Ex-gay conundrum by Wayne Dynes

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When I was in college in the 1950s my best friend C. became my mentor in all things gay. Though I outgrew some of the lessons he taught, I remain grateful to this man for taking me under his wing. At all events, C. had belonged to a coterie of nine young college men, who called themselves "the entourage." Marvin, a straight boy, had attached himself to the group, which gave him fellowship and, he felt, a certain sense of identity. But he was never admitted to full membership in the group. Once, C. told me, they all went out for a night on the town. "Here we are," Marvin happily remarked, "ten gay guys together." Then one of the group unkindly corrected him: "No, Marvin, it's nine gay guys."

This was my first introduction to the gay wannabe phenomenon. It has certain affinities with other types of "aspirational identity," as with those who claim, on very slender evidence, to be American Indians. Reportedly, in a decade or so the Indian population of the US has "doubled."

I though of poor Marvin when I read a fascinating piece by the gay journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis in today's New York Times Magazine (June 19). The story concerns Michael Glatze, who had worked closely with Denizet-Lewis on a publication for gay youth in San Francisco. Since then Glatze (now 36) has become a kind of poster boy for the "ex-gay" movement.

Michael Glatze was born in Olympia, Washington. His mother was a non-denominational Christian and his father was agnostic. When Glatze was 13 his father died of a heart condition; his mother died when he was 19. Glatze earned a B.A. degree at Dartmouth College.

While working at XY Magazine in San Francisco, Glatze met a young man named Ben. The two would remain a couple for 10 years. They later co-founded their own publication, Young Gay America magazine (YGA Mag).

Gradually, though, doubts began to intrude. In 2005, Glatze was quoted by Time Magazine saying "I don't think the gay movement understands the extent to which the next generation just wants to be normal kids. The people who are getting that are the Christian right."

Glatze turned toward Christianity after a health scare due to heart palpitations.

Glatze has written two pieces about his change which appeared in the online media outlet WorldNetDaily. He has garnered media coverage in other publications and blogs, culminating in today's piece by his friend Denizet-Lewis. Glatze is now studying at a Bible college in Wyoming. He asserts that he is now straight.

According to Denizet-Lewis, during the time they worked together Glatze had steeped himself in Queer Theory, internalizing its message of fluidity of identity. It may be, the journalist suggests, that Glatze never was gay, but had convinced himself that he was--not unlike Marvin before.

This explanation may be correct. Yet it is vulnerable to the accusation that it is--if you will--part of the gay party line, which holds that people who claim to be ex-gays either relapse or never were gays in the first place. Quite a few years ago I had a friend, a gay psychotherapist, who offered $10,000 to any person who had truly changed his or her orientation from homosexual to straight. Privately, my friend confided that he would never have to pay up, because he would always insist that the converted individual never had actually been gay; hence no conversion had taken place.

It is, of course, perfectly true that a number of prominent persons in the ex-gay movement have "slipped" on occasion. Some have resumed a gay lifestyle, suggesting that for them the conversion to heterosexuality was superficial--perhaps even faked in order to gain approval or monetary gain. Some "ex-gays" concede that just as alcoholics always remain alcoholics, they will always be gay; they will just be nonpracticing.

I wonder, though, if it would not be too much for the official wing of the gay movement (assuming that this exists) to acknowledge that a few individuals actually have changed in this way.

Certainly, though, it is hard to follow the tortured reasoning this lost sheep, who now claims to have found himself is advancing. In agreement (perhaps) with President Ahmedinajad, Glatze seems to think that there are no homosexuals. We are all heterosexuals, but some of us (adulterers, patrons of prostitutes, same-sexers, and many other categories) foolishly yield to evil impulses. Now it is true that Kinsey thought that the word homosexual should not be used as a noun, but he held the same view regarding the word heterosexual. We are all (even though Kinsey did not use this expression) human sexuals. But Glatze says there is no such thing, only heterosexuals, some of whom are not strong enough to follow the Christian Gospel and refrain from sexual sins. Where though, reading the Bible in the original languages, does it say that we are all heterosexuals?

In a radio interview given last year to the anti-gay crusader Peter LaBarbera, Glatze sought to explain himself in the following terms: "I’ve said before in recent years that the actual culmination of Queer Theory is that there’s no reason why anybody shouldn’t just leave homosexuality and be a heterosexual – if you actually follow it through with the entirety of your logical thinking. But, our logical thinking is stilted by the enemy, who wants us to not think clearly. The Word of God allows you to think clearly.

[snip]

"Gore Vidal, the famous gay guy, you know, the American writer, once said, “there are no homosexuals; there are only homosexual acts.” And, he is echoing the viewpoint of the Queer Theorists that say, “well, sexuality is fluid. Everybody is open to any possibility.” And, of course that echoes 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God says any temptation is common to man."

One thing seems clear. Even in a remote corner of Wyoming Michael Glatze has an unquenchable hunger for attention. The piece in the Times Mag, which seems to be going viral, should please him.

Glatze has archived some of his interviews at michaelglatze.wordpress.com. In German by the way Glatze means "bald spot"; more than a spot, I would say.

PS - Apparently the underlying condition can be combated by a Chinese product against hair loss. Its German marketer recommends it in this way: Fabao 101G gegen Glatze und Haarausfall ! Nie wieder Glatze! ... Well said.


UPDATE (June 20). In retrospect I find that in writing this piece I failed to do justice to the broader issues. Of course, there is the personal tragedy (in my view) of a brilliant, charismatic young man who went so far astray.

However, there is a much broader context. Let me go back to my personal history. In my teens I struggled to understand my homosexuality. At the time I accepted the notion that a psychiatrist would be able to make me "convert," that is change my orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. I felt that if I were to come out I would be pressured into undergoing this treatment. I didn't want it. I had two main problems: I had no confidant or support group; and I kept falling in love with unsuitable persons. But I didn't want to stop being gay.

In the fifties and sixties, psychiatry, especially Freudian psychoanalysis, had achieved a pinnacle of prestige in the US. Sometimes gay groups like Mattachine invited psychiatrists to appear at our meetings: they sternly lectured us on overcoming our "immaturity." After 1969 this all changed. A few years after homosexuality was removed from the DSM, the official diagnostic list of mental conditions. It was not a mental illness, and therefore not treatable as such.

Still one might want to change for practical reasons. Many gay men, as is well known, have close friends who are women. Would it not be appropriate to become het and marry one of these worthy people? Of course such a change is not so easily accomplished.

In the seventies we became increasingly aware of individuals, supposedly firmly heterosexualized (often through lengthy and expensive programs of treatment), who "lapsed," resuming their former gay lifestyle. Others reported that they were able to abstain from same-sex relations, but the desire for them persisted, without a comparable heterosexual desire being affirmed. In short the treatment did not succeed in replacing same-sex desire with opposite-sex desire.

Other assumptions were also common in the seventies and after. Even though most of us were willing to acknowledge that, in various forms, bisexuality existed, we still kept to the notion that there was a basic het-homo dualism. It was either-or; in practical terms tertium non datur.

Largely under religious auspices, efforts to convert young men from homosexuality to heterosexuality seem to have increased in recent years. In some cases the family virtually coerces the hapless young person to undergo such brain washing. Critics of the ex-gay movement are right in protesting against these invasive procedures. A friend terms it "soul murder," and he is not far off the mark.

This being said, I can't help wondering whether there is not a real cohort, fairly small in numbers to be sure, who have made the transition to genital and emotional heterosexuality. Why must one reject this possibility a priori?

Well, one could say, how about asking some people to transition in the other direction--from heterosexuality to homosexuality? Why does that never happen?

In fact it did happen--in a certain way. During my activist days I encountered several "political lesbians." Their interpretation of feminism fostered the belief that sleeping with men was abetting the patriarchy. Conversely, by sleeping with women they could affirm and consolidate their sisterhood. Did this behavior cause role strain? I don't know because I lost touch with the women I once knew in this category.

In conclusion, though, it seems dogmatic to insist that beginning perhaps at the age of five sexual orientation is so firmly fixed that it is impossible to change it. I do not find Michael Glatze's path (fideistic Christianity) inspiring. But we need to consider more carefully the possibility that he and a few others have actually changed.

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