Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We Ain’t Broke – Stop Trying To Fix Us!

Let’s take a look at religion versus sexuality in terms of how certain religious groups seem to get the idea that they can “pray away the gay”. In recent years there has been an increase in these little groups in South Africa. Certain churches are generous enough to provide programs which are guaranteed to screw gay people up completely in order to make them “normal” and in accordance with what they believe is “God’s Law”. 

One religious political party was also nice enough to make the same offer, welcoming gay people who want to “seek help” and be “made straight”. This unbelievably backward belief is generally called the “ex-gay movement” – except that they are trying to lose the bad image justifiably associated with the name, so it seems they will keep changing it every time their reputation catches up with them.

Many years ago when I was a little boy (yes, you read that right), I heard a John Cleese skit on the radio involving a parrot – which another man was trying to sell to him. Trouble was the parrot was dead. And the words that stuck in my mind were when John called the bird "an ex-parrot". Since then I have heard about "ex-gay" and the term has always left me somewhat bemused.

Ex-gay? What is that? Most of us who know gay people (or are gay themselves) are fairly sure that would mean a deceased gay person. But believe it or not there really are people out there who mean somebody who was, past tense, homosexually inclined – but not anymore. Imagine that! They actually believe that gay people can become straight. (And people used to laugh at me when I was a kid and believed in ghosts.) Funny thing, these are likely the same people who believe unshakably that people are not born gay, but that homosexuality and transgenderism is somehow a result of ‘poor parenting’ and ‘bad childhood experiences’, including molestation (and presumably ‘exposure’ to gay people).

Gay people made straight? Whoa! At first I was sure some kind of a vice would be necessary, possibly in conjunction with some clamps and perhaps some kind of power tool, despite the old saying that goes "jy kan nie reguit maak wat skeef is nie" ("you cannot straighten something which is bent"). There are nevertheless some people out there who really are trying to unscrew the inscrutable. And there are lots of them too. Groups in fact. Let's take a look:

Facts Regarding "Reparative Therapy" (quoted from Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) website http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=503 :

"Ex-gay ministries use out-of-date and scientifically disproved medical theories to justify trying to “cure” gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) peoples' natural sexual orientation or gender identity.

Originally, these ministries were a small group of religious people who were virtually unknown. However, because of high-profile ad campaigns and conferences sponsored by the religious right these ministries have become a political tool in the ongoing fight to deny GLBT civil rights.

"The record shows that “reparative therapy” has no support from the major medical and mental health professional organizations.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed the term "homosexuality" from the list of mental and emotional disorders. Sexual orientation is not a disorder; therefore, it does not need to be cured.

In 1990, the American Psychological Association stated that scientific evidence shows that reparative therapy does not work and that it can do more harm than good.

In 1998, the American Psychiatric Association stated it was opposed to reparative therapy, stating "psychiatric literature strongly demonstrates that treatment attempts to change sexual orientation are ineffective. However, the potential risks are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive [suicidal] behavior..."

The American Medical Association, states in its policy number H-160.991, that it “opposes, the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation”.
In 2001, The U.S. Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior asserted that homosexuality is not "a reversible lifestyle choice”.

Richard Cohen, one of the main reparative therapists, is permanently excluded from the American Counseling Association (ACA).

“Reparative therapy” is unethical. It does not work and it is dangerous and destructive. The damage that can be done by this practice is real. It can destroy someone's self esteem and faith and may lead to self-destructive and suicidal behavior." –PFLAG

To add to the above, even the local South African Association Of Psychiatry concurs completely with the above associations findings and opinions.

Despite all of the risks and dangers listed above, these groups continue to insist that they are somehow "helping" gay people. Helping? How?

And these ‘ex-gay factories’ are on the increase.

The victims (and also proponents) of this movement call themselves "ex-gays" – people who were gay – and then somehow "miraculously" had their minds changed. How do they claim to do this? Surprisingly, there is no surgery involved in making a gay person straight – apparently all it takes is denial, a lot of prayer, denial, oodles of blind faith, more denial, a lifetime of “re-education” classes, and lots of will-power. And even more denial. Then you need to make drastic changes to your whole existence. (For a start you'd have to cancel your subscription to "O" Mag.) You are encouraged to change your address, job, and phone numbers – and to dump all your gay friends (essentially isolating yourself – a primary tenet of brainwashing techniques). Oh, and you can just never have a relationship with anybody you really want to again – but that’s not a problem because they tell you the ultimate achievement in life is to marry somebody of the opposite gender, and even, the ‘crowning glory of family life’ – children. Wow.

I think anybody who could do all this – and truly be straight – i.e. not have any regrets, no more same gender attractions – no more pesky “gay stuff” – and somehow be truly content and happy as they claim to be (and not be bluffing themselves and everybody else) – truly has unscrewed the inscrutable. Maybe they have? They certainly claim they have – and I'm fairly sure something has come unscrewed.

...And yet I have my doubts. And apparently so do they. Something is wrong with this picture. They are coercing these people to lie to themselves and others for a start. They stop calling themselves gay – but they don’t call themselves heterosexual either – they call themselves by another name – but how does that change what they are? A rose is a rose, is a – penguin? They treat being gay or transgender as an addiction. It's like the AA. You go to camps and conferences, tell your stories, "Hi everybody, I'm Joe and I’m not gay... but I just broke up with my boyfriend of six years and I couldn't resist watching an episode of Will & Grace last night... oh, and I think Will is soooo cute!" Oh, please! Who are you fooling?

They admit they can't make a gay person straight – they admit they can't take away the feelings and the mindset and the very nature that define a person as gay or transgender – and lastly (and most telling of all) they admit all they can do is get people to deny being gay, "act their gender" and force themselves to live a heterosexual lifestyle – or be celibate for the rest of their lives. Sounds great, doesn't it? I always wanted a career in acting. Where can I sign up?

I feel the need to point out that torturing or bullying a tortoise into admitting it is instead a rabbit does not make it so. And religion, no matter how well written, does not change scientific facts. Let's take Ted Haggard as an example – now there is a tortured soul who for years has tried to conceal his internalized homophobia by indulging in persecution of gay people and consorting with those who do likewise – and even going to "ex-gay boot camp" to save face. (It is, I believe, something called 'Machismo'.) Still, there he is to this day – gay and in denial (Just ask the man he has been paying for sex for the past few years).

And it seems heterosexuality (and redemption) comes at a price too. Some "ex-gays" pay tens of thousands of dollars on "courses" and camps to these organizations for the privilege of being "straightened out" (‘scuse the pun). It seems an entire industry is developing around these “ex-gay factories”.

Claiming something is a disease simply because you don’t agree with it is a sign of ignorance, even gratuitous ignorance. Gay people aren't broke – so why can't they stop trying to "fix" them?

They use religion as a tool to add weight to the guilt their victims already feel mainly because of their own religious backgrounds, and being led to believe that it is unnatural and "sinful" to be gay or transgender. (I wonder, is it supposedly a sin to pray with a lisp?)

All these interesting revelations force me to conclude that the entire ex-gay movement is a sham – it is an anti-gay quasi-religious movement set up by heterosexist bigots who object to the existence of gay people – and have somehow convinced some gay people with a guilt complex to believe they are not gay anymore – and to run this religious snake-oil franchise on their behalf in order to perpetuate this legacy of suffering and misery, intolerance and deception.

Almost every ex-gay group in South Africa today is an offshoot or affiliate of one or more of these American groups – which is spreading around the world like a cancer. Some of these groups can be linked or associated with each other through sharing the same "counselors". I never knew there were any of these groups in SA until a few months ago. Most of them are Christian-based, but there is one Jewish group as well. In most cases, each of these organizations in South Africa, largely based in the Cape Town area (supposedly the "gay capital" of the country!) refer to each other through supporting links, particularly to the virulently anti-gay American group NARTH which at first claims "there is nothing wrong with being gay", “God loves you as you are” and "You don't have to change" – then as you read further, proceeds to bombard its prey with religious dogma on "why its so wrong to be gay" and reasons why gay people "are going to hell". It also purveys vicious misinformation provided by the likes of Paul Cameron and his ilk (designed to make people fervently wish that they were indeed straight even if they are). They also link to various religious groups and intolerant churches which feed them a steady supply of fresh meat, freshly guilted out enough to try anything in order to be accepted back by their critical society or their families.

It is therefore safe to say that "Ex-gay" is a dangerous fraud which clothes itself in the mantle of religious authority and medical authenticity – and does nothing but destroy lives and produce broken, depressed (even suicidal) and dysfunctional gay people living with internalized homophobia and promoting fallacies and using outdated methodologies and principles discredited 40 years ago.

In the end, those medical "professionals" who push the ‘ex-gay’ fallacy are supporting theories which have been discredited and sidelined – even declared dangerous – by the reputable medical profession. Their goal is to change healthy gay people into brainwashed, unhappy shadows willing to impose a life of loneliness, celibacy and self-inflicted torture upon themselves, believing it is some kind of religious "duty" and "God's will". Unsurprisingly, every single one of these ‘ex-gay’ frauds attacks sexual and gender diversity from a religious angle – whatever the religion. It is also fairly easy to see from these "experts" own statements, that they are really pushing this intolerant anti-gay, anti-diversity agenda for their own religious reasons alone – and not out of any legitimate concern for the health or mental (or even spiritual) well-being of their victims.

To conclude, "ex-gay" is not about "helping" gay people at all – it is about ridding themselves and society of the inconvenience of putting up with gay people. So it seems that "ex-gay" can still mean "deceased gay person" after all.

If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

If you’d like to send Christina Engela a question about her life as a writer or transactivist, please send an email to christinaengela@gmail.com or use the Contact form.

All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2019.


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