Gay Man Quits Cult After Trying Reparative Therapy: “There’s More Out There. There’s A Whole World.”

by Matthew Olshefski

I’m Matthew Olshefski and I am from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I was the oldest of 3 siblings. I have a younger brother and sister and we grew up in a very happy, normal, childhood, family life. All three of us were violinists and we were homeschooled right from the start, right from kindergarten. At the age of 12, my parents decided to join a different homeschool group than the one we were in. They had heard about this charismatic Christian leader named Bill Gothard through the church. His teachings were really built around a lot of authority structure, so you were protected by God if you were under the authority that was ordained by him. And for Bill Gothard that was God and then the father of the home, the mother of the home was under him, the children were under him, and so you were protected by being obedient to all those authorities that were over you.

Once we joined his homeschool group, we started to use his curriculum, which were called Wisdom Booklets. And you read through Wisdom Booklets. They were all Bible-centric. It was an interesting time for me because I was beginning to grapple with my own sexuality at a time when we were immersed in this cult with very strong teachings on sexuality.

I remember reading one of the wisdom booklets that was on Sodom and Gomorrah and the illustrations depicted there was of God destroying the people of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone in these very horrible black and white illustrations. I know I was attracted to men. I didn’t think of it in sexual terms, so I read these wisdom booklets on Sodom and Gomorrah and I thought, “Well that’s horrible. These people are awful. I don’t know a single one like them and that’s certainly not me because I’m a very good kid.” At the same time I am enjoying the underwear models and the JC Penney catalog, so there was this kind of growing conflict that I was unaware of at the time at the age of 12,13.

So we became more and more invested in the cult, dressing in navy and white, attending more and more conferences. And my mother began to exert a stronger and stronger influence over us that eventually led to my parents’ divorce. I remember at that time laying awake in bed at night and feeling like my life had ended. Deep, deep, deep despair. And I knew it did not – I didn’t know what to do because this was the only life I had ever experienced and I didn’t know how to start a different life.

My mom learned about a silent retreat and she thought it was a great idea for the three of us to go on, so we each took turns going on a one-week silent retreat. I just met with a spiritual director for about an hour a day and I took that week to really journal and dig into my sexuality. It was the first time I’d ever confronted it head-on and it was one of the most special weeks of my life so far.

I had come back from the retreat with this journal filled with so much that I unpacked about myself. I very carefully hid it and I had to leave for a concert across the state. So I was there staying with some hosts and had – was between rehearsals and performances – I don’t remember exactly when – and I got a phone call from my mom.

And I answered the phone and she said, “I discovered your journal and I read it.” And my heart sunk. I knew at that moment that my life as I had known it was over. She really read the most personal thing I’ve ever written. So I came back home after the concert and we each just argued and fought for several days, several weeks. It’s kind of a blur. So she really felt that I had kind of deceived her and lied to her and covered this side of my life and wanted me to go to reparative therapy.

I remember walking through the doors into the reparative therapy conference. That was one of the hardest things I ever did was just to push those doors open and walk in. Because I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to be around these people. And I realized that everybody there was repressed and, because of the incredible repression, were – they were also incredibly depressed. Everybody who got up and spoke just really sounded very, very sad, that there was this part of them that was not okay. It was not okay to live that way and you had to basically do your best to suppress it and not live it.

My mother had basically given me an ultimatum that I needed to get out and I needed to get out by a certain date and stay away for a month and then we could – she wanted to then talk again and see where we go from there. There was either a fight, something happened, another fight between us, and all I can remember is grabbing a couple of items and crawling out my window, getting into my car and leaving. And I just left with a couple of bags, boxes worth of items went to a friend’s house who is understanding. And I stayed there for about a month and during that time, I realized – I kind of knew right from the day I left that I wouldn’t be back.

The next couple of years were really – it felt slow and painful to really dig in and deal with everything that I could, but I knew I needed to and I really wanted to get to as healthy a place as possible. And so I’m very grateful for the amazing friends that I had who – who I just told them everything – they were very encouraging and really supportive of me getting as much help as I could. And I’m grateful for the the therapist I saw, the amazing books that I read that really open opened my eyes and helped a lot through that.

I know there are so many other people still today who experience the same type of thing. They’re growing up in religious families or hearing that homosexuality is an abomination and it will damn you forever. There is more out there. There are people out there. There’s a whole world. There is so much more for you to experience. You are the way you are. You can’t change that. You’re wonderful. You’re fine just as you are.

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