Journey - Chapter 16
The Day After
BY JERRY MCKAY
After years of suppressing relationship longings, fearing and over-analyzing every thought and feeling, my world seemed different the day after reading the Ministry magazine interview; even the sunlight was different. Naming my experience instantly altered my perception of the world and divided it into before and after. While most prior themes remained and/or evolved, new themes emerged. Overnight, I became preoccupied with changing my orientation.
At the same time, I felt driven to seek out other LGBT people as a means of understanding myself. Not all new themes were pleasant. I would slowly learn what others—church members in particular—thought of "the homosexual"—of me. My circumstances notwithstanding, I was as naïve as any heterosexual about the broader experience of LGBT people. I had no idea what was ahead of me. I had just eaten from the reparative-therapy tree of knowledge of good and evil, so I would have to experience all the consequences for myself.
With hundreds of requests pouring in from distressed homosexuals, as Mr. Cook indicated in the Ministry interview, I needed to know more about Quest Learning Center. It took a week to draft my response because every edit meant rewriting my letter. This was, in effect, my coming out. Signing my name to a letter linking me to homosexuality was disconcerting. Though it was anxiety-producing, once my letter was in the mailbox, there was a strange feeling of liberation.
Because it would be weeks before hearing back from Mr. Cook, I kept re-reading the interview. I was in awe of what I believed he had accomplished: moving from one orientation to the other that culminated in a two-year marriage and a son. I was also fascinated by his theological and psychological explanation of cause and cure.
In short, the theological cause, according to Mr. Cook, was Adam's sin. In that single event, all humanity experienced alienation from God, self, and the world. The psychological cause was more personal. It was my distant father and/or my dominant mother—whichever applied—in conjunction with my response to both, as a child, that resulted in my attraction to the same sex. My distorted view of self and the world, Mr. Cook insisted, had "worsened to the point of homosexuality." While this was a gloomy picture, I was to take heart because a correct understanding and application of the gospel would heal all my distortions and bring freedom from homosexuality. To say I embraced this theory is to understate how thoroughly I started to incorporate it into my belief system. After all, based on my family dynamics, this explanation seemed made to measure.
On February 1, 1982, I received a response. I was relieved the only marking on the envelope was "Quest" and the return address. With my letter in hand, I sought out an unoccupied room to read in private. I was so anxious that I felt as if I were about to do something sinful. After a few words acknowledging receipt of my letter and an appreciation of the risk I had taken to reach out for help, Mr. Cook continued:
From what you are telling me, I think it wise to advise you that it would be an excellent idea for you to come to the Learning Center next year. It is a regular thing for us to receive people from out of state who take up residence in Reading to learn the deliverance of Christ from homosexuality and the healing of their emotions.
He explained that Quest was not a live-in center, that people come to Reading, set up accommodations, and find a job. Attendees were expected to commit to staying for at least six months and preferably one year. The letter included an information pamphlet describing the seven-service Quest experience. In words that tugged on my spiritual sensitivities, Mr. Cook continued:
I think that at your age this is an ideal time to begin to get this problem forever behind you. Many a time God begins to work with a man. He gives him a pause in his life, a period of wilderness time, in which he deals with our past and present in order to prepare us for our future calling. This may be your time.
Mr. Cook also recommended that I purchase a series of tapes mentioned in the brochure. He suggested that the tapes, studied carefully one per week, would be a great help until I could come to Reading.
Naturally, I was moved by his final words of encouragement.
I wish you hope. Homosexuality is changeable. You can be healed. You can know the true love of which God has brought into the world. You can have the hope of a family life. Looking forward to hearing from you again.
Sincerely, In the Service of Christ,
Colin D. Cook
After reading the letter, my spirit was both full and empty. I was happy and sad. I was hopeful and terrified. I needed to talk to someone, but my only confidant in that moment was the portable gas heater hissing beside me as it struggled to warm my secluded room that midwinter afternoon. It was oddly comforting.
Within a week, I had written a second letter to Mr. Cook. I shared a bit more of my story and indicated I might like to come to Reading at some point later in the year. I also ordered the cassette tape series, Homosexuality and The Power to Change, from American Cassette Ministries. Once again, I returned to reading the Ministry interview and waited.
As I waited, I thought a great deal about my future. Although I had been praying about June, when my two-year term ended, I did not know what to do. I don't think I would have reached out to Perry, the language school director, except that we had had several intimate conversations in previous months about my 16PF score and my "distinctive" personality traits. Because of this, I felt safe enough to risk disclosing my problem. I asked to meet with Perry several weeks later during our student-teacher ski camp.
Despite the pleasant distraction of a day on the slopes in the Japanese Alps, I was acutely conscious of my impending meeting with Perry. Because I wanted to be as relaxed as possible when I met with him, I quit skiing early and headed for the lodge. I wanted to get in and out of the public bath before anyone else arrived. Although changing my orientation was now my preoccupation, I was still attracted to men. It would have taken only one handsome man, strutting about naked in the public bath, to slide me into an anxious state of shame and agitation. My plan worked. The bath was empty.
Later that evening, Perry and I met privately. He remembers me sitting on a cushion on the tatami floor with my arms wrapped around my legs. He said I looked noticeably conflicted—quiet, somber, and deep in reflection. I just remember feeling nauseous. Talking to Perry face-to-face was harder than I expected. After a few awkward moments, I told him I "had a problem with homosexuality." I tried hard to rise above all my shame and fear and speak with a new confidence derived from the hope Mr. Cook's letter had given me, but I didn't do so well. "When you finally 'said it,'" Perry told me, "there was a look of terror on your face."
No sooner had I confessed my secret than I started to talk about Quest. My rush to introduce Quest into our conversation was the beginning of a new tendency on my part to mitigate my discomfort, sidestepping any shame I was feeling. By linking Quest—a place of healing—to my experience, I was affirming my belief that I was broken and perhaps an immoral person. There would be lasting psychological and spiritual consequences of this practice.
When Perry finally spoke, he was reassuring but not as enthusiastic about my going to Quest as I had expected. I didn't know it at the time, but Perry was going through his own spiritual and psychological crisis, which included understanding his own sexuality in the broader context of how it affects all of life compared to how Adventism compartmentalized it into the "procreation only" box. Since he suffered from a deep sense of guilt for his own sexuality, he could relate to my feelings—but couldn't fully understand my social and spiritual isolation and terror.
As well, he didn't know anything about Quest and was concerned that, in my state of mind, I would only be introduced to more homosexuals and perhaps be taken advantage of. He was also concerned that in isolating and labeling homosexuality as a damnable sin, I would further define myself by this segment of my sexuality instead of learning how to integrate it into my life and manage it. Rather, Perry wanted us to work on understanding my problem together in Japan since I was already well-accepted by my students and seen as a spiritual leader. He thought it would be more productive to address my orientation within the safety of such a support group. How did he propose we do this?
At the time, Perry was in contact with Adventists in North America who were involved in "deliverance" type ministries who felt that all "sinful behavior" was associated with being possessed by or under the direct attack of demons. This notion of demonic affliction and how to respond to it reflected Jesus' comment in Mark 3:27: "No one can enter a strong man's house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man's house." Perry was offering to be my prayer intercessor. I would be placed in Perry's house of prayer and couldn't be touched by the Devil until the Devil touched Perry. It was his hope and intention that I could, of my own will and internal understanding, learn how to accept and manage my homosexuality. He wasn't sure I could be cured of it. I wasn't sure what to make of his intercessory prayer proposal even though I was still reciting the prayers for deliverance I had copied into the back of my Bible from the book The Adversary.
I found it difficult to accept Perry's proposal for another reason. I had already concluded that God was leading me to Quest. Perry's lack of enthusiasm created significant spiritual confusion because I had expected God to use him to confirm my conclusion. Why hadn't God moved on Perry to be more enthusiastic? I wondered. Was God testing my resolve to seek change? Everything over the past few months felt so timely. I couldn't imagine God trying to guide me away from Quest. If God were speaking through Perry, I didn't want to hear it. I couldn't hear it.
Ignoring Perry's concerns and proposal, I outlined my plan. I would stay in Japan until September to help with the orientation of the new teachers and with summer camp. At that point, I would return to Canada for three months, make a trip or two to Reading to talk to Mr. Cook, learn his secrets for recovery, and then return to Japan the following January to do what I loved. Then perhaps I would take Perry up on his proposal. Perry listened, and we agreed to talk again the next time he was in Tokyo.
When ski camp was over, I took the bus for Osaka rather than Tokyo. I wanted to visit friends I had made there the previous year. On the Friday night of my visit, I met with a student with whom I had had private Bible studies. He was a quiet, shy guy who had his own small import business. His office was as small as his company—barely enough space for a desk. Yet, he often slept in his office rather than make the long commute to his apartment. That night, he invited me to stay with him. Our futons filled all the available floor space. Lying beside this friend was difficult. Nothing happened, but I was painfully aware of wanting to hold or be held by someone—and in that moment by this male friend. With the hope of "change" being my new focus, it was very frustrating when feelings of attraction for male friends surfaced like this. At the same time, I had difficulty imagining ever feeling the same way towards a woman.
Back in Tokyo, I focused on my work while being preoccupied with "change." Some days were hope-filled, while others were psychologically crushing. On February 29, I wrote:
Today I was severely depressed. Since this morning, I have battled to remain in control of my thoughts and feelings. I felt harassed wherever I went. While shopping, walking on the street, and at home, I felt harassed. How can I go from knowing Jesus' love so deeply two days ago and feeling so low, today? I feel so alienated from God.
What I called harassment was simply the intense longing for companionship that God had "woven into my being." Because my feelings were directed toward the same sex, I could not enjoy or celebrate them. Those natural healthy longings felt like a millstone around my neck. I wasn't being harassed by demons, however; I just wanted companionship.
After much anticipation, the cassette tapes arrived in early March. Because all our mail went through Japanese customs, I feared that the package might have been opened and nature of the contents revealed. My fear was unfounded. The package arrived unopened.
That evening, when the school was empty, I listened to the first two tapes. Hearing Mr. Cook's voice created an entirely new level of identification with him. He was articulate, confident, and reassuring. He spoke in practical terms, making it easy for me to enter experientially. I was so overwhelmed after listening to the tapes that I dialed Perry's home number but hung up before it rang. My journal entry for that night was brief: It is 11:40 p.m. How do I feel? Alone. I'm going to give this my best try. There is nothing to lose. I have hope and skepticism about it all.
It was not enough that I listened to the tapes over and over in the weeks to come. In keeping with my habit of analyzing and slowly digesting information I deemed important, I methodically transcribed the tapes so I could mull over each word whenever I wanted to.
Because of the tapes, three aspects of my life began to change immediately: the nature of my Bible study, how I prayed, and how I related to the world around me. My Bible study focused on the book of Romans—a fundamental scriptural component of Mr. Cook's teaching. My prayer life shifted from a shame- and anxiety-based response to my orientation to a faith-based praise response. With respect to the world around me, I tried to be and act as I thought a heterosexual would.
In the fourth tape, Mr. Cook focused on the Genesis creation story. It was to be my key point of reference for understanding human sexuality. Mr. Cook reiterated the belief that God had made me heterosexual—male for female. There was no third sex, he argued, no different manifestation of sexuality. In addition to the obvious anatomical complementarity between the sexes, he insisted that God had something very specific to say about Himself to me in my opposite.
In my case, Mr. Cook was preaching to the choir. I had been a staunch Genesis-reading, Genesis-believing Christian since childhood. The first two chapters of Genesis are foundational for a Seventh-day Adventist. It was the pre-fall creation account that defined my diet—vegetarian. My parents switched our day of worship from Sunday to Saturday because they had been persuaded that the day of rest established at the end of creation week was for all time. As a child, I had altered my life to accommodate both beliefs. Because my world was already exclusively heterosexual, I didn't need Mr. Cook to persuade me that Adam and Eve were meant for each other. His emphasis, however, re-focused and fueled my deep longing to be in conformity with all "my" fundamental beliefs even though I was seen as nonconforming by others. Every time I turned down a steak or headed off to church on Saturday, I was considered odd by friends and relatives! I could deal with being odd but not with being an abomination. Being out of sync with relatives was one thing. Being out of sync with the whole world was too much.
In his discussion around the creation story, Mr. Cook again elaborated on his understanding of the cause of homosexuality. "'My' heterosexuality," he insisted, "had gotten buried by a thousand fears." Buried! Although I could argue my heterosexuality never existed, buried described my experience well. Either way, he confirmed what I already knew. I had not chosen to "exchange' heterosexual lust for homosexual lust. I could not exchange what had died in childhood! In using the word 'buried', he countered the common notion that my experience was an idle adult choice. There was comfort in knowing that someone understood my experience.
Healing then, for Mr. Cook, was not about "praying the gay away"—to use a common expression. Although important, prayer was to be practiced in a specific way for a specific purpose. Rather, I was to "claim" the gay away. If we stay with the creation story, I was to awaken or call my heterosexuality out of a dark and formless void. "Claiming" my heterosexuality "by faith" was less about change and more about resuscitation. Mr. Cook insisted that, "No matter how deep my homosexuality was, there is a foundation that was deeper still—my heterosexuality." It was encouraging to hear that, although I felt nothing, my heterosexuality was lying dormant beneath all the distortions from my childhood.
Building on this, I set out to unearth my heterosexuality. I started to look at women "intentionally"—the single nurses at the Adventist hospital, for example, the female ESL students and teachers. I tried to visualize myself as a heterosexual male in relation to the opposite sex. I was alert to any hint of female interest directed toward me, or any budding response within me to the women around me. One example aptly illustrates what "claiming" my heterosexuality was like for me.
On a beautiful April morning, I went to Ochanomizu, a very busy area of Tokyo, to purchase copies of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis to use in a Bible class. When I returned to the station, I noticed a young European woman standing in front of the ticket kiosk. She was crying and in obvious distress. She spoke no Japanese, had taken the wrong train, and was now lost. I would have come to her rescue under any circumstance, but on that day, I approached her from my newly assumed "heterosexual identity" and offered to help.
While trying to comfort and assist her, I was running an internal dialogue and prayer response. I praised God for this opportunity to claim my heterosexual identity. I gave my fears about caring for this tearful and vulnerable female to God in prayer. As part of my "claiming" response, I thanked God for my "true" identity—though buried—and pushed forward heterosexually! I was dizzy with spiritual multitasking. Once comforted, Paula, as she introduced herself to me, told me she was visiting from Paris on a short-term modeling assignment in Tokyo. "Wow," I thought. "I am 'being heterosexual' with a French model!"
In my new identity as male pursuer, I found the courage to ask for her contact information. I think my missionary zeal was behind that bold move as much as any new-found masculine identity—but my new attitude was definitely part of it. To my surprise, Paula gave me her phone number. Several days later, I invited her to join me for a hike in the mountains outside Tokyo with a group of teachers and students. She accepted! Having learned of my line of work, she affectionately referred to me as her Bible Boy throughout our hike. Although she never knew she was the means to my first intentional attempt at "rescuing" my heterosexuality, I hope she was left with a good impression of our little Christian band. That was the only time I met with Paula. This little anecdote illustrates what the next phase of my life would become—"claim" my heterosexuality by faith through mimicking heterosexual relating.
This was not my only new preoccupation. Along with my decision to "reclaim" my orientation, I experienced an irresistible drive to learn more about "my" people, to seek out my own kind. Having lived as an island for decades, I wanted to know other LGBT people and to hear their stories. As frightening as that was to contemplate, I set out to do so while still living in Tokyo.