Venn-Brown, now a gay Christian leader in Australia, has written an analysis that is concise, insightful, fair, and well-balanced.
Sy Rogers rose to prominence in the United States as executive director and later board member of Exodus International through the early 1990s. He appeared in a documentary of that period, “One Nation Under God,” in which — at odds with the statements and experiences of the movie’s featured gay and former ex-gay individuals — Rogers repeated Exodus’ mantra that homosexuality is caused by inadequate parenting and abuse which result in gender confusion. Rogers’ assertions were, in short, projections of his own transgender confusion on to mainstream homosexuals who experience no such confusion.
By 1996, Christianity Today cited Rogers as a leading up-and-coming young evangelical.
After Exodus, Rogers departed with his wife for Asia and rose to prominence as an evangelical speaker on abuse and sexual brokenness to audiences in Singapore and New Zealand. His speeches and self-help programs remain popular to this day. But his central themes remain unnecessarily — almost purposely — ambiguous and prone to deception, ripe for abuse by his ex-gay former colleagues.
Venn-Brown notes that Rogers’ speeches create rather than resolve ambiguities about sex and gender: ambiguities which permit audiences to make invalid assumptions. Whether these assumptions are incidental, or are the intended objective of the ambiguity, is unclear.
Regarding Rogers’ transgender biology and the nature of being transgender, Venn-Brown writes:
This is often confusing for heterosexuals to understand as their brains are aligned harmoniously with their gender identity.
Sy lived as a woman for some time and was in the process of seeking gender re-assignment surgery when he was converted to Christ. Throw into his story years of sexual abuse, a self destructive lifestyle (not an exclusively homosexual experience), meaningless sexual encounters and a dysfunctional family upbringing (mother was an alcoholic) then it becomes a maze of issues. The sexual abuse issues are the ones Sy has most recently had to resolve. Probably the miracle in Sy’ Rogers story is similar to mine: we are still alive to tell the story.
Problems develop when Sy speaks to church audiences who are relatively uneducated about sexuality and transgenderism. I’m sure there are still are large number of people in churches who naively believe all homosexual men want to dress and live as a woman and all lesbians wish they could be men. This is far from reality for the average gay man or lesbian. When uninformed Christians, with an already negative attitude towards homosexuality, hear Sy’ story, it’ easy for them to make false assumptions.
It is not quite clear whether Rogers himself acknowledges that his biology is transgender, or whether this is simply Venn-Brown’s frank (and I think accurate) assessment. Nor is it clear why Rogers might allow audiences to make false assumptions without emphatically correcting them.
Different terms appear in Sy’ story, homosexual, gay, transsexual, transgender, all mixed together and are hard for the average person to separate. One of the myths often presented in many church cultures is that ALL gay men and lesbians are highly immoral, drug taking reprobates who live a “homosexual lifestyle’. Sy’ story carries much of that stereotype which, for those of us who are a part of the gay community(as opposed to the “gay scene’), know is only reflective of a subculture and once again not exclusively homosexual. Heterosexuals live the same “lifestyle’.
Again, Rogers has an opportunity to define words clearly and distinctly, and to distinguish between his own lifestyle and those of most gay people — but it is not apparent that he does.
Regarding Rogers’ sexual orientation, Venn-Brown writes:
My assumption is that Sy would not actually claim that he is totally heterosexual today, but, because he is married to a woman, many would try and tell us that this indicates a change in sexual orientation.
Here again, it seems that Rogers creates ambiguities which may lead others to perpetuate myths about change.
Whatever Rogers’ sexual orientation, Venn-Brown says, “Sy has chosen to be in a heterosexual marriage. I have to respect Sy and his wife’ choice and anyone else who chooses to live that way.”
I respect people who decide to marry for reasons other than sexual or even romantic attraction. However, I am not certain it’s necessary to respect a marriage that, through deliberation or inaction, serves the purpose of persistent and uncorrected public misunderstanding or deception. Does Rogers allow audiences to assume that he is now fully male and heterosexual? Is such a claim even remotely plausible, given Rogers’ life-long non-masculine voice and physique? These questions remain to be clarified a bit.
Venn-Brown details a series of ambiguities that directly result from Rogers’ past ex-gay activism and from the assumption that he is ex-gay today. Chief among them for me is the fact that, since 1996, Rogers has not (to my knowledge) repudiated any of his past bigoted claims regarding the origins of gender identity, sexual orientation, and lifestyle choice.
Rogers today preaches a broad message of sexual brokenness without reference to orientation, but his legacy remains uncorrected. With no objections from Rogers, his ex-gay book library remains in active use by U.S. ex-gay activists. Furthermore, Rogers continues to assist these activists with speaking opportunities in both Asia and the Americas.
I applaud Anthony Venn-Brown’s article for its fairness and its insight. Yet I remain doubtful regarding Rogers’ sincerity and commitment, at this time, to tell the whole truth in a transparent manner that leaves minimum room for audience misinterpretation and political misuse — particularly in Singapore, where homosexual activity remains illegal.