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Journey - Chapter 28

Omissions, Ambivalence, & Contradiction


b2ap3 large jmckay

On July 17, 1984, less than a year after the sexual incident with Colin and my sudden departure from Reading, I was standing on the curb at the airport in Philadelphia waiting for Colin to pick me up. The one-and-a-half-hour drive back to Reading, in combination with Colin’s ability to easily move into deep personal conversation, meant a rapid re-engagement of our relationship.

I stayed with Colin and Sharon at their home for the ten days I was in Reading. Staying in the house where the sexual violation had taken place didn’t trigger any significant negative reaction. That was probably because we had been working through that incident for months. Although Sharon was as warm and hospitable as ever, I felt odd interacting with her while knowing she knew nothing! My history with Colin made such glaring omissions commonplace; the negative or questionable aspects of changing one’s orientation were kept hidden from public scrutiny.

Besides reconnecting with Colin’s colleague Keith and other Quest attendees who were still living in Reading, Colin and I socialized a lot. During a few informal counseling sessions, we continued to work on reconciling over the events of the past. We prayed together, wept together, and shared many an embrace. I then returned to Canada with plans to move to Reading in the fall.

I spent the summer in the Ottawa area. Staying at my parent’s home and attending our small local church provided some comforting familiarity, but my life in Japan and my orientation were such intensely personal experiences that I often felt like the foreigner. No matter who I interacted with, I couldn’t escape that feeling of being two people—missionary and struggling homosexual. Occasionally, I met with Robert. It was good to see him, but our visits didn’t dampen my determination to continue to try to change my orientation.

Before leaving home in early September, I collected the $1800 that mom and dad had promised me for my second extended stay in Reading. They reminded me they would be content if I just accepted myself, but that was not good enough for me. I had to keep trying to change, fix, repair, or unearth my buried heterosexuality. I had one stop to make before reaching Reading—Seattle.

I was excited about being back in Seattle and meeting again with Doug Houck of Metanoia Ministries. I hoped I would have some time to build on the friendship that began a few months earlier and learn more about Doug’s personal experience—successes and failures—in “changing” one’s orientation.

Doug Me 2Metanoia, under Doug’s leadership, was bringing Colin to Seattle for a Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) certification training weekend. Unlike the general retreat I attended at Metanoia in June, where most participants were dealing with orientation issues on some level, many of these participants were heterosexual. Pastors, counselors, and “change” ministry leaders who were interested in hosting an HA chapter in their city needed to be certified. By attending this event, I too would be certified to facilitate a chapter should I want to do so in the future.

The conference comprised an extensive examination of the philosophy—Colin’s philosophy—behind Homosexuals Anonymous. Colin shone in settings like this. HA was his creation. His personal experience—filled with anecdotes and humor—was woven into the “working” of each step. To most in attendance, Colin was the articulate man with the British accent who had found freedom from homosexuality. Even though I knew about his actual struggles—from experience—I had a sense of pride being regarded as a close friend. My personal hopes about change were buoyed up and doubts and frustrations were calmed by what felt more like a spiritual retreat than a training seminar. Interacting with people from the growing network of ministry leaders boosted my confidence. I felt God was there, building up a nation of teachers and healers. As the conference drew to a close, I wrote, “This seminar is a new beginning. This September is my new beginning.” Such comments always betrayed the doubt and frustration I carried, because try as I might, pray as I did, my heterosexuality stubbornly remained buried beneath the mountain that faith was supposed to move.

Despite my spiritually upbeat journal entry made during the HA conference, I returned to Quest Learning Center with feelings of ambivalence.

Shortly after arriving back in Reading, I wrote, “I wonder if I am returning to Quest because I cannot get on with my life. Will I be just killing time, trying to fill some great emptiness in my life? I wonder if all that has happened since learning of Colin and Quest in 1981 has been a misguided mistake—something I should never have pursued.” Quest was a safe place—a small Christian community, albeit of troubled homosexuals. I was surrounded by people who understood me—people working at unearthing their heterosexuality even if with limited success. While Quest was to be a place of change, it was often a place one could be gay and Christian.

Within days of arriving in Reading, I placed an ad in the Reading Eagle: CHRISTIAN MAN Desires Furnished Apt. Up to $200 mo., utilities included. Ask for Jerry.

I moved into a three-story row house four days later. The door to my third-floor apartment was at the base of a set of narrow steep stairs which emerged in the living room. When I say it was a furnished apartment, think basic necessities: stove and refrigerator, kitchen table and two chairs, a bed of sorts, and a sofa. It was enough, however, to move in immediately. I loved it. Having my apartment was perhaps the highlight of being in Reading. Except for two months in the summer of ’80, when I lived in a trailer on the edge of the college campus, I had never lived on my own. Now, I could have people over anytime I wanted, or hermit myself away if I felt like it.

Autumn in Pennsylvania is beautiful, and I loved that I could walk across town to Quest. As with my first five-month stay in ‘83, I spent a lot of time volunteering at the Quest office. The week-by-week details were much the same as before: counseling sessions with Colin, and attending the local HA chapter and the weekly growth group. While those details were the same, I was not the same.

I still believed Colin held the solution to my “problem,” but I was less in awe of him. And while, in my mind, we were on the same arduous journey, I wasn’t as open to the advice he gave me, nor as willing to try some “treatments” he proposed, or as trusting of his promises of change. As well, there were reasons for my caution and skepticism.

When Colin asked if we could share a massage, I wrote, “I will give Colin a massage, but I don’t want to receive one. If Colin wants to take off all his clothes, that’s fine with me, but I will keep my clothes on.” This request crossed counselor/counselee boundaries, of course, but his request and my failure to talk to anyone was typical of our pattern of relating. I was at least strong enough this time to establish boundaries I was comfortable with.

A month later, on October 23, I wrote, “I’m irritated with Colin. He asked me to go bowling. Why does he keep asking me to do things with him? He comes by for talks and hugs. He asks me to babysit with him. Whenever he says something like that, I want to say, ‘No.’ I don’t mean to suggest that his reaching out to me in this way was inappropriate, but I felt uncomfortable.” In retrospect, I believe Colin’s behavior said a lot about him and his ongoing desire for male companionship. As well, my journal entry was more about my growing desire to find my way independently of Colin. I was changing—not my orientation—just my struggle to find my way on my own.

Hair Before 2Only those who knew me very well would know how sensitive I was about my hair. My hair is very fine, and without a little “product,” it lies as flat as a board. I often wished I were “as straight” as my hair! Many a time, I rushed home after a cut to wash and shape my hair the way I liked it before going out in public. Any change I made to my hair was gradual and imperceptible. So, making an appointment on December 10 to get a perm signaled a seismic change.

Hair After 2Getting a perm definitely did not represent any emerging heterosexuality! It did, however, symbolize an emerging permission to be myself, to experiment, to take risks. More significantly, I believe it was a shift in my comfort level with being visible, with being seen—dare I say being judged. This was a change from the decades of hiding, turning inward, or withdrawing. In the end, my perm was little more than a light wave. I never repeated the experiment, but I held on to my sense of risk.

Memories of being denied entrance to the United States two years prior left me paranoid about not being able to get back into the U.S., should I go home for Christmas. Although it was difficult to disappoint family expectations, I informed my mother I would not be coming home for Christmas. Thankfully, my friend Jugo, who was studying at the Adventist Seminary in Michigan, could spend Christmas with me.

With vestiges of my perm still visible, we headed off to New York City the day before Christmas. We should have realized that the city that never sleeps would in fact go to bed early on Christmas Eve. As offices and stores started to close, Manhattan became a ghost town. If my memory serves me correctly, all we could find for supper was a couple of “all dressed” baked potatoes at a small pub in Greenwich Village that hadn’t closed yet. We wanted to attend a Christmas Eve service, but we had no reservations for the “popular” churches. Eventually, we found room in The Church of the Transfiguration on 29th Street. During the service, a heavy mist settled in on the city. When we left the church and looked up, the Empire State Building, just four blocks north, was shrouded in mist and glowing red and green. The mist accentuated the peacefulness of the empty streets, leaving us in a reflective mood as we walked back to our hotel. That troubled heavy feeling I was so familiar with, gave way to the promises of a Silent Holy Night. We made it back to Reading in time for the Christmas potluck.

1985 signaled the halfway point of my stay in Reading.

Spiritually, I was in the same place as I was in September when I arrived. I prayed, but it was a challenge. I read the Bible, but struggled to find it meaningful. I was always in an agitated state spiritually. When I wasn’t comfortable expressing my frustration and disappointments to God, I blamed the devil for manipulating my environment and undermining me spiritually. I’m sure that if I could have had a face-to-face chat with the devil, I would have been asked to stop giving him so much credit! It was easier for me, however, to stay in denial about the reasons behind my spiritual agitation if I had the devil to blame rather than my circumstances.

On January 12, while in session with Colin, I announced I would stop attending HA but wanted to continue to “work the steps” with him. When I wrote that “the group members talk too much about what they have done, are doing, and may do,” there was a great deal of projection taking place on my part. I was tired of rehearsing what was or wasn’t changing regarding my orientation in the group. I thought I would benefit more from “working the steps” in relation to areas of my life that hampered me personally instead of focusing directly on my orientation.

With that goal, at the end of January, I enrolled in an Assertiveness Training course offered by the community. As a person who tended toward the passive side of things and who feared coming across as aggressive, assertiveness training was beneficial. The Broken Record Technique was my greatest takeaway. Learning to state my position politely yet firmly—repeatedly if necessary—was to become a trusted friend regarding people who didn’t want to listen or who liked to manipulate. I learned to say  “No” and risk being judged for it.

In late January, a fire at the Y.M.C.A. affected our Quest community in two ways. Newcomers to Quest often took up residence at the Y until they could find other accommodations. The fire meant several people were displaced. That was minor compared to the tragedy of losing a local Quest member who volunteered with the fire department. Our little community was deeply saddened.

From late February and on into March of ’85, Colin canceled many of my counseling sessions and that of others, in order to cloister himself in his office. He needed to complete a booklet that was to be offered at the end of an episode of the Adventist television program It Is Written that same month. With a viewership in the tens of thousands, this would be Quest’s most significant exposure since the Ministry magazine interview in 1982.

Colin and I frequently talked about a detail or concept he was working on for a particular chapter. The 30-page booklet—Homosexuality, an Open Door—turned out to be a simple yet comprehensive summary of Colin’s psychological and theological theory of cause and fix of homosexuality. The booklet was replete with understanding, hope, and promise. Like the Ministry magazine interview, however, there was no reference to the extent of Colin’s ongoing struggles. And again, when I thought about this omission, I said nothing.

As the winter of 1985 progressed, I started to think about leaving Quest. I had unearthed little heterosexuality, but I couldn’t stay in Reading forever. Had I believed a career in the church was possible, I might have pursued a Master of Divinity at the Adventist seminary in Michigan. In my state of mind, however, that just seemed out of the question. Right or wrong, I saw no place for me in church employment any longer. While vague, my plan was to head to Toronto, find a job, and use that HA certificate I got in Seattle to facilitate a Homosexuals Anonymous chapter there. There was a “change” ministry in Toronto, so perhaps I could link up with them.

My plan to facilitate an HA chapter in Toronto may seem to contradict my decision to withdraw from the HA group in Reading. Although I dropped out of the group, I continued to believe in its philosophy and goals. Always the missionary/teacher, I hoped someone in Toronto would benefit from the HA philosophy. If I were to do that, the Adventist church in Canada was going to know I was there. In March, I wrote to the President of the Ontario Conference of Adventist Church in Canada. Elder Morgan knew of me as I had approached him in 1983 about getting financial support to go to Reading. Although he had given me some help personally, I had not communicated with him in a year and a half.

I told him about my first five-month stay in Reading but said nothing about Colin’s many questionable behaviors, let alone the sexual violation. All that I said was that I left Quest because I could not tolerate counseling any longer! I told him about returning to Japan and the challenges that trying to fulfill missionary obligations while dealing with my orientation had created. I ended by telling him about my return to Reading, hinted at my plans for Toronto, and expressed a desire to meet with him once I returned to Canada.

Donna also received a letter from me. After a two-page recounting of my experience, I addressed her directly. “And you, Donna, caused me my greatest heartache. I treasured the years we were friends, but I could not love you as a man loves a woman. Near the end of college, when you pushed me for some indication as to the direction of our lives, I told you I didn’t feel for you in the way you felt for me. I know I hurt you, and I know you were confused, because I never gave you a good reason.” I described my journey up to that point and my plans for the immediate future.

March turned out to be a letter-writing month. I mailed out a five-page single-spaced response to a Kinship member living in Toronto. I had met Sam in 1983 at Kinship Kampmeeting. Sam was sincerely interested in my welfare and my Quest experience. As a doctor, he was interested in “intensive scientific research.” Besides what the research said about the cause of one’s sexual orientation, Sam was particularly interested in researched-based evidence regarding Colin’s claims of change, and in particular those, like me, who were claiming the same thing. All scientific research findings notwithstanding, I reiterated my personal belief that I could not surrender what I believed scripture stated was God’s intent for human relationships to the claims of science.    

I cringe now, when I read other comments I made to Elder Morgan, Donna, and Sam.

To Elder Morgan I wrote, “The seeds sown at Quest during my first visit have stayed with me, and Christ has brought me to a position where I see the beginning of actual healing, and the hope and courage to believe that freedom is possible. The battle is not over, but the Lord has dealt fatal blows to this enemy….” In my letter to Donna, I described my progress in similar, but vague, terms. “The struggle is still real, but I can say that I am more comfortable and content about life than ever before. God has had His loving hand with me, or I would not have made it.”

I sincerely hope Elder Morgan never used my words to encourage others, because I was claiming things “in God’s name” that were not true. The only truth to what I said to Donna was that I was more comfortable and content with my life on some level. There was no change in my orientation, however.

And to Sam I wrote, “I will be the first to say that I have attended Quest with a very questioning and skeptical mind. I have been quite insistent on testing the theories of Colin and his own personal experience. I watch, listen, and try what is suggested. I see what has happened to others as well as to me, and I have observed that some progress quickly and others slowly.” Of my three letters, my response to Sam misrepresented my experience the most. I knew far more than I let on.

As I read through my journals from that time, I see a recurring tendency to avoid the truth about my experience and to speak in vague, hopeful terms. When I think about what motivated me to be so dishonest, a biblical text comes to mind. I feared being one of the “many” spoken of in Psalm 3:2: “Many are they who say of me, ‘There is no help for him in God’ (NKJV).” Having to manage the intense cognitive dissonance I was experiencing against my commitment to defending God’s ability to deliver, moved me into a place of dishonesty. There was little in my experience that showed I was any less homosexual and more heterosexual than when I first started out on my journey several years earlier. To have said that, however, would have felt as though I was denying the power of God.

Winter slipped away, and the time came to leave Reading. The week before I left, Mom came to join me and travel back to Canada together. It was Easter Sunday when we set out for Toronto. All the omissions, ambivalence, and contradictions of my six months in Reading notwithstanding, Colin and I departed on good terms. There was an expectation that we would work together in the future—a future for which I had no definite plans, just a few hopes about what might be.

—Jerry McKay