Bakke, 36, grew up in a world unfamiliar even to most devout Christians. Her schools were tiny cocoons revolving around the Bible. Her parents sheltered her to the point that when she saw her first movie in the theater, she was shocked when the main character asked for Cocoa Puffs cereal. Bakke was about 11 years old, and until that point she had not realized that movies and television shows could be set in present time.
As Bakke tries to emphasize how insulated her childhood was, it’s obvious she’s given these examples many times before: She didn’t know John Lennon had died until she was in college. She didn’t know there was such a thing as a lesbian until she was 17. It’s an explanation she’s often had to give to people in the gay community when they demand to know why she tried for so long to become “ex-gay.”
continued…After struggling for years to reconcile her religion and sexuality, in 1998 Bakke gave up her life as an out-of-the-closet lesbian in Santa Cruz, Calif., and moved to Denver to join an ex-gay ministry. She desperately wanted to get back to her faith and she believed the ministry’s promise that “change is possible.”
Bakke spent five years in several different programs trying to heal the part of herself that she was constantly told was broken. She went through reparative therapy and long hours of prayer. She and her apartment were regularly anointed with oil by ministry members. She earnestly tried to “present as female,” and on Easter Sunday in 2000, she actually wore a dress.
For a long time, Bakke believed she was on her way to becoming ex-gay. Her religious upbringing was still very much with her, and she was convinced she could become heterosexual if she only tried hard enough.
“I absolutely believed in miracles and healing,” she says.
But then she started hearing stories about prominent ex-gays who had lapsed. The stories uprooted her deep belief that becoming ex-gay was possible. She began wondering if she could really break her attraction to women. Finally, she realized she could not.
“When you want something that bad you can fool yourself into thinking anything – but not forever,” she says.
But once Bakke left the ex-gay ministries and accepted her sexuality, she found she had a contentious relationship with others in the gay community. It’s a problem that many who leave ex-gay programs have, she says.
One reason is that many hold on to their religion and find the gay community isn’t receptive. Another reason is that they think the gay community is brimming with drugs, promiscuity and immorality.
“For a lot of people who are raised in the church, ex-gay ministries are the first time they’ve ever been out,” Bakke says. “And so all they’re learning about the gay community is what they hear and what they’ve heard growing up, so it’s a really negative impression.”
When Bakke went to a women’s group at a GLBT center, she didn’t find much sympathy for her experience in ex-gay ministries.
“When I tell gay people about this, I get some hostile reactions,” she says.
Bakke was alone. She didn’t feel accepted in the church or in the gay community, and she had no one to turn to who understood.
“I was in this really horrible limbo place for a couple of years,” she says. “I didn’t know how to move forward, I didn’t know how to move back. I didn’t know how to meet people. I didn’t know if I wanted to meet people.”
Then, in April 2005, Bakke went to see Peterson Toscano perform his one-man show, “Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House – How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement.”
Bakke was stunned. So many of the things Toscano talked about, she had felt too. She talked with him after the show and sent him a letter shortly afterward. In part, it read:
“[Your show] made me see how much being in the ex-gay world both helped and harmed me. I saw before that there were ways in which it helped me, but what I didn’t realize until just this week was how much shame I’ve taken on from that whole world, and how I feel like I lost my sense of who I am.”
Bakke and Toscano formed a friendship and a bond. Finally realizing there must be other people out there who had experienced what she had, Bakke decided she had to speak out.
Read Part II on Tuesday and learn how Bakke found her voice.