Ted Cox is an ex-Mormon missionary who found reason and now spends much of his time writing and talking about evangelical subcultures. In particular, he has gone undercover (posing as a gay man) to “ex-gay” retreats and workshops. His talk last night, sponsored by UBC Freethinkers, PrideUBC and the Secular Student Alliance, gave us a peek into the weird world of ex-gay ministries. Plus, it was his very first talk in Canada. Woo!
We started out with a brief history. The ex-gay Xian movement as we know it today has its roots in the “Jesus Freak” culture of the 60’s and 70’s, where basically a lot of hippies found religion. Apparently it’s in this culture that the notion of a personal saviour was invented, a Christ that loves you and wants to save you but that you have to personally accept before the magic can work. Interesting, that. I would have thought it was a lot older, dating back to the turn-of-the-century fundamentalists.
Add reactionary anti-feminist & anti-gay politics, a dash of outdated pseudo-scientific stereotypes (sexual deviancy is caused by overbearing mother / absent father / past sexual abuse) and there you have the anti-gay movement. From Love in Action (founded in 1973) to Exodus (founded in 1976, still going strong) to various Catholic, Mormon and Jewish groups that got in on the act, and you’ve got a weird, weird mix of subcultures that must be pure hell for any budding queer folks.
Predictably, no two groups can agree on the desired outcome. Catholic groups (who don’t believe in being born again) aim for lifelong celibacy. Evangelical groups might also limit themselves to celibacy, or they may claim to turn people straight, with opposite-sex marriage being the ultimate goal. They do seem to agree that, whatever Lady Gaga says, gays are not born this way; same-sex attraction is just a symptom of deeper emotional wounds (see: absent father, etc…), just like, e.g.: alcoholism. You need to address these wounds before you can conquer your same-sex attraction.
Mind you, that’s just for the groups that try to talk the scientific talk. All bets are off with the really loopy churches that will try to exorcise the demon of homosexuality from you. Cox showed us an incredibly disturbing clip of a group doing just that.
Even for the groups that pretend to scientific literacy, workshops and retreats are led by people with no formal training or certification. Books are written by quacks like Richard Cohen who were kicked out of their professional organisations for various reasons (in Cohen’s case, multiple ethics violations). The scientific consensus is that “ex-gay” therapies don’t work, can cause additional emotional damage, but these groups continue plugging merrily along, peddling their dogma.
You don’t even have to listen to scientists (who of course are all godless socialists, so what do they know?). Let’s ask John Paulk, or Ted Haggard, or George Rekers (he of the luggage-carrying rentboys.com escort). Pretty much all the success stories go gay again, publicly or on the sly.
Cox took us through a few Bible verses about homosexuality and women (Lev 18:19–22, the bit with Lot’s daughters in Sodom & Gomorrha) and concluded that, really, it’s not that God hates fags. It’s that God hates women. The problem homophobes have with gays is that they’re transgressing gender roles. Men are for fucking, women are for getting fucked, and when you mix that up, there’s no end to the anarchy that can result.
And just for fun, he took a few of us through “Healing Touch Therapy”, a “technique” he learned in one of the straight camps. It involved one guy (in this case, me) surrounded by 3 other guys and held in a warm but nonsexual way. The counselor (in this case, Cox) babbles a lot of nonsense about the walls inside myself, and how they kept me alive all this time, and he honours those walls, but now it’s time for the walls to come down. And then leads the audience in an inspirational singalong.
So yeah, it’s all in good fun, but I can see how it’d be a huge mind-fuck for vulnerable people. Guys steeped in a culture that frowned on any kind of male-male contact except chest bumps or brief manly hugs, who suddenly got permission to touch like that, even in a non-sexual way, would probably experience massive emotional releases. And indeed they do, but more often than not it just leads them away from the ex-gay scene. Apparently groups like that are a part of the coming-out process for many Evangelical Xians. And I am very, very glad I never had to go through that.
PS: The Healing Touch therapy didn’t work. Oh well, you get what you pay for.