17 minutes reading time (3471 words)
Journey - Chapter 31
It Is with Sadness That I Write This Letter
BY JERRY MCKAY
The 1986 Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) season took over at work in midwinter. To keep up with the volume of mutual fund purchases, my employer hired temporary staff. That was how I met Judith, a friendly, attractive woman with dark wavy hair. We hit it off immediately. I told her, with some hesitation, about my journey and my work with HA. As Judith worked in theatre, she assured me she was fine with my orientation, that I was not the first gay man she had ever met! We frequently had lunch together and occasionally met up outside of work.
“While together the other evening,” I wrote, “I allowed myself to feel anything that I was aware of.” My reserved personality, dampened by hyperconservative Christian caution, continued to make it difficult for me to relax and feel anything or think about anything sexual related to women. It was always a challenge to just be and linger over thoughts like kissing a woman! Writing as if I were practicing a mindfulness meditation, I continued, “I didn’t resist, but tried to let the thought of kissing her flow in and out of my mind freely.”
As always, my desire to kiss her was more of a curiosity driven by my goal to experience change than being drawn to this attractive woman. After all, I had been imagining doing all kinds of things with women for a long time to no effect. There never was a kiss; and when the RRSP season ended, we saw less and less of each other. While Judith was my source of heterosexual exploration and analysis for the winter, I would make other limited attempts throughout the year.
Spiritually, I continued to practice my personal devotions; and in prayer I kept asking God to call forth the power of his Son into the heterosexual void I perceived in my life. The year started out well emotionally, but a mild depression soon took over. I interpreted this as evidence of being under attack. “Since the first of February, it seems that all the forces of darkness have worked non-stop to make the gains of this winter of no effect—as if to mock me.” Conflicted desires and behaviors on my part, besides the absence of heterosexual interest, left me feeling defeated and very homosexual. Unwilling to give up, I persisted in praising God for my defeats and perceived victories.
In conversation with Colin one morning, I asked if I could call him every day as a means of accountability and for prayer. The regular contact was encouraging; but in those conversations, we continued to define our struggle as sexual addiction. That led me to think I was a prisoner of something evil rather than the very natural and normal experience of loneliness. Interpreting my desires as the pull of addiction only increased a sense of inner judgement, unnecessarily led me to detach from male friends, and continued my unhealthy practice of compartmentalizing various aspects of my life.
In March, Pam, the director of the change ministry in Toronto, and I were whisked by limousine to the nearby city of Hamilton to appear on the Cherington radio program. Homosexuality was the topic of the day, and we represented the other perspective. We repeated all the talking points about the limitations and evils of homosexuality and shared some of the hows of change. Not wanting to be a poster boy for change, I was thankful we weren’t featured on TV!
I continued to facilitate the HA chapter despite increasing feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes, I felt downright hypocritical. The regular members were a source of encouragement, and I valued their friendship and support more than they knew. Nine months into HA’s existence, I received a letter from Blair.
“Since I sometimes have trouble expressing my feelings in person, I wanted to say it on paper. I thought I would express my appreciation to you for all that you have shared and given to me over the past few months. Sometimes, it is scary the things you say—the way you feel is so close to what I am thinking and feeling.”
I found it sad, but encouraging to read:
“Last year, before HA, I felt so burdened by guilt and depression that I saw no point in going on. It is clear to me now that the Lord has definitely put you in my life to help me out. So, Jerry, I just want to say ‘thanks’ for all your effort on behalf of HA.”
Blair’s letter inadvertently addressed a concern expressed nine months earlier in the gay news magazine The Body Politic. After someone secretly sat in on an HA meeting, the visitor wondered why there was a need for an organization like HA. “Wasn’t there a place for these HA members in the gay community?” he asked.
Even though there were many caring people and supportive organizations in the gay community, there were few places for the conflicted Christian to feel safe and be conflicted! Misguided or not, HA was that one place where people like Blair could express such and hope for change at the same time.
April brought with it an event filled with mystery. I purchased a beautiful white and blue delta-shaped kite with a red sun on it, reminiscent of the Japanese flag. I had my father in mind when I bought it. As a child, if I had waited for dad to do things with me, I wouldn’t have done anything. Flying a kite was one of those father-son activities we never shared. Hoping to reclaim some of those unmet love needs I lost in childhood, and to increase my chances of becoming heterosexual, I took my kite to High Park.
The wind was very gentle, yet strong enough to lift my kite aloft. It was beautiful, and the boy in me enjoyed flying it. Several minutes into my joy, the kite landed in the top of a large maple tree. I tugged on the cord for fifteen minutes. Since it was early spring, the tree was still without leaves, so I could see my kite clearly, which only increased my frustration. I may have been in my 30th year, but my emotional response was that of a child—quiet, frustrated defeat. Feelings of helplessness and abandonment surfaced.
Out of habit, I prayed. I repeated a child-like prayer: “God, help this little boy get his kite out of the tree.” All I can say is that every time I repeated that plea, the kite lifted a bit before settling back into the branches but just a little lower than the time before. After half a dozen “God, help this little boy” prayers, my kite was on the ground on the other side of the tree. Feelings of frustration and abandonment turned to a private tearful gratitude.
I wanted to believe the Creator of the universe visited me in the park and lifted my kite out of the tree. But such thinking created more problems than it solved. If God helped me get my kite out of the tree, did God put my kite in the tree in the first place? My journey in pursuit of change was becoming a tumultuous collection of such questions. The most distressing question was where God was in everything that was happening to me and around me.
Believing that all things—God initiated or not—can work together for good allowed me to turn this event into a healing moment. My initial inner dialogue and emotional responses all showed that I needed to learn to parent myself. I needed to see myself as more than a frustrated little boy ignored by his father. Spiritually, I needed to stop projecting feelings of abandonment onto God when stuff happened. Mystery or not, I felt seen, heard, understood, and cared for in the moment—an affirmation that I would need to draw on as the year unfolded.
At the end of April, I met with the Toronto Adventist Ministerial Association. I knew some men in the room from my studies in theology six years earlier. Therefore, linking myself to homosexuality was awkward. I put on my best confident face and introduced myself as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. I intentionally added Christian to counter the pervasive and erroneous notion that a homosexual cannot be a person of faith.
I confessed to struggling with a homosexual orientation, and then in typical HA-Quest speak I assured them I was experiencing its disintegration and growing into God’s intended heterosexual identity. I regret I couched my orientation in the context of an end-time problem and the breakdown of the family! I never addressed the topic like that; but in this room of pastors, I slipped into Adventist speak hoping to garner their sympathy and support. I shared my journey briefly (editing out all questionable incidents while at Quest and my growing doubts about change), expressed my hope that this issue could be addressed in local churches through education, gave each pastor an HA brochure, and offered my services should they need it.
There was very little discussion at the end of my presentation. I don’t want to assume what anyone was thinking. It was an awkward topic, after all. Maybe my matter-of-fact confident posture unintentionally shut down the dialogue. Toronto was Canada’s largest city, and the probability was high that there were people like me in their congregations. Did they assume no one in their congregation would benefit from such a conversation? Maybe they were secretly affirming and didn’t want to challenge me! For whatever reason and to my disappointment, I never heard from anyone after the fact. I would have welcomed a call to at least inquire about how I was doing.
The last week of June was spent in Nyack, New York at an Exodus International Conference. Exodus was an umbrella organization for change ministries in the U.S. and around the world. Several HA members and I drove from Toronto. Pam, the director of the change ministry in Toronto, was there. Colin, Sharon, and Keith from Quest attended, as well as Doug from Metanoia Ministries in Seattle.
The conference was not profound in that there was no new information. Everything was about changing one’s orientation. There were talks on the Biblical texts and seminars on the change process. There were workshops to help women coming out of lesbianism dress appropriately feminine and discussions to help the guys be more masculine—by playing baseball or taking an auto repair course! I should have been encouraged by the testimonies of change, but I found myself irritated by them, if not increasingly skeptical.
The conference was not without its curious contradictions. In one journal entry, I would write, “I was irritated earlier today while sitting behind an attractive guy. He had a dark complexion, broad shoulders, neatly trimmed dark hair, and a short beard.” In another entry, I would write about being out for lunch with Pam and another female friend. “Pam suggested we all walk together holding hands. We did so for about six blocks.”
Once again, while I had to consciously choose to walk six blocks with Pam’s hand in mine, it required zero effort on my part to be drawn to the guy sitting in front of me. I told myself that envy and self-rejection were the reason this handsome man stole my peace, and that by holding Pam’s hand I was “moving myself outside of homosexual availability.”
In July, I turned 30. I remember sitting in the same park where I had flown my kite and reflecting on how different my life was from what I expected it would be. There was nothing about my life that seemed predictable anymore. I wished I could turn back time, but to when? It was very bewildering.
SDA Kinship held its annual Kampmeeting in Toronto that summer. I didn’t register but visited as a guest on Sabbath morning for church. I had attended Kampmeeting in 1983 when counseling with Colin in Pennsylvania, so I looked forward to reconnecting with a few people I knew.
It was a very pleasant experience worshiping with LGBT+ folk and the handful of sympathetic church leaders, parents, and friends. The Exodus conference and Kampmeeting shared one thing in common—amazing music! That was the extent of any similarity, however. I was keenly aware of how I felt at each—rejection of my experience when at Exodus and affirmation with Kinship. I was becoming disillusioned by what Exodus and Quest represented while drawn to but frightened by what Kinship represented. It was all quite exhausting.
I planned to attend the meeting following lunch before saying my goodbyes. Instead, I wandered around the conference grounds by myself because the first meeting was not open to non-Kinship members. More precisely, it was not open to me! I didn’t know it, but an ex-Quest counselee was to share his experience of Quest and Colin. Kinship leaders did not want me to know the topic of the meeting. The ex-Quest member’s account would later send Ron Lawson searching for more information.
My September 4 journal entry reads, “This entry comes after a long silence, not because it has been a quiet period; on the contrary, much has happened.” In a conversation with Colin, I learned Ron had been in Reading “dirt-digging.” I continued, “My weariness over Ron’s digging, my orientation, and Colin’s troubles are getting to me.”
I didn’t have much time to process the information about Ron’s activities because I had to be in Newport Beach, California by September 19 for the first International HA Conference. I went to the conference as both an HA member and a facilitator. At Colin’s urging, I agreed to give two presentations on the philosophy of HA, including an overview of each of the 14 Steps.
Not surprisingly, I was feeling disoriented when I arrived. Wishing I were anyplace else, I forced myself to interact with people throughout the weekend. Although my first presentation was okay, as soon as I started the second, I was overcome with that disconcerting feeling of being outside of one’s body. As if hovering above my disembodied self, I watched myself ramble on about HA theory. I made it to the end of the presentation and the conference, but I was in psychological pain. Back in Toronto, I slowly pulled myself together, but something had snapped within me spiritually and emotionally.
Struggling to describe how I felt, I made journal entries containing words like inferior, irritable, distant, and withdrawn. I wasn’t able to identify the actual issues. My ability to trust my lived experience was collapsing. Spiritual and theological certainty was giving way to confusion. Skepticism in the counsel of others was increasing. I was reaching a breaking point—my existential crisis.
A couple of weeks later, in mid-October, I received a letter from Eric, an acquaintance from my Quest days. Eric’s letter confirmed earlier rumors that Ron was looking into counselees’ experiences with Colin. Eric wrote, “Last Saturday, Charles brought Ron to interview Bruce and me. In the course of my talk on not getting along with Colin, Ron asked, ‘Who did Colin get along with?’ I suggested, ‘Well, Jerry’.” Eric continued by saying that his comment prompted Ron to speculate that Colin was in love with me!
Then Eric directed a question at me. “Did Colin out-and-out lie to me?” Eric asked that question because, as early as the winter of ’83 during my first extended stay in Reading, Eric had asked Colin if Colin had feelings for me. According to Eric, Colin said that any feelings he had for me were ones of normal affection. I think I can say with some confidence that Colin’s feelings for me were more than platonic.
My immediate response was anger at Ron, however, for voicing such an assumption. Although I was sometimes irritated by Colin’s expressions of affection—such as giving me a nickname as a term of endearment—I tolerated such believing that any struggle with affection he had was par for the course regarding the change process. I was forced to recant my anger when Eric suggested that this was not an unfamiliar perception among other Quest counselees.
By saying his affections for me were normal, Colin sidestepped the question Eric dared not ask. Had there been anything inappropriate about our relationship? Eric continued, “I’ve long wracked my brain trying to decide to what extent Colin and his message are trustworthy. Part of the reason I finally broke off counseling was the realization that I must lay it to rest, for now. I asked Colin those questions seriously, just as I’m asking you. Of course, you needn’t answer if you think I’m out of place. It’s just that the question is still timely. How much homosexual pain can I expect?”
It should have been reassuring for me to learn that others had a negative experience with Colin; but Ron’s suggestions and Eric’s questions upset, embarrassed, and threatened me. They made plain things I did not want to see. Any need on my part to defend Colin was more about defending my belief system around change and mitigating the spiritual and psychological impact such a collapse would have on me.
Before I could process Eric’s letter, I received the report Ron had written. The October 23 cover letter introduced a 13-page recounting of the experience of 14 Quest counselees. Although a few reported positive benefits such as improvements in self-esteem and social relationships, those benefits were overshadowed by various alleged violations and abuses. Account after account either reflected my experience or came very close to it. Because of my misplaced allegiances, I was once again initially furious at Ron for releasing the report. I could not deny the evidence, however, because I had lived it.
In circles that had a vested interest in the topic—church leadership, Exodus International affiliates, and the LGBT community—the news spread like wildfire. In early December, Keith, HA’s Services Coordinator, sent out a letter to HA members. “It is with sadness that I write this letter to tell you of the resignation of Colin Cook as director of Quest Learning Center.”
For the Toronto HA chapter members, the news was disturbing, but not as devastating as expected. They had no personal connection to Colin. As an HA member himself, Colin was afforded the same compassion and understanding regarding growth or failure as the rest of us. As the director of a ministry, who had been claiming for a decade that he had changed, Colin’s actions were inexcusable. Because I often spoke about my association with Colin, I was left to manage the pain of a deep vicarious shame. While I did my best to explain Colin’s actions without excusing or justifying them, my explanations were as much for me as it was the HA members.
Not long after I shared the news of Colin’s demise with HA members, I received a second letter from Blair, a local chapter member. I was comforted to hear he still found HA helpful, but I was most touched by his concern for me. “I hope that the situation with Colin won’t make you despair; we must have faith in God to work this situation for good. I am praying for him and you.”
Prayer notwithstanding, one of my last journal entries for 1986 reads, “Sometimes conversations with Colin irritate me. I admire his conviction, devotion, and perseverance; but I am uncomfortable with his continued repetition of failure and growth, failure and growth, failure and growth. I don’t know what he means any longer by freedom when the definition keeps evolving. I can’t trust him. I am so confused. I don’t know who I am.”
I didn’t make the connection, but Blair’s letter of appreciation and hope and Eric’s letter of questioning and disillusionment reflected the evolution of my change experience. A journey that started in hope five years earlier was now languishing in Proverbs 13:12’s land of deferred hope.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
My heart was growing sick. At the same time, I did not turn my back on Colin, dismantle HA, or abandon my goal of changing my orientation. As the year drew to a close, however, I increasingly felt like a kite tangled atop a tree. While I hoped for Divine intervention—some redemptive Mystery—I didn’t have much confidence that 1987 would see me settle safely on the ground.
The only way I knew of coping was to pull out my HA Step card and work Step 11:
We determined to live no longer in fear of the world, believing that God’s victorious control turns all that is against us into our favor, bringing advantage out of sorrow and order from disaster.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.