Tanya Erzen‘s new book Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement is already on our reading list, where it’s lingered for a few weeks as we struggle to complete the half dozen beach reads we’ve got going. An exploration of the “ex-gay” movement, the book was the culmination of Erzen’s dissertation work, where she immersed herself in the ex-gay camp. Most of are quick to identify the theory that gays can be “cured” as a totem of a conservative right-wing agenda — the same way our efforts to legalize gay marriage are part of the GLBT community’s “liberal gay agenda.” But after 18 months of interviewing those who underwent reparative therapy and and working alongside those who administer it, Erzen walked away with a much broader understanding of the movement — including how a vast number of the movement’s advocates fail to identify at all with the Christian right. But to even get to the part where she put pen to paper, Erzen first had to disavow any preconceived notions.
Erzen wasn’t interested in collecting fodder for political battles, though, and that’s what makes “Straight to Jesus” so enlightening. As an ethnographer, she made every effort to listen to and understand everyone at New Hope Ministry, whether or not she agreed with their beliefs (and it’s fairly clear that most of the time she didn’t). That’s practically unheard of in most popular discussions of charged issues like homosexuality — and rare in scholarly discussions, either. Nowadays, everyone’s convinced that they already know everything the other side has to say and that actually having to listen to it would constitute an insupportable demand on their own patience. Everyone thinks their side of the argument never gets any exposure, yet rabid, ranting opinion of all varieties howls at us everywhere we turn.
Are we ready to accept and rationalize the ex-gay movement? Not exactly. The struggle of some individuals to fight their biology is certainly worth discussing, however. But Erzen’s book certainly did give us a new perspective on reparative therapy’s ties to religion: It was only recently, in the mid-90s, did the Christian right begin “embracing” ex-gays — and that was only to use them as evidence in their anti-gay proclamations. And further, just because you’re an ex-gay supporter or “success story” doesn’t mean you disparage the gay community, are anti-gay marriage, or even believe you’re truly heterosexual.