My father in law warned me. He said, with a wisdom that I couldn't recognize, “People are going to try to use your story for their political ends.” I was just so happy to be able to speak; it was part pride, I'll admit that. The pleasant vanity of hearing one's own voice on radio, of sitting in a television studio and talking about oneself. I was also terrified, paralyzed by stage fright. My husband wanted to discuss what I was going to say, how I was going to avoid sounding plastic or saccharine, but I just wanted to plug my book and get out alive.
When I went on Catholic radio for the first time the host, a well-meaning pious woman, cornered me. She said, “So you heard God speaking to you in your heart?” I fumbled. I stuttered. I said, “Yes. In a sense,” or something like that. When the interview was over, I hung up the phone and sat staring at the wall, wondering what had happened. My husband asked, “How did it go?” I said, “I told them that I heard God speaking to me in my heart. I gave a classic conversion testimonial. I didn't mean to.” He said, “Next time, we'll get you ready before you go on.”
My next radio interview was better, so I figured that I was okay when EWTN invited me down to appear on the Abundant Life. Then I got there, and I realized that I wasn't in Canada anymore. I was in Alabama. The women at the EWTN mass were all wearing pretty skirts, and many of them had their heads covered. Black people worked all of the service jobs, and they referred to me as “ma'am,” in this weird way, as if slavery had never really come to an end. People would ask me what I was there to do a show about, and I would say “homosexuality. I used to be a lesbian.” Then they would talk about the gay agenda, and Prop 8, and how the gays were taking over the schools. It was so strange, this presumption that since I had left my lesbian lover behind I would therefore look on homosexuality with fear and loathing. I smiled and nodded, because I didn't know what to say.
Eventually I got to the studio where I was greeted by Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a reparative therapist from NARTH who was to be appearing alongside me on the show. He was the expert, the doctor. I was automatically, in some way, cast in the role of the patient, the one who had been successfully treated and reformed. Only I had never been treated. I had never been to any therapy. I had never been repaired. There was a sort of awkwardness in that which got under my skin.
Then, at some point during filming when the camera was off, Dr. Fitzgibbons turned to me and in a hushed tone of voice that suggested he was sharing an appalling secret with me said something about “gay bowel syndrome” and rectal cancer. I was stunned. I didn't know how to react to that. Was I supposed to be horrified? Disgusted? Shocked? In disbelief? I was none of those things. I just sat there, waiting for Rod Sirling to pop out and explain how I'd gotten into the Twilight Zone.
I got another jolt of cognitive dissonance a little later in the program, when the host turned to me and enthused “You're so honest!” I was suffering from culture-shock and intimidation in the presence of an expert, and I was giving a really wooden, highly expurgated account of myself. I was behaving so artificially that when my husband later tried to watch the show on YouTube he couldn't make it through more than five painful minutes. I didn't resemble myself at all, yet I was being praised for heroic authenticity.
I felt like a fraud. I'd written a book about how the Culture Wars mentality was wrong, and suddenly I was in the thick of that war, an artillery piece in the battle against the Gay Agenda. Moreover, I knew that the politicization of my sexuality was an obstacle to the work that I actually wanted to be doing. I was producing the kind of ex-gay narrative that appeals to good Catholic mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who dearly want their loved one's to be able to acheive a full, vibrant, healthy, happy heterosexuality – the kind of ex-gay narrative that has failed the LGBTQ community so badly because it falls afoul of the real experience of many people with SSA.
I was fast becoming the very stereotype that I had so pointedly criticized in the opening chapter of my book and I didn't know where I was going to find the courage to go back to being myself.
(part 4 of 12)