Saturday, October 31, 2009

Very scary, very real stuff

Take a good look at the picture: it should scare you.

There will always be those who are convinced that if you are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered, that there is something wrong with you. They prey upon people who are unhappy with their sexuality, and then try to tell them that one can “pray away the gay.” Exodus, which is an arm of Focus on the Family, is a program that “helps” LBGT people get over their attraction to people of the same sex. To Exodus, being gay is a matter of choice and/or external things that make someone gay. And to Exodus, gay is very, very bad.

But that isn't what makes this picture so scary for me.

The man in the picture is one John Paulk. John Paulk was the longtime “face” of Exodus. Before that, at one time, John Paulk was not only a friend of mine, but a neighbor as well.

Now, I am going to chose my words very, very carefully because we live in a litigious society, however I am not going to say anything that Paulk hasn't already said about himself during that 1983-1986 period. In fact you can read John's santitized life story in the Book Not Afraid to Change in which John takes great liberty with the truth and glosses over his escapades, but what he did to the people who cared about during those years at Ohio State.  All of what follows matches my journal and the community's collective memory from that era, and there are a lot of us who lived through "Huricandi John Paulk"

The John I knew was studying voice at OSU. He was also very dramatic. These two traits are very, very well documented.

The John I knew was very fun. In fact, John could be a riot. But John had a problem with boundaries. As a result, was he not only very gay, but John was also very unhappy as well. What made John happy was attention. He also dated a number of very attractive, very nice, men.

On the side, John also worked as a prostitute, and when that dish dried up, John turned to being a drag queen named Candi. John made an attractive drag queen and “Candi” frequented a bar on Columbus' east side named The Ruby Slipper. John's drag days, and nightly exploits are also very well documented.

John also had a very difficult time with the truth; to him, reality was what you made of it. And he liked to play with people – he was very good at mind games – he could be manipulative and frequently was.

So when John turned spokesperson for Exodus, I was the last person in the world who was surprised: the John Paulk I knew loved being center stage – and what is being more center stage than being one of the few and first pioneers that has converted to straight by accepting Jesus?

What did surprise me was that Exodus chose John to be its very public face. James Dobson is no piker – he is very adroit at making his arguments.  Dobson is very cunning and he is tops at being mercurial and rathful at those who cross him. But hiring John surprised me – I thought Dobson was a bit more savvy than that, and in time, Dobson got burned by John like a lot of us did. Although when John slipped up for Dobson, it was in a most spectacular fashion – very well documented by Wayne Beeson of the Human Rights Campaign. Wayne trapped John in front of people, in front of the press and he got photographs. As I said, well documented.

Even after he was re”outted” by Beeson, John was still out there pushing for Exodus cure (although Dobson sent him out only if he had minders on hand to catch John if he slipped again) and claiming that he was no longer gay.

Today he is “Chef John” in Oregon and according to his web site, very successful – one can see the drama in cooking, how every affair is opening night, no?  And even more fascinating is that John has managed to become an asexual success.  For the first time in a very long time, John is not profiteering off of the people he sleeps with, nor is making money talking about the people that he used to sleep with.  John deserves Kudos for that.

So why be afraid of this image and story? Because it is a reminder that there are people out there who not only give false hope, but people intent on doing the LBGT community great harm, and those people may or may not be who they say they are. And the damage that they do is great, not only to humanity but to those around them.  The numbers of people who were cured by Exodus only to relapse continues to grow. 

Time has changed many things. John has proven the axiom that once a pendulum swings in one direction, it will travel in an equal and opposite direction. John has done just that. Its only a matter of time before it swings back.

If there is a moral to this tale it is: to thine own self be true. Happiness is not found in being a poster boy for a cause, it is found in being honest to yourself with who you are. Embracing your sexuality is part of what makes us who we are. But you can't pray that part of yourself away, and Exodus clients have a very high rate of returning to who and what nature made them. And oddly, after the Exodus experience, they are relieved to find that the LGBT community is happy to have to back because we know what its like when you have to hide who and what you are. No one should have to go through that to win approval.

I wish John the very best that life has to offer. And I really hope he finds happiness. But I also hope that at some point in his life that finds it in his heart to apologize to the LGTB Community. He owes us that. He's used us from within, and from outside in his quest for acceptance. And I fear, he may yet try and us yet again.