Ask-It Basket: “Do You Feel, In Any Way, That Those Years Are, ‘Lost'”?


Interestingly, the questions asked by Steve (below) are issues I have been privately wrestling with for a while. Steve asks:

What is it like to have spent 20 years not being able to be your true self, no matter how sincerely? What is it like to start over in the dating pool when you’re not 20?  Do you feel, in any way, that those years are, “lost?”  – Steve S.

First question, “What is it like to have spent 20 years not being able to be your true self, no matter how sincerely?”

I was in the ex-gay world for a little over 23 years and in leadership of some sort for 20. The first time I was “out” in the ’80’s, I was not a very healthy or responsible person. I didn’t have good coping or relational skills and plenty of dysfunction as a result of abuse and trauma. So when I became a Christian, I didn’t have a broad sense or definition of “true self” until I entered the ex-gay/Exodus International world. It was all new to me; there was very little healthy personal experience to counter it.

The world I had entered into disarmed my skepticism with humility, compassion, and friendship. I believe they genuinely wanted to love me and believed that the only way to do that was to encourage me to overcome my “struggle.” Alan Downs in his excellent book “The Velvet Rage” describes that type of dynamic very well. He calls it “inauthentic affirmation.” They taught, encouraged, and affirmed a false reality. They, of course, didn’t see it as “false” and genuinely believed it is their only real way to affirm me and because I was starving for attention and affirmation, I allowed it to happen. Then I internalized and echoed the systemic bias. False or not, any affirmation on a core level was like food to the starving. And, I ate it up.

In my heart of hearts, I knew I was not living out my “true self.” However, I was also afraid of the consequences of “going back.” Since I had not experienced much of life as a truly healthy gay man before that point, the fears of repeating past hurts as well as the unknown fueled by the stigmatized views I had adopted kept me where I was for a very long time.

What might be surprising to some people is that “overcoming homosexuality” wasn’t the only topic taught in these groups. I did develop healthy coping skills, overcame co-dependency and emotional dependencies, and overcame fear of other Christians. Lots of peripheral issues were addressed that did impact my life for good. I also discovered my innate gifts and strengths that I still operate in today. So, because I was experiencing some forms of healing and growth, I thought my sexuality was “changing.” It was taught that dealing with all that would help me “overcome” my “same-sex struggle.” Plenty of things changed except of course my sexuality. Now I know that the peripheral issues should have just stood on their own and not be forced into the ex-gay worldview. As a gay man, I should have found those same lessons in the broader church environment and resources, not sequestered away in the church closet with unattainable idealized goals.

Next: What is it like to start over in the dating pool when you’re not 20?

Well, it’s interesting. I tried a few of the dating apps early in 2015 and didn’t enjoy them. Might check them out again but not rushing to download. Life is SO different than when I was out in the ’80’s. I dated two guys last year, one for about six weeks and one for almost six months. I respect them both and love the man I was with for six months. I am glad we were together.

However, I spent two decades trying to convince myself that I was divinely “called” to celibacy. I dated one woman during that time for a year (2005), but other than that, I conditioned my brain to think of life stemming from a celibate frame of reference. It’s been hard to get my brain in the game of being open to dating. Not because I don’t want to, I do. But I am so used to not doing it; it’s hard to recognize when a fella might be interested. Then, when I flirt, I am such a goober goofball! Even with those two men last year, it was a surprise to end up on a date with them. 🙂

Seriously, think about it,  23 YEARS of thinking I would be single till I died. Now, even though I look forward to being with the man I can hold, enjoy, and love life with, my habits and thoughts don’t often veer into “go on a date” realm. I also recognize I am learning lessons and having experiences many people obtain when they are younger goober goofballs :). It’s weird being a 48-year-old dealing with the romantic feelings, notions, and lessons usually experienced in the early 20’s. Some of it is very humorous, and at other times I feel embarrassed.

All of that said, I am a quick learning goofball and have already edited the new application for potential Mr. Future Thomas-Husband. 🙂

And the biggie (to me), “Do you feel, in any way, that those years are, “lost?”

Earlier this year, through our mutual friend Daniel Karslake, I met Don & Craig Barton. They have been together for 25 years, married with children, and have a beautiful life together. They just sent their twin daughters off to college.  They are successful, spiritual, humble, kind, gracious, funny and I just love how much they love each other and those around them.

When I look at them I don’t think, in any way, “I could have had that life.” I don’t envy them or have any sense of jealousy. When I see their posts on Facebook or have visited with them at a couple of events since our first meeting, I am simply happy for them and enjoy their company. I find them encouraging and inspiring.

Don and Craig met one year before I went to my first ex-gay group meeting. While they built a life together, I lived within the false confines of adopting beliefs born out of stigmatized religious teachings and unnecessary cultural burdens. While I am not comparing my life to theirs, I have wondered what would have happened if I went to a gay church instead of the ex-gay group all those years ago. Could I have met the man of my dreams? Raise children? Be successful in a career path not hijacked by being “called” to be a celibate ex-gay leader for so long? Maybe, and maybe not.

The “what if my life had…?” game is not something I like to play around with regarding the past. However, for around 20 years I didn’t allow myself  to ask “what if” type of questions in the present. I lived in a world of inauthentic affirmation that in effect blinded and limited me from true romantic love, personal fulfillment and the freedom to explore life from my God-given core relational state of being as a gay man. Asking “what if…?” is a necessary and catalytic question for me in the present. It’s a question I did start asking a few years before we decided to close Exodus. I believe that God led me down that path and out of that false ideological prison and toward this life-giving new direction and journey.

The way I arrived at the observations in the above paragraph has been raw and sometimes awful. I have wept, grieved, even despaired a couple of times for the “lost” opportunities. It’s been hard to recognize, adjust and live with the consequences/limits on the possibilities I have now. I’ve struggled with bitterness and depression over the “what if’s” that could have happened over those years if I had not been involved in the ex-gay world. It’s all a little too much sometimes.

While I have flashes of that depression/anger still, I am coming to peace with all of it. The truth is, I have a good life today and a hope-filled future. Life is good, our Creator is good, and I am glad to be who I am and where I am at now.

What I have not lost

What I didn’t lose is my love for Christ and His love for me. We have an amazing relationship and our spiritual communion has always been intimate. I have not lost the steadfast friends I made during that time and survived the Exodus Civil War, it shutting down, and my coming back out of the closet.  I heard many life-giving sermons, amazing transformative teachings, and read many many great books. Over those years I did have wonderful experiences and have always sought to gain wisdom and understanding. All of this, learning from the good and bad, hopefully, has equipped me to be  a healthy/responsible gay man in a number of ways.

So, yes, I “lost” quite a bit because of being involved in that world. But, our Creator is good and being gay is one of the many gifts he has built into my life. I am at peace with being a big gay goober goofball, maybe for the first time; and that’s ok. It’s also my hope that by sharing my experience other young people will steer clear of ex-gay ideology and making some of the choices I made.

Being free is good.


If this post has brought up any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or contact me privately. Thank you!


This is with Tony Perkins, the President of the right wing Family Research council during Inauguration week of Bush's second term in 2005. I really thought I was living out my "calling."

This is with Tony Perkins, the President of the religious activist group Family Research council during Inauguration week of Bush’s second term in 2005. I really thought I was living out my “calling.”

Have you ever seen an entire world you thought you knew evaporate? I have.

Six or Seven years ago, I was in Executive Management for an international ministry (Exodus International) and thought I had achieved success in “my calling.” I believed and worked toward that “calling” for over twenty years. I was traveling all around North America, doing regular interviews for media outlets around the world, and had many friends and acquaintances. I was never at a loss for emails to answer, phone calls to return, and “ministry opportunities.” I had nice clothes, nice condo, nice stuff, and nice friends. I wouldn’t say I was “high-profile” or the “go to” guy, but I worked directly with/for the people who were.

Now, all of that has been stripped away. 

That whole world of friends (except for a steadfast few), acquaintances, opportunities, stuff … gone. It all started being stripped away when we began being honest with ourselves and others about how change in sexual orientation was not happening. We also could no longer deny that Exodus had been used as a weapon against LGBTQ people. Not only that, we began sharing our views that true life-giving Grace manifests through the finished work of Christ and is available to everyone; that Gay Christians were yes… “saved.” Because of those realizations and the civil war that occurred in our networks as a result (among other things), we shut down Exodus. We shut it down instead of handing it off to someone to continue the harm and hurt. During that process, the loud legalistic voices of a few became a tidal wave of accusations and rejection from many. I moved from the publicly contentious arguments into a personal wilderness of questioning. All of that plus losing a friend to suicide ripped my legalistic blinders off and I would finally find peace in Christ as a gay man.

All the lies, self-deception, inauthentic affirmation, distracting and encumbering “stuff”… gone.

The only things that weren’t stripped away is my love for, and being loved by, Christ as well as a handful of steadfast friends.

Lately, I have realized that some of my continuing life goals were developed during that inauthentic reality. Meaning, they were goals that were fashioned while I was living out an inauthentic sense of self; goals based on an idealized projection and not true to who I really am. These goals were recontextualized when I embraced my relational state of being as a gay man, but I have realized that even with a different set of beliefs driving them, that doesn’t make them goals I should keep or hold onto. Especially when they become unnecessary burdens that drain energy instead of invest in life.

So with those also falling to the wayside, I look to the heavens and pray, “Oh God! This mid-life reboot sucks! What’s the plan now?” <–I know… a little overly dramatic but still true ;).

And all I am hearing lately is that the plan is to engage and enjoy what the day brings, love God and others, and being mindful to live in the present. It’s ok to enjoy simplicity and my “new normal.” It’s a blessing to enjoy the new sea of friendships I have the honor of swimming around in and to watch doors open and relationships blossom.

As I typed the above, an inner voice reminded me of one life-goal that will never change; that being the decision to be content regardless  of circumstance; a contentment fueled by intentional gratitude and love. Life is vastly different today and I don’t have all the answers. I wouldn’t change a thing and am glad to be free.

Being free is good.


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What Pride Means To Me: Common Unity = Community


Yesterday was supposed to be my first time at an LGBTQ Pride Parade/Festival. Hurricane Matthew came along and hijacked the calendar, though. Orlando Pride has been postponed to November. Last year I wasn’t ready to go to Pride, but this year I am. I haven’t gone to any others in the state and wanted Orlando to be my first. Especially after this heart-breaking summer and challenging fall.

The first time I was out in the ’80’s, I went to some pride type events (nothing like now.) They were fundraisers for HIV awareness and resources. I only went to a couple and barely remember any of what happened. They were nothing like what “Pride” has become since then. When talking to a friend about this, I mentioned it was important to me to walk in the parade. So, I signed up to walk with the HRC Orlando / Central Florida crew.

Now, I don’t want to write out the personal compare/contrast of who I am today as opposed to yesteryear. I am getting tired of hearing myself talk about the past ;). I will spare you all the Pride parade catharsis blah blah blah that seems to want to come so quickly to the keyboard through my fingertips. There is plenty of that going on in my mind and heart, and maybe I will share it at some point.

But not today.

Today, the biggest reason for walking in the parade next month will be a physical symbol saying how much I love our LGBTQ community. A statement of how proud I am of what has been accomplished in our history through today. I want to walk to visibly demonstrate how much I love and appreciate our inspired leaders/elders/passionate young ones/allies, family, and friends. Walking as one of a huge crowd of people may not seem like that big a deal to most, and that’s fine. I know what it means to me, and this year it means not just being free to be myself, but being free to publicly identify with and love my LGBTQ brothers and sisters as a strong/resilient/vibrant community.

Pride is about loving, laughing, affirming, lifting up the good, protecting against and defeating the bad, serving, enjoying and celebrating a beautiful and blessed LGBTQ people.

It’s a miracle we survived and found our way out of the closet. Pride is the time to celebrate personal freedom and the grand community we have emerged into.

Being free is good.


What’s It Like Being Back In The Gay Community?


A friend who I first met when he was 16 (with his parents) at an ex-gay ministry has been in contact again since I came back out. He is 33 now and a well-adjusted gay man. It’s still shocking to think how it does seem like it was yesterday he was half his age when I first met him.

I am glad he made peace with himself and eventually grew beyond what I was teaching back then. Graciously, he said that he looks back on our interactions as positive because it helped him communicate his true feelings and what he was thinking. I am glad for that.

Also, in our last conversation he asked:

How’s your experience being back in the gay community for the last year or two?

It’s been a year and nine months since coming back out. Plenty has happened. At first, the responses I received from the gay community to coming back out was one of three things:

  • Condemnation – some will never accept or forgive me. I understand the feeling; it’s hard to forgive myself at times.
  • A ‘welcome out’ but still suspicious of my intentions. Some directly stated they were looking for “proof” of my change of heart.
  • But the vast majority (unscientific guess of 90%+) of LGBTQ people and pro-LGBTQ people I heard from were incredibly kind and gracious. Former opponents went out of their way to encourage me privately. A few even defended me to some of their peers.

Since then, I keep being astounded by the real world grace extended by the LGBTQ community. I shared my story at the beginning of June with the local HRC Orlando / Central Florida group. I talked too much but through a few tears and lots of hugs, many people were incredibly encouraging afterward. That night and since then, I have had five people share this one essential message:

Stop apologizing. We don’t need your apology. We understand because we have all had a hell of a time finding our way out of the closet. You are here now. You are home, so let’s do good for others and be good to one another.

No disclaimers. No hoops to jump through. Be who you are, do what you can.

You know what else I learned? All the good and bad of social dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and personalities are all the same from one community to the next. Human frailty isn’t bound to a particular belief system or community. Human frailty manifests in every belief system and community. Relationships from acquaintances to friendships, to dating relationships, to long term relationships are often complex and take time. All relationships, of any kind, are usually a mix of beauty and hardship the further the roots go down.

It feels like over the few years before closing down Exodus, to coming back out, the large number of friends I once had completely evaporated to only a few. Over the past year and nine months, the firm roots that have grown over the years have sustained my faith, a few cherished life-long friends, and allowed new growth to reach for the sun. Plus, it’s like I have moved from one neck of the woods to another full of wonderful new friendships.

It has also been the kindness and grace in the LGBTQ community that has brought about love and joy in a way I have not experienced to date. Hope for the present and future has replaced myopic fear and unnecessary burdens.

It’s good to be free.


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Responding to a Conflicted Christian Friend, Be At Peace

A Christian leader struggles with his faith, experience and desire to marry a man

31417074 - young man alone outside at house balcony terrace looking depressed, destroyed, wasted and sad suffering emotional crisis and depression on urban background
In today’s post, I am answering a private message from a deeply conflicted Christian that broke my heart. It is a man I initially met in my Exodus days. I have permission to share the post without using the person’s name or identifiable information. His message is slightly edited for grammar and flow.

Randy, I’m so confused and feeling guilt [about] my sexuality. I’m a :::Christian leader in an international ministry:::. I love Jesus more than anything! But I feel alone and prevented from having a relationship with another man.

I can SO relate to that feeling! The net results I have seen in my “ex-gay” experience, and those in that world, is not the fruit of the Spirit, but emotional despair and relational loneliness. On one hand, we received public affirmation for repeating an ingrained cultural bias against LGBTQ people. Then, on the other hand, we received personal empathy and compassion for dealing with “such a complicated ‘sin’ issue.” Even though we believed what we were hearing and saying, it is an inauthentic affirmation because it isn’t based in reality or honoring the truth of how we are created. It can be incredibly powerful and compelling for hurting gay people who have lived a life filled with condemning messages, rejection, abandonment, and abuse to be drawn into this war against ourselves in the name of “healing.”

We know this is wrong in our hearts even when we do not comprehend, and reject, it with our minds. This incongruence is why we feel alone and hurt.

I’ve come to believe that being gay is not a sin. Pursuing to love God and to love others the way we are created to do so is not sin. Jesus’ Atonement on the cross is not confusing or based in your effort to attain or maintain salvation. You can do neither; He already did both. When He said “it is finished,” it is. You are not guilty in the first place because of the finished work of Christ. Secondly, being gay is nothing to be found “guilty” of. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead for you to feel unworthy or only for those who decide to act in agreement with legalistic behavioral modification. His love for you, us all, brought Him back to life.

He wants relationships, not robots.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Loving Jesus and being an LGBTQ person is not mutually exclusive. I believe, and live out, that you can be both. You are a gay man who Jesus loves. Your core sense of relational being as a gay man “glorifies” Him when you serve Him out of your authentic self and honest testimony. You honor Him when you pursue Him and potential partners out of the naturally arising fruit of the Spirit and not in the dark shadow of religious fear and stigma.

People know that I came from gay life. I have witnessed a few times. But I feel a great desire to date, marry a [man].

I shared my testimony of “overcoming” or finding “freedom from” homosexuality for almost 23 years. The feelings to be with another man would ebb and flow, but they never went away. They never went away because they are not supposed to. I believe we, everyone including gay men, are meant to be whole and complete individuals on our own through growth and maturity. I also believe that we are not entirely who we are without being in relationship with others. It’s how God created humankind to work. We are not fully ourselves without our family, friends, and community.

I also believe that God created many to become more of who they truly are in loving and romantic relationships. Some are heterosexual; some are of the same gender. Both types of relationships can be healthy, safe, and complementary. Ideally, both will come to the union as healthy individuals who only become stronger and healthier as a result of their union. The two together will grow and mature to become something they cannot be alone. It doesn’t supplant or replace their individuality but gives them the opportunity to engage a relationship with God, each other, and the world around them in a unique way, an important way.

All I see are promiscuous homosexuals, it scares me. Gay relationships never give some, even Christian. I’ve dated a reverend, he was so promiscuous and a liar. I need help to understanding myself. I also have a big ministerial calling.

I am not sure what your world is like, but from my experience, religious stigma might be unfairly focusing attention only on specific experiences/elements within the LGBTQ community. Yes, there are plenty of promiscuous gay men… but promiscuity reigns in every culture, tribe, nation, sexual orientation, … religion… everywhere. It’s not a gay thing, it’s a human thing. Fact: we live in a promiscuous world. Another Fact: that has absolutely nothing to do with how you, as a gay man, choose to steward your sexuality. You do what you feel is best and don’t judge others. Plus, you are among a myriad of gay men who desire sexual fidelity and long term relationships.

I am very sorry to hear that the Reverend you dated was a cheating liar. That’s terrible, and I hate that happened to you. But, he is one of about 3.5 billion men on the planet. Do not let him have power over you by amplifying fear and culturally ingrained stigma. Let the experience with him inform and teach you as you move forward toward your next relationship. Take personal responsibility for what you need to own and turn what was hurtful and damaging for good by learning from it and becoming more healthy and mature.

Remember, the scriptures say that only God knows the secrets of a man’s heart. That said, I can’t understand you for you, but I can understand your struggles and perspective. I hope, after all of this, that you know that loving Jesus and being gay is not mutually exclusive. Your love for and faith in Jesus is unchanged. His love for and commitment to you, all of who you are, is even stronger than you realize or any of us could imagine.

Jesus is truly enough. You have nothing to fear. Please be at peace, my friend. Your path continues with the Good Shepherd leading you every step of the way.


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Recognizing “First Love” At 48

43365580 - man standing backlight sunset lighting back view summer evening beach

My heart ached as I hung up the phone last Thursday. My ex, Mr. Boyfriend for my social media friends who may remember posts about him last year, and I had a conversation. Our conversation follows our breaking-up before Christmas, and in March I truly let go of him and have been open to dating other guys since. I will admit, there was a part of me that was hoping he would surprise me with flowers and show up in Orlando for a surprise visit. After our conversation Thursday, he definitely won’t be doing that, and I won’t be doing the same for him.

Now, to be clear, there was no yelling, throwing of phones, smashing wine glasses, or packing up all reminders and setting them on fire. Nope, none of that. No bad feelings toward each other. For a while after December, I kept trying to get angry at him but have no real reason to be. I believe we have both been honest with each other along the way, and we both shared that neither of us had any regrets. Our relationship was what it was and prepared us both for what we face, and the relationships we have, next.

My “next” will involve Daniel Craig I am sure… I know he will love the 12 mylar Hello Kitty balloons I sent him this morning…

I don’t have an extensive dating history. There were relationships with a few guys in the ’80’s, but those were rife with immaturity and bad decisions. Then, while in the church closet in the ’90’s and ’00’s I dated two women, both relationships were idealized and inhibited. I felt awkward with them most of the time. Great women, just not being true to who I am as a gay man.

“Mr. Boyfriend” was so different than anyone I had dated before. He, for all intents and purposes, was my first “true love.” I loved him from a safe and healthy place. I believe what we had was a life-giving relationship. I had not ever felt that mutuality, to that depth and expression, before. Our season together is closed but the beautiful memories of him, us, will always remain and brings a smile to my face.

One lesson I am pondering is that this was the first time since I have been “out” that I have not been afraid to be in love with another man. While in the church closet, I hid my fear of healthy intimacy with another man behind a “call” to celibacy and trying to mask my core relational sense of being by dating a couple of women. Instead of going through the various “rites of passage” with dating and the knowledge and wisdom that comes from those experiences. Fear and religious teaching caused me to check out of the whole process.

What I might have learned as a young man, I am now learning as a middle-aged man.

I’ve said before on social media that I feel like a teenager when it comes to dating and the thought of dating. I retract that; I am not an emotional teenager when it comes to that aspect of my life. I am a 48-year-old man in every aspect and love being my age. I bring plenty of experience, strength, and knowledge to the table. I am simply experiencing some relational life lessons, of the romantic variety, at what is the right time for my journey.

So, I have experienced my first love. Thank you, Mr. Boyfriend for loving me and allowing me to love you. You are a great man with a golden heart. I want nothing but the best for you.

Now I look to the horizon again, to see who makes me catch my breath; to find the man who when I look into his eyes we will both know we are home.


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