One woman’s journey out of lesbianism: An interview with Jeanette Howard

Out of Egypt

(image courtesy Book Depository)

By Spencer D Gear

Former lesbian, Jeanette Howard of England, says: “I stand in awe at what God has done in my life. Where I saw hopelessness, he saw hopefulness. Where I saw pain, he saw potential. Where I saw disaster, he saw a daughter” (from the cover of her book, Out of Egypt: Leaving Lesbianism Behind. (1991. Oxford: Monarch Publications).

During her visit to Australia’s capital city of Canberra in 1993, I (Spencer Gear[1]) interviewed Jeanette. At that time I spoke with Jeanette about her lesbianism and the way out. I found Jeanette to be a forthright, open and friendly woman with a burden to minister to people at all levels of society, not just the homosexual community. (Note: My questions to Jeanette are in bold.)

Spencer: Jeanette, when did your struggle begin with lesbianism?

Jeanette: I wouldn’t have put a name on it, but from a very early age (about four or five), I felt very different, very alienated from my own sex. I had very much gender confusion. I would look at boys and think, well I’m not a boy, but I would look at girls and think: I don’t think I’m a real girl either. And although I never classified it as lesbianism, it certainly was a path towards choices that I made later in life.

There was a sense that biologically I knew I was female, but I really didn’t have an identity of being female, a sense of femaleness – very much a third sex mentality. I just couldn’t emotionally relate to what a woman was all about.

In my pre-teen years, my greatest delight was being mistaken for a boy. I have photographs of one incident I remember. We all bought cowboy outfits, my brothers, sister and myself. I bought a cowgirl outfit with my sister, a nice looking skirt for cowgirls, but in the photo I am without the cowgirl’s skirt. “That’s not who I am, so I’d rather not wear anything than be identified with a female,” was how I thought.

Can you understand when that began? What were the influences that caused you to feel that way?

Gender confusion? I really don’t know. It was just an increased sense of “I do not belong.”

Was there some kind of rejection in your family?

You know, there is a funny thing about rejection, whether it’s real or perceived, the individual feels it. If you ask my mother, “Did you reject Jeanette?” she’ll say, “Absolutely not.” You must understand that my mother worked full time fairly soon after the five of us were born, so she had five children under the age of six years and was a school teacher. She always talked about her children in school. My understanding was that they meant more to her then we did. We were unable to express ourselves emotionally at all.

The whole family?

Oh yes, and my parents did not express their love for one another in any way that I saw, either verbally or emotionally.

So you had this gender confusion. When did you begin to identify with or practise as a lesbian?

I didn’t practise lesbianism until I was 18 years old, but in the early teenage years I went to an all-girls’ school and we were quite happy pretending to get married and there was a lot of unity there. I was very happy, but I certainly took a tomboy role. That was natural to me, I guess. I was very much the boyish type. Very early in the teenage years, it almost seemed like overnight the girls became aware of boys. And they were beginning to be obsessed about pop stars and the boys across the river, the boys’ school across the river. It really left me quite high and dry. It’s almost like I’d stood still; they were wandering off and I made quite abortive attempts to retain their interest. I had my hair cut like the most popular pop star; I wore boys clothes. I didn’t particularly act in a mannish manner, but when I look back on it now it was a very non-feminine type of behaviour.

So, if you put on the facade, you will get their support?

That’s right, because I didn’t understand what else they could be interested in. Naturally enough, that didn’t work. Then I started having crushes on teachers and older girls in the school. Female teachers. That was a little worrisome, so I went to the library and got out a book on child development. I was about aged 14. Of course I read that it’s often a phase that people go through and grow out of, so that waylaid my fears, except that I didn’t grow out it. It was a long wait, this outgrowing.

You said you moved into lesbianism at about 18. What happened at that time?

I had opportunities to go into lesbianism before, from a couple of the girls in school, but I was too frightened. Fear was always a great motivator in my life. But when I went to university, I was seduced by the senior lecturer. She was 30 years older, had four children, the eldest of which was only three years younger than I. But it was a sense of belonging, this is me.

This relationship lasted three years. I guess I was faithful for two years, and then I used to go to the gay night clubs and had a series of relationships after that.

We use the term “gay” and some counsellors and others are saying that it’s not quite as gay as it’s made out to sound. What was your lesbian lifestyle like?

Well it was a sense of belonging, a sense of sisterhood, bonding, that I had lost from about age 11. I didn’t have that for about six years. So when I walked into my first gay bar, I sensed that this is where I belong. If you’ve spent that long not belonging anywhere, you’ll take on anything.

I would look at men and women in the street holding hands, and I guess my thought really was, “Why can’t I have a girlfriend and do it that freely?” So it wasn’t a sense of being . . . it’s like, why must I hide?

So you weren’t ashamed?

I guess I must have been ashamed in that I didn’t tell my parents. I kept it from most of my straight friends; there was fear of rejection. If they really knew me, they wouldn’t have liked me. So what was it like to be a lesbian? I was never good at making friends, so there was no great depth to a relationship. I think part of this was because I was brought up in a family that did not know how to express themselves, either verbally or emotionally. I don’t know if that has to do with my lesbianism, but I knew that I couldn’t really invest in people. I trusted no one but me. I was very withdrawn emotionally. The only way I knew how to express myself was through sexual relations.

What then are the roots of lesbianism? What are the factors that influence one towards a homosexual lifestyle?

This is not set in concrete, because of what I’m going to say. I’ve been in ministry now for five years, and spoken with a number of ministry leaders, and I’ve found there seems to be a consensus of opinion, but bearing in mind that everyone’s individual, and not everyone has every factor in their life. But one of them is a sense of rejection from the same sex parent, and the lack of bonding.

This has been my experience in counselling homosexuals over a number of years. It seems to be fairly much across the board, male and female, that sense of rejection, lack of bonding with the same-sex parent.

That’s right, lack of bonding, and then the relationship with the opposite sex parent often is at fault. For me, I always strove to get affirmation from my father.

And did you get it?

If I performed. But I think of one occasion when I was shattered. I was useless at maths and I got 9 out of 10 for a test, which I thought was pretty good. I came home, told my father, who turned to me and said, “What was wrong with the other one?” And yet I think he was pleased. He had no idea how to express himself, or to receive anything good. He probably was doing the best he could, he had no idea. He still has no idea.

Jeanette Howard 140x210 (photograph Jeanette Howard, courtesy Hope for Wholeness Network)

What was your relationship like with Mum.

Distant and cold, I guess. It took me a long while to realise that her way of expressing love was through finances. I remember as a teenager coming home and she gave me some money, and I remember thinking, “All I want is for you to hug me.” I had a nervous breakdown when I was 10. The relationship with my mother was not good. I remember at the age of 18 months (yes, I can remember back that far) when I was being potty-trained. I didn’t want to go on the potty and mother was making me. We were watching a circus on television and she sat behind me and put her hands on my shoulders and made me sit. And I remember thinking, “You’ll never touch me like that again.” So there was a real detachment on my part too, there was a pulling away from, and I think that’s probably why I spent so much growing-up time watching television with those happy families and wanting her to be my mum. There were a number of women I wanted to be my mother, who expressed care, compassion, love and acceptance, which is what I didn’t feel.

Your book, Out of Egypt: Leaving Lesbianism Behind (Monarch Publications) describes your journey. What’s the significance of the phrase, “out of Egypt”?

Long before I knew that I was going to deal with my homosexuality, I was talking to a woman about my story and she said, “You know, that is just like coming out of Egypt.” That was back in 1987 and it pierced me. I don’t know why. But of course later I knew. I looked at the walk of the Hebrews and saw that the journey out of Egypt was just the first step. God’s almighty parting of the Red Sea, a mighty deliverance, then on into the wilderness and finally Canaan, the land of promise. I thought that really has been my walk. God delivering me out of a bondage and yet it has not been straight from bondage to promise. I don’t believe there’s a three-minute prayer that’s going to pop me out of one life into another.

What sparked your interest in Jesus Christ?

I was a school teacher with a low threshold of interest and I became bored teaching in the school that I was in and we had a sister school in Tamworth, NSW. Some of the students would go for a term exchange. I thought of a way to retain my job and go to the other side of the world, and leave my current lover. (I didn’t know how to do that properly.) So I suggested that I’d do a year teacher’s exchange in Australia. But I didn’t realise it was a Christian school. I fought tooth and nail against anything Christian, and I strongly objected to people thinking they had two minutes to convert you now.

What spoke to me were those people who didn’t mention Jesus. Their quality of life would haunt me, the way they lived their life. One woman purchased a new car one week and she lent it to me the next week. That just threw me beyond belief that someone did not see that the things she owned were hers, but were to give out and bless others. That struck me beyond anything else. But it was their quality of life that spoke to me and I started getting interested in God. But of course pride got in the way. For eight months, I’d been close to stoning the Christians, I wasn’t really going to turn round and say, “Now can I come to church?” But there was a woman on the staff, a pastor’s wife, and I was able to speak to her and I said, “Please give me a book to read, but put it in a brown paper bag, put it under my desk in the staff room and don’t you dare tell anyone that I’m going to read a Christian book.” And I used to read it at night under the bed clothes with a torch. And that was my first interest. This was at Calrossy Girls School in Tamworth.

You haven’t shared with anybody at that School about your own struggle and how you came out of lesbianism?

The pastor’s wife knows, but she has moved to Sydney.

So that was the starter, the lifestyle of Christian teachers.

Observing them. I knew they had something I did not have. That was powerful stuff. But you know how Satan is? At the same time I got into a relationship with a Christian girl. She was everything I’d always wanted in a relationship. So I had this tussle–I wanted God, but I also wanted my lover. I thought: I’ll be a gay Christian, that’s the obvious thing to do. I’m a great one for going to textbooks, so I got out some theological books and of course half of them were so theologically liberal. They said, “Yes, of course you can. It’s just another expression of God’s love.” In retrospect, I knew the Holy Spirit was beginning to work.

It’s interesting the way people acted with me. I did end up going to church and I got in the drama team, the evangelistic drama team. This was a good ploy because I was good at drama.

At Christmas I moved out to stay with someone. I led her to the Lord without ever being a Christian myself. I told her what to do. She said, that seems good. I said it does, doesn’t it? She became a Christian. I left Australia as a non-Christian but with a Bible. I went back to England on New Year’s Eve, and went straight to a gay bar to bring in the new year. From a year of complete Christian company, to walking into a gay bar on new year’s eve night is what I needed. I needed the shock value and I went round telling my friends, “I have something better than this.” They asked what it was. I said I didn’t know, but it’s better than this.

I went round all the friends I’d not seen for a year saying, “I have something better.” Of course I hadn’t a clue what it was. I thought it was Christianity but I’d not really heard the gospel.

The amazing workings of God, the prompting of the Spirit of God, now that you look back.

That’s right. And I just read my Bible. I knew that I wouldn’t go back to the bar and I didn’t know one Christian in England. So I just read my Bible all the time, apart from teaching. And I’d be reading all through the night, a couple of hours sleep and I’d get up, teach, and I’d come straight back to read the Bible.

I read the Bible for hours and hours. I nearly read the whole Bible through in the month, and then I got to John 15:16 where it said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.” And it suddenly hit me that God had chosen me and my response was that I either totally rejected or I totally accepted. A black and white thinker is good when it’s under the lordship of Christ.

But I also knew that if I was to become a Christian, I had to turn my back on homosexuality. I couldn’t be both, I knew that.

So here you were, you hadn’t yet made a commitment to Christ, but you knew

that you had to go away from the lesbian lifestyle.

Yes, and I knew that it was not God’s best for me. Now that was a major decision because I really didn’t know anything about God. And yet I had to put all my eggs in one basket.

How do you respond to the statement that the biblical teaching with regard to

homosexuality relates to homosexuality as sin and we need to grieve over our

sin, and of course repentance is involved. How do you see that?

I didn’t think I had to grieve over it. I did repent. But lesbianism to me was not a sin, it didn’t feel like a sin. Now God said it was a sin, but it sure didn’t feel like it to me. So the first thing I had to do was to ask God to help me see my lesbianism as He saw it. Because I saw it as somewhat fulfilling, natural and acceptable, that’s not what I read.

How did you move from a third sex view to it’s natural, I like it, to the point

where God is confronting you with what He thinks of it?

I just had to ask Him for His eyes. Gradually that happened. At the point of conversion, I turned my back on homosexual activity and identity. That was a choice, that was not an emotional response. All I had at my point of conversion was tears. That was on January 23, 1985, 2:30 am.

Reading your Bible?

Yes, reading my Bible.

You weren’t with anybody else at the time?

No, but I had read somewhere that you’re meant to tell someone. And I thought, well, I don’t know anyone and also it was 2:30 in the morning. So I phoned Australia. I thought I have to tell someone, so I actually phoned my Christian lover and she was pleased, but she knew what it meant for our relationship–it was over. So that was with mixed feelings too.

I understand that you went to an ex-gay ministry, Love in Action, in the San Francisco Bay area of California for a 12-months live-in program. What was the purpose of this?

Psalm 68:6 says “God sets the lonely in families”. The way this ministry is set up is that people who struggle with homosexuality live in different houses with leaders and assistants. The goal is to re-establish or perhaps establish for the first time a family-type environment and do the normal duties in a family. This helps to bring some stability into your life within a family. That part of my life was very stable anyway, apart from the family relations.

There were group meetings to deal with issues. We attended Bible study nights and were integrated into the life of the church. This was an instrumental part of my healing process. I would say a year in that program took three years out of the healing process.

What were the elements in the Love in Action program that projected you into a faster growth rate?

Accountability, honesty, communication, just everything came under the lordship of Christ. You could run but you couldn’t hide. It’s interesting that most people now stay on for a second year because obviously not everything’s dealt with in a year. You’re in a very intensive program, so the second year eases off; it gives you more responsibility to get back into society.

Let’s talk about instantaneously coming out of homosexuality. There’s a view that says, “Jesus is in the supernatural business, He has the ability to change you immediately.” Obviously He has that ability, but what happens with homosexuality? Do you see much of that taking place, where somebody is lesbian one minute, and the next day is something quite different?

You have to look at the reasons why people express themselves in a homosexual way–their background, motivation factors, rejection, sexual abuse, peer group pressure. There are a number of areas like that, which you’re not delivered from but are healed through.

A lot of homosexuality is learned behaviour, which has to be unlearned and then new behaviour taken on board. In my five years of being in ministry, I’ve yet to see anyone instantaneously changed. With wholehearted commitment you see major change in a few years. With half-baked commitment, I see them sliding back.

On the healing scale, if we could use that sort of analogy, where are you in the

healing process? Let’s say 100% being you are perfectly whole and healed.

Well, today, I’m about 98%. Tomorrow I could be 90%, or I could be 99%. It’s not one day at a time inasmuch as I live in fear, but I am aware. Recently a prominent Christian in America has sexually fallen, again. It keeps coming time and time again, so I am careful lest I fall, but I know what I call my red flag areas. I know when I need to be more careful.

Can you share some of those?

Sure, like I need to know my body cycle, the times of the month when I’m more vulnerable to people showing me affection. With women, emotional dependency often precedes lesbian activity.

One of the chapters in your book has that title, “Emotional dependency”. What are you referring to?

We’re talking about healthy relating. If I have a friend, I often say, if she breathes out, I breathe in. It’s an unhealthy enmeshment. My security is dependent on her being in my life. The two become one almost; there seems to be a lack of boundaries; I don’t know where I end and you begin. Often it ends up that you wear similar clothes. The “I” becomes “we”. There’s a state of panic if you think that you’ve got to not see her for a day, not be in contact by phone for a day. There’s a fear of loss because you see her as a possession. This is unhealthy emotional dependency that often is a lead into lesbianism.

Now that can happen in male/female relationships as well.

Course it can. It’s not a homosexual problem, it’s a people problem, but we find it manifests itself greatly with the lesbian. Interestingly, many of the men have not experienced emotional dependency until they start the healing process, until they stop allowing themselves sexual expression. It opens the doors to how they feel. And often the guys will get into a dependent relationship for the first time ever during the healing process. So it’s not necessarily to be seen as something totally negative for the guys especially. But it does need good control in accountability area.

The liberal church tends to want to endorse homosexuality, right? How can the evangelical church minister to the homosexual?

You don’t need to be an expert, and that’s the good news. Most of my healing has come from being accepted, feeling secure, affirmed within my church body. My church body recognised a call on my life to full-time ministry and they paid for me to go to a discipleship school and it was there God convicted me that I had to be real with my church, I had to go back and tell them. So I did that, received the pastor’s permission, and one Sunday morning I asked for their forgiveness. For two years I’d presented an image to them, an acceptable image of Christianity, but that was not who I was, and I shared who I really was. And as one, they stood up, gave a standing ovation, and said, whatever it takes for your healing, we will support you.

That’s an encouraging response. But that’s not always the way it is. In talking with male and female homosexuals through the years, they generally find that the evangelical church can be a place of rejection.

Rejection often is the response to ignorance and fear. One of the desires I have in my heart is to educate the churches.

What are some of the elements of the education process? What would you tell the evangelical church in Australia, concerning homosexuality, that would help them to better understand it, accept the homosexuals and minister to them?

First, they need to know that God changes lives. It’s worth investing in an individual. It’s not a wasted cause. Second, by knowing some of the root causes, you can apply the healing balm, that sense of identity. You can draw out of churches the Christian woman, Christian man, who can be role models. So, you need to get your own life in order to be a good role model. By going to lunch after church with a family, I learnt things like a husband and wife can argue and still respect one another, the children have a voice in the house, there’s really no problem that’s too big if God is the head of the household. I came from a dysfunctional family and I had much to learn. Not out of a textbook, I learnt by going to lunch with people just what a Christian family is all about, transparency. It is no good saying, “Hey we’re a church that welcomes those who hurt, come in, but we’ll keep our Sunday masks up, we’ll hide behind masks of arrogance, or humour or anger.” You need to be transparent yourself.

There should be no taboo subject in the church, because I should not feel too shamed to speak out about those areas that hurt me, and have affected me. There’s no sin too big for God.

Yet homosexuality is very often almost looked upon as the unpardonable sin. Is that your experience sometimes?

Yes. If you believe a lie long enough, it’s as though it’s truth, and society

puts out that you’re born that way, and therefore, what can the church

do? You’re never going to change, you’re just as you’re going to be, a

bad influence in this church and I’ve got children; the doors close and the

arms get folded. But because it’s a sin, that’s good news.

How can that be?

If it’s genetic, hormonal, or anything like that, then I’ve got no hope apart from some scientific breakthrough, but if it’s sin, then like any other sin, Jesus Christ died for it. When Paul tells the Corinthians the list of sins–of being drunkards, swindlers, everything else. [I Corinthians 6:9-11] He says that “such were some of you.” We often stop at the list and forget the next phrase, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.”

That was good news for me, that it was sin, because then you know that you can be changed.

Let’s say a church wants to help the homosexual community. Where can it begin?

In my opinion, it’s not going on the streets. If you come from a basis of rejection, and you get someone on the street challenging you that your homosexuality’s wrong, to the person challenging they’re saying one aspect of your life is wrong, but to the homosexual that is their life. You’re saying the way you think, the way you breathe, the way you emote, every single aspect of your life is completely wrong. You see, what you say to me and how I receive it are two entirely different things. And if you come from a basis of rejection, you do not want someone telling you overtly that you are unacceptable. And it’s also no good saying, “But you know I love you.” God has to open your eyes to the sin of homosexuality. God opened mine.

The heterosexual community has far more in common with homosexuals than is immediately recognised. I struggle with pride, but you struggle with anger, but we all struggle. But we all need a Saviour. Not I need a Saviour because I’m a homosexual.

So let’s work on the similarities and not on the differences. Then you will win trust eventually, and then you let them bring up the homosexual issue. Let them lead the way on it.

So really, you’re doing evangelism and it doesn’t matter what sin you’re committing?

Exactly. It’s not a bigger deal to reach the homosexuals. Crusades into the homosexual community produce anger, violence and a real closing down to the gospel.

So you don’t head onto the streets to minister to the homosexual?

You go on the streets and evangelise everyone. Let them raise the issue of their homosexuality. We must get this straight: God’s not concerned whether you go to hell as a homosexual or a heterosexual. So homosexuality’s not an issue. It’s the fact that you need a Saviour, whatever you’ve come from.

Where does one begin if one wants to counsel the homosexual?

You’ve got to build trust, but that’s through any counselling, so that’s no different. You have to be aware that people are living under deceit very much. They will have been brought up thinking, I’m born that way, life is tough, the change process is tough, and of course you’re always tempted to return to your old thought processes. Or haven’t I changed enough God? At least I’m not sleeping with her! So at every level of healing there will be a bit of marching time, I am weary of this, and understandably so. But it’s like: how much of God do you want in your life? The pursuit is wholeness, not heterosexuality.

The angle I take is that they’ve still got homosexuality, that’s the common factor within the group. But if I’m just aiming for heterosexuality I’m aiming low, because heterosexuality is as fallen as homosexuality in this world. So I pursue wholeness in Christ, what it is to have Jesus in every aspect of my life, in every thought that I think, every action that I do, every emotion that I feel. A by-product of that is a heterosexual orientation. But if I aim for heterosexuality, God can get by-passed in that. Guess what happens when your sexuality comes under the lordship of Christ? The Elim program I do with my men and women coming out of homosexuality hardly touches on homosexuality.

I spend a few weeks on who God is. With a faulty understanding of God, we’ll get faulty healing. You build a tower and the foundations are cracking; guess what happens to the tower? So who is God? I spend weeks on that. Now can I trust Him? Yes. So we look at who I am. God gives me an identity. I had one as a lesbian, but God’s giving me a new one: who I am in Christ.

You’re not a homosexual in your identity; who are you in Christ now?

A child of God. What on earth does that mean? The apple of His eye, accepted in the beloved.

Then I look at forgiveness, trust, honouring your parents, things that I’ve taught regular men and women too; it’s the same program. But I have questions at the end for their homework. Do the teaching before you start going over the questions; we take a few weeks at that and praying through it to find out where their faulty thinking is. That’s where the homosexual information comes up.

Any new books in the pipeline?

I’ve had a number of requests for a workbook to go with Out of Egypt. So I’ll be preparing something similar to the program that I run, to go with the chapters in the book. I would like to do a follow-up book, but I believe I’m walking that process at the moment.

Since that interview 22 years ago, Jeanette has written a new book. In January 2016, Monarch Books (Oxford, UK) will release Jeanette Howard’s new book, Dwelling in the Land: Bringing Same-Sex Attraction Under the Lordship of Christ.

Dwelling in the Land

(image courtesy Book Depository)


[1] This interview was published in two parts, “A Changed Life”, New Day, October 1994, pp. 12-14 and “A Changed Heart”, New Day, November 1994, pp. 14-15. New Day is currently not being published.


Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 September 2016.