Young Australian Benjamin Gresham tells his story at SX:
I wonder if you’ve ever thought about trying to change your sexual orientation. Is it even possible? Well, many religions seem to think so and still present this as one of the only options for LGBT people. What follows is a trail of devastation for many involved and my story is no different.
I was born and raised in the Hills area of Sydney, known to many as the ‘Bible Belt’. Brought up on Christian beliefs and values, I was taught from a young age that homosexuality was unacceptable and was not part of God’s plan.
I first knew I didn’t fit into this ‘plan’ when I was about 6-years-old. I didn’t really know much about being gay then, let alone that I was one of them; however I did know that I was different. And like any person who is ‘different’, the desire to conform and be accepted can make you do almost anything.
Even though I grew up in a Christian home, it wasn’t until I was about 15-years-old that I started going along to church, reading the bible and taking my faith seriously. At 15, my faith became more to me than just stories and historic figures. God became a real part of my life and my church was like my home. It was everything to me!
At high school I was one of those kids that everyone knew was a Christian. I would pray before school at the flag pole, lead the school Christian group and vowed to never have sex before marriage. However, under the cover of this seemingly ‘straight’ Christian boy was a closeted young gay man, ashamed of who he was and terrified of anyone knowing the truth.
My Christian identity in many ways also became a cover for dodging any possible questions that might suggest I was gay. However, despite the straight facade I was portraying, I still would often get bagged out at school for being too ‘soft’ and for liking all the ‘gay’ subjects. I still remember one Friday in Year Ten when I thought I had been found out. A boy in my grade came up to me and said, “You’re not going to heaven, Ben!”. I replied, “Why not?” He responded with, “Because God doesn’t send faggots to heaven!”
At 16-years-old, I gathered up all the strength and courage I could muster and organised to meet with my church leader and managed to get out the words “I’m gay”. The look of disappointment on his face was too much for me to take and so I burst into tears only to be interrupted by him saying “You can change. Many others have become straight ? you just have to believe”.
My desire to be a good Christian led me to wanting to take my church leader’s advice and made me want to change from gay to straight and so I entered my first ‘ex-gay’ program. ‘Ex-gay’ programs try to ‘cure’ your homosexuality as if it were some type of illness or abnormality.
Every day, for 60 days at a time, I would complete lessons on ‘Why homosexuality is wrong’, read the bible, pray and attend church up to 5 times a week, as well as answer accountability questions for things like whether I had looked at pornography, masturbated or even had thoughts about other men.
One day I slipped. After lasting for 42 days I masturbated, causing me to fall into a cycle of guilt, shame and self-hate. I attended the programs for another three years, desperately wanting for God to love me and for the church to find a place for me. As a gay man, I simply felt that God would not love me unless I was straight.
At the same time of trying to turn from gay to straight, I was in the home stretch of high school. As I studied hard, the formal came closer and closer and the fact that I didn’t have a date was becoming more and more suspicious. I would go to school only to be bullied with the words ‘faggot’, ‘homo’ or ‘queer’ which soon became commonplace. I would cringe every time I heard my friends say ‘that’s so gay’ and the bullying left me feeling like I didn’t belong, furthering my desire to become straight. My Christian identity was no longer covering my secret and so one day, I caved in and asked a girl to my formal just so I could fit in with the other guys.
As I battled between my faith and sexuality, I started to hate myself and felt like I had failed God. It was at this time that I was diagnosed with depression. My depression escalated and led to self-harm. I attempted to commit suicide twice.
Realising I could no longer go on living like this, I left the ex-gay programs and resigned myself to a life without God. I felt numb, broken, damaged. After all that work, nothing had changed and I had almost lost my life.
A few months later, I found Freedom 2 b[e], a group for LGBT people from Christian backgrounds. With this group I found the hope, strength and love I needed to move forward. Over time, my depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts reduced significantly and for the first time in my life, I believed that I was loved by God, just as I was. At 19-years-old, I finally ‘came out’ for good as an openly-gay man.
Coming out was no easy process and telling my parents and family proved hard at first but today they are incredibly supportive. They are even marching with me in Mardi Gras in 2011.
Today I am a 22-year-old, very happy gay Christian man. I have an amazing boyfriend named Sam, I am in my 4th year of university and I am the Youth Coordinator for Freedom 2 b[e].
I am still attending the same church as before, except this time, I am not living a lie. I am living as a proud gay man and am currently working with the pastors and leaders to make it a safer place for LGBT youth. It is my hope that one day ex-gay programs will cease to exist and the church would become a place of love not judgement for LGBT people everywhere.
Even though ‘being different’ isn’t easy and often faith and sexuality seem like they are two worlds apart, I have managed to reconcile my faith in God and my sexual orientation and I am now the happiest I’ve ever been.
- Phony Christians shedding crocodile tears over the bullying of lgbt teens (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Texas Pastor: Christians Have a Moral Obligation To Stop Anti-Gay Bullying (gayrights.change.org)
- A Christian Speaks Out Against the ‘Family’ Research Council (friendlyatheist.com)
- Bishop Gene Robinson: How Religion Is Killing Our Most Vulnerable Youth (huffingtonpost.com)