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Can You Pray the Gay Away?

Can You Pray the Gay Away?

That is the question twin brothers take on in their new book about homosexuality.

Six years ago, Michael Zakar and his twin brother Zach came out to their Chaldean mother, a devout Christian who is also extremely devoted to the family’s Middle Eastern values and heritage. She threw holy water on them in the hopes of “de-gaying” them. It didn’t work. The twins, 25, went on to write about their experience in their first book Pray the Gay Away and on Mother’s Day of 2018, they published their second book, You Can’t Pray the Gay Away as a way to give parents the gift of acceptance.

Their first book, a memoir, chronicles Michael and Zach’s coming out. It takes a comedic look at their journey from awkward teenagers fighting against societal stereotypes in post 9/11 America, to living separate lives while recognizing sexual and emotional feelings for other boys to rejoining their relationship when they come out to each other and to finally facing the future together in a world where gay is still a bad word and coming out to their mom shattered and reformed their family and religious values.

Their mom had plenty of questions, which the brothers suggest parents should avoid, such as:

• Were you boys molested?
• Have you tried having sex with a woman?
• Why did God let me give birth to you two?
• Why couldn’t you have had cancer instead? At least, that’s curable.

“We had a very average childhood to which we then graduated at Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s in Film,” said Michael. “No one molested us. God doesn’t have it out for us and being gay isn’t a disease.”

Their parents had many concerns, including:
• Was it my fault as their parent?
• How will they carry on the family name?
• What will society think of them?
• Why me?
• Will they lose their faith?

The twins say they have not lost their faith because they believe Jesus is about loving one another. But they do feel ostracized by the community and unwelcomed in the church. Father Matthew Zetouna realizes the seriousness of this situation and gave a homily on June 11, 2017 about how to love and show compassion for gay individuals. He shared his experience of being called to go to homes for interventions and witnessing parents have severe panic attacks as they tried to figure out a way to change their gay children to normal.

“I want to look at how we can love correctly and not be the Pharisee in the gospel because in our community, there’s an extreme discrimination where certain sins are okay while others are unacceptable,” Father Matthew told the congregation.

He used gambling and marijuana addiction as an example of the more acceptable forms of sins. While he stressed that people shouldn’t act on homosexual desires and pointed out that there’s a forceful normalization of a disordered lifestyle in the schools and the media, he also emphasized the importance of love, compassion, support and understanding.

“I really believe that people who are struggling with this and are trying to live a virtuous life have a bigger cross than priests, nuns, and married people,” said Father Matthew, adding that through love and support, they can be brought to Jesus and can live a healthy moral lifestyle.

He suggests a need for a serious sobering self-reflection of the community.
“It really hurts me to see the people in my office,” he said, “how much pain they go through trying to authentically follow Jesus but having to carry this weight and pressure which is unchristian and unfair.” 

The Zakar twins believe that their coming out was survivable because they had each other, and they want others who feel alone to know that they have their own personal twin too. Aside from writing books, the brothers created the mobile app My Twin Chat to help other LGBT youths come out in a safe space where there is no judgment or threats. In You Can’t Pray the Gay Away, the twins advise parents to choose their words carefully as their children will carry these words with them forever. Some useful questions to ask their children are:

 •When did you know?
• How did you know?
• How can I help?

“You might not like the answers,” Michael said. “If it’s too much, don’t speak, a hug speaks volumes.”

The twins offer various exercises in their books, first and foremost taking five deep breaths and realizing the reality of the situation isn’t as bad as you think. There are bigger issues in the world. They write that life is too short. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

If it’s a religion thing – love your child.
If it’s a political thing – love your child.
If it’s a human thing – love your child.

I originally wrote this article for The Chaldean, where it was published in May News

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