Poster Boy for the 'Ex-Gays'
'Before His 'Ex-Gay' Days,
John Paulk Was My Flaky Neighbor'
| By Stuart Koblentz
Both Paulk and his wife Anne, a self-declared "former lesbian," claim that by finding God, they have successfully made the transition from gay to straight. On the surface, John Paulk appears to be a natural choice for this attention. He is vice-chair of Exodus and works in the legislative and cultural affairs department of James Dobson's organization, Focus on the Family.
To me, though, he will always be the college student who in 1983 lived across the courtyard in an apartment complex next to the main campus of Ohio State University in Columbus.
Seeing where John Paulk has landed himself today comes as no surprise to me. John always craved to be the center of everyone's attention in life's theatrical production, so it's no shock that he is still at home in the limelight.
Our apartments, with their porches and balconies facing one another, overlooked a grassy courtyard. My proximity to John made phone calls unnecessary--we were constantly calling to one another about making dinner, bar-hopping or shopping plans. In the warm fall evenings of 1983, I studied my history texts on my front porch as John practiced his vocal scales on his porch.
As summer changed to fall and the evenings changed from humid to crisp, then downright cold, I found John's behavior becoming increasingly odd, even reckless. There were nights when John would leave to go out, dressed smartly in a sport coat and pressed slacks, and wait for his date to pick him up. He would return early the next morning in the clothes that he left in the night before.
That October, I discovered that John's dates weren't "dates," but rather "business" meetings. The All-American Quarter Horse Association was in town for its annual convention, bringing with it thousand of lonesome cowboys. John had been working for Dulcet Escort Services, a business that worked quite hard at making those cowboys a little less lonesome. (They've since been shut down by the vice squad.)
The night I found out about John's activities he was working the phones for the service from his house. I sat there fascinated as he would answer the phone and rattle off the menu of services offered to any wrangler looking for a bronco to buck.
"We offer escort services, conversation, nude modeling and nude conversation," John informed the caller. (Nude conversation?) Then there was my introduction to the operator of the escort service, a woman named Joanne who took great pleasure in telling me that she had been "run out of Manhattan" by people with organized crime connections. That was a bit much for this corn- fed Ohio boy, and eventually I began to withdraw from the friendship.
By the middle of that winter, the local department store began to visit John's heat-less apartment. Furniture delivered that summer was removed. Friends began to open their homes to John so he could have a hot shower or a warm meal. He lived huddled in an electric blanket. He dropped out of school. He owed money.
The summer of 1984 was difficult, even hostile. The calls across the courtyard had stopped months before as John's behavior became too erratic for me to deal with. He began performing as a drag queen to make money, and his alter ego "Candi" soon began to take over the apartment where John once lived. The balcony shared by my neighbor and myself would fill nightly for the show on John's balcony.
In a reverse striptease, he metamorphasized from John Paulk into his alter ego Candi for all to see. By that fall, our time as neighbors was over. John vacated the apartment and began to perform at a club called the Ruby Slipper. As the seasons passed, those of us from the courtyard days would touch base with one another and report any "Candi sightings."
John's life truly became burlesque-like when he began doing the talk show circuit as a "reformed homosexual." None of us was too surprised. When a pendulum swings so far in one direction, it's bound to swing the opposite direction with equal abandon.
All these years later, I seriously doubt that John was saved so much from homosexuality as he was saved from himself. Being gay doesn't cause you to become a prostitute. Circumstances and low self-esteem do.
Having the utilities turned off and your furniture repossessed isn't caused by being a homosexual either, it's caused by not honoring your obligations. Being a homosexual also doesn't cause dishonesty or create suspicion either. These are character issues that affect all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.
A life spent making all the wrong choices is a life spent in poor judgement, not in the gay world as Exodus desperately wants people to believe. People who seek attention will do anything to be center-stage, even if it means tearing themselves up, tearing themselves apart, and then destroying themselves in order to re-create themselves.
John's issues were, and I believe continue to be, those of integrity. During the time that I knew John, the truth was always something that was treated as an afterthought. He regularly mistreated himself as well as those who cared about him. Because of this, I will always mistrust him, his actions and deeds, including his very public salvation.
This mistrust is only deepened when I read about his much-publicized life story. Nowhere in that history do I see where he acknowledges that people in and out of the gay community tried to help John. Nowhere in these life testimonies do I see where John takes responsibility for anything that he did to himself and others while he was intoxicated with his path of self destruction.
If the Christian right wing sleeps better at night safe in the comfort that people like John Paulk are there to defend their ideals and promote the "Exodus cure," then I would advise them to start sleeping with one eye open. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I predict that John Paulk will yet recreate himself again when this folly, like the ones before, runs its course.
John Paulk may claim that finding Jesus and Exodus helped him find his heterosexuality, but he has yet to convince me that he has found himself.
Stuart Koblentz and his memories live in Columbus.
Reprinted Courtesy of Gay People's Chronicle
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