L.T. Miller shares another scene in a continuing story about his adventures in (and coming out of) an ex-gay ministry.
During our house meeting that night, we were instructed to break into pairs. The assignment was for each of us to share a painful childhood memory and then pray for one another. I sat cross legged on the floor, feeling exposed and vulnerable. I’ll never forget the sight of Liam stretched out on the bottom bunk – tears streaming down his face. I felt nothing from him but unyielding love and compassion. We sat in silence for a while before he came and joined me. Gently he placed his arm around me. His prayer was soothing and comforting.
Lost in the moment, we were suddenly startled by Jake as he flung open the door. He stormed angrily into the room and snapped, “You’re making the rest of us wait!”
I sat there defiantly for a long time before slowly and deliberately rising to my feet, casting him a menacing look that said, “Fuck you!” Lately I’d felt nothing but disdain for him. Ever since he’d told Chris that if he left New Hope before the year was over he might as well burn his Bible, I could barely stand to be in his presence. I spit my words out through gritted teeth, “Screw you!” I wanted to conclude with “asshole” but decided it was probably better not to add fuel to the flame.
He rolled his eyes, shook his head, and sauntered into the living room like a wounded puppy. Liam followed.
I made my way to the bathroom in slow motion, locked the door behind me, turned on the exhaust fan, sat on the edge of the bathtub, and let the tears run freely. I didn’t bother wiping them away before joining the others. The minute I walked into the room Damon glared at me and began to chastise. He callously ignored my tear stricken face and puffy eyes. I said nothing as I made my exit – I refused to give him the satisfaction. I purposely slammed the front door as loudly as I could and escaped outside into the cool night air.
I aimlessly wandered down Lincoln Avenue toward downtown, tempted to find a bar and have a beer. It had been months since I’d tasted alcohol or felt its effects. I pictured myself returning to the house tipsy – or even more scandalous, drunk. Despite the seething anger I felt, despite the deep sadness I felt, I laughed out loud at the thought of walking into Jake’s room staggering and slurring.
When I returned home all of the guys had gone to bed already. There was a message on the bulletin board that hung in the entry way: “L.T., please be in Frank’s office tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. Leadership would like to meet with you. Don’t be late.”
I tossed and turned all night. I got out of bed before the others, quickly showered, and left for a mundane administrative job at All Night Media, a small factory that manufactured rubber stamps. By this time we had been permitted to obtain employment – with lots of restrictions of course. We were not allowed to work outside of Marin County, work hours had to be between nine and five o’clock, and there was to be absolutely no dilly dallying after the work day was over. Leadership knew exactly how long it took each of us to get home, and if we were going to be late we had better call or all hell would break loose.
That afternoon I walked into Frank’s office not knowing what awaited me. Frank sat behind his desk, and Damon and Jake had already designated themselves to the comfy arm chairs. Surprisingly Jake was wearing shoes. I avoided looking at either of them, and tried to pretend they weren’t there – that it was just Frank and me. I scooted the hardback chair as far away from them as I could and took my seat – ready to face the jury. I glanced at my watch. 5:29. Right on time.
The twenty minute walk home from work had been interesting as usual. San Rafael was a charming little town resting in the shadows of Mount Tamalpais. Her funk and quirkiness never failed to entertain me. Despite any angst I was feeling about the upcoming meeting, I savored every step of the way home as I walked her streets, past colorful restaurants and shops and bars – God, I wanted a drink so bad – I wanted to hang out with cool people, shoot a game of pool, and forget what lay ahead. I tried not to let my mind dwell on what was coming and just deal with it when it arrived. Of course I was nervous as hell. Were they going to implement yet another “parameter”? Rob me of even more freedom? Or worse yet, were they going to kick me out for my insubordination? Where the hell would I go?
God only knew.
As much as I sometimes wanted to bail, I suppose the truth of the matter is I wanted to stay.
Despite all the bullshit, the reality was that the guys and I had fun – we had bonded. I felt like I was part of a family. In those precious moments of silly bantering and joking and gently teasing one another, my thoughts would often wander back to high school and college – and I’d be overwhelmingly grateful that God was making up for what I’d been denied during those distinct phases of my life. I was actually bonding with other guys – void of girls – and we were hanging out doing normal guy things . . .
Well, I suppose that depends on one’s definition of “normal” guy things. Is it normal for straight guys to sit around on a Friday night and give each other facials? Funny how leadership – hellbent on making us straight – never blinked an eye.
Before Liam left – before our room became a place where others weren’t welcome – he and I would host what we called slumber parties. There’d be a half dozen of us sprawled out in the little room, Christian music playing in the background, laughing and carrying on like silly school girls. We would lose ourselves in the most beautiful, most profound connectedness I’d ever known. Friday nights belonged to us – no meetings, no structure, no obligations whatsoever – that was our time to just hang out and enjoy one another – and we did. I would hold court while Liam ran back and forth to the kitchen, eventually returning with a huge platter of his delicious pot stickers. Until the wee hours of the morning we’d eat and talk and laugh until tears of sheer bliss were running down our faces.
Consumed by my own thoughts, I was reeled back into the present moment once Frank began to speak. “L.T., Liam came to me this morning and told me what you shared with him last night. I am so sorry that happened to you. Let me ask you a question if I may. Have you forgiven him?”
Had I? God knows I’d spent countless hours praying for him, asking God to change him. I wanted to be compassionate, understanding, and forgiving, but my prayers had always seemed to fall on deaf ears. I couldn’t believe that I’d bared so much of my soul to Liam – actually shared journal entries with him.
He came into my life when I was seven years old and shattered any semblance of childhood innocence. He came in like a gentle lamb at first – attentive, interested, playful, sensitive and funny – but it didn’t take long for me to realize that he was a wretched wolf in sheep’s clothing. By the time my mom realized the true nature of this mean spirited man, it was too late. She’d already been hopelessly ensnared by his lies and charm.
I’m not sure when the abuse started. It was subtle – insidious. I think it first dawned on me that this wasn’t going to be a fun ride when he picked me up from school one day in lieu of Mom. She must have been working late. I think I was in the fourth grade. It had been raining and there were puddles scattered along the walkway to the parking lot. Like any other rambunctious boy my age I plowed right through them without thought, splattering dirty water all over myself. He waited until we were in the truck and out of sight of the other parents and children before slapping me across the face.
Later that evening he and Mom got into a horrific argument. After he tired of verbally lashing out at her, he shifted his anger toward me and heaped upon me all the blame. I was the little bastard who caused all their problems – everything was my fault. I tried to escape his abusive words, running into my bedroom with him following close behind. I naively thought I could outrun him, but before I could close and lock the door behind me, he was on top of me – his blood shot eyes shooting daggers, his sweaty hands gripping my neck.
“NO! I haven’t forgiven him – hell no!”
Frank looked at me with a sweet tenderness that I’ll never forget. His warmth reached out across the room and enveloped me. I loved Frank. He was a kind-hearted man and his intentions were always good no matter how misguided. He genuinely loved his guys and wanted nothing for us but happiness.
Jake, on the other hand, had once told me that God didn’t care one bit about my happiness – God’s only concern was that I was obedient. He was forever telling me that I needed to be broken by God, torn apart, humbled . . . but hadn’t I been broken enough in my life?
Frank took his time before asking his next question. “Why do you think he did it?”
I’d never asked myself that question before. Why did he do it? Could it be because his father had returned from World War II forever hardened, forever scarred by the horrors of combat? I’d once overheard him sharing with mom vague snippets about an angry father who sure as hell didn’t believe in sparing the rod. Perhaps his father had needed an outlet and used his son as a punching bag to satisfy his uncontrollable need to lash out. I closed my eyes and tried to picture him as an innocent boy enduring his father’s wrath. My heart broke for that little boy.
That epiphany ignited something deep within my heart.
Sharing these experiences all these years later I realize that I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’ve learned that the passing of time doesn’t erase the past, but rather it adds to it a new dimension. Perspectives change. People change. And time has a way of softening the harsh realities of a life that is not always easy. Sometimes it takes years for our prayers to be answered, and more often than not the answers manifest themselves in the most unexpected circumstances.
Forgiveness didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual and much of the process was unspoken.
In 2007 my life fell apart. In a matter of a few months, I had lost everything – my job, my beloved flat in California, relationships – everything – but never for a second did I lose the support of family. I had hit rock bottom – ground zero – defeat. With no place else to go, I returned to North Carolina for a few months until I got my bearings. I was depressed almost to the point of being catatonic – suicidal every day.
He would sit with me. We would spend the long summer days underneath the shade of an enormous oak tree where words weren’t necessary. I’d study his wrinkles and hollowed out cheeks, watch his hands shake as they lit a cigarette – and feel nothing but profound gratitude for the gentle old man he had become.
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.