JOURNEY - CHAPTER 20
A Week at Quest Learning Center
BY JERRY MCKAY
By the end of the first week of September 1982, I had decided to relocate to Pennsylvania for counseling. The first thing I had to do was to call Perry in Japan, because my decision would require his finding a teacher to replace me on short notice. At $3.00 per minute, our call was brief. Perry said that any inconvenience my decision might cause did not concern him. Rather, he was concerned for me. After sharing a few details about my visit with Colin, I thought I had put Perry’s reservations to rest. That was not the case. Two days later, Perry called back.
Perry feared that my life—in fact, my whole identity—would become organized around homosexuality instead of a bigger paradigm—my maleness within a Christian framework. He was concerned that by going to Reading, I would establish and reinforce my identity through a sexual framework by being with and talking to other homosexuals, day in and day out. I thought Perry’s concerns were legitimate, but my ship named “Identity” had already set sail.
Instead, Perry wanted me to return to Japan, believing we could work on things together. I was tempted because I trusted him and loved my life and work in Japan. Colin, however, had won the battle over who I believed could best help me, despite there being red flags. No one, not even Perry, could have competed with what I thought was most important in my decision: the knowledge and experience I believed Colin possessed with respect to change.
This second conversation was my opportunity to talk about those red flags, but I did not take the bait. It is astonishing to me now that I could tell Perry that, from what I had experienced, I did not believe there was any reason for concern. My portrayal of events was as misleading as those outlined in Ministry magazine. Everything I shared was edited or understated. In the same breath, I described my visit as the most beneficial experience in my life while making no reference to the abusive aspects of Colin’s behavior. I expressed hope about eventually dealing with my “H problem” while neglecting to tell him that I already had doubts about being able to follow Colin’s lead and act-as-though my way into heterosexuality. Desperation fostered my denial.
At the end of our conversation, Perry told me that he was going to have a special season of prayer about my decision. He wanted me to let him know if I had any new impressions. In retrospect, this conversation offered the new impression I should have heeded.
In a recent conversation we had about that time in my life, Perry made a comment about forming identities that highlights to me how different our worlds were. He said, “If you would have asked me, ‘Perry, what is your identity?’, I wouldn’t have given you an answer anywhere close to including a sexual definition. My identity would have been formed around a set of values, not a behavior or sexual orientation.”
Broadly speaking, Perry, like other straight friends, experienced his world as heterosexual and, therefore, normative. “Normality” has a way of affording one the luxury of forming an identity primarily around values instead of around life-altering experiences like homosexuality.
Having lived in Japan for several years, I knew what it was like to be outside the norm. I was very aware of being a white English-speaking blond-haired male because I was constantly reminded of it, albeit positively. At no time in my life, however, did I feel normal or positive about my sexual orientation. That fact alone robbed me of the experience of being able to focus on forming my identity around a set of values.
That’s not to say values were absent from my life. I had intentionally been incorporating Christian values into my identity since I was a boy. However, my sexual orientation pre-dated my Christian orientation. Sadly, as an adolescent, I tried to use my Christian identity to override or suppress my orientation. This only amplified it, making it an all-consuming aspect of my identity. If, in some small way, I had regarded my orientation differently—as normative for me—it wouldn’t have so dominated my life. That being said, my orientation has been the most profound factor in influencing the values I have embraced: mercy, tolerance, patience, forgiveness, and compassion. I find that irony mind boggling.
I have not been the only one to link my identity with my orientation. In certain settings, if I even hint at my orientation, I can be reduced to an identity or simply a behavior in the blink of an eye. To some, I become such a distracting, immoral, value-less identity that all the values I embrace are negated.
In the fall of 1982, however, I didn’t believe that going to Quest was going to reinforce my sexual identity; rather, I believed I would be shown how to work my way out of it.
The day after my second conversation with Perry, Colin called. Even though I was excited about telling him of my decision, I was guarded about sharing any misgivings. Colin insisted my doubts and fears were to be expected. During that call, we also talked about my going to the American Embassy in Ottawa for information about working in the U.S. and my making a second visit to Reading—sooner rather than later.
The next day, in fact, I went to the American Embassy. They were not helpful. They handed me information on three types of work visas and sent me on my way.
Having made my decision not to return to Japan, I was anxious for my Japanese visitors to leave; but that was not to happen for another ten days. While I kept my commitment to be their tour guide, I just wanted to cocoon. When I had time, I studied my Bible, prayed, and wrote in my journal. Only Jugo knew about my decision. Like Perry, Jugo had to know because my decision affected him directly. Our plans to travel back to Japan together were now not possible. Although Jugo was disappointed, in true Japanese form, he didn’t show it. He even agreed to stop in Tokyo long enough to pack up and ship back the personal belongings I had left behind before heading home to Osaka. Jugo left on September 19. Several days later, I headed to Pennsylvania for the second time.
When I reached the U.S. border, the guard wanted to see my driver’s license and asked where I was going. Because he didn’t like the fact that I was unemployed, he asked me to park and come inside. Once inside, his questions were more detailed. Did I have a criminal record? Did I have any drug charges? Had I ever been on probation? I was comfortable answering all those questions in the negative.
Then he wanted to know more about the exact nature of my visit and what exactly Mr. Cook’s line of work was. Despite being a bit nervous and evasive, I passed his interrogation. A second officer then searched my car. One item caught his attention—the information I had picked up at the American Embassy!
Back inside, my anxiety peaked when I was required to swear under oath before responding to questions about the information in my briefcase. Frustrated, I told the guard I had obtained the information at "his" embassy. I insisted I was not making this trip to look for work. He didn’t like my answer. He filled out a form, handed it to me and informed me that I was being denied entrance into the United States on the grounds that I was making this trip to look for work. Confused, I set out for Ottawa.
Shortly after I started driving, I became so upset I had to pull over to collect my thoughts. Feeling my intentions were completely misunderstood, I decided to return and plead--as politely as possible—for mercy. To improve my chances, I changed clothes! I thought that if I got out of my jeans and T-shirt and into my “church” clothes, I might make a better impression.
With my conservative clothes on, I headed back. Operating on faith, courage, stubbornness, and a lot of naivete, I visualized myself marching around the border office like Joshua marched around Jericho. I prayed that God would honor my faith and bring down the walls of their hearts so I could march into the U.S. The reason for my trip was honorable, after all.
The officer I had spoken to initially approached the car. Before I realized that he didn’t recognize me, I was well into my speech. I told him that I had spoken to him an hour earlier, that I had been denied entrance to the U.S., and was back to ask him to reconsider. He was sympathetic but did not change his mind. The issue, he told me, was that I was unemployed. He politely told me to go back to Ottawa and get a job or have Mr. Cook get his "school" accredited and send me an I-20 form. I sat in the parking lot wondering whether God was answering Perry’s prayer by sending me a “new impression” or was testing my resolve. Not to be deterred, I decided to try a third time!
This time, I headed west along the St. Lawrence River to another border crossing. Before doing so, I pitched the visa information in the nearest trash can. Thankfully, this happened before the internet otherwise my previous attempts would have shown up on some little computer screen. I was waved on through in seconds.
Seven hours later, when I saw Reading’s pagoda on Mount Penn, I knew I was minutes away from Quest. This week-long visit was going to give me a much better idea of what the Quest Learning Center experience would involve.
As before, I stayed at Colin’s home, but this time I would meet his wife, Sharon. Spending a week in their home meant I was able to interact with her and watch them! Their interaction, after all, would be my model for any future heterosexual relationship I might have. Sharon was a gracious hostess.
After supper that first evening, Colin and I drove to a nearby reservoir for a walk. Walks like this made it easier for me to open up. My ambivalence about deciding to relocate to Reading was foremost on my mind. Colin encouraged me to give everything to God including the implications and consequences of my decision. We ended our walk with an affectionate hug. I felt loved and affirmed.
The next day, the real reason for my being in Reading caught up with me. I was there to change my sexual orientation. Sitting in Colin’s office as a counselee again, I was not feeling as enthusiastic as the night before. Picking up on where we left off during my visit in August, we took another in-depth look at my family history. We scrutinized my relationship with my father, the impact his drinking had on the family, and mom’s “assertive” responses. While each detail was flagged as a factor in causing my orientation, I was assured there was hope in having identified them.
Colin took the following day off so that we could drive to the Consulate in Philadelphia to ask about working in the U.S. They were no more helpful than the American Embassy in Ottawa. Although a futile venture, with respect to gathering work information, the trip lent itself to hours of informal counseling.
Colin shared more details about his life in England as a boy, his conversion to Adventism, and his decision to pursue church ministry. Having walked around New York City two months earlier, I could appreciate his struggles living there. It would require an adjustment for any minister to pastor a church in Manhattan mere minutes from Greenwich Village—New York City’s gay district—let alone a lonely man in conflict with his homosexual orientation. Loneliness and angst over his orientation had led Colin into compulsive anonymous sexual activity which eventually resulted in his losing his ministerial credentials. I related intensely to Colin's loneliness and pain. Except for obvious differences, a similar humiliation could have been mine while a missionary in Japan.
Our road trip deepened our bond, but it further blurred the boundaries between friendship and our therapeutic relationship. This would make it difficult for me to confront Colin whenever therapy left the rails—as it did later that evening.
In our session that evening, we talked again about my attraction to men being a symptom of unmet emotional and physical needs with my father. These unmet needs, he reminded me, had become sexualized and were an unconscious but misguided attempt at repairing my psychological wounds.
This cause-and-effect explanation was an improvement on my soul-destroying “plain reading” understanding of Romans chapter one. Colin did not interpret Romans 1 as I had. For Colin, God had not handed me over “personally” to this perversion because I was not worshiping God correctly. Rather, my desires were just one manifestation of God’s “handing over” the entire world to its rebellion. In my case, my orientation was the result of my adolescent choice to withdraw emotionally from my parents—my father in particular—because of their dysfunctional parenting. While I found some comfort in this reasoning, I still thought it unfair that my mostly unconscious self-protective decisions had supposedly made me an abomination!
Toward the end of the session, Colin talked about the benefits of non-sexual intimacy with men. With that segue, he suggested we wrestle. I had never wrestled except in grade nine gym classes. Even though there were guys I wanted to wrap my arms around—I detested wrestling. And, while I wanted physical contact with my father, wrestling was never part of those fantasies.
Although I welcomed physical contact, I was uncomfortable with Colin’s suggestion. It took a lot of coaxing before I agreed to this “therapeutic” exercise. With my half-hearted consent, we moved back the chairs, undressed down to our underwear, turned down the lights and wrestled—sort of. The exercise did not last long because I was just not into it. Instead of having some deep unmet need met, I felt imposed upon.
In my journal that evening, I used the word “unique” to describe my experience. The cryptic nature of my entry veiled how uncomfortable I was feeling about aspects of our relationship and that I intuitively knew there was something odd about it all. What I didn’t see in Colin’s suggestion to wrestle was the extent of his own ongoing desire for male intimacy. I just accepted that he was trying to help me accomplish what God called us to do “by faith.” I was to do whatever was needed to move out of homosexuality and into heterosexuality even if that meant skating on the edge of my desires, flirting with intimacy while trying not to actually cross any lines.
This wrestling experience altered my attitude toward the change process. I started to think of non-sexual intimacy as a bridge to changing my orientation. Due to Colin’s example, I thought I could play this living-on-the-edge game without consequences. Because I didn’t appreciate the depth of my emotional needs nor my lack of maturity, all this thinking did was keep me in denial about change and distort my relationships with others. This attitude put me on a Mobius loop of failure, repentance, and denial; a loop where crossing the line multiple times was more acceptable than committing to one person!
Colin’s wrestling intervention impacted me in two other ways. I assumed that Colin’s other counselees had also been introduced to this on-the-edge non-sexual intimacy “teaching” and might behave similarly. Thinking this way distorted how I related to others. Even worse, I erroneously expected similar behavior from Colin's colleague, Keith.
I got to know Keith just weeks before when I was in Reading the first time. We got along well and had communicated briefly while I was back in Ottawa. I had come to value his friendship. The more time I spent with Colin, however, the more anxious I became around Keith. I expected similar “therapeutic” suggestions or advances from Keith because, after all, he had trained under Colin. Even though Keith never suggested anything inappropriate, I never knew what to expect. More importantly, I never asked Keith about Colin’s counseling practices.
Growth Group was another weekly component of The Quest experience. These groups were led by Colin, Keith, and occasionally by Sharon. The theme depended on the book the group was studying or the topic the leader set for the evening. Colin led the group that evening.
After the ice breaker, Colin proposed discussing the difference between imagined sin and actual sin. Colin wanted us to look at our tendency to experience guilt around activities that should not engender guilt.
While most people feel guilt at some point in their lives, like many in the group, I often felt guilt when simply participating in life. Whether I was shopping for toothpaste, going to church, or taking a walk on the beach, I often arrived at home guilt-ridden and emotionally exhausted. This dynamic was the result of always feeling those twinges of attraction to men, everywhere I went. By contrast, I never had thoughts about women, for which I felt I needed to repent!
Because Colin knew this dynamic from experience, he wanted us to become mindful of this tendency and replace our false guilt responses with a faith response. I was to surrender these innocent situations, along with my feelings of attraction, to God every time they occurred. I was to praise God for my true heterosexual identity and claim my right to participate fully in the world. While practicing this response would turn out to be a psychological and spiritual lifeline for me, the reduction in guilt it provided would not have any impact on changing my orientation.
The following day, I was invited to join Colin and Elder Duncan Eva for lunch. Duncan was a special assistant to the president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Duncan was also a Quest board member. Duncan was an unassuming man who listened intently to my brief recounting of life in Japan, my discovery of Quest through Ministry magazine, and my recent arrival in Reading.
Sitting in on a conversation with Colin and this close tie to church leadership left me feeling I was part of the inner circle. I was encouraged to learn that the church was supporting Colin’s ministry. I also felt a bit like that fly on the wall listening in on secrets. I picked up on the fact that the church needed Colin because elements within the church were challenging church teaching and authority on the topic of homosexuality. This was my introduction to the adversarial dance between the church, Colin, and SDA Kinship, International.
This conversation, while fascinating, inadvertently set me up for further secret keeping. As far as Duncan was concerned, Colin “had been” homosexual and now was heterosexual—except for the odd occasional temptation. As they chatted, I thought about the awkward red-flag events from my first visit with Colin and our “therapeutic” wrestling session the evening before. Because I was so desperate to fix my orientation, I said nothing, thus becoming complicit in protecting Colin, the church, and the delicate balance that existed between the two. Colin needed the money, the church needed Colin as proof that people could change, and I needed both.
On Friday morning, I was feeling a little down. I drove up to the top of Mt. Penn and parked in the shadow of the oversized concrete imitation of a pagoda. I felt a comforting connection to Japan, and I took the opportunity to write about the week. After lunch, in a counseling session in his office, I shared some of what I had written. It was cathartic to voice my apprehensions, but I didn’t share everything. Despite the beneficial things I had learned during the week and the support I had received, I wasn’t feeling that hopeful. I wasn’t sure I could push forward with claiming my heterosexuality while still needing to wrestle with guys! I didn’t share that during the session, however.
Later in the day, we had a final informal counseling session at a nearby lake. In the warm September sun, Colin read from his journals. His past anguish was obvious. I could not deny where Colin had come from and where he was now, and I drew hope from that. When I reiterated my fears and doubts, he encouraged me to, yet again, hold on to a new vision for my life. As my old vision died, he assured me, a new one would soon emerge to replace it. My future was full of new possibilities. Because I saw no other option, I tried to put trust in his experience.
After church the next day, I joined Colin, Sharon, Keith, and a group of their friends for a picnic. The event stressed me more than expected. Every time Colin introduced me to someone, they praised him for his work. Had I not been harboring doubts and misgivings, the event would have been more enjoyable. That I wanted to be somewhere other than the picnic was an indicator of my elevated stress. I felt better later that afternoon when playing a friendly game of mini-golf with Keith. A pleasant way to spend my final afternoon in Reading.
I had come to Reading for the week to work with Colin on changing my orientation. While I had picked up pointers on dealing with shame and guilt, made and few new friends, and put a small dent in my sense of isolation, change still felt very elusive. Although I wanted to stay longer, I had to go back to Canada.