Straight and narrow

27 February 2009 — 12:00am

My name is Katrina Fox and I am a homosexual. As is the case with Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, that admission is apparently the first step in my journey to become straight – according to Living Waters, an international ministry that offers courses to help people who suffer from a range of sexual problems or “brokenness”, including same-sex attraction.

It’s 9.30am on Saturday morning and I’m waiting for Living Waters’ one-day Grace and Sexuality Conference at the Wesley Mission in Sydney to start. There’s around 60 of us in attendance, old and young, from a range of ethnic backgrounds and my gaydar has honed in on a few fellow queers.

Boxes of tissues have been set out around the room by the organisers, presumably in anticipation of an outpouring of emotion. They’re not disappointed as the band takes its place on stage and the head of the ministry, Ron Brookman, leads the audience in song and prayer.

Smiles turn to tears as it gets too much for several people and they break down sobbing. It’s not unlike a Kylie or k.d. lang concert.

Brookman, according to the conference brochure, has been “transformed from homosexuality” and leads the Living Waters ministry from its headquarters in Ramsgate with his wife Ruth.

“I was living a double life as a pastor and immersed in the homosexual scene in Darlinghurst,” he tells us. “I know what it is to live in utter brokenness and shame.”

Brookman goes on to explain that God’s image can only be displayed on earth when male and female come together in sexual union within the context of monogamous heterosexual marriage. Anything outside is a sin.

“Desire is powerful, which is why God has given boundaries,” he asserts. “If boundaries were kept there would be no such thing as sexually transmitted diseases … there is no such thing as casual sex … the power of intimacy and sex is a foreshadow of what awaits us in heaven.”

Homosexuality is a “handicap” but healing our “brokenness” is as simple as “yielding our lives to Jesus”, he adds. Although it wasn’t easy, Brookman says he has turned his back on the “homosexual lifestyle”, but admits it is a struggle every day.

After a talk by Ruth Brookman on how she forgave her husband’s sexual indiscretions with other men and they now live happily as a heterosexual couple, it’s lunchtime. And I’m still gay.

After lunch the conference delegates break off to take part in a workshop of their choice. Naturally I pick the one on homosexuality, led by Ian Lind, who founded Living Waters in Australia 30 years ago. Before becoming a Christian, Lind was part of the gay scene in Sydney for 10 years. For him, the two are mutually exclusive. “There is no such thing as a gay Christian,” he proclaims.

“I don’t believe you can sit in church as a gay person. I chose homosexuality like others choose drugs or alcohol. When I gave myself to the Lord, I turned my back on my lifestyle so I was no longer gay. I am still attracted to men, but I never went back to that lifestyle or gave in to my feelings.”

The workshop has drawn around 20 people. One couple is concerned about their son who came out as gay a year ago. “It’s there in your upbringing,” Lind asserts.

“If our mothers nurtured us and our fathers spent time with us, we wouldn’t have those issues.” Discussion ensues about whether a person is “born gay”.

While Lind is adamant this is not the case – despite various research studies identifying biological factors such as prenatal hormones and brain structure that may be related to sexual orientation – others in the room argue it doesn’t matter if people are born gay. “As Christians we shouldn’t be worried about this,” says one participant. “You can still be redeemed and choose to live a pure life.”

You’ve probably realised by now I have no intention of yielding my life to Jesus or repenting my “sin”. Unlike many people who come to organisations such as Living Waters, I don’t struggle with being a dyke. I live with my girlfriend of 15 years, a gorgeous, passionate and talented therapist who’s blessed with amazing cheekbones, and when I stare at a photo of Debbie Harry, shame is the last thing I’m feeling.

But for those who leave ex-gay programs, unsuccessful in their quest to become straight, depression and suicide are common, according to Anthony Venn-Brown, a former Assemblies of God preacher, author of A Life of Unlearning and leader of the Freedom 2 B[e] organisation that offers support to gay and lesbian Christians. Venn-Brown went through several ex-gay programs before embracing his homosexuality and is adamant such programs don’t work. “You can’t recover from your sexual orientation,” he says.

“You can deny and suppress it but you can’t change it. Trying to be someone I wasn’t caused great stress, a sense of failure and shame that eventually led to depression.”

Brookman and Lind say they are now heterosexual, despite still finding men sexually attractive, and couldn’t be happier. Living Waters runs a 30-week course for people “struggling with same-sex attraction” although both men admit it’s often necessary for a person to complete the course three or four times to really “get it”.

In an interview a few days after the conference, Brookman was keen to point out that Living Waters “goes to great pains not to condemn people in homosexuality or any other form of sexual brokenness, but seeks to reach out with compassion to those who are ill at ease with their sexuality”.

It’s true that at that no time during the conference did anyone express outright hatred towards gay or lesbian people, but references to Satan and “the enemy” in the context of discussing the “sin” of homosexuality hardly empower us.

Spending the day with people who continually reinforced the message that a core part of my identity is “broken” or a “handicap” or an addiction to be overcome didn’t exactly fill me with joy. The musical parts of the day were the best. I’m partial to a nice uplifting singalong but instead of suppressing my sexuality while revering a male deity, I’ll take dancing naked at Coogee women’s pool with a bunch of hot sheilas chanting “We All Come From The Goddess” any day. Or the Mardi Gras Parade. Because I’m still gay.

Katrina Fox is a freelance writer and co-editor of Trans People in Love (Routledge).