Faking it (badly)

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Marcus Bachmann is married to a vehemently anti-gay congresswoman, runs a cure-the-gays clinic, and calls himself “doctor” based on a degree from a diploma mill that didn’t even offer psychology degrees at the time he took classes.

When I first came out to my family, nothing went smoothly. Mom went into full denial mode, even insisting she had never suspected I was gay (despite having regular prayer sessions with other family members and church friends begging god to turn me straight for at least a decade). One aunt sent me a 28-page handwritten letter outlining the words I wasn’t allowed to use in her presence, the topics that could not be mentioned in her house, and so forth. I lost track of the number of relatives who assured me I was still welcome to visit, but only if I promised not to act gay and certainly never accompanied with a boyfriend. One cousin-in-law—who happened to also be my best friend from college—got angry that some family members knew before he did, causing lots of drama. It has also been his excuse for 20-some years for ending our friendship (it’s not because I’m gay, see, it’s because I didn’t tell him first). Some relatives on Dad’s side blamed Mom. Some relatives on Mom’s side blamed Dad.

I could go on and on.

I think it was the first time in my life that I was unhappy that my parents and grandparents had so many siblings, and that many branches of our huge extended family had always been in regular communication with each other.

During one of the many melodramatic phone conversations I had during that first year after coming out, my Grandma was going on about why she didn’t understand how I could choose this. So I asked her to stop for a moment and think about that. Could she honestly say, I asked her, that she could choose to be gay? I had to rephrase it a few times before she understood what I was asking. Then she declared, very firmly, that of course there was absolutely no possibility that she could ever even imagine deciding to be gay herself. It was ridiculous to suggest it.

“In that case, Grandma, how can you keep accusing me of choosing this?”

She got flustered and started quoting the Bible at me. I quoted some verses back and pressed her again. If it’s a sin, then everyone is equally capable of being tempted by it. If she felt so strongly down to her bones that she couldn’t choose to do this, how could she believe that I could? She eventually admitted that maybe I was right about it not being a choice.

We were hardly the first people to have that conversation. For those of us queer people who were raised in exceptionally homophobic churches and families—who spent decades crying ourselves to sleep over feelings that would not go away; who begged god again and again in epic prayer sessions to make us “normal;” and who lived in constant fear of the being rejected by those we loved if they found out—the notion that this is all a matter of choice is so patently ridiculous that it defies reason.

Not to mention having watched people we know go through programs intended to “cure” homosexuality and seeing most of them come out not changed at all. Or seeing the ones who claimed to be changed so obviously projecting a facade that did nothing to hide how profoundly unhappy and unchanged they were. Or reading the statistics which show that literally 99.9% of them aren’t even able to resist their feelings for any length of time.

It’s deeply frustrating knowing that it was never a matter of choice for ourselves or anyone we’ve known, that the myth is still bandied about and still used to justify laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against us.

Then one day I read an op-ed piece by advice columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage, in which he described the same frustration, but then explained an epiphany he had had. He had been reading yet another news story of a vehemently anti-gay minister or politician having been caught having had a number of same-sex affairs, and remembering all the times said anti-gay person had publicly insisted that being gay was a choice, when it hit him. The reason they believed it was a choice because in a twisted way it was true for them. Every single day they looked themselves in the mirror and convinced themselves one more time that they weren’t going to be gay that day.

We know from both the medical research and the statistics that some so-called ex-gay therapists were forced to admit in court, that no one who feels same-sex attraction ever stops feeling it. No one. When the advocates of such quackery have been pinned down in court under threat of perjury and faced with actual evidence, they even admit that by “cure” all they’ve ever meant was that a person could learn to resist the urge to act on their feelings. Which is a very twisted definition of cure.

Congressman Shock has a great anti-gay voting record, but posts pictures of himself to Instagram like this, has never married, and has lived with a string of similar male "roommates" for over a decade.

Congressman Shock was raised Southern Baptist in a rural community, has a consistent anti-gay voting record, but posts pictures of himself to Instagram like these, has never married, and has lived with a string of young athletic male “roommates” for over a decade.

Before I came out, back when I was still fighting the feelings and still trying desperately to convince myself that maybe I was bi, it always struck me as weird that the preachers I met who preached most virulently and obsessively against homosexuality were always the most effeminate men I had ever met. When a group of ex-gay activists came to the methodist university I was attending, I was again struck by how stereotypically sissified the ex-gay men were, and how unladylike the ex-lesbian women were. Back at the dorm, one of the other guys on my floor went on and on about it, getting big laughs when he asked why they couldn’t find at least one non-faggy person to represent the program.

Just to be clear: not all gay men are sissies. Sexual orientation is a complicated thing, obviously the result of a whole lot of different things going on in our brains and hormones. Some gay men are great at football and have no interest in musical theatre, while some straight men have no interest in sports and like to cook. Believe me, I know.

But there are actual studies which show that almost all sissies are gay.

And my own epiphany about these anti-gay or ex-gay guys that I can’t believe are fooling anyone is this: they are so desperate to believe there is a cure precisely because they have never been able to hide.

As bad as childhood may have been for me, being called sissy and pussy and far worse by classmates, coaches, some teachers, other kids at church, or my own father, I bet Aaron Shock had it worse. I’m absolutely certain that Marcus Bachmann had it far, far, far worse. Convincing themselves that they aren’t gay, or convincing themselves that they could hide it, was a matter of survival for them.

So, yeah, they deserve at least some pity.

But not so much that we don’t hold them responsible for the tens of thousands of queer and questioning kids thrown out on the street by homophobic parents and driven into high risk of drug abuse and prostitution. Neither should our pity stop us for placing some of the blame for the thousands and thousands of kids who commit suicide for fear their parents will find out they’re gay, and/or because the incessant bullying and rejection at school, church, and in their homes.

Because people like Bachmann and Shock and all the other ex-gay and anti-gay folks are perpetuating and enabling that cycle of hate. They need to stop faking it, and start making amends.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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