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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

July 11th, 2006 (01:26 pm)
thoughtful

current mood: thoughtful

Salon has an interesting article on the ex-gay movement. (Yeah, you need to watch a few seconds of an ad to see the article, but it's worth it if you're at all interested in the subject, really.) It treats it both in depth and more fairly than most coverage that I've seen has done. I think it's flawed, but for all that, it's pretty well done.

It served as a stepping-off point for me to consider some of my reactions to the ex-gay movement as well. Like so many things in my life, my perspective on this has been in gradual evolution. Several years ago, I had the same snarling, fiercely defensive, claws-out reaction to the ex-gay movement that I did with anything that I perceived as threatening to my own belief system. Ex-gays were wrong; not just wrong, deluded; not just deluded, offensive. Their philosophy was a poisonous blend of religious fundamentalism and denial that bordered on psychosis, and I didn't want to see or hear anything about them, ever. I didn't want them speaking on my campus, I didn't want them to have access to public fora from which they could traumatize young kids who were just coming out (I believed in free speech, of course, but come on, some people don't DESERVE a podium and microphone), and I would have worked zealously to convert any of them back to homosexuality, assuming I didn't get bored or fed up first. It was all so clear!

I didn't really know much about what they did, then. I mean, practically speaking. I knew they claimed you could change your sexuality, and I knew they wanted to change their own sexuality because they thought being gay was morally wrong, and so I guess I just assumed they were The Enemy. I mean, really, who needed to know anything more?

And yet there's a bit of cognitive dissonance here. I sure as hell don't agree with the basic foundations of the ex-gay movement. I don't believe that homosexuality is morally wrong or that God wants us all to be straight. I don't believe that homosexuality is the product of a conflicted or gender-disordered upbringing. I don't believe in reinforcing "normal" gender-binary behavior - sports and manual labor for the guys, baking and babies for the girls! - at all, let alone promoting its reinforcement as part of a cure for homosexuality. I am not, nor will I ever be, an ex-gay, folks.

And yet. When you leave out of the equation all the camps for teenagers that parents enroll their kids in (as that's not the focus of the above article), and when you leave out the fact that I (and I'm sure you) disagree with them politically...

...who cares what they do?

I mean this very seriously. I hear so many snide remarks aimed at ex-gays - at best it's an ironic, eye-rolling comment that presupposes that OF COURSE they're all closeted morons, and at worst it's actively judgmental vitriol that assumes them to be a major threat. I see all of this, and it just seems out of proportion. I'm not talking here about James Dobson & Co., the far-right wackos who use the ex-gay movement as one piece of their larger political arsenal. I'm not talking about the people who wield political power and make use of the ex-gay movement to buttress their own attempts to foment bigotry and religiously based hatred. Those people didn't give a shit about ex-gays before they became politically useful, as the article will tell you, and underneath the rhetoric they don't really give a shit about them now. Ex-gays' struggles are really not of concern to the fundies who have appropriated them for political gain.

I'm asking a fundamental question here. Like I said, leave out the teenagers who get forced into these programs by their parents; that's a separate issue, and a disturbing one. In general, ex-gays make a choice, and it's one that's made with as much freedom and autonomy as any choice in this world. Sure, a lot of them have probably had their perspectives shaped by political forces that you and I don't agree with. But everyone's shaped by something, unless they're really, really lucky. And people respond to these influences as best they can, and they make choices that allow them to sleep at night. That's it, that's all. If someone has chosen to become ex-gay, it's because for that person, being gay was not an option they could live with.

Do some people choose wrongly, make choices that will leave them with regrets? Sure. Are all those people ex-gays? Are you kidding me?

I just get really antsy and twitchy when I hear so much unthinking condemnation of a particularly unpopular choice, and that's what I tend to hear when the ex-gay movement comes up. Now, let me reinforce here, as I always do when the subject of personal choice comes up, that any choice that hurts another person is emphatically not okay. I just don't think the ex-gay movement necessarily *does* hurt other people, or not in a way that can be avoided. I know they're politically dangerous to me and my rights, sure. But what's the solution, that I condemn them for speaking out, or, worse, for making their own choices? They're not doing what they do *in order to hurt me*. It's easy to stomp on them, or just to mock them, because so many other people have done it. But that doesn't make it okay.

Part of this is doubtless shaped by the fact that I don't think sexual orientation is always inborn and immutable. I got into a bit of a comment-thread brawl on this subject awhile back; a lot of gay people are threatened by this viewpoint, which I can understand, because it's both politically inexpedient *and* it doesn't conform to a lot of people's experience. A lot of people, they really don't feel they ever had a choice. I'm not saying everyone does. I just think that for some people, there is an element of choice - that we do have the power to control where we direct our attractions, in a sense. I think most people are bisexual to some degree, even if it's small, and that we can choose to nurture that bisexual element, or we can shut it down. I believe this in part because I've lived it. I do not claim that it's everyone's experience or true across the board. But I have some sense that it is possible to have some degree of choice with respect to sexuality.

I get bothered when people try to force a different choice on me, of course. There are a ton of politicians who would be absolutely salivating to hear someone say what I've said here, because if I *can* change, then of course I *should*, right? No. I don't acknowledge that because a couple of lines in the Bible say homosexuality should be punished by death - a couple of lines that lie alongside lines stating that people who eat shrimp and people who wear polyester blends should also be punished by death - I need to fall in line with that. Leviticus is not my moral authority; nor is it the moral authority of this country. I have yet to hear a convincing moral reason why I should convert to heterosexuality. The day I hear one that's convincing, maybe I'll think about it. In the meantime, I'm going to go ahead and marry my girlfriend, because I really don't see that happening.

But for some individuals, Leviticus is apparently what works for them. If they try to write Leviticus' moral code into the Constitution, as some are trying to do, I will scream to high heaven. If they try to shape their own behavior by that moral code? I will - this will sound strange - but I will applaud them for making a really, really hard choice that they feel is right for them. Seriously. They're grownups. They know what they're getting into. If they ever come out of the ex-gay movement, I will applaud them for that too. I'll probably be happier for them if they come out of it. But the fact remains that they make their own choices, and that the choices they make for their own lives are no threat to my own.

In some ways it reminds me of a conflict I've come upon while working the BARCC hotline. Some of the survivors who call BARCC make choices in their healing that I really, really, really would never make in a million years. Things that seem so blatantly illogical and even unhealthy. And I always want to be like "but... why would you do that? No, seriously, you can't do that. Please don't. That's stupid." But in the end - you support them, assuming the choices they're making aren't deliberately or overtly harmful to them or anyone else. You tell them that they make their own choices and that they're doing a really good job of deciding what's right for them, no matter what anyone else would say. And it's *true*, is the thing. And maybe in six months they'll call back and say that they've come out of that period, and you'll help them find a new path, one that, again, they determine. And maybe they won't, and they'll spend the rest of their lives in a lifestyle that you just can't understand to save your life.

But you have to trust people. You have to trust that they *can* make their own choices. And if their choices seem so bad to you that you can't trust them, you have to respect, ultimately, that they do make those choices freely.

I do not like judgment very much.

This was supposed to be a piece about the ex-gay movement, I think; I had some decent points to make about that, but now I seem to have forgotten what they were. This turned out to be both longer and broader than I expected it to. And I strongly suspect that it turned out to be more boring than I wanted it to be as well.

Still. Don't be judgey, people. Being judgey never does anyone any good.

/lecture.

ETA: I realized this is one of the points I wanted to cover in my original post, but I forgot and now there's nowhere I can put it where it will flow so you get it in an ETA. There's been some hoopla about whether the ex-gay movement should be allowed to leave pamphlets in with, say, high school guidance counselors so that their perspective can be heard by any teenager who's coming out. They say they want these kids to have a balanced perspective. This seems to get everyone extremely upset, and I understand why - it's an awfully gray area. But in the end, I think it *is* not just okay but fundamentally fair and right for different viewpoints to be represented there. We liberals are always talking big about how giving kids information does not mean we're forcing them to make use of it. We talk about how teenagers are old enough to make their own choices WRT things like sex, and so giving them information about safe sex and birth control is not the same thing as telling them to have sex, it just allows them to make an informed decision. And I know it's not exactly the same thing, because sexuality isn't a choice in the same way sexual activity is, but honestly, if we present kids with a big pamphlet of GLBT support and resources, why do we assume it will be fundamentally damaging to them if we give them a pamphlet on the ex-gay movement as well, or that they'll feel unbearably pressured to join the ex-gay ranks? Distributing information is not the same thing as endorsing it, and I think we're perfectly capable of making that clear. And if we disagree with information that is disseminated, the way to respond is to speak louder and with more clarity and coherence, not to try to stop its dissemination.

Comments

Posted by: A Delicate Corpse Flower (peregrin8)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC)
bubblewrap

Fantastic essay (yours; I haven't read Salon's). You have a gorgeous brain.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC)

Thank you so much!!

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)

I for one would not care to try eating a polyester blend. Shrimp, on the other hand, I'm a big fan of.

:)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:30 pm (UTC)

(nice essay, nice thoughts, and, in general, WORD, btw)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:41 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Silmaril (silmaril)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC)

This is rather outside my realm of experience, so I shan't venture an opinion lest I run my mouth off. But I wanted to comment that this ability of yours---looking at things always from multiple angles, instead of the immediate reactionary angle---is part of the reason why I love reading what you write. You are... educational, I think, is the best word here.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)

Thank you so much. I try really hard to do that, to get away from the immediate reactionary angle. It's really good to know that I succeed sometimes and that it's appreciated.

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:37 pm (UTC)
gay marriage

I'll second that that is a lovely and incredibly well-reasoned essay. There are days I wish I knew a shortcut to get you published, because I'd rather read your work than most op-ed pieces out there.

Overall, I agree with you, given the caveats as stated. If you [general] can quietly do what you want in your own bedroom when that means having a same-sex partner, it sure as heck means you also get to decide you don't want to have a same-sex partner anymore. As you say, insofar as it's a personal choice, ideological and ethical consistency requires that anyone who supports gay rights must also support the rights of someone who has decided they are not gay.

(I do not think that there ARE very many in the "movement" who are not actively attempting to hinder or attack gay people, which is my own personal objection to them; IF such people exist, by all means, they have as much free speech as I do. Unfortunately, the degree of "believing in Leviticus" that leads to actively converting one's sexuality also nearly always goes hand in hand with believing in the "thou shalt go forth and witness" parts - ie, the ex-gay-movement people are almost always also proselytizers, and *there* I start to have an issue. I have not yet encountered one such person, personally or politically, who did not also want gay marriage outlawed and other gay people to cease being gay and so on. If the non-proselytizers are out there, damn, but they are a tiny fraction of an already tiny movement.)

And yes, *if* pamphlets are provided about GLBT, they should also be for these people. I wonder how many schools freely offer the former, though.... because in any situation where a school does not "inform" about sexual orientation at all, pamphlets from the Anti-Gays is inappropriate.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)

I think the thing about people who don't attempt to hinder or attack gay people is that we just don't hear about them, because, well, because they're not attempting to hinder or attack gay people. ;) I've encountered a few in my random wanderings, several of whom are on LJ and none of whom I want to link to because they've taken a lot of abuse for their choices and I think they prefer to keep a low profile. But, yeah, my understanding is that there are a number of ministries that basically say "here's who we are, here's what we believe, and we sincerely hope that you'll join us because we're here to help you," and then let it go.

I think almost all of them want gay marriage outlawed, but that's a separate fight, you know? I guess I just find it annoying when people attack ex-gays' personal choices wrt their sexuality because they don't like their political viewpoints. It's possible for me to say "please do be ex-gay if it's right for you" while still energetically fighting any legislative attempt to infringe on my rights, you know? Their being ex-gay, or even telling me that they think I should be ex-gay, doesn't really have anything to do with the fight for gay marriage. They can't force me to be ex-gay. If they could, we'd really have a problem. :)

I think a significant percentage of high schools do have info on hand about GLBT issues, same as they would for eating disorders or whatever. Some of the debate around the ex-gay movement has stemmed from their attempts to insinuate themselves into GLBT support groups, which seems ridiculous. I mean, those groups should be self-governing and determine their own message. But a guidance office isn't the same as a GLBT support center, in that it's supposed to be offering generalized support services to students, rather than addressing a specific issue (and thereby earning the right to choose one specific viewpoint on said issue).

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:14 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:33 pm (UTC)

Posted by: The Doctor (pisica)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)
victorian curious

See, I see sexuality as a spectrum rather than a binary switch, and if you are in the gay area of the spectrum but have extremely strong motivations for moving to the VERY VERY HETEROSEXUAL part of the spectrum, I don't see how anyone else can say 'but you can't do that'. Why not?

But then it's a matter of self-identity versus what other people define you as. If you are a man who had sex with other men from the ages of 16 to 26 and never looked at a woman, are you gay even though you marry a girl and have kids with her? Doesn't your definition of yourself override someone else's definition - which, in many cases, is going to be politically motivated in some way (i.e. as you discussed, defending one's *own* sexuality)?

I find this issue fascinating, so thanks for posting this.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)

See, I see sexuality as a spectrum rather than a binary switch, and if you are in the gay area of the spectrum but have extremely strong motivations for moving to the VERY VERY HETEROSEXUAL part of the spectrum, I don't see how anyone else can say 'but you can't do that'.

Yeah, ITA. I got in a large pile of shit earlier this week when I posited in a comment thread in someone else's journal that a. sexuality was a continuum rather than a dichotomy and b. some people do have a choice in their sexuality. It seems to be a fundamental difference of opinion, but it seems to me that a lot of the people who argue that choice is never ever possible do so because they feel that they personally do not and never have had a choice, and so it's both threatening and offensive to them when other people do.

And, yeah, allowing people to self-identify is also crucial. To me that goes way beyond sexuality, and is again reminiscent of an issue we run up against in BARCC - we never, ever name a survivor's experience for him/her. We refuse to identify any experience as rape/sexual assault/other, and we refuse to identify anyone as a survivor of rape or sexual assault or what have you, unless they name the experience that way for themselves first. It comes down to a fundamental issue of letting people process their own experiences, identities, and choices, and it's as valid for sexuality as it is for sexual assault issues and a plethora of other issues besides.

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:29 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:46 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:49 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:55 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:38 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:40 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:46 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:47 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:51 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:02 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:05 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:09 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:15 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:17 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:40 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:48 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:52 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:55 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:03 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:07 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:09 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 09:09 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 09:12 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 11:26 am (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 11:27 am (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:05 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Isaac Kelley (moondispatches)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC)

I don't view ex-gays as anything less than victims. They can live their lives however they wish, but the motivations that bring on such a choice are damn tragic.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC)

Well, yeah, but ultimately I see it as their doing the best they can with the tragic circumstances around them. It is awful that they're made to feel like who they are isn't okay by God, but once they believe that, I tend to think, well, at least this way they're reacting to the self-hatred by trying to make active choices to live a life they're morally comfortable with. I'm not saying I wouldn't be much happier for them if they could feel that God loves them regardless of who they shag, but if that's an impossibility... ::sigh:: I don't know. I hope this doesn't make it sound like I'm minimizing the sadness of the fact that some people believe God will hate them unless they change their sexuality.

Posted by: Isaac Kelley (moondispatches)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 07:54 pm (UTC)

Posted by: rainswolf (rainswolf)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:15 pm (UTC)

I think the important part is your question of whether it hurts others.
I don't know if the ex-gay movement hurts people or not. How do we decide that?

If one individual adult decides to go be ex-gay, I don't have a problem with it. But the "ex-gay movement" as a whole, whose to say if that's dangerous? I think it's more likely to be dangerous to others than it is to not be.

I think the pamphlets could be dangerous to teens, though, who are often dealing with enough self-loathing.


Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 08:25 pm (UTC)

Well, but again, that's coming from our specific political worldview. I do believe it's the correct one, but I also think we get into serious trouble when we start believing that our point of view is the only one that could possibly be valid. I know their points of view may be disturbing and even traumatic to us, but they'd make the argument that our point of view is traumatic to them; that we're hurting them by creating an immoral and unsafe world for their children to grow up in. I'm not saying they're right, but I am saying that there's really no supreme arbiter, and so we have to make do with what we have, and lend all the support we can to people who have been emotionally upset by other people's behavior. I guess when I say it's not okay to hurt other people, what I mean is to deliberately do something whose primary effect is to harm someone else.

Incidentally, one of the arguments that has been used to put the ex-gay pamphlets in schools is that it's traumatic for a very religious teenager to be told there's no possibility of making a choice about his/her sexuality. I think the movement to put them in schools was started by a guy who's currently ex-gay and who felt traumatized by being told there was "no hope" for him. So it can kind of cut both ways, you know? I do believe that we can present the information in a way that makes it clear that this is just one of many viewpoints. I mean, it's not like kids will have no idea that homophobia exists unless we give them those pamphlets, nor that they'll never encounter the ex-gay movement elsewhere.

I'm sorry to sound so contrary; I'm taking this as an open-ended discussion, but I don't mean to have this attitude like "ZOMG NO YOU ARE WRONG WRONG WRONG!" Just thinking aloud. :)

Posted by: Katie (october31st)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 09:21 pm (UTC)
bi

I came to this entry late, and am not even going to get into the comments, as I'm sure it's a jungle in there. Nor do I feel adequately prepared to tackle the bulk of the entry (though I have to say I'm with you all the way). But I particularly wanted to throw in my agreement that sexual orientation is not entirely biological, and may be more or less mutable in different people. It's an opinion I've had for a long time, and it's a very touchy topic, so I don't articulate it much, but it's one I'm glad to see you share.

Posted by: Spencer Irving (archaica)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 09:45 pm (UTC)
boobie love!

ditto, to, well, everything.

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 11:57 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 12:47 am (UTC)

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 10:57 pm (UTC)
Cult recruitment is not a choice

I get your point, and yet I think it's equally wrong to take an "all choices are okay" attitude either. If someone who is in a mentally bad place gets preyed upon by a cult, you aren't going to fall back on some neutral "it's their choice" position. You're going to identify them as being exploited in a moment of weakness. The same holds true for someone who is engaging in some clearly self-hating, self-destructive behavior. You might not intervene in their choice, but that doesn't mean you have to approve or keep quiet about it.

At some point one needs to take a moral stand. And from my point of view, someone who uses a highly questionable reading of the bible to justify a 12 step program which pathologizes their own sexuality is pretty much a self-hating cult in every way, except their source text has a greater air of legitimacy than scientology.

The ex-gay group profiled in the Salon review is an offshoot of the Jesus People, a biblical commune located in my old neighborhood. In many ways they were admirable when it came to charitable work, and to the left of most fundementalist groups (since they began as a hippie movement) but in other ways they were a scary hive mind on constant gaurd against letting anything be more important than Jesus in their hearts, including love for partner and family.

The most notable thing about Jesus People is every member I met had a history of severe emotional damage and neediness. In some ways, they were probably better off submitting to a group, but there was something parasitical about it anyway.

It's also important to note how many caveats you have to make in order to take a "live and let live" attitude towards the ex gays. The book is about the most exceptional, apolitical group within the larger movement. It's wrong to be blase by focussing on the anomaly rather than the hateful and agressive behavior which typifies the movement. It's like meeting some conflicted, moderate bigots and saying "well I guess it's just another choice, except for those ones who support all the race war and discrimination stuff." The thing is, there's almost no real exceptions. Contrary to the whining about being unappreciated, the ex-gays in the book still willingly participated when the hate groups came calling. You need to read Kingdom Coming and realize that when it comes to the homopobia of the Christian right supporting one bit end up supporting the worst of it whether you want to or not. This is why the peoople quoted in the aritcle are so tortured and unhappy - it is the anguish of someone claiming to support love while knowing their actions support hate.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 11th, 2006 11:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Cult recruitment is not a choice

I tske your point, and perhaps I would do better to have more background on the ex-gay movement, but from what I've encountered of them in my personal experience they haven't seemed particularly cultish. Or, rather, not by the common definition of cult and the definition which is, I think, most relevant here. Some people define "cult" as "any religious group whose mores are novel and significantly different from those of the mainstream", but people who use that definition note that a cult can be harmless. The more generally accepted definition, which includes active recruitment of members for the purposes of manipulation and exploitation, usually led by a magnetic and charismatic leader, is the one we've got to worry about, I think; and I'm not convinced that most ex-gay groups meet those criteria. From what I know of them, they seem to be groups of people who have come together in a common struggle; yeah, they've been told their sexuality is wrong by the fundie crowd, but they've all shared a common sentiment that homosexuality is wrong and have wanted to change it - there wasn't any charismatic leader who sucked them in with an innocuous-seeming sense of community and then demanded them to make those changes. You know?

I do agree that people who join ex-gay groups tend to be people who are "weak" in some sense - depressed, emotionally damaged, or needy in some way. But I don't think there's any, or much, external manipulation of those factors by the ex-gay groups. And I accept that while I may think there are better choices for those emotionally damaged people, if it gives them a sense at the end of the day that they've made their own choices and they're satisfied with them, well, then... I want to say that this isn't the easiest conclusion to come to, and I accept that a lot of people will think differently. A lot of it has come from my work on the rape crisis hotline, counseling people who have made truly bizarre-seeming choices... I can't give details for fear of breaking confidentiality, but seriously, one or two callers have responded to trauma by creating new lives for themselves in very, very odd ways. It was really hard for me to reconcile myself to adhering to the "people make their own choices, and their choices aren't for me to judge" model, when faced with some of these specific circumstances. But in the end I've come to feel that it's the only thing I *can* do; if I want to be any good for people at all I've got to accept them where they're at and realize that a choice they make that would be horrifyingly upsetting to me might actually be the better of two choices for them.

I'm sure I'm not explaining this very well. Bah.

At any rate, with respect to your last paragraph - I agree that it's sort of problematic to focus on the best of the movement, and yet I see whether or not we should condemn people for choosing to be ex-gay as being entirely separate from whether we should condemn their political initiatives and actions. I don't see ex-gays' involvement in homophobic political causes as any different from anyone else's involvement in the same, and I'll continue to fight them on that front - but I do see the choice as to whether or not to try to change one's sexual orientation as being a separate one and a personal one. I guess some of my objection to all the condemnation of these groups stems from the fact that *some* of them, not many but some, seem primarily concerned with the "healing" of themselves and the other members of their groups. I feel like I can speak out against their political fucktwattery when it occurs, without rejecting their other aims. 'Course, I ramble on about the "Catholic Church" all the time thanks to their retrogressive opinions on homosexuality and the like, while rarely acknowledging that their core religion (divested of the chronic papal involvement in politics, which sucks) isn't so bad, they do a lot of good charity work, and many individual Catholics live out their faith in wonderful and inspiring ways. But I probably *should* acknowledge those things more often. Maybe I just like sticking up for underdogs. ;)

Posted by: Andrew Ducker (andrewducker)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 09:12 am (UTC)

I think there's an interesting choice of words here. There's choosing to be "het" - and that's absolutely fine, and there's choosing to be "ex-gay" - and that's defining yourself by something you're not.

Negative definitions are almost always pejorative and carry associations of addiction and taintedness. If there was a "homosexuality anonymous" that would indicate certain feelings about gayness in general that (to my mind) are poisonous.

If these people were saying "I'm straight and I love it!" I'd be behind them 100% - but "I'm not gay and I'm glad." isn't a celebration it's a denigration.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 01:29 pm (UTC)

I take your point on the semantics of the issue, too, and of course you're right. I think the thing is that that's a common label that's been applied to all religious converts to heterosexuality, and I'm not clear on whether all of them embrace it - and if they do, I'm still more inclined to look at them primarily as people dealing with a lot of emotional baggage who have make personal choices regarding their sexuality. You're right that the effect of this is to whitewash their prejudice, and I should be careful of that. I think maybe I took this POV in large part because I feel like I never hear them referenced *without* mention of their prejudice and bigoted political aims, and I wanted to point up the fact that what I view as the defining element of the ex-gay movement is one of personal choice...

Posted by: Ches (whitmanschild)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 09:36 am (UTC)
Angel Baby

Sorry to break open the "choice" debate again, but I do think there's an important distinction to be made in the discussion--a distinction that I had to make for myself during my own "coming out" experience. The crux on which it all hinges is the "what" of our choosing. On one side of things, I believe that we are all more than capable of choosing a course of action and directing our behaviors--pursuing a relationship, having sex, overtly labeling/identifying ourselves as gay/bi/straight/whatever, etc. On the other side, however, I do not believe that we actually choose what we're attracted to. Choice is an application of logic, and attraction is an irrational predecessor to both logic and choice.

This distinction applies to more than just sexual proclivity. At three years old, did I choose to like oatmeal but loathe cream of wheat? No. There was no logic in it. It was just how it was. My tastes directed me to one and not the other. Did I choose to only eat the oatmeal and toss cream of wheat on the floor whenever it was presented to me? On a rudimentary level, yes, I did select a behavior that I felt properly demonstrated my preference for oatmeal and dislike of cream of wheat.

The same applied to my hormonal 14-year-old self, guiltily and ashamedly perving on the men in a ratty old straight porn mag that I stole. I didn't choose to breathe hard and sweat and spring adolescent wood at the sight of naked guys. Nor did I choose to feel uncomfortable and slightly ill whenever I looked at the girls in the mag. Did I choose to keep looking at what I wanted, and choose to follow my tastes and avoid looking at what I didn't want? Sure I did.

***Note, I'm not making any claims as to how this applies to the nature vs. nurture debate on where our sexualities come from (incidentally, I think both are deeply involved and to different degrees for each individual), nor am I denying people's right or ability to choose their behaviors. I'm even open to the suggestion that within our fluid and evolving human sexualities, most of us as individuals have some capacity to develop a taste for certain things--in much the same way that I learned to like cream of wheat on occasion--and am willing to swallow the line that "everybody's bisexual" in a potential sense. However, in the purely descriptive sense, I think that line is terribly damaging to the GLBT movement in the arena of sexual politics.***

Back to my point, the behavior/attraction distinction still applies to the me of today, who no longer sees the objectified female form and with gut-level repulsion but rather sees whole women with an eye appreciative of their beauty and strength, but who is still attracted to men in sexual and relationship capacities, etc. Could I potentially be physically attracted to women? Could I develop the taste for it? Quite possibly, but my decision lies in choosing not to, in selecting my behavior based on my current attractions that I feel no need to alter or supplement.

What does it all come down to for me? Why am I in a relationship with a man and only have sex with men and identify to the world as "gay?" Because I choose to. Why am I gay? Because girls just smell wrong for me, and boobies just don't look as much fun as another dick to play with. That's it. No logic. No choosing. It's just how it is.

Posted by: Ches (whitmanschild)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 09:43 am (UTC)
Oh right...relevance...
Devil Baby

Oh, and just so my reply has some relevance to your post, I'd like to state for the record that I think most people who are "ex-gay" still do have all the attractions and proclivities that would make them descriptively "gay" or at least "not straight" by my definitions, but they choose to overtly identify as heterosexual and to behave as if they had all of the attractions and proclivities of a stereotypically heterosexual person. Even though I find that level of self-denial and self-hatred utterly repulsive and antithetical to how I live my life, if that's what they wanna do, then by all means--right up until they wanna inflict such nonsense on me or someone else. And I do mean inflict.

Posted by: Ches (whitmanschild)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 01:30 pm (UTC)
One more thing...

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 01:48 pm (UTC)
Re: One more thing...

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 01:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh right...relevance...

Posted by: Ches (whitmanschild)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 02:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh right...relevance...

Posted by: Andrew Ducker (andrewducker)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 11:50 am (UTC)

Posted by: Ches (whitmanschild)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 01:51 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 01:51 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Ches (whitmanschild)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 02:35 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Ches (whitmanschild)
Posted at: July 12th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)

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