed to be the typical prevailing attitude, “Who’s to say…???” Not surprisingly, that study had already begun to be used in legal cases as justification for excusing some same-sex child abusers from responsibility.

GO: Good for you. You know, I’ve thought about that childhood incident often…wondering , why is it that the “look” of that counselor remained so powerful in my memory for so long, and is still sometimes what I respond to…?

JN: Yes. You can see how that experience first put into motion the sexualization of your same-sex emotional needs.

Well, it’s about time for us to end this interview. Any last thing that you would like to add?

GO: Yes. I guess sometimes people have said of me, because I reject homosexuality, “You’re just not being true to yourself.” You know, I just don’t feel that way. I have indeed been true to myself—and I have so many blessings because of it. My family is just unbelievably important to me, and I can’t imagine life without them. I never would have had that if I had been true to what I once thought was myself – if I had been “true to” homosexuality and let it define me.

JN: Yes. That certainly summarizes it.

GO: Sex is so over-rated—heterosexual or homosexual. It’s a wonderful thing and it’s to be enjoyed and taken care of, but in the end, what’s really important is relationships, healthy relationships. That—to me—is being true to myself… being able to live out whatever days or years I have left in this lifetime, and to enjoy the healthy and full relationships that I never really experienced in my childhood.

JN: I certainly respect that decision and that understanding of your identity. And I am sure that your experience will give inspiration to others.

Thank you very much, Gordon.