Jim Pocta stands squarely before a conservative North Dallas church packed with silk dresses and heavily starched collars. He is broad-shouldered and baby-faced and looks somewhat older than his twenty-nine years. In the from row of the congregation is his wife, attractive but roundly pregnant with the third of their young children. “With His infinite sense of humor,” Pocta says, “God has given me two and soon, we know, three sons.”
The congregation twitters, too awed by the story this man has just told to really laugh. Pocta, a former homosexual and new a committed Christian family man, has just told them of an unusual sexual and spiritual odyssey. “Finally,” he says, in closing, “I am free to be what I was created to be.”
Pocta’s story is a combination of B-grade spellbinder-revealing his early years as a transsexual and homosexual-and an explanation of the mix of faith and reason that he says has since enabled him to become fully and happily heterosexual. He is founder and director of AIM, Alternative Identification Ministry, a nonprofit organization that operates out of a small, unmarked two-bedroom apartment in an all-gay complex off Fitzhugh. The AIM brochure says that although the gay community wants freedom to indulge in its chosen lifestyle, “there is no freedom in being gay,” and goes on to offer a hopeful invitation: “If you desire freedom, real freedom to change but feel trapped and discouraged in the gay habit, you need an alternative, and you’re why we’re here.” Freedom is found, AIM says, “in Jesus Christ and through His gospel.”
Pocta’s testimony and chosen life’s work are controversial to say the least. Pastors of predominantly gay churches in town (who admit they’ve never met him) say what he is doing is deceptive and dangerous; to them, his very identity is a farce, a non-option. Certainly Pocta’s testimony flies in the face of popularly accepted theories on the nature of sexual orientation that define gayness as neither right nor wrong, no more abnormal or abhorrent than left-handed ness. It’s been nearly seven years since the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders or illnesses, giving it status as a normal variant of human sexuality that has been manifest in all cultures throughout history.
Pocta. who has no formal training in either ministry or psychology, believes homosexuality is a case of mistaken identity, “a neurosis like all other neuroses, an effort to escape pain through the use of repression.” Men and women assume homosexual lifestyles, Pocta says, because they feel inadequate as men and women. “It was easier for me to decide to be a girl in a man’s body, to be gay, than to fail by not measuring up to what I thought it took to be a man.” The same personality flaws, he says, are also evidenced in the “Rambo-esque” style macho male or the woman who wears pounds of makeup and acts ultra-feminine. None of these extremes, says Pocta, is God’s will.
Though he calls himself a fundamentalist, Pocta seems to have added a new, less judgmental twist to the old and unfeeling fire-and-brimstone, change-your-ways-or-rot-in-hell line that homosexuals are accustomed to hearing from conservative Christians. He freely expresses disgust and anger toward legislation that would outlaw homosexuality and toward anti-gay groups such as Dallas Doctors Against AIDS and Alert Citizens of Texas. His opinions on the genesis of homosexuality and his belief that a person can change his or her sexual orientation are provocative fodder added to a debate already raging in Christian circles.
Whether a lasting alternative or a naive stop-gap change, the choice to be straight that Pocta says any homosexual can make is apparently an attractive idea to many unhappy gays. Every week. Pocta says, he receives about thirty calls from individuals wanting more information about AIM. In less than two years, Pocta’s group has garnered its share of notoriety through word-of-mouth and the response he gets from speaking engagements in mainline conservative churches such as Northwest Bible Church, Trinity Bible Fellowship, and Scofield Memorial Bible Church. He also speaks to classes at Dallas Theological Seminary and gives occasional radio interviews. Pbcta and his full-time staff of two have counseled more than 200 men and women. Twelve AIM support groups, made up of fifteen to twenty men or women who want to complete the ministry’s nine-month program in hopes of becoming heterosexual, had been formed by early fall.
It comes as a surprise, after hearing Poc-ta speak, that he has no academic credentials that would lend him any professional authority, not even a college degree. He completed three years at Dallas Bible College and says he has audited “lots” of psychology classes. Pocta is articulate and his speeches are well organized. He seems to have a good command of the literature on homosexuality, but his claim to legitimacy comes from his own past, not professional training.
An adopted son sandwiched between nine other adopted, foster, and natural children, Pocta remembers his first sexual experience, a simple game of “you show me and I’ll show you” with a neighbor boy at the age of five. He says that his father, an aerospace engineer for NASA, was a violent alcoholic; his mother, whom he describes as the rigid, dominating, textbook mother of a homosexual male, “really overreacted” to his sexual experiment. “Only dirty old men in prison do that,” he remembers his father screaming.
Still, as though he wanted to prove his parents’ fears true, Pocta continued the sexual exploration games through the rest of his childhood with older neighborhood boys and babysitters. At ten, as a paper carrier, he became acquainted with some of the men who hung out in isolated areas around a lake near his suburban Ohio home. Soon, he says he was accepting money for performing sex. It wasn’t much, he says, “because I sure was stupid.” By twelve, Pocta says, sex with men was “pretty much a continual thing.” At fifteen he was earning $150 to $200 a night. By the time he was eighteen in 1975, Pocta says, “I had it made.” His going nightly rate was as much as $600.
In 1971, Pocta moved to California and established a gay relationship with Kevin, a man with whom he would live for seven years, Pocta says he earned enough money as a prostitute to purchase a beach house, a Maserati, and a variety of drugs. During those years, he says, “I had everything I’d ever dreamed of. 1 couldn’t understand why I was so depressed.”
In January 1975, Pocta returned home for a visit. One of his sisters persuaded him and his mother to go with her to a revival. There, he heard something that he says was then foreign to him, a message about a loving God and the forgiveness of sin. “I felt so inadequate and guilty as I sat there listening. Based on what I was told that night, I thought I could absolutely be set free, that I could go cold turkey on sex and drugs. God would reach in, I thought, and pull it all out and make me a new creature. I really believed the truth about the Gospel at that time,” he says, “and I wanted to make it work.”
Unfortunately, Pocta’s wishful thinking backfired. He began traveling with the revival troupe, telling groups of “the wonder God had worked in his life overnight.” But Kevin was unhappy with the new life Pocta had taken on. “He couldn’t understand and I couldn’t explain. He was hurt and I began to compromise. We ended up having sex.” The two were making love in a hotel room when some of Pocta’s new Christian friends entered unannounced.
The friends were shocked; they told him he’d “lost” his salvation. “I thought they should have warned me salvation was so easy to lose,” Pocta says. “I decided that if I was going to hell because I’d committed the ’unpardonable sin,’ I could take a lot of other Christians with me-I knew that from all my park experiences with churchgoers and family men. A lot of those types were my regulars.” Pocta claims to have spent the next year as a sexual “missionary,” trying to seduce as many “Christian” men as possible. If he couldn’t attract them as a gay, he tried dressing up in glittered sweaters, mascara, and platform shoes. “I was a real flame . . . I do a mean Streisand,” he says, laughing across an open Bible on his office desk.
But on a rainy Sunday night in 1976, Pocta drove past a cafeteria in San Diego and saw a man he decided he had to meet. He was tall, blond, and athletic looking. But instead of responding to Pocta with any romantic interest, Tom Cordell invited him to church. “He had no idea,” Pocta says, “[that] his good looks were a fantastic new evangelical tool.” Pocta went with Cordell that night to services. Another nighl they went to hear well-known Christian speaker Chuck Swindoll.
“I was terrified to be there,” Pocta recalls. “No one knew I was gay. But I was so impressed with what Swindoll said and how he said it that I began to wonder if maybe there was something going on there that I hadn’t seen before. I saw a man who was something completely different from a homosexual or macho-type, a man secure in and of himself.” After a service Pocta went to talk with Swindoll. “I told him about everything. He wasn’t afraid to express doubt about life in general and didn’t pretend he had answers. I felt as though I had some dignity. I wasn’t just an object. 1 thought ’I’m going to check this out. Maybe there are different kinds of Christians, some who don’t beat people over the head with laws.’ ’”
Pocta began attending Bible studies with Cordell. but all the while remained in his relationship with Kevin. He says he led two different lives for two years, believing both lifestyles were right yet spending a lot of energy to avoid crossing paths with both the Bible belt only to have it thrown back at me. I met gays everywhere 1 went. I felt completely alienated from the church, even though I was attending Dallas Bible College, serving as a youth pastor, and working full-time as an announcer on Christian radio station KCBI.”
Pocta looks back now on the life he was living then and sees it as more escapism, more running away from the gayness he feared would catch up with him and blot out (he new life he’d chosen. He says many of the homosexuals he has worked with have been ministerial students, individuals who in an effort to escape their homosexuality have run as far as they can in the other direction. Pocta lived the model churchman’s life, with all the secrets of his past buried deeply within him. He believed all Christians hated gays.
It was a lonely time for Pocta and a difficult time in his marriage. Linda became pregnant the sixth month they were married and suffered a miscarriage in her seventh month. Pocta reacted insensitively, telling her, she remembers, “just to go out and see a movie and get over it.”
Then one night a little more than a year later they lay in bed, talking about Pocta’s brother Jeff, a homosexual who was frequently in trouble with the law. Linda made some cutting remark about Jeffs lifestyle and Pocta’s defenses finally crumbled. They both comment now on how dark it was in their bedroom when Pocta said, “We’re not the perfect couple everybody thinks we are. My brother isn’t the only one in our family who struggles with that problem.”
Then Pocta paused and Linda said nothing. Neither of them moved.
“I’m talking about myself.”
For three days, Pocta says, he lived in a fog and Linda cried. She says she didn’t know whether to act more feminine or to act more masculine, to try to be more controlling of Pocta or to let him go. Her first thoughts, she says, were pity, then fear. “Incredibly, I was afraid, afraid he’d leave me.”
The more comfortable the Poctas became with one another, the more friends they told about Pocta’s past. As they opened up to others they discovered that there were many people struggling with similar problems.
“I didn’t want to tell others about it, but I met more and more Christians who were struggling with homosexuality,” Pocta says. “My ministry began to evolve by word of mouth. I wanted to make sure I came across not as one who wanted to convert homosexuals to heterosexuals, but who wanted to help those who wanted to make a choice. If someone wants to be gay and live gay, that’s fine, that’s their right.”
Bill Counts, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church Park Cities, says there was some risk involved in asking Pocta to share his conversion story with the congregation, especially since his ministry is so young. “Obviously it’d be better if he’d been at it five or ten years, but from what I can see, people are getting substantial help from what because, she says, there was so much emphasis on the suffering that homosexuals experience in life.
Now, she says, “I’m real confused. I don’t really know what I want to do right now.” But she still praises AIM. “I don’t think Jim is wrong. I think his ministry and the things he teaches are deeper than what most churches teach. I learned a new perspective, that God wanted my heart and willingness to follow Him. Jim is sincere; I support him. Now what’s true is. in my life right now, I’m living as righteously as I know how. I’m still searching and wondering if I can be both righteous and gay.”
Danny Grant, a graduate student of opera at North Texas State University, has been through the AIM program twice. It was a year ago in October when Grant called Pocta for the first time. With his divorce pending, he says, “I had no friends and I’d reached the end of my rope.” Like Pocta, in an effort to escape his sexuality he had jumped headfirst into church activities. He served twice as a missionary and sang once for a meeting of the Baptist General Convention. He’d been to seven different counselors when he called Pocta.
Grant says AIM and Pocta’s “firm, realistic concept of the truth about God” has opened his mind and helped him to change. “Homosexuality is like a red light on a car’s dash.” Grant says. “It is a signal that something deeper is wrong. You have to deal with the source of that denial.”
Pastors of predominantly homosexual congregations in Dallas express deep misgivings about programs like AIM, which run counter to the idea that sexual orientation is not a choice. The Reverend Don Eastman, pastor until recently of the Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas, says that AIM is dishonest in claiming that a homosexual can become an ex-gay. He worries about the numbers of troubled men and women who leave the AIM program and about the long-range sexual patterns of these people.
“I believe that the problem with AIM is that people who want to change may be doing so out of a state of dysfunction. My contention,” Eastman says, “is that all ex-gays will tell how unhappy they were as gays. They were already dysfunctional as gays. They try to change in a ministry such as this one and later find that they cannot. They leave with a heightened sense of failure and lowered self-esteem.”
The real story of AIM, says Eastman, will have to be written five years from now.
Pocta isn’t interested in being pitted against gay Christians. It’s been almost eight years, he says, since his last homosexual affair, but he admits he still struggles with all types of temptation. “I’m not dead yet, so I still struggle with sin.
“I have no right to condemn anybody for success or failure, not the Christian funda mentalist or the homosexual.” he says. “We at AIM are a vessel. If somebody chooses to make a choice, we want to help.”