Why Won't They Tell Their Story?
by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
One mystery I've long been pondering is the source of the hesitation of some ex-gay men and women to tell their stories.
Repeated assurance of confidentially and guarantee of total anonymity--plus their own acknowledgement of the importance of documenting success--nonetheless is met, in many cases, with a deeply entrenched resistance to participate in research studies measuring change.
This reluctance remains inarticulate, and is evidenced by familiar cliches such as, "Let me pray about it," "I'll let you know," "I'll have to give it some thought," "Let me see how I'll feel."
Yet it is these same persons who at other times, express their outrage that the mental health profession denies their ability to change. "How dare the APA's fail to recognize our reality," they say, "that the transition has indeed been life-changing!"
One reason for the hesitation, of course, is distrust of authority, including--perhaps especially--psychiatric investigators. "That would be an 'invasion by surveyors,'" as one client expressed it. They fear a violation of personal boundaries and intrusion into their private world. This continues to be a preoccupation for many successful strugglers..
And considering the psychiatric profession's declarations against reparative therapy in recent years, no wonder these ex-gay men and women are suspicious. They ask, "Can I expect the 'naysayers' to honestly and objectively evaluate my progress?"
But this "distrust of surveyors" can all too easily be used as justification for the ex-gay community to avoid taking responsibility for a very serious problem: they remain a hidden population.
I believe one answer to "Why won't they tell their story?" lies in residual feelings of shame (the underside of narcissism) and unworthiness; and sometimes, difficulty in giving to others.
As a core issue--deeper than homosexuality itself--we see the psychological complex of the "Shamed-Defective Self." This "negative parental introject"--that is, the internalized voice of a critical parent--is, for some people, what lies at the core of their reluctance to claim the success they have legitimately achieved.
Left unaddressed, this lack of self-validation (explained by the person himself as "distrust of others") hinders full maturation and character development. Feelings of intrinsic unworthiness continue to compromise the person's ability to acknowledge his own hard-earned accomplishment.
Also, many people coming from a homosexual background have, sadly, spent so many years in self-protection and self-absorption that they have difficulty in giving to others. This withholding of self can continue long after the person's same-sex attractions and behaviors have diminished, or even gone. Difficulty giving to others is rooted in the self-preoccupation that traces from the early experience of gender wounding. For many, there is a remnant of that secret, lingering sense of being shamed and defective. So the real reason for many people's reluctance to speak up and tell their story may not so much be "distrust of them" as a lack of confidence in themselves.
What about the problem of having occasional "gay thoughts"? This can re-stimulate those old incriminating internal messages. "Who am I kidding?" some ex-gay men say to themselves. "Maybe what I've accomplished in my life is not good enough. Could what those gay activists are saying, be true? They say that no matter how much we struggle to accomplish, in the final analysis, we'll just end up again being 'one of them'."
Whenever an ex-gay figure has stumbled, activists waited with cameras and reporters--delighted, indeed, to chronicle their fall.
But should the man who still struggles with some unwanted feelings really consider himself unchanged and unworthy? In the most recently publicized study on change, Robert Spitzer speaks of change as occurring on a continuum--not "either/or"--but as a diminishing of homosexual feelings and an increase in heterosexual attractions. The expectation of complete change (with never again a homosexual feeling) is, Spitzer accurately notes, simply not realistic.
Love in Action Ministry's June 2001 newsletter underscores the same theme--that we must see change in terms of "progressive freedom" toward a desired goal, not asking simplistically, "Did he change, or didn't he?"
John Paulk made this distinction very clear in a recent interview with the Charlotte World. He said,
"...I think that when you communicate in a media sound bite, and they ask you, "Have you changed and overcome homosexuality?" it's hard to answer that with a "yes" or "no" because sexuality is not a black-or-white issue. It runs on a continuum. I don't care who you are, there is a continuum to sexuality, sexual struggle, sexual temptation, and behavior.
"I think what we have done in our movement is to respond the way the media wanted us to respond, by saying, "Yes, I have changed. It's all washed up, and I am done with it, and now it's packaged and pretty. Here's my wife and two beautiful children."
But in reality, John explains, many people still lead very satisfying and victorious lives while dealing with some persistent remnant of the old struggle that brought them to therapy in the first place. This doesn't mean they've failed to change. It only means they're human.
So, having been dubbed the "invisible population," ex-gays have, I believe, brought some of this invisibility upon themselves by continuing to perceive themselves as insignificant and unworthy in contrast to "the authorities" who will measure (and therefore "bestow validity upon") their life-changing achievement.
As we mature, we have an increasing obligation to give of ourselves for others. (This is an adult-making exercise in itself). When a man "hides his lantern under a basket," he has failed to credit himself with a life-changing triumph.