After leaving a Denver ex-gay ministry and accepting her sexuality, Christine Bakke had a difficult time fitting into the gay community and was still struggling with issues of her long-held Christian faith. Finally, she met Peterson Toscano, another ex-gay survivor who performed a one-man show about his experience. Bakke decided she needed to speak out to help other survivors who were living in silent limbo. Read Part I.
Although she was terrified of public speaking, Bakke spoke about her five-year struggle in ex-gay ministries on Coming Out Day in October 2005 to a group of 25 at Denver’s GLBT center.
The experience was invigorating and it spurred her to continue speaking out. The next day, she was perusing an ex-ex-gay Yahoo message board when she saw a post from a reporter looking for women to interview about their ex-gay experiences. Bakke figured he might want a quote or two from her and thought it would be a good way for her to continue opening up.
continued…But, as she talked with the reporter, she realized there was much more on the line. He was writing a feature story for Glamour, a national magazine with a readership of over 12 million people, and he wanted to make Bakke the primary subject of the article.
“When I realized it was going to be a piece about me, I thought, ‘whoa, I need to think about this,'” Bakke says.
She talked with Toscano and wrestled with the pros and cons of making her life so public. When she decided to agree to the interview, one of the tipping factors was that most people talking publicly about their ex-gay experiences were male.
“There’s not other women talking about this,” she says. “I really thought, ‘I need to do this.'”
Christine told the Glamour reporter everything: What it was like having attractions to women and living in an ultra-conservative Christian family. How she slept with a guy in college just so he wouldn’t think she was gay. How she went through exorcism-like rituals to try to rid herself of her gayness.
The week before the reporter contacted her, Bakke had started a blog about her experience, but Glamour editors wanted her to wait until after the article was published before continuing. Bakke agreed, but she was not expecting it to be a year and a half until the article was published.
In the meantime, Bakke felt there was a void to be filled. There was a Web site, ExGayWatch.com, that kept tabs on the ex-gay movement. There were also online networks for gay Christians. But there was a lack of resources and support specifically designed for survivors of ex-gay ministries. So, she and Toscano decided to start a Web site and network for people like them who were coming to terms with being ex-ex-gay.
After the Glamour article was published in the April 2007 issue, they launched their Web site, BeyondExGay.com. Bakke and Toscano wanted to create a space where survivors of ex-gay ministries could share their experiences and support one another as a community. Bakke is adamant that the purpose of the site is not to bash ex-gay ministries.
“We have a very specific tone that we’ve set for the Web site. It’s all about respect,” she says.
Bakke says there are other organizations confronting and challenging the ex-gay movement.
“While that’s very beneficial, survivors can get really lost in that,” she says. “It’s so political, and a lot of survivors don’t want to be political.”
But Bakke and Toscano didn’t stop at the Web site. Their organization, Beyond Ex-Gay, is partnering with another organization, Soulforce, in sponsoring a conference this weekend in Irvine, Calif.
Soulforce describes its mission as “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.”
The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference: Undoing the Damage; Affirming Our Lives Together, will be held across town at the same time as the annual conference for Exodus International, an umbrella organization for over 150 ex-gay ministries. But Bakke and Toscano are insistent that they are not simply holding a counter-conference in protest.
“We’re trying to have an open dialog with Exodus,” Bakke says.
The conference will have workshops for survivors about subjects such as how to share ex-gay experiences and homosexuality and the Bible. There will also be workshops for allies and therapists, who Bakke says often have misconceptions about what ex-gay ministries are really like.
“We really need friends to help us come out of this,” she says.
Nobody knows that more than Bakke. A few short years ago, she was alone and bewildered. But with the help of Toscano, she has become an outspoken leader and guide for others dealing with ex-gay experiences.
“Telling my story has been really gratifying,” she says. “Even though it’s been trying at times, I don’t regret it and would do it all over again.”
Christine Bakke’s blog, Rising Up Whole
Peterson Toscano’s blog, A Musing