On Thursday, I had a conversation with some fundamentalists on Twitter who were convinced God does not love and affirm LGBTQ+ identities and relationships. One of them told me that I had never really known God, because if I had, God would have taken away my “same sex attraction.” He used Paul’s famous “such were some of you” from 1 Corinthians 6 as his biblical foundation, and he suggested I look into the testimonies of “ex-homosexuals.” To which I responded: “I don’t believe in ex-homosexuals.” Let me explain myself.

Here’s the thing: There are lots of Christian people out there who also happen to be LGBTQ+, and for whatever reason, many of these folks are very conservative in their understanding of Christian sexual ethics. They believe that their “same-sex attraction” is not a natural and healthy part of their God-given sexual orientation but rather, is a dysfunctional, disordered, broken and sinful thing. There are lots of reasons for this. Many of us were taught this as small children, most of us before we even knew that we ourselves were not straight. And the vast majority of Evangelical Christians still believe and teach this toxic and harmful theology.

I myself believed it for many years. I was convinced that God could never bless this part of me, and I looked at my romantic, emotional and sexual attractions for men as something outside of myself, a temptation that I could keep at bay with enough prayer, discipline, accountability and “right thinking.” I fought my normal, healthy, God-given sexual orientation for – literally – decades. I was claiming what I had been told was the “clear teaching” of 1 Corinthians 6. I could be one of the “such were some of you” that Paul talked about.

I got very involved in the whole “ex-gay” movement. I idolized people like Andy Comiskey, the founder of a group I joined called Living Waters, who claimed to be “ex-gay.” He said the Lord had delivered him from his homosexuality, that he was now living in freedom and new life. At the time, a lot of what my leaders taught me seemed to make sense. They taught me never to claim the identity of “gay,” for instance. “After all,” they reasoned, “a Christian would never claim the identity of thief, murderer or rapist. Sure, some Christians fall into sin, but we don’t turn our sin into our identity. We are children of God! We find our identity in Christ!”

So language was crucial. And I was all in. I wasn’t gay. I was a straight man who “struggled with same-sex attraction.” And as much as language mattered, even more important was behavior. I was taught to control my behavior. Romantic or sexual relationships with other men were forbidden, of course. Pornography, homosexual fantasy and masturbation were off limits too. We believed we could starve our lust, that somehow “right” behavior would translate eventually into right feelings, right attraction. And I can say from my own experience that sometimes it seemed like it was working. With enough effort, sometimes I could go hours or even a day or two without overtly sexual thoughts about other men. I thought this meant it was working. In reality, I now know that I was just shutting down any true feelings, any natural sexual desires. I was able, for short periods of time, to divorce myself from my body and heart, to somehow divide myself, compartmentalize myself into “gay pervert” me and “good Christian” me.

And this was supposedly evidence of “healing.”

I won’t go into the whole story. I’ve told it again and again in lots of different places. But suffice it to say, I eventually realized that this “healing” was nothing more than denial and wishful thinking. I may have learned to control my behavior and to not use “problematic” language, but nothing really changed.

So no, I don’t believe in “ex-homosexuals.” I believe people like Jackie Hill Perry, Rosaria Butterfield, Donnie McClurkin, Joe Dallas and Andy Comiskey are simply queer people who don’t “identify” as queer and who have managed, to some degree, to shut down and deny their attractions. A homosexual, by definition, is someone who is sexually attracted to people of their own sex (whether or not they choose to “act on it”).

Jesus said the truth sets us free. My prayer is that as more and more of us Christian queers come out into the light and tell the truth about our lives, our identities, our loves, more and more people would be set free by the truth. I know that, for me, living in the light as an openly gay Christian man (“All Christian, all gay, all the time,” to quote my Twitter bio) has set me free to live honestly, to love God and other people as the gay man that I am, and to RECEIVE love in an authentic way. I’m no longer trying to be worthy of love by forcing myself into an unnatural and deceptive life.

I don’t have to put on the costume every day. I don’t have to wear the mask anymore. I am free to live the abundant life Jesus came to bring all of us. Glory to God. Amen and amen.