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How is ‘Ex-Gay’ a Sexual Orientation?

Matt Kailey is a transsexual man and an award-winning author, blogger, and community leader, as well as a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on transgender issues. He is the author of Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience (Beacon Press), a Lambda Literary Award finalist and Rocky Mountain News local bestseller, and his work has appeared in numerous publications, from anthologies to professional journals.

7959I don’t care for the current labels that we have for sexual orientation. I think they are confusing and confining, and I don’t think they truly represent the broad range of sexual and romantic attractions that actually exist in the species.

While labels such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, and even pansexual, omnisexual, and queer can help with self-definition and the formation of communities, they can also result in shame, guilt, or concern when someone’s attractions happen to fall outside of the label that the person has adopted, or when someone is told that his, her, or hir attractions are wrong.

Regardless, it appears that these labels are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and I am willing to go along with both their intended meanings and the meanings that each individual ascribes to them as he, she, or ze defines his/her/hir own sexual identity. However, I simply can’t accept the notion that “ex-gay” is a sexual orientation.

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (how original – could they not come up with something on their own without stealing from the marvelous organization PFLAG?) are calling for the reprimand of a Maryland school superintendent, saying that his statements broke the school district’s own nondiscrimination policy regarding sexual orientation.

It seems that PFOX sent flyers home with students telling them that no one is “born gay,” and that gay and lesbian students can change their orientation if they want to. Apparently the superintendent criticized the flyers, and now PFOX is complaining that he violated the district’s nondiscrimination policy because ex-gay is a sexual orientation, too!

Sorry, PFOX, I don’t buy it. If a gay or lesbian person can truly change his or her sexual orientation, then that person is no longer gay – right? That’s what “ex-gay” means – right? So if a person is “ex-gay,” then he or she is “straight” – right?

And if an “ex-gay” person is not straight, then, given the dearth of labels that we currently have available to us, that means that he or she is gay – right? So there is no such thing as “ex-gay” – not really. Is that what you’re saying?

Or maybe what you really mean is that we should expand our labels to account for all possible sexual identities and orientations. If that’s the case, then you would certainly support the labels “pansexual,” “omnisexual,” and “queer” – right?

Or maybe what you mean is that we should just get rid of labels altogether and allow each individual to love whomever he, she, or ze happens to fall in love with – no questions asked, no judgments made, and no labels needed.

If that last one is where you’re going with this, PFOX, then I would support it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that I’m a little off base.

But I think you’re grasping at straws with your “ex-gay is a sexual orientation” argument. It’s not – not unless you are willing to move outside of the categories that we have now, and doing that is going to be dangerous for your side.

Be careful what you let out of the box. You might not be able to get it back in.