L.T. Miller shares another scene in a continuing story about his adventures in (and coming out of) an ex-gay ministry.
If you’ve been reading my posts then you probably realize by now that I like to skip around. My thoughts have always been tangential. I get distracted easily, forget what somebody told me just five minutes before, and repeat myself to the point of extreme annoyance. My friends sometimes call me Spaz. The DSM defines this as Attention Deficit Disorder – but since there is a diagnosis for every idiosyncrasy there is, I take it all with a grain of salt.
All I know is that I don’t like to label, categorize, or put things – especially God – into neat little boxes. I like to think outside of the lines. I’ve always preferred random over traditional, feelings over logic, heart over mind, color over black and white. I’ve always been rebellious, forever pushing the envelope, so how I survived two years in the New Hope program with all of its rigidity and inane rules is beyond me.
If you’ve seen Bette Davis in the movie “All about Eve” then I’m sure you remember the scene where her character Margo Channing downs her martini in one big gulp before emphatically declaring: “Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” Well, that’s the kind of journey I want to take you on. I want these musings to take you high into the mountains, down into the valleys and back up again – for such is the joy of life. It is my goal to take you all over the place with my words – with no rhyme or reason whatsoever.
I love books. From the earliest time I can remember my mother read to me. I remember one book that stands out more so than the others. “Miss Suzie” is a silly story about a little gray squirrel. The plot is simple: Miss Suzie’s peaceful life is suddenly shattered by a pack of rowdy red squirrels who evict her from her cozy abode nestled high in a towering oak tree. Poor little thing takes refuge in the musty attic of a neighboring home where she discovers a beautiful dollhouse. There she takes up temporary residence and meets and befriends a brave band of toy soldiers who eventually defend her honor and help her reclaim her rightful place where she once again is free to enjoy her home-made acorn pudding. My mother instilled in me a tremendous love for words. I am grateful.
When I was old enough to read to myself I came across the most beautiful book while out shopping with mom one day. It had an ornate cover far more decorative than the children’s books I had at home. When I picked it up and fumbled through its pages I was intrigued – they were all blank. I begged mom to get it for me. My new book was a portal to the creation of my own stories. I was ecstatic. I now had unconstrained freedom to express my innermost thoughts and feelings. My first journal became my newest and best buddy. I could run to him whenever I was in need of a confidante, secure in knowing that he would never betray my trust.
Eventually it dawned on me that my new passion for writing offered me an opportunity to approach God in a different way, and I realized that it wasn’t a sacrilege to sometimes abandon tradition. How freeing it was to realize that it wasn’t always necessary to kneel and bow my head in reverence in order to communicate with God, and that it was okay to retreat to a cozy spot and write letters to Him.
All these years later I am grateful for my stack of weathered journals with their pages full of random thoughts, my scribbles extending outside the distinct margins. My journals are sacred. They are my friends. Within their confines are many private conversations between God and me. They have followed me everywhere. While in the New Hope program I wrote often. It was my escape.
We were housed two or three to a room. I was fortunate in that I only had to share my space with one other. I liked Liam immediately, and we quickly became friends. A few years older than me, he became a bit of a big brother. I felt safe in his presence. Unfortunately the safety net he provided would be ripped from underneath me suddenly and without warning. One Saturday afternoon, returning home from an outing with some of the guys, I walked into our room and was shocked to see him packing. I stood there, looking at him with disbelief. Neither of us said a word for a long time. Finally I was the one to break the silence, “Does leadership know?”
My eyes pleaded for understanding. “Why?”
His face reddened, and I saw an anger that contradicted his ordinarily reserved nature. “This is bullshit, L.T.! I’m out of here. Fuck this! I’m going back to Singapore. Being here is a waste of time.”
I was speechless. What was I going to do without my “Li Li”? How would I survive without our late night talks and prayer sessions? I felt lost, confused, and abandoned.
A taxi arrived a couple of hours later and just like that he was gone.
By this time Jason and I had been “leveled”. As I shared in an earlier post, this meant that any interaction between us was explicitly prohibited. It didn’t matter that neither of us could escape from one another’s presence, we were forbidden to speak to one another, make eye contact, and were kept separated in every activity and outing. The sad thing is that it didn’t affect just Jason and me but everyone in the house. If a group of guys was planning an activity outside of an organized event, they were faced with the dilemma of which one of us they were going to invite since the rule didn’t allow them to invite both of us. This fueled in both Jason and me feelings of rejection, exclusion, and jealousy.
Leadership seemed oblivious to the divisiveness this mandate caused and how complicated it made life for all of us. No matter how many times I went to them and pleaded for reconsideration, no matter how many promises I made to keep my friendship with Jason healthy, I was always told no and presented with two choices: abide or leave. I shuddered at the thought of life on the outside, knowing that I had no chance in hell of changing if I left. So I stayed.
The pain caused by this cruel directive coupled with Liam’s abrupt departure was more than I could bear, and I fell into an unrelenting depression. If Jesus promised freedom, why did I feel so caged? Was the road to healing and wholeness supposed to hurt like this? So much just didn’t make sense. It all seemed so unfair.
While I missed Liam terribly, I soon discovered a silver lining in the ominous cloud that followed me everywhere I went. For the first time in months I had an entire room to myself. What a luxury it was to be able to retreat behind a closed door and have my own space. Leadership had always cautioned us not to “isolate” ourselves too much – well screw them, I thought to myself. I fulfilled my perfunctory duties, halfheartedly showing up for devotions, Bible studies, classes, house meetings, meals, and whatever else was required of me. But my mind was always somewhere else. I separated myself more and more from the others whenever free time presented itself and escaped to the seclusion of my little room where it was just me, my books, my journals, and a God who probably got tired of my endless letters. There in my private sanctuary, I read voraciously and wrote fervently.
“Jesus, you tell us clearly in Matthew Chapter Seven that if we ask, it will be given to us. God, I don’t want to put you in a box anymore. I want in my life the results of believing and asking. I want miracles to happen. It’s time for me to start asking for the seemingly impossible.”
“God, I didn’t intentionally set out to sin against you and leadership. Sometimes I just don’t think about the implications of my actions and how they affect others. I am too damn impulsive. Lord, please help me to obey the rules this year. God, please help me to submit to you and leadership.”
“Dear God, things in the house have been better the last few days. We did our first affirmation tonight.”
“There is almost a sense of relief that Jason and I are ‘leveled’. Strangely enough it feels good to be able to ignore him – to have the freedom to walk past him, turn the other way, and say nothing. Perhaps it’s better this way . . .”
“Where will I go when my time here is over? What will my life be like a year from now? Two years from now? Will I be transformed into the Godly man I so passionately pursue?”
“There is such a hunger for you here, God.”
“Steve and Ron each play the violin. I love it when they serenade one another – so hauntingly beautiful. Thank you Lord.”
“Be with Jason this year. Work in his life, Lord; give him the true desires of his heart.”
“God, the strangest, most hateful thing occurred today as we were walking along Fourth Street – our fun afternoon was marred when a drunken redneck yelled out after us with sheer disgust in his voice: ‘FAGGOTS!’”
“For the most part I’m diggin’ the guys here, God – well most of them. I like the camaraderie. Being here is sort of like being back in the dorms at Bible College. We certainly are a bag of mixed nuts – that’s for sure. I suppose that if I was on the outside and had the freedom to choose who from here I’d want in my life there would be a few who wouldn’t make the cut. Lord, I must confess, I don’t like Clarence very much. There’s something about him that seems lecherous – I know that I am commanded to love him, but there’s just something about him that gives me the heebie jeebies.
“We spent the afternoon at Rodeo Beach this afternoon. The expansive views of the bridge and the city were breathtaking. I wish I could have been there alone – just me and my truck – then I could have left when I wanted and gone wherever I wanted afterwards. The loss of independence has been hard. There are so many restrictions . . .”
“Lord, I just want to be held by you right now. Sometimes I hurt so much. I don’t know who I am anymore – I don’t know how to be. I’m miserable. Can I crawl up into your lap for a bit?”
And now here I am almost twenty years later sharing these experiences with you. What a spectacular journey it has been – what an adventure! Sure, there have been lots of tears and heartbreak – but there has been a ton of laughter too, and I don’t regret a thing. Even if it was possible, I would never even consider going back in time and changing the course God set me on from the beginning of my existence – why would I? Everything that’s happened in my life – including my years at New Hope – has made me who I am today. I like that guy I’ve become – that eccentric middle aged man who stares out from the bathroom mirror every morning. He is at peace – he knows himself – he knows how to be – and he is free to write outside the lines.
L.T. MILLER was born in a small southern town. While in college, he became involved in ex-gay support groups, and in 1996 was accepted into the New Hope Ministries residential program in San Rafael, CA. During his two year stay, he questioned everything until finally he completely abandoned a misguided ideology that made less and less sense. He found a gay church in San Francisco where he was accepted for who he was, and with the loving support of a lesbian pastor he was able to begin life anew as an openly gay man. L.T. Miller is the Ex-Gay Survivor.