The term “ex-gay,” which refers to people who successfully converted from homosexuality to heterosexuality, is said to have been coined in a 1980 study that examined 11 men who essentially “prayed the gay away” at Melodyland Christian Center. The Word of Faith church that was across Harbor Boulevard from Disneyland in Anaheim is but a fading memory, yet that study laid the ground work for religion-based sexual conversion ministries that thrive to this day.
Now, a participant in that study says it was flawed.
It's none other than Michael Bussee, whose name may have a familiar ring to it. The former Weekly cover boy and another Melodyland
leader, Gary Cooper, joined other ex-gays in founding Exodus International, the controversial evangelical organization that claimed to turn gay men straight through prayer. Bussee and Cooper famously left the ministry–and their wives–in 1979 to become a couple. Cooper died in
1991, and Bussee went on to become a leading critic of sexual reorientation
A Melodyland leader at the time of the study, Bussee tells Religion Dispatches magazine's Warren Throckmorton that he was asked by lead author E. Mansell Pattison to go through ministry files and find men who contacted the church's crisis hotline and reported “significant change.” Bussee says he and Cooper whittled a list of 300 cases down to 30. In the end, only 11 agreed to be part of the study.
These men, including Bussee, then simply said they were no longer homosexual and professed their faith in God to be deemed ex-gay in the study by Pattison and his wife and co-author, Myrna Loy Pattison. That's how Pastor Ralph Wilkinson's Word of Faith church did things in those days: you professed something publicly then expected to be delivered from it.
“We professed that we had been healed–past tense–because it was part of
the theology to claim your healing in order to bring it about,” Bussee reportedly tells Throckmorton.
While the Pattisons asked their subjects about attractions, fantasies and the intensity of desires, there were no questions that seemed to get at whether the answers were genuine–and, more importantly, no follow-up to see if this expressed ex-gayness actually stuck, according to Bussee.
It's important to reiterate, it did not stick with Bussee.
However, conversion theology has stuck around since the Pattisons got their study published in American Journal of Psychiatry (“'Ex-gays': Religiously Mediated Change in Homosexuals”). It's now even advocated by GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachman's seemingly light loafered husband, Marcus Bachman. Read Throckmorton's piece for a careful evisceration of the study and conversion theology.
- The Closet and the Cross: Three decades ago, Michael Bussee
helped found the mammoth ex-gay ministry Exodus International. Now, he's
one of the movement's biggest critics
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.