Pray The Gay Away

What do the following have in common?
• 1982
• Lutherans—specifically, Missouri Synod Lutherans
• Gay conversion therapy
• Comedy
• Music

The commonality for these five items is the new musical comedy, “Pray the Gay Away,” which premieres in Mount Vernon, Washington, on November 8.

Check out the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ptgashow/?ref=br_tf&epa=SEARCH_BOX.

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What do the following have in common?
• “Pray the Gay Away”
• Its author, Conrad Askland
• Yours truly

Last July, I received a Facebook message from Conrad. He had found my blog as he was doing research for his play. Because I had been a minister in the Missouri Synod, and also had been transgender, he hoped I could provide assistance in accurately portraying the Missouri Synod and its pastors. I eagerly replied and, the very next day, we enjoyed a long phone chat.

We hit it off. Conrad is a friendly dude, with a good sense of humor.

I wondered what prompted him to write a musical comedy play about gay conversion therapy and set it in the early 1980s in the Missouri Synod (LCMS)? While he did not grow up LCMS, he had experience in the Lutheran faith. He went for the early ‘80s for a number of reasons, such as its being right before AIDS became widely known and attitudes toward same sex relations had not developed to where they are today.

As for the LCMS, they provided a good church setting because the LCMS has remained where it was in the 1980s. In the LCMS, theology is akin to math facts; where 2 + 2 always equals 4, theology is factual and does not change. Thus, if a theological doctrine were true in 1982, it remains true in 2019.

Regarding gay conversion therapy, this is the practice—which has now been widely rejected, even seen as harmful for those subjected to it—by which those with same sex attraction are immersed in “right thinking.” To wit, God made males for females, and females for males, and if you just accept that, and dig it deeply enough into your mind, and pray long and hard enough, you can change your sexual orientation.

It’s also been used for those with gender dysphoria. Indeed, two pastors used it with me (while never specifying that’s what they were using, perhaps not even aware it’s what they were doing), in the months before I transitioned. “Greg, you’re a male.” “You fathered children.” “Remember your baptismal identity.” I replied that I didn’t question any of that, and chanting these things didn’t help because my problem wasn’t with how I was thinking. Since they had no other way to help me, they simply repeated their mantra.

Thus the title of Conrad’s play, taken from the well-worn joke: pray the gay away. Just pray, and seek God, and think right, and you can get rid of these feelings.

Back to Conrad. Over these months, he emailed me a number of times. He began by sending the pastor’s lines. I was able to help him polish them for accuracy. Over the months, for anything of which he was not sure he popped me the question.

Conrad scoured the LCMS in search of properly understanding what it continues to believe about same sex attraction and every associated bit of theology and practice. While I’ve not seen the play or read the entire script, I am confident he has gotten it right.

He recently contacted me, wanting to connect his cast members on a Skype call. You know I jumped on that!

We talked for an hour. They asked me loads of questions, mostly about Lutheran attitudes. We laughed at many of the LCMS’s foibles, while I also explained why Lutherans stand up for what they believe.

Among those I met were the man who plays the pastor, the woman who plays the mother of a gay son who took his life, and “Martin Luther.” Most impressive was the young man who plays the boy who is the focus of having his gay prayed away. (In the photo at the top of this page, that’s him.) After we talked for five minutes, I asked his age. “I’m fifteen.” And a very impressive fifteen he is.

Conrad didn’t set his sights unreasonably high for how his play would be received. Thus, when he learned that opening night has been sold out, he was elated. He now reports the entire three-weekend run might see the house full each for each performance.

I have only one regret about the play. I’m in Indiana and Conrad is in Washington. I am eagerly watching from here, to see the reviews come in.

Playing it for laughs and setting it a generation ago, Conrad was able to tackle a ticklish topic in a way so as to be palatable. With Conrad and cast, I hope he achieves what surely are Conrad’s twin goals: to entertain and to educate.

My book is now in print!

A Roller Coaster Through a Hurricane—One Wild Ride: My Journey with Gender Identity is now available in print. You may order the paperback edition here:

The back cover copy:

Greg Eilers was at the center of privilege: a respected minister in a conservative church, a middle-class male in a rural community, a family man with a wife and kids. But he harbored a deep secret—a lifetime of questioning his gender identity. In 2013, the questioning had morphed into crushing gender dysphoria, and Eilers found himself in a battle to save his life and sanity. He also found himself in a conundrum: gender identity issues don’t fit with a traditional life and conservative values. How could a man who followed all the rules, and made the church his life’s work, be transgender?In 2015, Eilers transitioned to female to resolve the internal struggle. The road to inner peace, though, was rife with sacrifices. Transitioning took him from the job he loved, put his relationships to the test, and cast him to the margins of society. Scorn replaced privilege. Then, 2018 brought a development just as confounding as 2013’s struggle, and Eilers faced yet another transition.Through it all Eilers held firm to his faith, and found room in the Gospel for an outcast such as himself. He resolved to speak out—to share his story so others would know they’re not alone, and to speak up—to educate the public about transgender and bring dignity to a highly misunderstood group of people.A Roller Coaster Through a Hurricane is a memoir, a unique transgender experience, and an inspiration to the Christian church to lovingly minister to transgender persons.

What readers are saying

17 of 18 readers have given the book FIVE STAR reviews. Snippets from some of their reviews:

  • Richard wrote: [Greg’s] superb and very readable style draws you in and tells you stories – important and true stories of human pain and resilience.
  • Colleen commented: When I started reading this story, I could not put it down. And now, I’m reading through for the second time. I am entranced all the more.
  • Jocelyn said: I had the hardest time putting this book down. I really enjoyed learning about a condition I don’t know much about and getting to know a genuine and wonderful human.

Let’s suppose it is a mental illness

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Dear fellow Christians: If you believe gender dysphoria is a mental illness, why do you treat transgender persons so terribly? How do you treat those who suffer any of the many other mental illnesses?

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Because I am transgender, my former church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), is keeping me from being a member of one of its congregations. I believe there are numerous church bodies, which have the same attitude toward transgender persons, because they are like the LCMS in its biblically-traditional doctrine and conservative practice.

My experience informs me that the majority of these types of Christians hold that gender dysphoria, which leads to one’s identifying as transgender, is a mental illness. I have argued against this, finding evidence for gender identity issues arising from a physical condition. Certainly, one’s mental state is affected, but I cringe at this term—mental illness—because, I have observed, it is not respected. In other words, if a person has cancer, his illness is respected—it’s real, it can be touched, surgery can be done on it—but mental illnesses are not so easily located, often are perceived as personality-driven, and thus are not viewed with the level of seriousness as cancer. One hears, “Oh, he’s mentally ill,” the words perhaps dripping with contempt.

Since I have left many unconvinced that gender dysphoria arises from a condition which is just as physically real as cancer, I will now take up the position of the traditional Christian, that gender dysphoria is a mental illness, that I might help my fellow Christians see how they are improperly treating their transgender brothers and sisters in Christ.

First, a look at some common mental disorders. I bet you are aware of all of these:

  • anxiety
  • eating
  • mood
  • obsessive-compulsive
  • psychotic
  • post-traumatic stress
  • sex

Each disorder has one or more specific conditions associated with it. For example, under eating disorders are listed bulimia and anorexia nervosa. At least one medical website places gender dysphoria under the various sex disorders.

Preparing to write this essay, I read over many of the specific ailments which fall under the general headings. I have found that I could use any of them for my point of comparison. I have chosen to begin with anorexia nervosa because, four years ago, a pastor, whom I told that I might transition, used it in his rebuttal to me.

Believing my gender dysphoria to be a mental illness, and finding that it is sinful for a Christian to transition, he said, “You wouldn’t tell a person with anorexia not to eat, to give in to that desire.”

Of course, no one would encourage the anorexic not to eat. I can’t imagine anyone saying, “Let her be. If she doesn’t want to eat, that’s her business.” No, starving yourself  is an awful thing.

The pastor made his point. I had no comeback. We both thought he had won the argument.

I would now reply to him, thus:

“No, I would not encourage the anorexic not to eat. However, if I were this person’s pastor, and she would not eat, I wouldn’t kick her out of my church. Just the opposite, I would show the deepest compassion. I would encourage and love and do everything in my power, and give Holy Communion—even if it had to be the tiniest sliver of a wafer soaked in a single drop of wine—to provide her with the love of our Lord Jesus. What I would NOT do is shun this child of God, or kick her out of the congregation. I would not make fun, or hold in contempt, or ostracize this Christian, which is what pastors and Christians are doing with their transgender sisters and brothers.”

There it is. It seems to me that my fellow, traditional Christians want it both ways—they want to call gender dysphoria a mental illness, but they want to treat it as if it were nothing more than a sinful desire, nothing different from a person’s bad habit of misusing the Lord’s name. (Funny, I know a lot of Christians who have spent their entire adult lives misusing the Lord’s name, but I can’t think of a one who has been kicked out of a congregation for it.)

I will now make this mental illness argument harder for myself to argue. It seemed impossible when another pastor, who found transitioning an unacceptable way to treat gender dysphoria, said to me, “If a person were a kleptomaniac, you would not prescribe stealing as the cure.” He’s right; I certainly would not prescribe it. However, if he continued to steal and I were his pastor, what would factor into my decision as to how to deal with him? If he told me that he could do whatever he pleased, I would find his position unacceptable. I would tell him that his attitude is sinful. But if he said, “I hate that I do this. The talk therapy helps sometimes, and other times I’m just so weak that I can’t stop myself,” I would show him compassion and have mercy on him.

Every pastor, with whom I have talked, I have told that I hated to transition, that I found it a terrible “cure” for gender dysphoria. If I have missed anyone, I say it again:

I. Hate. This.

As I have gotten to know other LCMS Christians who are in my same spot—some have transitioned, some have family members who are doing so, and some are fighting not to—every one of them has my attitude. They do not embrace this. They do not say that being transgender is normal. They hate being plagued with this awful thing.

Even after transitioning, I continue to hate this—and I am using “hate” in the biblical sense, “to consider evil.” I find gender dysphoria and one’s transitioning among the evils meted upon we human beings because of the Original Sin we inherit from Adam, through our parents. Just as anorexia and cancer are evil things and come to us because of Original Sin, so does gender dysphoria.

I am not happy to be transgender. I do not embrace it. I do not say that I can do as I please.

I will now provide a third, more challenging argument. Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) describes the malady where a person has a compelling desire to have a limb amputated—often, a leg—or wishes he here blind or deaf. The person suffering with BIID feels, for example, that the leg in question is foreign to his body; it needs to go.

Thankfully, BIID is a rare condition, but for even one person to experience it is one too many. If I were this person’s pastor, my compassion for him would overflow. Now, let’s say, despite my pastoral care and encouragement that he work hard at talk therapy, he proceeds to have a leg amputated? How shall I minister to him? Should I inform him, in no uncertain terms, that he has sinned, and that he cannot come to church now because the sight of him would offend the members of the congregation?

You know how I would minister—exactly as in the two previous examples.

It was important that I work toward BIID because there are those who argue that a gender dysphoric male’s desire for sex reassignment, and the gender dysphoric female’s wish to have a double mastectomy, are cases of BIID. (In reply, I point out that the desire is not only for this procedure, but one’s entire life to be corrected. In other words, it is not the desire to have something removed, but the desire for that area of the body to be correct according to the feminine or masculine nature of the person’s gender.)

Whether anorexic, or a kleptomaniac, or with BIID—I could keep naming mental illnesses—I cannot imagine a pastor would treat his member as the gender dysphoric and transgender Christian is being treated.

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Three years ago, on April 29, 2015, I went public with my gender dysphoria. At the time, I was fighting to remain male. I had the love and compassion of one hundred percent of those who responded to my post.

Four months later, I revealed that I was attempting transitioning, so that I might find some healing, to try to remove the thoughts of suicide and fears of insanity. Immediately, many had contempt for me. I was accused of being a sinner. Some longtime friends either chastised me or simply walked away without a word.

Since then, matters only grew worse with my fellow, traditional Christians.

Most of them would say my gender dysphoria is a mental illness.

If it is a mental illness with which I have to be plagued, I wish it were a different one.  Maybe then, I would not be hated by so many of my Christian brothers and sisters.