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After being trumpeted as fresh meat, I take my lead from the other new guy -- Steven, a teenage kid with tattoos on all his knuckles who's gripping a Bible and acting really intense, to the point of psycho -- and stare straight ahead with a distant look in my eye.
For the most part, it's a congenial bunch. I'm offered tea and cookies and note that only two really old guys would be described as "creepy." (They remain silent throughout the whole meeting.) I'm instructed to take my place on the cozy couch next to the second-in-command. As laughter and talk of a fallen member who is back in the lifestyle die down, the meeting begins.
"Father, thank you for turning my life around ...," prays the leader, who wears a Promise Keepers T-shirt and mildly resembles a Mel Gibson with 30 years of hard living under his belt. Like a wise, ex-gay prophet, he tells how the "program" began in 1995, bitterly noting, "That's when I started my walk out of this mess."
The group's goal isn't necessarily for members to become heterosexual, but for them to be holy in God's eyes. "I know straight guys who are screwed up as Grogan's goat," the leader admits with arms folded. "The focus right now is walking with the Lord." He then adds, "When it's time, God will pray my wife into me."
The leader asks the others what they've found to be the hardest thing to deal with; for him, it's been the visual. "Several years ago, there was some construction going on down there. And there was this kid down there. Really nice body," he vividly describes. "And he would have the jackhammer going and have his shirt off ...."
Laughter erupts amongst the group. I sense some are slightly aroused.
"It's important to recognize that men are attracted to men. We're drawn to masculinity. There's nothing sexual about it," explains the leader, prompting me to wonder, What about guys who are into Thai lady-boys? "For me, it was to deal with the visual, to get that under control, that was my big first step."
The conversation turns to a heated discussion about masturbation: the amount members of the group were doing it, when, and that sort of thing. As the talking continues, it becomes clear -- surprisingly, or perhaps not so -- that most all the Fellow Warriors have had serious drug and alcohol problems, but have attributed their most severe problems to being in the gay lifestyle.
"I lost my job, my house, everything," the leader says.
"When I first came out of the lifestyle, I was screaming at God all the time, because I didn't have anything," the second-in-command says. "I left homes, I left cars, I left jobs, I have left everything, and I moved in with Mom and Dad.
"But he knew where I was and was able to work with me, once I gave myself to him."
"I did a lot of coke," someone says.
"I had a problem with drugs and alcohol."
"I got to go to my 12-step meeting tomorrow," another adds.
"My sexual drive was not normal," yet another Fellow Warrior pipes in. "This plain desire was abnormal whether I was attracted to men or women or whatever."
"When I was in the deepest, darkest depths of my sin, that's when Christ died for me!" adds the leader.
Clearly, these guys weren't casually gay; these were extreme gays, people who had multiple partners in the throes of coke- and alcohol-induced blackouts. They are mistaking personal excess and fuck-ups for something to do with gay standards in general.
The leader, who has no psychological degree but who reads a lot of books on the subject, goes on to explain exactly what homosexuality is: "It's not a sexual problem. It's a relationship problem," he says, stressing each word matter-of-factly. "Men ... feed ... off ... of ... each ... other's ... masculinity. It's a relationship problem!"
"And that's the key. God, he accepts me with all my frailty in all my screwed-up-ness, but he has the plan, the desire, to transform me into something that is going to bring him glory."
"You go girl!" I add with a finger snap, getting into rhythm.
"One of the problems I seem to have right now," a guy wearing a baseball cap says, "is a thing called intimacy."
"Mm-huh," replies the second-in- command.
"And the renewing in the mind that intimacy is not lust."
"When I had a wife, I was not intimate. When I had a lover, I was not intimate. God was showing me that it was lust. Because you don't know the difference," the guy in the baseball cap says.
"What about Monty and Steven? Do you want to share anything? You don't have to," asks the second-in-command.
I'm momentarily caught off guard; I forgot I was calling myself Monty.
"I'll share," says Steven, the teenage kid with tattoos on his knuckles. He sounds as intensely psycho as he previously looked. "I will literally sit in a room, and contemplate and soak up as much God as I can, you know."
"If God didn't make his provisions for us during his time of blood on the cross, we're all doomed. We're all doomed," repeats the leader. Steven continues.
"One time this guy called me up late at night. He said he made out with me one time at a club when I was drunk. I told him I'm a Christian now. He started to get very sexually descriptive, so I just shouted into the phone, 'The Lord rebukes,' and slammed down the phone."