The Sexist

“Ex-Gays” Search In Vain for “Gay Center of the Brain”

Last week, Montgomery County high schoolers brought home an extra special science lesson with their report cards: A flier from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) informing parents that their gay kids don't have to stay that way.

The flier, which claimed to be in the business of promoting "diversity for the ex-gay community," contained a series of "scientific" ruminations on human sexuality. It's all good, but this is my favorite part (emphasis mine):

According to mainstream psychological associations, there are no replicated scientific studies to support that a person can be born "gay." No "gay gene" or gay center of the brain has been found. No medical test exists to determine if a person is homosexual. Sexual orientation is based on feelings and is a matter of self-affirmation and public declaration.

The gay center of the brain: The final frontier.

So, while the world's most brilliant scientists are busy mining the deepest recesses of gay brains in search of that elusive chocolaty center, I've got a related question for PFOX: How many real, live ex-gay people has PFOX discovered at this point?

PFOX claims that the ex-gay community grows by the thousands each year. But last time I checked, PFOX's ranks were overflowing with "everstraights"—heteros who say they have never been gay, not even once in college—and positively hurting for members who had really, truly successfully prayed the gay away. I can only conclude that the world's ex-gays are all on a very long vacation to somewhere just out of our reach—the gay center of the brain, perhaps!—sipping on Mai Tais and having enthusiastic heterosexual sex with their spouses, far away from the uncomfortable glare of scientific fact.

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) promotes diversity for the ex-gay community. Ex-gays demonstrate that those with unwanted same-sex attractions can seek help and information on overcoming their feelings. All individuals deserve the right to self-determination and happiness based on their own needs, and not on the needs of others. PFOX supports tolerance for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

PFOX can provide: resources for parents and students, ex-gay speakers for your school or club, books for your school library, and brochures on same-sex attractions, bullying and tolerance.

Who are ex-gays?

Every year thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity through gender affirming programs, including therapy, faith based ministries, and other non-judgmental environments. Their decision is one only they can make. However, there are those in society who refuse to respect an individual's right to self-determination. Consequently, formerly gay men and women are subjected to verbal and physical attacks simply because they dare to exist. Ex-gays and their supporters are denied equal access and support, forcing them to remain silent for fear of negative reactions and disapproval, while gays are affirmed for their decision to come out as gay. Former homosexuals do not think something is wrong with them because they decided to fulfill their heterosexual potential by overcoming unwanted same-sex attractions.

But aren't some people born "gay"?

According to mainstream psychological associations, there are no replicated scientific studies to support that a person can be born "gay." No "gay gene" or gay center of the brain has been found. No medical test exists to determine if a person is homosexual. Sexual orientation is based on feelings and is a matter of self-affirmation and public declaration.

If only one part of you has gay feelings, should your whole life be gay identified?

Many people would agree that just because one part of you feels a certain way, it doesn't mean you entire identity is that way. Having feelings of same-sex attraction may make you feel different. We all feel the need to fit in and be accepted. But no one should identify themselves based on sexual feelings alone,. There is more to your identity than your sexual attractions. Thousands of ex-gay men and women had those very same feelings when they were in school. You may have heard, "You must be gay!" But no one should be labeled based on the perception of others. Get smart! Explore the origins of your same-sex attractions. Why do I have these feelings? Where did they come from? The decision of a prom date, a car, or whether to super-size those fries can be based on a feeling, but important decisions should not be made on feelings alone. In order to make an educated decision, you have to be informed! Sexuality develops over time. It is not necessary to label yourself today.

Find out more at !!!

(These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this school.)

Illustration by Robert Ullman.

  • John Dias

    Why is it that it's considered an epiphany when someone "realizes" they are gay -- and gets support for it -- but it's considered a reaction to tampering and religious indoctrination when someone goes in the opposite direction, toward straightness? If it's arbitrary and artificial to head toward straightness, then isn't it just as arbitrary to move toward homosexuality? It sure seems like a cultural double-standard to me.

  • greg

    Keep supporting public schools.

  • K

    John Dias, think back. Think back to when your testicles descended for the first time and suddenly you couldn't stop staring at the girl in class who always wore those tight shirts with horizontal stripes right across her breasts. Think back to a time when if a girl smiled at you, you suddenly felt hot and restless and your pants were a little too tight but you didn't know why. This was the moment you "realized" you were attracted to women.

    Now imagine you'd been told all your life that only weirdos and sinners were attracted to women, and that your father often made crude jokes about "pansies" who liked ladies a bit too much. And a boy who tried to kiss a girl was instead laughed at, and the girl told the entire school about what a freak he was. You haven't told anyone how you feel about women, and you're sure if anyone knew, they wouldn't speak to you at all, or treat you differently, or stop inviting you to parties. Your attraction for women is a private thing, you think. No one's business. You'll just stop thinking about it and bury it deep down and never tell anyone.

    Until one day, a few years later at college, when you become really good friends with a girl in your study group. One day she notices you looking at her breasts, and she asks if you are attracted to her, and because you want her so much you say, "Yes, but I'm terrified to tell anyone. Please don't hate me." And she doesn't hate you, she says she likes you too, and she and all her friends think it is just fine, natural, and healthy to like women.

    It is at this moment that you call up your parents and tell them that you're straight, have always been straight, and you found a girl you love, and you hope they understand. Your father is angry, but your mother tells you she's always suspected, and is very happy for you. She can't wait to meet your new girlfriend.

    You see, you've always been attracted to women, but you pretended you weren't, because you didn't want to be. But when you finally found a group of people just like you, people who also like women, you finally rose above the feelings of shame you'd been raised to believe were the correct response and realized, "I don't have to hate myself for this any more." And you were happier than you'd ever been in your life.

    Yes, there is a cultural double-standard. If you are hetero-normative/straight/cisgendered etc, you are "normal" and if you are queer/homosexual/transgender you are "abnormal" and you make "bad lifestyle choices." People don't "become" gay, they "come out" as gay. They make a conscious choice to jettison the cultural prejudices they were raised with and embrace the person they've always been, both publicly and privately.

  • Katie

    @K :) :) :)

  • LeftSidePositive

    K, I hate to be a stickler here...but in the scenario above shouldn't the father have a husband??

  • Jenn

    K, you rock. There is no better way to say what you just said.

  • K

    @LSP. Dammit! Let's say, for the sake of argument, that biological parents don't live together, but conceive children with artificial insemination based on the best genetic matches, except for the "weirdo" heterosexuals, who insist on using sexual intercourse to make babies instead. People think that procreative sex is sick and wrong because it is an unscientific and unsafe way to have a child. In fact, I think that makes this scenario that much better.

  • John Dias

    What if someone has sexual desires that are not en vogue, sexual fantasies that even in a "sexually tolerant" society would only be deemed reprehensible? If they tried to get therapy in order to eliminate the grip that such desires had on their life, how would you react?

  • Brennan

    @ John Dias

    Here's a better question: How would *you* react?

    If I can hijack K's lovely example for a moment, say you go to class the next day and it feels like there's a spotlight on your back. You're sure everyone knows. You can hear them snickering. Every comment you make is suddenly suspect, as a reflection of your supposedly deviant nature. "Hetero" gets tossed at you like a curse, first casually, then with greater vitriol when you refuse to hide your relationship with the woman you love.

    You can't hold hands with your girlfriend in public; reactions range from laughter to judgmental glares to stern reminders that there are children around (even when there's not a child in sight) and those innocents shouldn't be exposed to your disgusting lifestyle choice. Your girlfriend gets jumped by a group of classmates on her way back to her dorm. They beat her senseless. Passerbys laugh and roll their eyes. It's all harmless fun.

    After a male classmate threatens to "rape you gay," you can't take it anymore. When you break up with your girlfriend, you tell her it was all a mistake; you were corrupted by that evil hetero culture she was throwing at you. You go to counseling and the therapist assures you that that hot restlessness was all a figment of your imagination. You learn to pass. You sit in the dining hall and make hetero jokes louder than anyone else. You make a point of checking out men's asses and ranking them in order of "doability." You don't let yourself think about the girl that you loved--how natural it felt being with her, how she never judged you, how you wanted to spend your lives together.

    But, every time a girl walks past, you look at her. The tight feeling never goes away, and you realize that you gave up something that comes as naturally to you as breathing. You don't know how much longer you can take it. You can't look at yourself in the mirror. You become hyper-focused on those "deviant thoughts" you're trying to purge. Every time you look, the shame solidifies in your gut. You convince yourself that it's the dirty, hetero thoughts that make you feel that way--a symptom of your incomplete recovery. But, deep down you know that it's just the reminder of what a liar you are.

  • LeftSidePositive

    John Dias,

    If you're talking about pedophiles or something, fine...If your desires by necessity hurt someone else, then yes, one should get therapy. But, what kind of nonsense is it to think that people should get "therapy" for mutually fulfilling relationships between consenting adults?

    Your whole example shows exactly what's wrong with the "ex-gay" movement...they're acting like gay people have something wrong with them that needs to be fixed. It's no wonder that the only "ex-gays" are people like Ted Haggard, who have so much invested socially/politically in labeling themselves as "straight" that they try to deny their sexuality. It's hypocritical. Furthermore, where ARE these mythical ex-gays?? These "Parents and Friends" seem to be those of CURRENTLY gay people trying to shame them into being "ex-".

  • Banyan


  • John Dias

    I don't ever want to shame someone who seeks therapy because, in their judgment, they need it. That goes for someone with fantasies of victimizing others, as well as porn addiction, as well as sex addiction, and even homosexuality if the person wants therapy for that. Who are we to tell them what they need and don't need, and subject them to ridicule, and call them repressed souls, simply because they don't want to indulge a fantasy that they consider unhealthy for themselves?

    This very blog post is handing out the shame and ridicule; it is doing the snickering. It is creating the environment whereby no one who feels that they need therapy and is gay can get it without being mocked for it. It's a private matter when an individual seeks therapy for whatever reason, and it has nothing to do with creating a hostile climate toward those who haven't any intention to seek out therapy.

    If someone is fantasizing about homosexuality and wants to stop, and seeks therapy or spiritual guidance, in my opinion that is there prerogative and it's none of your business to weigh in on it.

  • John Dias

    "that is there prerogative..."

    Whoops, I misspelled "their."

  • LeftSidePositive

    John, I think you're missing the point...I don't think this post means to actually shame ex-gays (heck, neither we nor PFOX can even seem to FIND any!!). I think the point is to shame the "everstraights" in PFOX who are trying to advance the notion that their gay friends or family members need to be reformed.

    And, we're criticizing the overall culture that is telling people who fantasize about homosexuality that they should want to stop or seek spiritual guidance. That's what people are trying to get across to you with the scenarios where you would be shamed so heavily for being straight...

  • LeftSidePositive

    I just remembered this gem from the Onion:

    Gay Teen Worried He Might Be Christian

  • PearlsBeforeSwine

    The students don't need protection from the message of PFOX, they need critical thinking skills. For example, should they believe the claims of the ex-gay movement, controlled mostly by heterosexuals, that being gay is a choice or should they believe LGBT people who say they never made such a choice and that their same-sex attractions go back so far that they seem to be they were born that way?

    Of course, Dan Savage sez for bisexuals it can be a choice.

  • Alessandra

    "for mutually fulfilling relationships between consenting adults"

    Sexual orientation has nothing to do with consent or with fulfillment, its mostly a definition of desire. You can desire a child, a goat, a same-sex person, a dead person, to eat excrement, to rape someone, etc etc. Desire has nothing to do with CONSENT. Two completely different concepts. Only the most ignorant people confound the two. Neither does desire have anything to do with fulfillment, nor with a relationship. THREE completely different concepts (consent, fulfillment, relationships) that have nothing to do with the definition per se of sexual desire (or orientation).

    What stupidity.

  • Brennan

    @ John Dias

    It's not about shaming--at least not the for the person who seeks these therapies.

    Bear with me for one more ten second theoretical.

    Say you're a counselor. I come into your office one morning and tell you that I'd like you to help me train myself to stop eating. Eating, after all, is a disgusting habit that makes me fat and will kill me one day. If I could just stop eating altogether, my life would be so much better.

    Would you do it?

    I hope not. I hope that you, as a responsible therapist, would explain to me that the urge to eat isn't the problem. I'd need you to tell me that eating is a perfectly natural thing to do; that my real problems are the lowered self-esteem, the cultural messages telling me that eating is somehow a crime. I hope that you would immediately recommend counseling for body-image disorders--not behavioral modification to help me starve myself.

    I'm the last person who should be judging someone for being confused or even disturbed by their sexuality. The problem is not with them. The problem is with organizations like PFOX spitting out the overwhelming cultural message that "recovery" is not only possible, but desirable. There's an obvious corollary: if homosexuality can be "cured," then someone who is gay is that way by choice and therefore deserves whatever cultural condemnation society feels like throwing at them.

  • LeftSidePositive

    Alessandra, before you go declaring "What stupidity," you might want to develop your close reading skills. Nowhere is it claimed that desire is the same as consent. But, desires that can be fulfilled consensually do not need to be corrected with therapy.

    Similarly, desires that lead people to happy lives (the "mutually fulfilling" part) do not need to be corrected with therapy. Acting like a particular desire (even if it is one held by a small minority) that people live happy lives indulging in a way that doesn't hurt anyone, is the same as desires that are by necessity destructive to the self or others (pedophilia, drugs, gambling, kleptomania, etc., etc) is totally absurd.

  • Jen

    It seems significant to me that if seeking therapy to become straight is to be cast as an empowered choice that should not be hindered or ridiculed, then seeking therapy to become gay should have the same status. Many would likely feign that they concede to that. The problem with such a concession is that no such counter exists -- straight people do not seek help becoming gay.
    Which begs the question why. IF some people consider their homosexual desires "problematic" and seek outside help to eradicate them, which I take to mean replace them with heterosexual desires, then why is no one finding their heterosexual desires "problematic" and seeking to have them turned into homosexual desires?
    I can't find any answer to that question besides that an internalized societal critique of homosexual desires that leads homosexuals to judge themselves as needing "help" as well as external difficulties that result from living in a homophobic society drive a quest for heterosexualization, while there is no judgement or threat towards heterosexuals that drives them towards the normative safety of homosexualization.
    For PFOX to frame the question as strictly regarding respect for individual choice to shape one's identity is an intentionally narrow viewpoint that skews the reality of our culture. Post-therapied / spiritually enlightened ex-gays being abused in contrast to "gays" who are affirmed for their decision to come out as gay"? In what universe is this occuring? First off, who and where are these oppressed ex-gays? And who and where are these fortunate, lauded openly gay people? The comparison is also a false equation. To truly equate them the gay people coming out would have to have intentionally sought help in shaping their sexuality away from inherent heterosexual tendencies, so PFOX would have to show how those people are affirmed compared to ex-gays.
    What truly disturbs me is that PFOX is engaged in fairly subtle but overt mythmaking. Anti-gay arguments framed as gentle, loving human rights arguments -- that is disturbing. "Hark! You hard-hearted hypocrites, stop standing in the way of the gay-seeking-straightness and abusing them while you privilege the openly-statically-gay!" The world PFOX is preaching to does not exist.
    It seems to me such a well-woven tapestry of B.S. is designed to confuse gay people into thinking they are doing the autonomous, deviant, brave thing to submit themselves to ideologies and "treatments" that will turn them straight. I can imagine no greater deception than for a person to imagine that shaping their inner identity through therapy and spirituality means subjecting themselves to external manipulation and dominance in order to shape themselves into a pre-chosen model of normalcy, when in fact both are meant to enable an often frustrated or unacknowledged inner truth to be integrated into one's full identity.

  • arr

    jen, i could not agree with you more. i remember when i was in high school a church i was involved with was promoting this type of"spiritual therapy" and wanting to be a good christian, i wondered if i should also think in this way. The way PFOX frames itself as a justice seeking, subversive group is very very dangerous and makes me feel sick.

    as a woman who is attracted to both men and women, i now wonder about the possibility of seeming "ex gay" if i end up chosing a longterm parter who happens to be a man. it is hard for me to believe that the term "ex gay " has come into existence. i am amused that PFOX compares the decision to identify one's sexuality with 'supersizing those fries´. haha. wow.

  • Pingback: When Public Schools Peddle Ex-Gay Propaganda « United We Stand – Buffalo

  • Elizabeth

    This entire article made me feel horrible. This video from Infomania made me feel better.

  • Wendy

    Wow, how thought provoking the posts here have been. I have seen several "ex-gays" on TV. All had been molested as a child. All went on to live a promiscuous, hedonistic life. I wonder if those who supposedly changed their sexual orientation never actually were gay. If as a child the molester was not violent, and the child experienced some measure of pleasure, then could that child later think he was gay? We never teach our children that having gay sex doesn't necessarily mean you are gay. Think prisons, or I'm told, scout camp. Nor does having straight sex make someone heterosexual. There is a support group for the straight spouses of gays, after all. I often say no one gets a sexual orientation by having sex else no one would know with whom they wanted to have it. PFOX likes to try to force themselves into the PTA conference and the like saying that they are discriminated against. Seems to me that there are more ex-straights than ex-gays and I've met quite a few ex-ex-gays, who thought for awhile the therapy worked but who realized later it was a "Patty Hearst" conversion. And in the long run aren't ex-gays just straights with a past? Why should these now straight people need to come out and tell about their past unless they are still emotionally stuck thinking about it?

  • Jesse

    Congratulations on some thought-provoking comments, people!

  • Alessandra

    LeftSidePositive February 6th, 2010
    12:08 am

    Nowhere is it claimed that desire is the same as consent.
    It is a pretty widespread claim by liberals that homosexuals "are people who engage in adult, consensual (homosexual )sex."

    This is a ridiculous lie, for the reasons explained in my post. I misunderstood that this was your point.

  • Alessandra

    LeftSidePositive February 5th, 2010
    5:14 pm

    John Dias,

    If you’re talking about pedophiles or something, fine…If your desires by necessity hurt someone else,
    Partially wrong, it's not only that they could possibly hurt someone else, they hurt the pedophile by being a result of a mountain of psycho-social problems.

    If a pedophile has no contact with children, their desires will not "hurt" any children. It doesn't make having a pedophile mind any good. This hurts the individual because they have such a deformed mind and cannot have a healthy psychology towards sexuality with others.

  • Alessandra

    Similarly, desires that lead people to happy lives (the “mutually fulfilling” part) do not need to be corrected with therapy. Acting like a particular desire (even if it is one held by a small minority) that people live happy lives indulging in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone, is the same as desires that are by necessity destructive to the self or others (pedophilia, drugs, gambling, kleptomania, etc., etc) is totally absurd.
    So are you saying that if someone is unhappy with having any kind of desire that they are entitled to a therapy for it? Even if it's a homosexual desire? Why should you exclude homosexuality from every other type of desire?

    What about an anorexic? No one is forcing her to diet, and she is very happy with it. But if left that way, she may eventually die. It's consensual, and it's an adult. And yet, her desires and her fulfillment are the result of a mountain of psychological problems.

    The more psychological problems a person has, the more likely that they will be "happy" and "fulfilled" in dysfunctional ways. So talking about consent and fulfillment for human beings is not so simple. Neither should it be some absolute criteria that overrides every other consideration. And most aneroxics, if not all, are incapable of understanding what's going on inside their minds without external help, and they do not cure on their own. The same, I would say, applies to homosexuals, pedophiles, gambling addicts, etc.

  • Alessandra

    @ Brennan

    The problem is with organizations like PFOX spitting out the overwhelming cultural message that “recovery” is not only possible, but desirable. There’s an obvious corollary: if homosexuality can be “cured,” then someone who is gay is that way by choice and therefore deserves whatever cultural condemnation society feels like throwing at them.
    What is good about having a homosexual mindset?