Many years ago, I met a young guy in his 30’s who seemed to be very nice, driven to make something of himself, and had a way with charming the people he would meet. We became friends and have been friends every since. He eventually opened up to me and his story was just amazing. For argument sake, lets call this guy Ryan.
Ryan, was a very handsome guy, blonde hair, blue eyes, athletic build and he looked like the All American Man. The guy that lived next door. The one that every dad wants his daughter to date and marry. But, Ryan had a secret. Well, maybe not a secret but at least a story to tell. He was gay, but that wasn’t the story or at least it wasn’t a secret. We were best friends so I already knew that. No, the story was, that for 10 years, he was part of a group that I will refer to as “Aspire”. Aspire is a group that “helps” gay men who don’t want to be gay anymore. According to Ryan, this was a pretty large group of men for the chapter that he belonged to in his city. Not only was he part of Aspire, he was a motivational speaker. He would travel from city to city and stand at a podium with an auditorium full of people, mostly men, and start giving his “Inspirational Speeches”. So, as he is telling me this stuff, I start imagining things in my head. I mean, what do you say at a podium about yourself and your journey from a man with homosexual tendencies to the celibate man you are today? How do you convince other men that this path is the right one? Do you say “Bros, you too can masturbate your way to happiness with our support system and our guidance instead of fantasizing about that guy at your gym?” It didn’t make any sense to me. Ryan would get very upset when I say stuff like this because to him, it was very serious. Even though he was past that in this point in his life, he still had vivid memories of doing this. Ok. Lets just say, for arguments sake that you could get through to these men in the audience. What would you say to them? Well, Ryan told me what he would say. It started out with him standing at the podium, holding his fist up and shouting out “Gentleman, Masculinity is under attack!!!” Then he would go on to talk about the evils of homosexuality and how it preys on straight men. He would then talk about how Aspire would help those men via scripture to uphold the biblical view of sexuality by preaching Christian Fellowship, disciplineship, counseling and offering support groups. Then, at the end of the speech, men would come up and meet Ryan, shake his hand, ask how they could be part of Aspire and he would give them his card with his phone number on it and sign them up.
I remember one time in particular when we had some beers and I asked him how they offered support to these men. Here is what he told me. And please, if you are drinking any type of beverage, put it down before you read this. Ryan starts out by saying that many of the men had girlfriends and some were even married. Presumably their wives/girlfriends knew they were all “recovering homosexuals”. One of the things that his Aspire chapter would do as a group was to get all of the members together and do a retreat sort of thing, where they all would pack up their tents and hiking gear and head up into the mountains or the woods for however many days and disappear in order to be on a commune with god and nature. Well, that sounds great, right? People do this all the time. Even if you are not a Christian, you are getting away with a group of people to be one with the planet, to be in tune with nature. How can that be of any harm? Well, here is the catch. There were no women in the retreat, just the straight men that were all “recovering gays”. Oh Yeah, it gets better.
So Ryan is explaining this to me and of course I refrain from judgment because you know me, I don’t jump to conclusions, right? Ok, ok, this is too good to keep quiet about. So Ryan talks about how they all get up into the woods and set up their tents, and break out their bibles and start bonding with each other. There is food on the barbeque, a few beers, stories of their girlfriends and wives and kids. It all goes well. This is bro-mance at its best. Then, someone looks at their watch and says, “Well look at the time, lets hit the sleeping bags and get a good nights sleep.” Ok, that’s how I imagined it but really, the night slowly starts winding down and everyone eventually finds themselves going back to their tents to get some sleep. Now, if you were communing with nature and were a recovering homosexual, wouldn’t you make sure you had a tent all to yourself? You would think so, right? Wrong. These were group tents that held 4 or more people. As Ryan tells the story, and this is where you better put your drink down folks, he says “The guys would all turn in for the night and at some point, some of them would fall”. So I say, “Wait, I don’t understand. They were unrolling their sleeping bags and they fell over some of the other guys?” Ryan says, “No, no, they would fall, you know, from grace”. I am still sitting there looking at him with a blank stare. What the hell does that mean? They fell from grace? I thought there were no women there? Ryan can tell I'm lost. He says, “Bro, some of the guys slept with each other”. Then it hits me. I get it. I let out this long gasp and I may have even reached for my pearls. Then, I do the only thing I can do after a story like that, I fall to the floor, grab my gut because it hurts so much and I start laughing so hard, my beer comes out of my nose and I am choking. I may have even peed a little bit. Ryan gets pissed and starts saying “Bro, BRO!! It’s not funny. This is not a joke”. OMG, it sooooo is funny. I started yelling, “This is one of the funniest things I have ever heard. I mean think about all of this. You have a group of “Ex Gay” men working together to be straight and not have those gay urges which are woven into their very fabric. You go to their city, dress up in a suit with your all handsome, All American looks, stand in front of them at a podium and basically come out as gay and a gay sex addict. They rush up to meet you, you give them your card with your phone number on it and then you take them all into the woods where nobody can get to them. You set them all up in tents with other guys, in the very dark of night and then you expect them to go to sleep quietly and respectfully? Really? And then you are surprised because some of them “Fall”? I continue yelling back at Ryan, “Of course they fell,….right on top of each other. You have men in a tent in the woods with nothing but the darkness and you expect them not to have sex? They are men, they can’t go to sleep without at least jerking off. Men will screw sheep if nobody is around! And, four horny gay guys all worked up at the same time is not a recipe for spiritual redemption. Why would a group of recovering addicts put these poor guys in this situation to start with? Would you invite a group of alcoholics on a retreat and surround them with alcohol bottles and glasses of ice next to their sleeping bags? Of course they fell. Aspire put them in a position where they had to fail. Tents in the woods? Holy Crap! Was there a disco ball and Donna Summers music playing in Tent 5? Was Saturday night Barbra Streisand Night on Lido Deck? “ And that was the end of my rant.
Ryan was livid and yelling “Don’t make a joke about this, this isn’t funny”. “No”, I said, “It is funny”. But he was right. The more I thought about it, the less funny it was. Sure the idea of these guys doing this was funny, but this group that Ryan was a part of, and these retreats that Ryan put together to “Help” these guys were not helping them at all. Imagine that you turned to this group for help, left your wife and kids for the weekend to try and get some penance for your guilty urges after being told they are sinful and you are going to hell, and then having sex with these other guys who are all in the same situation you are in. By the time you got home and back to your family, would you feel better about yourself. Hell no. I was entertained at first, but then I became very, very upset. This group was not helping anyone, they were actually hurting these men. And, they were using Christianity to lure these guys in. While the men in this group were very serious about their spiritual believes, they were also a group of gay men. It was part of who they were. You cant “pray” it away. You can’t masturbate yourself to heterosexuality. And you certainly cant expect men like this who want to be like every other guy in their church to act like every other guy by having them share tents. This is cruel and terrible treatment of these men. They needed professional therapy from someone who could explain to them that this is who they are, its not going away and they could choose to be celibate if that’s what they want but they are never going to be straight men that desire women. It’s not going to happen.
That was many, many years ago. Ryan and I are still very close. When we talk about this now, he realizes how absurd that whole program was. So, whatever happened to Aspire? Well, they shut their doors and issued a wide-ranging apology to the gay community for "years of undue judgment by the organization”. They never cured anyone they tried to “Help”. All they did was make the guys that were in their group feel worse about themselves.
And what about those guys that were all part of Ryan’s Aspire chapter so many years ago? Ryan will occasionally get a phone call from one of them that are in town on a business trip and they will ask him if he has time to meet them for a beer. He usually says no. He will sometimes look them up on Facebook to see how they are doing and of course they are pictured with their wife and kids but they would really like to meet with Ryan. Personally, I say he should meet up with these guys when they call so he can share his own personal coming out and how well he has transformed into a strong, successful gay dad, But, I always tell him “If you do decide to meet up with one of these guys for a beer to catch up, do yourself a favor and leave your sleeping bag at home.”
"Who am I? That’s simple. I am a gay parent that’s treated like a second class citizen and I am done taking it.
Every day I am in the battlefields, in my kid’s school, PTA meetings, swim team, birthday parties with
other parents and I am forcing people to meet me.
Every day I stand right next to them and even if it’s just in my mind, I say “ Look at me will you! I am a gay man, right in front of you.
I have a partner of 8 years and a 6r old boy.
My kid is in your kid’s class and will be for the next 11 years.
I am not going away so now would be as good a time as any to accept me and everything that comes with me."