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The Reformed Gay: A Spiritual Path of Self-Deception

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Nobody's spiritual journey is charted by a straight line from perdition to salvation. There are always surprises along the way. In recent years, a new type of spiritual path has burst onto the scene, one filled with queer curves and loops. It's the path of the "Reformed Gay".

Who is the "Reformed Gay"? They can be easily spotted because they always tell their spiritual story with six major plot twists:

1. A confused young man (and usually the story involves a man, though not always) decides he is homosexual. He comes out of the closet as gay. The step is always perceived at the time as liberating, a positive movement of self-affirmation and self-acceptance.

2. The young man plunges headlong into an "active homosexual lifestyle," by which he usually means an extreme version of the urban gay subculture, not unlike what is caricatured on TV with shows such as Queer as Folk. Pornography, sexual addiction, and excesses of every sort is typical.

3. The young man grows tires of all the problems inherent in such a lifestyle: its shallowness, vanity, recklessness, and so forth. Thus he begins to sink into self-pity, usually around the same time his heterosexual peers are settling down into seemingly happy marriages with children.

4. In a bold leap of logic and breaking with convention, the young man blames homosexuality itself for all his life's woes. He becomes a "Reformed Gay". In his own mind, the problem isn't that he is behaving sinfully, Nor is the problem created by a small subculture of the adults-only lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, forged as it is in a climate of hostile homophobia. In an artful act of pure psychological projection, the Reformed Gay concludes that the problem is with gayness as such. Homosexuality, he concludes, is an evil.

5. The young man converts to ___ (insert dogmatic, conservative religion or philosophy here) which emphasizes guilt and strict obedience to clearly defined gender and sexual roles. The new worldview provides a sense of order, meaning, and security in a time when the poor soul is up to his ears in misused freedom and existential angst. In some cases, the religion is accompanied by so-called ex-gay ministries that promise freedom in a life of celibacy or even hold out hope of turning unhappy homos into cheery straights.The Reformed Gay is wounded from years of his own trivializing of his own precious sexuality. It's no wonder that getting religion brings him to healing and salvation. He has a lot of inner healing and sexual recovery work to do.

6. The young man tells his story to the world, rewriting his own life story in such a way that only a revisionist historian could love. Whatever sort of community involvement he may have had in the LGBT world now makes the individual a "prominent gay-rights activist" (in his own mind). Whatever sort of beliefs he held that once helped him to make sense of the world are now his old "homosexual agenda". His spiritual journey is one of "coming out of homosexuality". He is hailed as a hero by the right-wing press and ignored or dismissed by the rest. He revels in his newfound role as a modern Moses, leading the queer sinners into the promised land of normalcy.

The path of the Reformed Gay may feature as many variations as there are individuals, but the six major plot twists are inevitably the same, from the newly practicing Orthodox Jew to the ex-gay evangelical, from the zealous Roman Catholic convert to the rigid neoconservative "true believer".

The latest example of the Reformed Gay is Michael Glatze's account of his spiritual journey in "How a 'gay rights' leader became straight" (July 3, 2007), an op-ed for the right-wing ezine WorldNetDaily. The Reformed Gay stereotype fits Glatze to a T, right down to his own attempt to sell himself as a big gay-rights activist (in truth, Glatze was neither prominent nor totally obscure; he founded and edited a little noticed and currently defunct magazine called Young Gay America).

Before I say another word about Michael's spiritual journey down the path of the Reformed Gay, let me add this note in bold: I respect Michael's right and choice to follow a more traditional life path. I respect his Christianity and share the same faith tradition.

However, I am convinced that there is not one monolithic gay lifestyle, supposedly filled with oiled, sunbathing youth in snug briefs. Many gays are definitely not suited for that sort of stereotypical fantasy, and instead pursue an ennobling spiritual path with earnestness, sincerity, and devotion. In doing so, they buck the mainstream trend in American culture that denigrates genuine spiritual enthusiasm. I applaud Michael's dedication to God, even as I challenge his particular theology.

Two facts are pivotal to understanding Michael's narrative. First, he says he spent 16 years of his adult life working for magazines that by his own admission "bordered on pornography". For years he had moral qualms with the sexually explicit content of the photography, but he tried to rationalize those concerns away. He seems to have formed many of his impressions of gay culture based on the sort of lascivious advertising found in magazines distributed in the gay bar and bathhouse scene. For Michael, such advertising is not merely an occasionally entertaining but often mildly embarrassing fact of life in a diverse adult LGBT subculture (as it is for me), but absolutely definitive of homosexual identity.

Second, Michael's his rejection of homosexuality is dependent on a misunderstanding that homosexuality is lust-based in some unspecified way that heterosexuality is not. He writes: "As a [former] leader in the 'gay rights' movement, I was given the opportunity to address the public many times. If I could take back some of the things I said, I would. Now I know that homosexuality is lust and pornography wrapped into one. I'll never let anybody try to convince me otherwise, no matter how slick their tongues or how sad their story. I have seen it. I know the truth." In short, Michael allows the back pages of Young Gay America magazine to define the essence of being gay, but he never stoops to define heterosexuality by the contents of the smut racks of the Lucky Lady Bookstore. That blind spot is what's called prejudice.

It's not difficult to see the very real origins of Michael's feelings of revulsion, nor does it take a genius to spot the leaps of illogic that sweep him away to dubious conclusions. Anyone who spends years doing something morally against his inner conscience (as Michael did working for a magazine peddling content he found offensive) is going to have to come to a point where he faces a moral quagmire.

Michael makes no argument that homosexuality is inherently connected to pornography. And he would be hard pressed to find any type of pornographic exploitation done by homosexuals that isn't also done by heterosexuals. Michael's lack of logic doesn't stop there.

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I'm a Seattle-based writer exploring integral approaches to values, politics, culture, religion, spirituality, and contemporary life. My books include Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2007), the first published "how-i-found-my-faith" sort of memoir in the Integral Spirituality tradition. I am currently blogging at my eponymous blog, (more...)
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