Eric's sexual baggage is epic. In part, that's because he received no therapy for his childhood sexual abuse until relatively late life. He complains that his LDS therapists fixated on changing his same-sex attraction and never addressed the repercussions of the abuse. He twice sought help from the church to change his sexuality, and twice he turned away not just from the therapy, but from the church itself.
Is Eric an ex-ex-gay? I think it's more accurate to call him a sex addict in recovery, and just leave it at that. When he uses the phrase “acting out,” he's referring to sex acts.
Nevertheless, he's had personal experiences with the LDS church's concept and comprehension of sexuality generally as well as homosexuality in particular. Eric is not impressed. In fact, he's very angry.
This is a transcript of our lunch together recorded Sept. 18. My questions are in bold.
I was kidnapped and sexually assaulted as a kid. Coming home from that experience, I was in a home that was not fun to come home to. I had an extremely angry and violent father. I was sexually abused by my older brother. Seeings as how the person who kidnapped me and molested me was on our block, I haven't had the discussion yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if he got to my brother first.
Dad was emotionally unavailable and violent, older brother abused me, mom was dealing with her own issues. So I just came from a home where no one could offer me any support. So I had no idea how to deal with this.
I knew I was attracted to men from my earliest memories. There was no latency. I knew early on that that made me different. I couldn't put my finger on it, I didn't know how. A family member actually mentioned the "gay" word, when I was probably 10 or 11, in a disparaging way. I said, “Oh my gosh, that's what that means and that's me. I'm not tellin' anybody about this.”
I've been addicted one way or another to either sex, food or other items. I don't “date” men. I've been acting out since I was young. Through dissociation I was able to compartmentalize it in my head. “That didn't really happen,” or “I'm not going to do that again.” It was completely separate from my life, a secret.
I went on a mission for the LDS Church, which I loved and hated. What I loved- I'm the youngest of many boys in the family and being traumatized by my brother early on, I could not trust authority. I still wanted very much to belong to the man's club, the guy's club. No one taught me the rules and I didn't know how. The only way I knew to belong was to act out.
How did that “acting out” first manifest itself, with women or men?
With men. I have no sexual interest in women, period. As I got older the more difficult it became, this struggle. In high school I started developing real psychological issues. But I went on my mission.
Had you been seeing a counselor, had you been dealing with the abuse yet?
I've always known. This is not a repressed memory. But no one ever explained to me the meaning of it.
Did you report it to anyone, a teacher or church leader?
I didn't report it to anybody. I found out only four or five years ago that my parents knew about it.
Was the kidnapping reported to police?
It was never reported to police. I never even knew my parents knew about it.
How long were you gone when you were kidnapped?
About a day, a short-term kidnap and sexual assault.
Tell me about your mission.
On my mission, it was the first time in my life that I'm around this group of guys. I'm doing similar work to them. I thrive in this environment where I belong. I said, “Oh my gosh, I belong. I belong. And it's good.” I liked that aspect.
Was it difficult being around all those men?
That's the part I hated. Here I am, I'm having great relationships with these guys and having fun. It's the first time in my life I feel accepted. But there are these intrusive sexual thoughts popping into my head.
I've been diagnosed with PTSD, from the abuse, and I didn't know these words on my mission. It kinda tripped my relationship with my companion. “Ok, I like you, I'm having fun, but there are these sexual thoughts.” To protect myself, I just shut down. I became very distant, very lonely, very isolated.
It was horrible. I came back from my mission extremely bitter because I just felt like, well, to my mind, I was going on a mission to be cured. In my mind all I thought was, “If I'm gay, God will change me. If I do my mission, he'll fix me.” I did everything with the faith that He would take care of me.
But then I came back to BYU and I realized, “this sucks.” All my friends are starting to date and get married. And I'm just not interested in that at all. It became very challenging. I decided to go a BYU counselor, thinking in my mind the only issue that's wrong with me is I'm attracted to men, and I need to fix that.
When I first came to the counselor, that's who told me to masturbate to pictures of Madonna. I majored in psychology. That's a very behavioralist approach. And all the approaches were behavioralist approaches. Focussing on the external only.
I met one graduate students—a graduate student!—he wasn't even a fully certified psychologist. He explored the sexual abuse, finally. And I'm like, “Huh? You mean that's not normal for everyone?” And it scared the hell out of me. I started realizing, you mean all these emotional problems in my life, backing off from relationships and friendships, has nothing to do with me being gay? That it has to do with sexual abuse? Things started clicking and started making sense.
But the thing that pissed me off to no end: I turned to the church, I turned to God. They failed me. I left BYU and I left the church. I was out of the church for 10 years. I was very angry.
I went to the church for answers. I got love and concern, but no answers. I got judgment.
Like, you must be doing something wrong—maybe you're not praying hard enough—if the therapy isn't working to change your same-sex attraction?
Right. I went to the church, to my bishop, to the counseling center at BYU—I was looking for anything. Then I realized, “Oh my gosh, not only do they not have the answers. I know more than they do about this stuff.” But also, “Some of the things they're telling me are just downright wrong.”
When did you begin to believe that you were not the problem?
It was in my counselor's office senior year of college. I realized one day, “They don't have a clue. They care. I can tell they care. But they don't have a clue. If I'm going to get answers about my life, it's not going to come through church channels." So I left the church, figuring I don't want them to teach me. I'm just going to live my life without thinking. So I entered the gay community.
There are things I like about the that community, but there are things I also hated. The things I loved were like my mission: feeling I belonged. I was finally able to feel like I'm not hiding from myself and my feelings. For the first time in my like I'm acknowledging certain problems. So, openness and acceptance. Relationships, I was finally able to start developing some friendships. I wasn't feeling like I was always hiding.
Everything in the lifestyle was fantastic except for the guilt. I'd get into sexual parts of a relationship. I would follow what I thought was the logical extension of what I wanted to be, but I got these horrible feelings of terror, feelings of nausea and I would run after every encounter. Every relationship, I would run. After sex, I would run.
Did masturbation give you a similar terror?
Yes. Almost every sexual experience was associated with dissociation. It was almost psychologically like it didn't happen.
I was building friendships but not romantic relationships.
During those 10 years as a gay man, did you date good guys?
In the beginning I was choosing good people. There were a couple that to this day I have the most respect for. Good people, good values, the kind of people who stop to help an old lady change a tire.
Toward the end of the 10 years, it had gotten to the point where I was acting out anonymously.
Yeah, that, and in Dallas it could be at the store, clubs, cruising.
That seems reverse for most people. When they first come out it's like delayed adolescence then they mature, but for you it was the opposite. Why?
The depression kept growing and growing over not being able to connect intimately with someone. It got to the point where I was so dissociated and so shutting down. I was not allowing myself to accept normal homosexual feelings. More importantly, I was not allowing myself to accept and deal with the underlying sexual abuse part of my feelings. What I thought were just feelings, had come back.
In about 1999-2000, I thought, “I'm going to kill myself if I keep going this way.” I'm going to end up with something [disease]. I decided I was going to face the sexual abuse.
How many years was that after you left the church and started your gay life?
About 8 years. I felt doomed, confined to a space I didn't want.
Then I figured, OK, it's time to touch the sexual abuse. I found a counselor in Dallas and decided to go back to the church.
Hold up a minute: During that gay time in your life, were you telling friends about the sexual abuse, or talking about it anywhere outside a clinical setting?
Oh, I did. I learned this in hindsight, that most people when they're dealing with this will reach out tentatively to others, but they're trying to explain the incomprehensible. If friends don't respond well, they just go back in. I was always making forays with friends. To be fair to them, they had no concept. They hadn't gone through similar experiences.
Did you tell your friends that your problems with relationships were tied to childhood sexual abuse?
Most of them. They had no comprehension. I remember going to couple toward the end of that period, saying “I think I'm addicted, I think I have a problem.” They said, “You don't have a problem.” But it was stuff I didn't want. I said, “You don't realize this is anonymous, there's no caring, I can't stop but I want to.” And that happened every time.
So if you had sex with someone you had no emotional attachment to it wasn't as terrifying?
Right, because I was in control more. I could control it.
So emotional attachment made you feel out of control and that triggered terror?
Yes. It prevented me from trust. If I don't know you, it's just physical. If we're in a relationship, you can exert control. It made me feel like I was a kid.
I find it very interesting that after 10 years of patterning, I understand my pattern. It was almost like every sexual experience I had, I was trying to recreate it with a different outcome. I had stuff going on in my head I didn't understand.
Sorry, I got us sidetracked. You were talking about being 8 years in to your gay life, feeling doomed, and going back to the church.
I started sex abuse counseling. I fell over. Like most victims when they start sexual abuse counseling, and start acknowledging and admitting it, life becomes unmanageable.
What do you mean? You lost your job, you became homeless, what?
By the grace of God I didn't lose my job but I should have. I had frequent emotional outbursts. Anger. Oh, the anger. Fury. Rage. Anger is not a deep enough word.
The first part of recovery is really tough because you recognize the imaginary picture of your family you had in your head, that not only is it not true now, that wasn't the family it really was then. So you feel betrayed again.
Finding an incest support group, they got that (reporter's note: that link does not contain a men's incest survivors group in Utah; if you know of one, please call me 801-413-0952).An incest recovery group has nothing to do with orientation. There are straight and gay men in there talking about how sex abuse affected them, all working together on how to overcome the effects.
Was this a gay-affirmative setting?
It was. Non-religious, part of a United Way agency. Then through that I started developing debates about my anger and feelings toward God.
One, as a child, I prayed to be released from not only my same-sex attraction but my horrible family: God didn't do anything. The church, I turned them for answers, I got judgment.
I was hoping from the training I could learn what happened or how to deal with it. I learned then that my parents knew about the abuse and didn't do anything about it. That rocked my world.
They knew it happened but they kept it private?
They didn't know how to deal with it. Answers are a lot easier to find now. The thinking back then was just treat them nice and they'll get over it. Children are resilient.
After dealing with my anger I started realizing maybe, just maybe, because of my abuse issues I hadn't given the church a fair shake. I really like the community in the church. I really like the doctrine in the church. So I thought, “I'm going to give them another try.” That was about 2000-2001.
Some people think that if it's said at General Conference, then it's doctrine. I learned the hard way that that ain't true. The only book I had to deal with my homosexuality was “Miracle of Forgiveness,” by Spencer W. Kimball(1969) and “To the One” (1978) by Boyd K. Packer. They're awful resources, but if you don't understand what's going on...
But I figured, maybe I misunderstood them. I was happy about being in the church again, the camaraderie and everything, and I started really looking at some of the most painful things in my past. I kept thinking for a couple years, “Maybe it was me. Maybe I'm so hurt and jaded by the negative experiences in my past that I can't see things objectively.”
I gave them a good fair shake and I've come to a whole different understanding now.
They were very hurtful, very damaging to me. That's when I learned to draw that line about doctrine. It's not black and white. Many people see the world as black and white.
I like the doctrine of the gospel, I like the doctrine that children who die before the age of accountability are saved automatically. I like the idea of spiritual progression, that it's not a black and white line in heaven. Like you're 49.9 percent good, so you go to hell, but you're 50 percent good so you go to heaven—the Mormon graduation makes sense to me. So the doctrine itself I don't have a problem with.
You have anger toward the church though, so is it that you blame only individuals and not the church itself, or not church “doctrine”?
I used to think it was doctrine. “Well a church leader said it, it must be doctrine.” Well then, what about other things like blacks in the priesthood, or polygamy, where church leaders say different things? It was just recognizing that they're entitled to their opinions too, but it would be nice if they said they were opinions.
So you believe the harm came from individuals—church leaders—misinterpreting the word of God?
Right. Originally it was “God is hurting me, his church is hurting me.” Then I learned to to draw the line. No, it's individuals that are hurting me. That allowed me the opportunity to have a better relationship with God. I was mad with Him more than I was mad at anybody else. I think I just made a change, not seeing things so black and white.
Did you ever think there was no God?
I've always believed there is a god. Always believed in Him. I questioned. I worked it over in my head many, many times and was journaling like crazy, but I always came to the same conclusion. Even if I think He's mad at me, I look around and all these horrible things are happening to me, I was still a believer. That was a conclusion I couldn't get around. I think there is an external higher power.
Talk about the end of the 10 years, from the end of your gay lifestyle to a new lifestyle. Tell me about saying good-bye to friends.
That was tough. It wasn't all at once. I'm not one of those people who believes you need to abandon all friendships when you change your lifestyle. But I did realize that over the course of years, our shared interest had changed. I wasn't interested in, for example, going out to the bar scene.
This is in your 30s- You grew up.
Yeah. I grew up and grew apart. Our interests just changed. And especially because of the headiness of all that incest recovery crap I was going through. And they could not relate, honestly they couldn't. I got to the point where I was putting so much emotional energy into recovery that I became a hermit for awhile.
They were not understanding about that?
“Why don't you return my calls?”
Were you honest with them, did you say you were having a hard time with the recovery?
They couldn't understand. They wanted to, but they couldn't. “Why couldn't you pick up the phone and call?” And I'm hurting. They didn't understand when I said, “I can't talk to anybody. It's not you. It's me and dog tonight, that's it.”
So a lot of your friendships sloughed off because of that?
Yes, a lot of the gay friendships.
But after two years you still had a couple?
Most of them. It's interesting, people knew I was going back to the Mormon church and they knew the church was against homosexuality. None of them were hateful or judgmental. They were like, "whatever you want to do, we are your friends." Good people.
Tell me about the first time you went back to church?
Well, the walls didn't fall down. Um, very alone, very scary. And very afraid to go back and just be in denial and pretend nothing had happened. I was very afraid of not honoring my pain.
I was so angry. “I needed you and you weren't there for me.” I was raised in the church. The local bishop said he received revelation. Where was the revelation that I was being abused? I see it differently now than I saw it then.
Did you actually have that conversation with someone in the church once you went back, or were these just your thoughts?
I had these conversations with many bishops. That was sort of like at BYU. I could see they cared, but they just didn't understand. Good people. They never did anything for me. When it comes to emotional trauma and wounds, they don't know how to handle things.
So you go back to church... don't say it was a single's ward.
It was a single's ward. That's a different story all by itself.
(lots of laughter)
Sorry, after 10 years as a homo—
—I go to a singles ward.
I mean no disrespect. It's just an interesting choice.
I ended up realizing that I couldn't do it. I didn't have a lot in common with 18 year olds. I went for six months.
When did you decide you were going to work on your same-sex attraction, was it before you decided to go to church or after?
What's interesting is the decision I made was not to work on it, but to not work on it.
You were going to go back and be a gay Mormon?
No. When I was in the gay lifestyle, I was working very, very hard trying to understand my homosexual feelings. The thought in the back of my head was, maybe there is something I can change, because my behavior was getting worse.
I decided that in 2000-2001 that I was not going to worry about same sex attraction anymore. I was not sexual first for 90 days. In the first year, I felt like I was just figuring out what was going on in my life.
What's interesting, is I have not focused on it since. It just is.
Are you chaste?
When did you decide you would be chaste?
That was gradual. That took me three or four years to bring down the anger and control and truly understand what was going on with the dissociation. Reading every book known to man on incest recovery for men.
Well, silly me, here I am thinking that you came all the way from Dallas for this conference, I presumed this must be a very big thing for you, this changing your same-sex attraction. What's it like being chaste?
It's difficult. Being chaste to me is an easier lifestyle that is more psychologically healthy than what I was doing, acting out all through sex.
I've also been discovering more about about myself. My sexual abuse experiences were not “negative” as a child; there was no violence. In fact, as a 5-year-old kid, it seemed like caring, normal, getting acceptance, getting attention. Everything else outside the sexual abuse was violent and angry. So in my mind, I paired healthy relationships with men which I wanted all along.
Have I gotten better? After $50,000 in therapy, I've realized that I want to be with men but that doesn't mean I want to have sex with them.
Generally speaking, yes, but in your particular case it does, doesn't it?
No. To me that is a sexual thing. I don't want to have sex. I want to be intimate.
Was I an innate homosexual from birth? I can't answer that.
Is it still terrifying when you act on your attractions?
The thing is, I don't have sexual attraction toward men. I want to get what I really want from men: closeness. When I'm longing for men, I'm not thinking of genitals. I'm longing for nurturing and acceptance, affection.
I'm not your bishop, so tell me honestly. Do you masturbate now?
Do you get that same terrifying feeling?
So there's this conflict in you, you get the urge to self-gratify, but when you do, you're reinforced with negative feelings.
Flashback memories. I don't know what my sexuality is. In my life, what I'm striving for right now is neutral sexuality, to give my psyche and emotions and therapy and everything—to at least allow a possibility that there could be a chance of mutual relationships, not where one person is dominating.
Let me clarify: you said you had same-sex attraction from your earliest memory, which must predate the sexual abuse.
No, my earliest memories are the abuse.
So do you believe your same-sex attraction was caused by it?
I don't know the answer to that. I struggle with that a lot. My conclusion is that I just don't know and won't ever know.
Is it important to you for you to know?
No. At this point, if I can survive all the damage done from the sexual abuse, I will have a much clearer mind to determine, OK, do I want to live a homosexual or a heterosexual lifestyle, versus just a reaction to the abuse.
Previously I couldn't make informed decisions because I was so affected by the abuse.
My goal is to get to a point where I can make a healthy choice to decide what the relationships do I want.
The LDS Church considers masturbation to be “self-abuse.” Is that LDS doctrine to your thinking and are you hoping you'll be able to masturbate peacefully some day?
That is an eventual behavior outcome I would like to see. Looking at it right now, when it happens, it still incites terror.
I want the outcome to be that when I present sexual feelings, I choose how to express them. Right time, right place, right person. Rather than letting my body do things that I hardly even remember once it's over. I want sex to be a real experience. What does that means to me? I don't know yet.
Does Evergreen help you with that?
The reason I come to Evergreen is emotional support. I don't believe everything they say.
One of the things I find most damaging in some of the books for ex-gays are when people give their opinions and they don't clarify their terms. For example, like in an Evergreen workshop, we talked about "change." They kept saying “everyone can change.” Automatically, people who are struggling with change go “What's wrong with me? Why can't I become a flaming heterosexual?” That's what I used to think when I read that growing up. It's imperative to understand “change” and what that really means. Have I changed? Oh yeah, since going to therapy, I'm a much healthier person. I'm not as healthy as I want to be, but my compulsive stuff is way down.
I look back over the last eight years, life is much better than it was before. It's still not where I want it to be but I can see gradual progress. Am I a heterosexual? Is that my goal? My goal is help. Whatever that looks like, I'll know it when I get there.
And for now, the LDS Church is helping you with that? You still go to church?
Oh, you're back not going to church. You go to Evergreen but you don't go to church?!
I haven't been to church in about two years.
So tell me why you don't go to church now.
The biggest issue I've been working on the last few years is my anger toward God and anger towards church. I couldn't go to LDS church and not blurt out. It's the bullshit factor. When I'm hearing stuff that sounds like Polyanna, someone might be doing their best, but I've had the experience that makes me realize God does not always protect us. When I hear that, I want to scream bullshit.