It was only after a heartbreaking appeal from deeply religious parents that Exodus ministries finally walked away from ‘gay cure’ therapies. Similar ‘reparative’ therapy organisation are fast shutting down their Australian operations.
Two weeks ago, a mother shared the honest instant messages of her 12-year old son coming out and the next seven years of struggle.
Linda Robertson admits she was complicit in her son’s death that came from a sharp. A perverse irony as it was used to blunt his pain after being told by his own flesh and blood that being gay was “not an option”.
The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices published a devastated Linda Robertson’s Just Because He Breathes: Learning to Love Our Gay Son on the two-year anniversary of Ryan’s death.
It starts simply enough, with a Gen Y twist to a coming out story. From his upstairs bedroom, Ryan instant messages mum in the study, all while under the same roof, to come out as gay before even reaching his teens.
A self-assured Ryan is quite matter of fact with his mum, saying “I’m just gay, I am that”. After a brief “are you joking” stumble, mum re-gathers to say “I love you no matter what” and later “I love you more for being honest”.
This love was not unconditional. It came with strings that would wrap around Ryan and strangle him, turning self-assuredness into vulnerability. Turning honesty into a death sentence, after hard time in a psychological prison.
Fast forward 11 years: Mrs Robertson is found to be writing a blog, hosting a web page and lobbying against the soon-to-be apologetic Exodus, the pray-the-gay-away ministry. She now knows first hand the futility of scripture led ‘cure’. She is begging Exodus to stop hurting Christians who are same sex attracted.
Mrs Robertson found herself in that position because in that first IM conversation with her son, she asked him “what about what God thinks about acting on these desires?” setting off a runaway train that would come to a grinding halt only after being overpowered by a volatile opiate.
On reflection to Ryan’s coming out Mrs Robertson thought she had nailed it. She expressed her love, as guided by her God. Telling her adolescent boy, too young to have the emotional maturity of an adult, “We love you. We couldn’t love you more. But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books; you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.”
So sure of her faith, Mrs Robertson completely derided the concept of the word “choice”: when she directed her son to follow her God, she outright told Ryan that being gay was simply not an option.
“We love you. Nothing will change that. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is not an option.”
For six long years mum and dad watched over Ryan as he tried his best to rid himself of his gayness. Neither counselling, nor prayer, nor public declarations of cure, nothing enabled Ryan to vanquish “the traps of the enemy”, his “unwanted attraction to other guys”. Certainly not the fraud that is reparative therapy. Six tortured years of this, and Ryan is still not even 18.
Ryan’s mum and dad wrapped him in a blanket that they called love and they meant it. Those six long years in an emotional concentration camp of Christian conformity had failed. If it were physical abuse, Ryan’s parents would be facing jail sentences. Instead, they sentenced their son. By Mrs Robertson’s own words, as Ryan was still a boy at just 17, he was “depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God”.
Some two years before Ryan’s body would rot, a lifeless physical manifestation on how faith destroyed his sense of being a whole person, it dawned on Mrs Robertson that her and her husband had set in train the very opposite of love.
In an admission most likely born from death, Ryan’s mum would find herself writing the cruellest of words for any parent. Beyond her writings Mrs Robertson has self-inflicted wounds that will remain with her until her body becomes as lifeless as her dead son.
“We had unintentionally taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. So as he began to use drugs, he did so with a recklessness and a lack of caution for his own safety that was alarming to everyone who knew him” his mum laments in what for most would be an unfathomable admission.
Within six short months, Ryan danced with the devil, shooting up heroin and “doing some pretty terrible things”. An addict was made. Not born. Under the façade of love, a hater was made and Ryan could not escape the hater, as it was he. In him. With him. 24/7. And the hate was in the name of God.
Ryan was boy. A child. He wasn’t even a teenager. All the while, a church community were in lockstep with Ryan’s parents, so deluded, unaware they were softly killing an emotionally self-assured child. This is not faith. This is child cruelty.
Ryan’s parents made a video homage for Exodus, that finishes with the family gathered around the soon-to-be-dead Ryan. No hint of the self-assured 12 year old that lay within. It appears life support is about to be removed and in his parent’s mind, Ryan will join their God.
The moving video that re-scores P!nk’s Fuckin’ Perfect song (editing out the swearing) was used by Ryan’s parents to not once, but twice, fight with the Exodus’ flock to help them come to the realisation that gay cure is a fallacy and that scripture plays no part in sexuality.
Ryan’s mum on her blog talks about how she doesn’t like swearing, although this seems no impasse to picking Alecia Beth Moore’s 2011 hit. Mrs Robertson is now a champion of gay rights in her Christian community.
Unlike Matthew Shepard’s mum Judy, who became a powerful activist after her son was murdered, Mrs Robertson has found herself in this position because of her family and faith’s own making. Hero or villain – she is trying to right some wrongs and she is having some success as the exit of Exodus shows. She was a special guest of Alan Chambers as he euthanised his hateful Christian cure clinic.
An unedited look at P!nk’s words would suggest that Ryan was fuckin’ perfect before his family and faith helped kill him.
Made a wrong turn once or twice
Dug my way out, blood and fire
Bad decisions, that’s alright
Welcome to my silly life
Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood
Miss ‘No way, it’s all good’
It didn’t slow me down.
Mistaken, always second guessing
Underestimated, look I’m still around
Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than fucking perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you’re fucking perfect to me
Huffington Post’s wonderful Gay Voices pages, where you can find Ryan’s mum’s heartbreaking story, are worth a look.
Ryan writes to his dad here
If you need help and support, Lifeline is there for you 24/7 , call 13 11 14
If you want to chat to Miles Heffernan, the story’s author, you can find him on Twitter @Mileshef.
Thankfully, so-called ‘reparative therapy’ is swiftly disappearing in Australia, as Anthony Venn-Brown explains.