Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ex-Gay Book.

I've pointed out numerous times to my students, friends, and colleagues that what the "ex-gay movement" does for conservative Christians is allow them a place where they can be open about their gayness within the Church. Of course, it's not exactly "open" if the reason they are open about it is to denounce it, but anyway - the point is, elsewhere within conservative Christianity, there is deep and widespread revulsion for the gay person, despite all the rhetoric about loving the sinner and hating the sin. In "ex-gay" communities, there is a belief that gay people are simply people who are struggling with this particular sort of "sin." This is, of course, one of the main things that draws people to the movement - it resists the mean-spirited homophobia that exists elsewhere in conservative Christianity, offering instead a sort of "homophobia lite" that grants personhood and salvation to the struggling Christian: "Their sense of relief, of belonging, of finally discovering an authentic self, springs from their sudden experience of mutual recognition. They can be Christian in a place where they won’t 'hear any of the stuff about you’re scum, you’re going to hell,' and where no one will try to exorcise or ostracize them."

The above quote comes from an interesting book review in the Women's Review of Books about this very topic. Tanya Erzen's Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement appears to get at this important component of the movement that many outsiders to conservative Christianity do not understand. She also explores the ways in which gay culture, while expressly discouraged, continues to flourish within the movement - though it is, to be sure, a sort of a sad echo (in college, I attended one meeting of an ex-gay group in Hartford to support a friend of mine who wanted to go, and that's what I remember most about it - the pervasive sense of sadness that dogged the people there, the palpable feeling of loss).

Interestingly, Erzen points to ways in which ex-gay people are manipulated and used by the Religious Right; reviewer Esther Kaplan notes that "At one point, a few New Hope participants contribute their testimonies to an ex-gay ad campaign and become furious when their stories are manipulated to oppose AIDS research and gay civil rights."

I am already trying to dream up courses in which I can use this book.

5 comments:

Danielle's Daily life said...

This is an emotional topic for me, because when I was younger and involved in a born again Christian church, I had a gay boyfriend for two weeks. We broke up because he came out to me, but remained good friends as we were before.
I heard of these ex-gay groups, too. It's pretty big here in Houston. I don't remember them having things like this 10 years ago when the whole think with me and Mike happened. I often wonder if he would have benefitted from it. Sometimes, I think yes, and sometimes no. He needed something Christian based like that, however, at the root of all of their positivity and support- they still think that you are in the wrong if you are gay. They still want to change you and turn you around. There's still a "You must be heterosexual to be ok" kind of thing going on. I am not sure if all the niceness and support really covers that up enough...

Sean said...

It is now summertime, and you know what that means....Yep, I am going to start posting.

Sean said...

I posted with the wrong account...oops.

pseudostoops said...

The freedom to be gay within church space, (even if you're about to be "healed")is something I hadn't thought of before. That's why I like reading you. =)

plain(s)feminist said...

It's true - these groups do confront homophobia in that they give gay Christians a place where they are understood, sort of. But it's definitely - IMO, anyway - not a healthy place to be. I think it's a lot like abstinence-only programs would be for the average heterosexual couple. It invites guilt and self-hate into a relationship.