Reflections on 25 years of healing
Alan Medinger was a pioneer in the Christian “ex-gay” movement. He was the original executive director of Exodus International in the 1980s and later also founder of Regeneration Ministries, He is the author of “Growth Into Manhood,” published in 2000. In 2000, and gave Brothers Road permission to publish the book excerpts that follow. He died in June 2010, after living a changed life for 35 years.
My journey into homosexuality fits the same pattern that I have seen over and over again in many other men I have worked with. I was an unplanned child, born to parents who would have preferred a girl. My older brother was more athletic and generally fit the “all boy” model far better than I, and somehow, he became Dad’s and I became Mom’s.
Our family lived in a row house in northwest Baltimore. My parents were good, kind, conscientious people who did all they could to raise their sons to become successful, well adjusted men, but one problem tended to shape all of our destinies. My father was subject to severe depression, so severe that that he was under psychiatric care for many years, and on a few occasions had to be hospitalized. He could barely cope with life, much less be the husband and father that we needed him to be. In his bad times, he drank heavily and he and my mother fought verbally quite often.
My mother’s life was difficult, and to a limited extent I became her comfort and confidant. I certainly identified with her more than with my father.
If you are familiar with the most common early childhood roots of male homosexuality, you can see that, except for sexual abuse, they were all there for me. But no parent makes a child homosexual. We have learned that a child’s early home environment may provide the “set-up,” but other significant factors always come into play in steering someone toward homosexuality.
will ever hurt me.”
For me, a couple of those factors were decisions that I made quite early in life. I have a vivid memory of lying in bed one night as a young boy, listening to my parents fight, and saying to myself quite smugly, “They can never hurt me; no one will ever hurt me.” I believe that I made a decision that night to never be emotionally vulnerable. As a consequence of that decision, until my conversion years later, I would never be free to truly love anyone.
Another decision I made quite early in life was that I could meet all of my own needs, and would meet them at any cost. This further insulated me from the kind of life-giving relationships that we all need.
Sexualizing My Need for Love
I also retreated into a world of fantasy, sexual and otherwise. It became my secure retreat from the pain of life. In a typical fantasy I would be a boy hero leading men into battle, and then when the fighting was over, the men would use me sexually. I both longed for my own manhood and for the manhood of other men.
At first my longings weren’t sexual, they were simply a craving for a man’s attention and interest in me. I remember a family Christmas gathering when I was only four or five years old, and the boyfriend of an adult cousin held me on his lap and played with me for what seemed like hours. For years after that, I would go to bed and in my mind re-live that wonderful experience.
A few blocks from our house there was a neighborhood fire engine station, and I would regularly walk there just to stand around hoping that one of the men would come out and talk to me. They had a set of weights in the fire house, and I loved to look in and see the firemen’s muscles as they exercised.
Eventually, these longings for male contact did turn sexual. A strong aggressive neighbor boy who was about a year older than I, when he found out I was more than willing to take care of him sexually, was delighted to let me do so. Although my fears of being found out limited my activity, I was homosexually active with other boys from about age 13 through high school.
My sexual activities stopped when I went to college. My brother had gone to Johns Hopkins University before me, and he had not joined a fraternity – to his later regret. He urged me to try and get into one. Although my recollection of myself is one of having been a classic nerd, somehow I managed to get into a fraternity. At that point I had about forty other young men who almost had to be my friends. I believe that my craving for male contact was at least partially satisfied through all of the activities that I had with my fraternity brothers.
Still, the direction of my sexual desires never changed and my fantasies abated very little. Although I dated some girls, there was never any doubt that my overwhelming desire was for a man.
I was blessed to grow up in a time and culture in which there was no gay alternative lifestyle out there calling me into it. I knew that were a couple of homosexual bars in Baltimore, and I would visit pornographic book stores to glance at the magazines in the “male” section, but it never really occurred to me to bail out of the only world I knew and let homosexuality determine the course of my life. Like so many homosexually oriented men of that time, I would get a job, marry, have children and cope the best I could.
Marriage and My Secret Life
That’s exactly what happened. Willa Benson had been my friend from elementary school days. We dated through high school, off and on during college, and two years after college we were married. I told Willa nothing of my homosexual desires. Although I might rationalize this by the fact that when we married I hadn’t had sex with another many for six years and wasn’t really in fear of acting out in the future, in retrospect, I can see that this was really another manifestation of my determined self-protection. Too, it was a reflection of the fact that my inability to really love anyone made me incapable of putting her interests ahead of mine.
The first years of marriage went well. We had two daughters and I started to move up in the business world. We were active in our little neighborhood church, and we led an active social life. But gradually, the pressures of career and family started to build up on me, and at the same time a faulty thyroid gave Willa some emotional problems. My response was to retreat into my old means of finding comfort; homosexual fantasy and pornography, and five years into the marriage, sex with other men.
At first I drove 45 miles to Washington, DC to go to a gay bar to find a contact, but as time passed I became more and more reckless until I was openly going to gay bars and gay cruising places in Baltimore. A major part of my homosexuality was masochistic and I started answering ads for sado-masochistic sex.
For ten years I led the classic double life. Successful in business, vice-president and treasurer of a prestigious Baltimore company, a pillar of my local church. The front was masterfully constructed and maintained. In reality, my life was out of control and my marriage had become a sham. I was drinking heavily, and turned much of my guilt on Willa. We fought frequently. For the last two years of my homosexual activity, I was unable to function sexually in the marriage.
Although I believed in God and had an intellectual acceptance of most of the basics of my religion, my faith seemed to have no impact on my life. I prayed routinely and I did pray that I would be able to stop my homosexual behavior, but I was never aware of any of my prayers being answered. I suppose I prayed the way I did most things, out of duty.
I never justified what I was doing, but I felt powerless to stop it. Gradually sinking into a fatalistic attitude, I saw my life as being on a downward spiral which eventually would cost me my family, my job, maybe even my life, and there was nothing I could do about it.
But God could. Two things happened. Willa, searching for help, got herself into a prayer group. She did not tell them of the exact nature of our problems, but they started praying for me and for our marriage.
Not long after this, a friend at work had a profound religious conversion. As Jim tried to explain to me what had happened, I became certain that he had had a true spiritual experience. Somehow I knew that I could too, but this was the most frightening thing I could think of. I knew that such an encounter would involve my homosexuality. Perhaps I would have to confess who I really was. Maybe God would give me just a little more strength and I would be able to hold on with white knuckles for the rest of may life. Perhaps He would somehow enable me to give it up, but even this seemed terrible. As much as I hated it, I didn’t think I could live without it. It had been my way of coping with life for as long as I could remember.
But things were desperate enough that after six or seven weeks of agonizing, on Tuesday, November 26, 1974, I went to an interdenominational meeting with Jim. He didn’t know my problem, nor did anyone there. At some point during the evening, I prayed quietly, “God, I give up. My life is a total mess. I can’t handle it any more. I don’t care what You do; you take over.” And He did.
Within a few days, I knew that some profound changes had taken place in me. First of all, I fell head over heals in love with Willa and I desired her physically. My homosexual fantasies that had almost never left me were gone. And most important of all, I knew that Jesus was real, that He loved me, and I was starting to love Him.
A few weeks later, I told Willa the whole truth about my life. Her years of denial came crashing down and in the months ahead she would encounter the wounds that my years of rejection, deception, anger and blame-casting had caused. Her healing was just beginning and would take a number of years. Being able to trust me and receive my love came very slowly. A part of the new start in life that we were both given was the birth of our son, Stephen, 18 months after my conversion.
Growing Into Manhood
But homosexuality is more than just sexual attractions and behavior, and I had barely begun to experience healing in other areas. One area that had not been touched was my emotional neediness. Although it no longer felt sexual, for the first several years after my initial healing I still had a powerful longing for some big strong man to take care of me. But as I grew spiritually, more and more Jesus became that man to me as He poured into me the masculine love that I had never felt. Today, I believe that my need for male friendships are as normal and healthy as any man’s.
I had taken an emotional detour.
Homosexuality is also a matter of identity, and here again I had miles to go. I came to see that my homosexual problems were largely a problem of undeveloped manhood. Every man has to go through certain developmental stages; there is no real shortcut to growth. I saw that somehow on my road to manhood, I had taken an emotional detour. Fearing that I would never be “man enough” myself, I bailed out of my personal growth into manhood and started obsessing on the manhood of others. As a result, I was an 8-year-old boy in a 38-year-old man’s body. No wonder I felt totally inadequate in my relationships with other men (except in business, where I had a clearly defined role).
Physically and intellectually mature, a part of me was stuck in preadolescence. I could not fully and effectively take on my responsibilities as a husband and a father – as a man – because the qualities needed to play such important and difficult roles had never developed in me.
My first awareness of this fact came to me through reading Leanne Payne’s book Crisis in Masculinity. As I read her explanations of what a man is and learned about the true masculine and feminine, I came to realize that I simply had not grown up. I was not freed from my obligations as a man, but I no longer had to condemn myself when I failed. Rather, I had to start growing up.
So, more than 20 years ago, I started down the road of growth into manhood. I learned that manhood is to a great extent a matter of doing, and I would grow into manhood by doing the things that men do. I had to venture back into the world of men and boys through a process of learning, testing, failing, getting back up and testing again – and finally succeeding.
Once I was into this process and had a few successes, a reinforcing process started to set in. I found that I was being affirmed by other men. I started to conform to my own inner sense of what a man is. I started to gain a sense that I was becoming the man God created me to be.
At first it seemed that “doing the things that men do” was terribly superficial, but I found its consequences were not. Profound changes started to take place in the deepest parts of my being. My core identity started to change.
This process took years, but today I am confident in and at total peace with my manhood.
As I look back at these changes, now I see not one miracle but three.
Homosexuality is not an affliction like mental retardation or cancer; it is a group of problems, which together produce homosexual attractions and behavior. Each of these problems must be dealt with individually. Here are the three problems that God helped me deal with — my three miracles.
First, He broke down my wall of self-protection, and I was suddenly able to love. And who would have been a more logical object of my love than Willa, the person who had loved me and stayed by me all of those terrible years? I fell in love with her, and as happens with many men who come out of homosexuality, out of that love came sexual desire for her.
The second miracle is that God “desexualized” my unmet needs. For a time, I still longed for a man’s love and attention, but that longing was no longer sexual. I still longed to be a man, but this longing was no longer expressed in a desire to possess another man’s manhood.
Third, the sexual addiction was broken. This is perhaps the hardest miracle to understand, but it is the one we encounter most often.
Every successful twelve-stepper will tell you how his surrender to God is what broke the power of his sexual addiction.
Although not too many people experience change the way I did, everything that happened to me — being set free to love, desexualizing my unmet emotional needs, breaking the power of my addiction, having the deep needs of my heart for masculine love met by Jesus, and growing into manhood–can happen to any man whose heart is ready. I know this because I have seen it happen hundreds of times.
In 1979, five years after the initial healing, I started Regeneration, a ministry for men and women working through their challenges with homosexuality. Willa progressed in her healing and ministers with me. Our two daughters have grown up, married and provided us with six wonderful grandchildren. Steve, our little child of the promise, grew to be a strong man, was recently married and is teaching school.
Today, 25 years later, if God were to bring me the best looking man in the world, and say, “Here, you can do whatever you want with him.” My response would be, “No thank you, I’m not interested.” When I look back and consider what might have been, compared to what my life is today, I can barely contain my gratitude.
—Alan Medinger, Maryland, 2000
Growth Into Manhood
By Alan Medinger
Excerpted by permission of the author
Chapter One: The Journey (Excerpt)
Now, 15 , 20 or 40 years later, if you want to resume your growth, you will have to venture back out into the world of men and boys. Essentially, you are going to have to develop your manhood in the same way that young boys do, through a process of learning, testing, failing, getting back up and testing again, and finally succeeding. We grow into the fullness of manhood by doing the things that men do.
Chapter Two: Growth Into Manhood: Essential for Healing (Excerpt)
Although (a man’s) natural inclination may be to focus on behavior and attractions — because this is where he feels the most distress — I believe that the richest fruit will be borne in his life if he focuses most strongly (and early on) in the area of identity.
This is true for two reasons: First, identity is more amenable to direct attack than behavior or attractions… (It) can be changed significantly through a program of conscious choices and specific actions…
With respect to attractions, the essence of sexual attraction seems to be “differences” or “otherness”… What if a man does not have the inner sense that he is a man? Will he experience attraction to a woman? Will she be his “other”? No, and this is critical. If he feels that he is not complete as a man, his first longing will be not for women but for complete manhood; he will be drawn to the masculine in other males. This will be his “other.” This will be his missing rib… It follows, then, that the development of our manhood – finding completion in ourselves — will do great things both to decrease our same-sex attractions and to start drawing us sexually to women.
Chapter Three: The Way a Man Develops (Excerpt)
Growth encompasses the following steps:
Separating from the mother: This occurs…psychologically in the boy’s taking on an identity separate from his mother.
Identifying with the father or “the man”
Modeling after or imitating the father
Testing his manhood: He wants to prove that he is like his father, so he tests himself to be affirmed that he is a man like his father, seeking affirmation first from his father and then from his peers.
Getting affirmed: He gets feedback from his father or peers that tells him he is indeed a man.
Accepting his manhood: Affirmation has been sufficient for him to accept internally that he is a man.
Identification is a far less mysterious thing than bonding, and it is something that could occur at any time, even in adulthood. Hopefully, as you are reading this book, if you have never done so before, you will come to the point at which you will say, “Aha! I am not that different from other men. I am a man, and there is no reason why I can’t grow into a full sense of my manhood.”
The primary affirmer in the early years usually is Dad… In early adolescence the search for affirmation is broadened. It focuses on peers. The process is competitive and has the potential to produce some losses and some pain. For this reason many boys will seek an environment where their successes will outnumber their failures. This process almost always takes place in a group environment, and the boy will start fulfilling that strange, almost universal male longing to belong to a group of men. The combination of achieving, being affirmed, and belonging can make this a wonderful experience for a young boy.
Chapter Five: Is It Possible for Us Now? (Excerpt)
If the steps outlined in chapter 3 are truly necessary for growth into manhood and you skipped some of them or went through them only partially, then at some point you still have to go through them if you are ever to experience full manhood. God heals our physical, emotional, and even our spiritual brokenness, but it is safe to say, God does not heal our immaturity. He wants us to grow out of it… In one way or another, you will have to go through all of the steps that lead to full, mature manhood – separating from the mother, identifying with the father or the “man,” modeling, testing my manhood, getting affirmed, accepting my manhood.
Like a boy, we must be affirmed by men; they are the ones we still see as having the authority to affirm manhood. And like it or not, like a boy, affirmation must come from what we do.
Manhood is formed in the company of men, and so affirmation must be sought on their terms. This clearly presents a dilemma. You may not like watching football and you may have no ability to fix cars. But a broader understanding of masculinity will expand the areas in which you can recognize and receive affirmation from men. For example, if three men in your church have decided to rebuild the fence around the church playground and they decide to ask you to join them, the very asking will be affirming. Implicit in their asking is the statement that you are one of the men.
The primary principle of the program is also the basis of this book: We grow into manhood by doing the things that men do.
Chapter Seven: Understanding the Masculine (Excerpt)
The problem … is not (when a man) has too much of the feminine but too little of the masculine. Can there also be too much of the feminine? Could we have too great a capacity to nurture, to communicate, to understand, too great an ability to respond and help? No, any man who has a surplus of these things is blessed and is likely to be a blessing to others. Maybe in your homosexual struggles you have thought that you are too sensitive, too verbal, too intuitive. I don’t think you can be. Look at yourself again. Do these qualities make your life difficult? Are they what hold you back from getting on with your life? I doubt it. Isn’t it your inability to initiate, to exercise authority, to function as you are expected to do in the physical world of men that give you such distress?
This is not the only problem at the root of male homosexuality, and I am not saying that it is present in every struggler, but it has been in most of the men whom I have encountered in this ministry over the last 20 years.
The good news — the really great news — is that it is not too late to develop the masculine part of you.