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Exgays and Mental Illness

May 26, 2013

After 25 years in the exgay movement and having just completed my MSW (Masters in Social Work) I have come to a conclusion.  Long-term exgays are kinda weird.  Looking back at my peers in the exgay movement I can say that those that make a long-term commitment to this “lifestyle” tend to be a little off.  Part of the reason may be internalized homophobia or as the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) puts it many exgays may suffer with an Identity Problem (313.82 in the DSM pg. 741).  But I am convinced there is more to it than this.  The percentage of people with personality disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, etc. were far higher in the exgay movement than in the gay population or the straight population.  And when you think about it this makes sense.  Why would someone make a commitment to this sub-culture of the gay population?  (Yes, it is my opinion that exgays should be viewed as a sub-set of the GLBTQ community.)  The vast majority of people that start attending exgay groups leave within three years, but what is the motivation for those of us that stay?

Sincerely held religious beliefs are one answer to be sure.  But the idea that many people that commit to the exgay movement have deep-seated and probably undiagnosed mental disorders that are unrelated to there sexual identity makes sense to me based on my experiences.  When you have a difficult time relating to the world around you, and you have an undiagnosed mental disorder it makes sense that you would blame your struggles in life on homosexuality. The reason you are agoraphobic?  Homosexuality.  The reason you isolate?  Homosexuality.  The reason you hoard?  Homosexuality.  The reason you have obsessive thoughts?  Homosexuality.

The evangelical and fundamentalist Christian communities help contribute to this problem.  Many evangelical and most fundamentalist churches are wary of secular mental health providers.  When you don’t trust the mental health profession and you are dealing with mental illness you have few options, pastoral counseling at church is one option.  This is problematic because most evangelical pastors view homosexuality as an extremely depraved sin so they will view any symptoms of mental illness as a part of the homosexuals depraved condition.  The other option is to attend an exgay group.  This is very problematic because most exgay leaders have even less training in counseling than evangelical pastors.  Most exgays are lay people with little or no training in mental health issues.

Now, there is another category of exgay as well.  I call these the mentally odd.  Not people that have a diagnosable mental disorder but people that are just outside the mainstream.  These folks may have some autistic traits, or deal with issues such as non-verbal learning disorder, or simply be very introverted.  Many of the exgay leaders I can think of would fit this category.

Timothy Fuller who led a support group associated with Andy Comiskey’s Desert Streams ministry in the early 90’s was a wonderful, thoughtful, spiritual man and he was kind of odd.  Sonia Balcer who is an exgay superstar is a highly intelligent, spiritual woman, and a scientist who should do a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory.  She screams Asperger’s to me.  The same with new up and coming exgay superstar Eve Tushnet.  I find her writings profound, deep, and insightful into the human condition in unique ways.  But she does seem to fit somewhere on the autism spectrum.*  Ron Belgau is another engineer/scientist who seems to be all brain, struggling with the issues of life, philosophy, and theology.  There is nothing “wrong” with these people, all societies have their Philosophers, Absent-Minded Professors, Monks, and Eunuchs who seem called to a deep, spiritual place.  For these few the physical is a distraction, the need that most in society have for romantic coupling or sexual intimacy is a distraction from there quest to discover hidden Spiritual and Philosophical truths.  Society needs these people as we need all kinds of people.  Some who are called to a celibate life are a part of the LGBTQ community, but that is a very different thing than being an exgay……or is it?

*I am in no way diagnosing or assessing people in this blog.

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