This is another scene in a continuing story about L.T. Miller’s adventures in (and coming out of) an ex-gay ministry.
I felt as if I’d known him before – perhaps in a past life. Who knows? We became friends instantly. Quickly that friendship morphed into something more. We became brothers. We would joke that he was born first and my mother gave him away – and that, at last, we were reunited all these years later.
It was 1996 and I can’t remember if men’s flannel shirts were in vogue then or not, but each of us had gone on major shopping sprees prior to our year in the program and had both stocked up on flannels – I suppose in a feeble attempt to “butch” it up. We were similar in stature and soon had free reign of each others’ closets. It didn’t take long before the other guys would get us mixed up – more than once I got called Jason and vice versa – soon we became known to the others as “Chip and Dale”.
I came to love all of my cohorts that year, but Jason was my heart. He and I shared everything . . . secrets, private jokes between just the two of us, and juicy gossip about the others. We spent every moment we could together; and every moment we shared became special.
I remember the little things: fighting over who got the bathroom first in the morning, arguing over who was going to ride shotgun . . . it’s funny the things I remember. We both loved Snickers and I’d often be surprised to find one of the candy bars in my mailbox with an unsigned note of encouragement. I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror together, preening and primping, me telling him that he was using the wrong hair product, him telling me that I wasn’t flossing the right way, and him teasing me for dripping water all over the floor. One of his most endearing nicknames for me became Daffy, and every time he called me that he would do a little “quack quack” for flair.
I remember our trips to the market together. Of course, per the “three man” rule, we had to be accompanied by another. I felt like we were being chaperoned, and I resented it to no end. We would quickly abandon the other, and make our way to the other end of the store. Those rare moments alone were precious. We’d act goofy, and resort to childish foolishness. I remember convincing him on one occasion to climb up into the shopping cart and then pushing him recklessly up and down the aisles, nearly knocking over a display of canned soup on special. The strange looks we got from the other customers didn’t faze either of us one bit.
Our first weekend away with the New Hope guys took us about 150 miles north to a beautiful Christian retreat just outside of Mendocino. Jason and I sat in the back seat and oohed and aahed at the majestic California coastline as the van meandered along the Pacific Coast Highway. Jason was extremely animated and gestured wildly whenever he spoke. Every time his hand would graze me – no matter how slightly – my entire body would tingle.
Lord’s Land was nestled deep in the redwoods. We all settled into “Big House”. The upstairs was barrack style with bunk beds lining both sides of each wall. Jason and I immediately claimed two bottom bunks that would allow us to lie head to head. Each bed had a Bible verse engraved upon the sideboard. Mine was: “I will not fail you”. Jason’s read: “I will manifest myself”.
Standing just outside the front entrance to Big House were the remains of a redwood tree. I’m guessing what was left stood about fifty feet or so. All I remember is that it dwarfed Big House. It was completely engulfed with a thick layer of ivy with trunks so broad it was possible to climb to the top. I’m generally not a big fan of heights – ladders have always terrified me – but Jason broke into an endless litany of “Come on L.T., you can do it. Come on – man – you wuss – come on – just do it!”
I stood there with an annoyed smirk on my face: “Okay dude, but you first”.
“Alright – catch me if you can” he yelled as he began his ascent.
The climb was tedious and I hated every minute of it. I just knew I was going to plummet to my death. Finally after what seemed like an eternity we made it to the top where a large wooden platform awaited us. The view was breathtakingly beautiful. As far as the eye could see were tall majestic redwoods. The sun was close to setting and the clouds were beginning to fade into brilliant pink hues. We stood in silence and breathed in the splendor. Our descent was quick and easy – a rope hung down through the hollow of the gigantic stump and within seconds we were back to where we started. Once we got our bearings Jason turned to me with a big grin and gave me a high five.
I wrote in my journal that night: “I felt like a little boy today. I played hard, I got dirty, and I loved it. I’ve always wanted this, God, this sense of camaraderie with another man. Thank you”.
The next morning Jason and I were up before dawn and snuck out of the house before the others awoke. Here in this magical place the three men rule didn’t apply. We each carried our Bibles and flashlights and walked together in silence for a while before eventually heading our separate ways. I ventured far into the woods, found a quiet place, and relished the solitude. I prayed for healing, for my brothers, for Jason, and for clarity. I knew I had crossed that line into “uh-oh” land, and it scared the hell of me.
As the weeks and months passed there were many nights when I’d lay awake pleading with God to make my thoughts toward Jason pure: “Lord, I know you’ve brought us together for a reason. He’s so much like me; I can relate to him in a way that supersedes my connection with the others . . . but God my feelings for him terrify me”. I remember climbing out of bed in the wee hours of the morning on more than one occasion and tiptoeing to the prayer room. I’d get on my hands and knees, reverently bow my head, and plead with God to take away my evil thoughts. “Lord, I know Satan wants to come in and prevent Jason and me from having a healthy relationship. I rebuke him in Jesus’ name”.
“You’re getting too close”, our leader Frank cautioned, “Spend time together, pray for each other. Be friends. But don’t shut the others out. Don’t isolate yourselves.” We dismissed his concerns.
Eventually Jason and I were “leveled”. We weren’t allowed to speak to one another for any reason, and at every meal, in every meeting, in every class we were to seat ourselves so that we couldn’t make eye contact. At this point we were so entrenched in the teachings of New Hope that we blindly succumbed to this mandate without question, so defeated that we didn’t resist, so brainwashed that we simply obeyed. It was one of the most hellish experiences of my life.
After the first year at New Hope, Jason moved to Arizona. I was still lost and confused – still searching. I decided to stay on a second year. There was a tremendous sense of relief that he was gone. I could block him out of my mind, and continue to focus on my healing.
Eventually we reconnected. I’ll never forget a phone conversation we had one evening. “Ya know”, he said, “Perhaps if we would have met under different circumstances, we would have given it a shot . . . “
Then I mumbled a weak: “I know”.
“L.T., I wrote about you often in my journal. Somehow writing about you, about my feelings – it made me feel close to you. Good or bad, I need to share an excerpt with you: ‘the man who completes me lies on the other side of this wall, and I can’t embrace him without guilt or shame’.”
I could see his face through all the miles that separated us; I could picture his brow furrowed deep in thought. “Dude, I can see you in my mind right now and if you don’t learn to relax you’re going to cause your forehead to wrinkle. Stop it”. He laughed.
After we said our goodbyes, I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep.
I’ll always wonder what if . . . what if we had met somewhere else . . . in some other place . . .
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.