Against the backdrop of the Edwards blogger saga and its aftermath, a couple of interesting and — to my mind, anyway — related events also played out, but got significantly less play. That’s probably due in part to the involvement of the same media that, Chris and Matt have pointed out, flogged the Edwards blogger story in to a froth that was only just wiped off the some pages by Anna Nicole Smith.
But it’s probably also due to the reality that there are some groups you can malign and get away with it, or at least rest assured that in doing so you won’t hear much noise about it.
The first (I’ll get to the second in another post) was a segment on Anderson Cooper’s show (of all places) about the “ex-gay” movement, no doubt inspired by the news that Ted Haggard is “completely heterosexual” after just three weeks, despite “struggling” his whole life with his sexuality. To be expected, I guess. But this segment was actually something of an improvement over previous CNN debacles.
Like the one a couple of years ago when CNN let a right winger spew false “statistics” about gay parents virtually unchallenged, and couldn’t seem to find anyone to effectively counter her misinformation (or look the information up themselves, since it was easy enough to find online). In the end it fell to the Wall Street Journal to effectively debunk the false “statistics,” which by then had been heard and absorbed by more viewers than people who read the WSJ piece.
This time around, at least CNN got someone from HRC to counter the “ex-gays” interviewed. But, as Daniel of Ex-Gay Watch pointed out, the HRC representative was hardly an expert on “ex-gay” programs. What? CNN couldn’t track down Wayne Besen? If nothing else, it would have been kinda nice to see Anderson and Wayne on television together, but Wayne would probably have offered some further insight into the failure rate of “ex-gay” therapy. Maybe they could have looked up Peter Toscano, who turned his experience with “ex-gay” therapy (and escape from it) into a one man show. For that matter, they could have looked up any number of people for whom “ex-gay” therapy didn’t work, or “ex-gay” organizations that have given up trying to change anyone’s sexual orientation, or the guy from Focus on the Family who claims he only sees a 50% success rate.
To their credit, they at least asked enough questions to get one “ex-gay” spokesperson to admit that he hasn’t completely lost his desires for other men.
Anderson Cooper: So you entered counseling. Do you still have attraction to men, you know, you’re just choosing not to act on it?
Alan Chambers: My attraction greatly dimminished over the course of many years. Sixteen years into it my life isn’t even remotely the same as it once was. But I often say that I will never be as though I never was. And the truth is I’m a human being and for me to say that I could never be attracted to men again or that I couldn’t be tempted would mean that I’m not human and that’s just not the case.”
…Anderson Cooper: Even now, you are essentially saying you are trying to control your thoughts, you try to alter your fundamental attraction.
Alan Chambers: No, I wouldn’t say that’s the case at all. No, what I have found over the course of sixteen years is that feelings aren’t everything about you and I live beyond those feelings. Today, ….
Anderson Cooper: What does that mean…
Alan Chambers: … my feelings are, my feelings are much, much different. And the truth is I didn’t leave homosexuality because it was so bad. I left it because I found something better. And today, my life is far better than it was as a gay man. And for those of us, and there are thousands of people just like me who choose to live beyond their feelings, who choose to move beyond the issue of homosexuality, we live wonderful lives, and that’s something we think should be available for everyone who wants it.
Anderson Cooper: And is that based on a belief that you cannot be Christian and gay? I mean is the wonderful life you’re talking about a religious life that you feel is not accessible to you as a openly [sic], proud, happy gay man?
Alan Chambers: Not at all. I think there are plenty of gay people out there who are Christians as well, but for me homosexuality wasn’t compatible with my faith and my faith was much more important than that.
It would have been even more interesting if CNN had known enough to ask Chambers about his participation in recent discussions on retiring the “ex-gay” label, or his assertion that even living a celibate gay life is sinful.
Anyway, there are a number of things you could point out here, from the question of orientation vs. activity to the possibility that the former is not a choice while the latter is. (For starters, if this guy is still attracted to men, I can only imagine what he might have been thinking during his interview with Anderson, or what he did right after the interview.) But what’s interesting to me is that, to hear Chambers tell it, his orientation — his “feelings” or desires towards other men — are not a choice. His faith, and religion in general is a choice. And, as he pointed out, he isn’t so much changing his sexual orientation as he is modifying his actions to conform with his chosen faith. And his chosen livelihood, along with quite a few in the “ex-gay” movement, as Jim Burroway points out that the reporter was unable to find anyone not on the payroll of an “ex-gay” organization who would say they’d been “cured” of a sexual orientation.
But that’s as much as you can say, because that’s where you bump up against what you can’t say in this story. At least some in the “ex-gay” movement seem to lean towards considering the possibility that sexual orientation is not a choice, and that instead of changing someone’s sexual orientation, they’re focusing on helping people who are “uncomfortable” with their orientation to modify their behavior to harmonize with their faith. But an operative word is left out here: their chosen faith. Whether sexual orientation is inborn or not, we know that — the possibility that some people may be more genetically predisposed to religious belief than others notwithstanding — particular religious faith is not inborn. As Richard Dawkins put it in The God Delusion, “”There is no such thing as a Christian child, there is only a child of Christian parents.” A child who is then raised (indoctrinated) to accept his or her parents religious beliefs, at least until he or she is old enough and has learned enough to question them. Unless, that is, he or she chooses not to.
That, when it comes to dealing with sexual orientation, means that there’s an array of choices faced by the individual who finds his or her sexual orientation in conflict with a religious upbringing or chosen faith, as Timothy pointed out at Ex-Gay Watch earlier.
I can see four possible responses that a person raised with conservative Christian theology can have to unwanted same-sex attractions (other than outright rejection of their faith), though there may be more:
1. Recognition of one’s attractions and a reevaluation of religious assumptions resulting in the conclusion that same-sex relationships can be permissible or blessed by God within certain parameters. (Side A gay Christians)
2. Recognition of one’s attractions and conclusion that same-sex sexual activity is not permissible, resulting in a life of chosen celibacy. (Side B gay Christians)
3. Neither accepting nor rejecting an identity consistent with one’s attraction but instead seeking to live a life consistent with one’s values, regardless of one’s attractions. (this appears to me to be Throckmorton’s new approach)
4. Building an identity based on the rejection of one’s attractions, focusing efforts on a shift in attractions, and declaring that options 1 and 2 above are “a sinful lifestyle”. (the Exodus approach)
Of the above, I believe that approach 4 is the least likely to result in a successful and happy life.
Assuming that a happy life is the point in the first place, or that a happy life is is keeping with the religious beliefs in question.
Thus far, everything has been couched in a message of individual choice. As Chambers said, “…that’s something we think should be available for everyone who wants it..” Except that it doesn’t seem to stop with individuals who find their orientation in conflict with their religious beliefs. If it were, then it wouldn’t be a matter that concerns anyone else. But what’s not quite articulate just below the surface is that every single one of these “ex-gay” ministries is based in religion, and some of are backed by religious conservative political organizations, like the Family Research Council and PFOX, that are actively campaigning to legislate discrimination against people who are happy with their orientation, have no desire to change, and have the audacity to seek equal treatment under the law. (PFOX, by the way, is seeking to determine sex-education curriculum in our school district.)
But, as pointed out by A.K. McEwen at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, CNN didn’t go there.
That young man arguing our point should have said, “well that’s nice but why does the ex-gay movement make it a point to speak out against pro-gay laws and ordinances.”
This is where the debate should have been. The fact that this question was not asked just goes to prove yet again how we are always using the playbook of the anti-gay industry. We allow them to set the tone of the argument and we follow them like hungry puppies, unable or unwilling to flip the script and put them on the defensive.
I hardly ever hear the fact that supposed “ex-gays” like Stephen Bennett, Michael Johnston, Alan Chambers, and Melissa Fryrear are willing pawns in the war against the gay community. At the same time they say that they should be willing to make a choice about their lives, they work to make life harder for us who are happy with our lgbt orientation.
That, apparently, is beyond the limits of what you can say, at least on CNN or in the media. And I’d submit that the reason why that question doesn’t get asked regarding the “ex-gay” industry is precisely because the entire movement is founded upon particular religious beliefs. To ask the obvious question pointed out above would call those beliefs into question, because it means asking “So, if this is just about what’s right for you and goes with your beliefs, why not just leave everyone else who’s happy with their orientation alone? Why do the political organizations that back your ministries advocate discrimination against people who are happy being gay?”
It would mean asking “Why we should care about what you believe any more than we should care about the Zoroastrians believe, or the newly-revived Zeus worshipers in Greece, or the Scientologists, or FaLonGung, or Heaven’s Gate, or the Larouchies, or the Raelians believe? Or anyone else who’s beliefs have no basis in tangible reality and no evidence to support them? Why should anyone listen to you, let alone base policy on your beliefs any more than they would any of these groups?”
Of as Ed put it in response a post on same-sex marriage;
Well see Gribbit, here’s the thing: your god has no power here. What you think your god tells you has no more bearing on public policy than what the Hindus’ god allegedly tells them, or what Huitzlpochtli allegedly told the Aztecs, or what Rael tells his followers.
The only honest answer to that would be “Because it’s not just right for me, it’s right for everyone.” And the only honest response after that is “What makes your beliefs any more credible or more worthy being legislated than anyone else’s?”
It is, of course, taboo to criticize a person’s religious beliefs. The problem, however, is that much of what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality. One of the worst things about religion is that it tends to separate questions of right and wrong from the living reality of human and animal suffering. Consequently, religious people will devote immense energy to so-called moral problems—such as gay marriage—where no real suffering is at issue, and they will happily contribute to the surplus of human misery if it serves their religious beliefs.
The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including both Buddhists and nonBuddhists. Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.
… For those who want something to hold on to, life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view, theism is an addiction. Weíre all addicted to hope — hope that the doubt and mystery will go away. This addiction has a painful effect on society: a society based on lots of people addicted to getting ground under their feet is not a very compassionate place.
And we’re talking about the kind of human misery experienced by someone like Ted Haggard, who’s beliefs sentenced him to a lifetime of struggling with his orientation, failing at least once, and having to undergo “reparative therapy” (again) if he wants to remain in his community.
We’re talking about the human misery of someone like Paul Barnes.
We’re talking about the human misery of people like Tim Wilkins, who’s tried and failed to suppress his orientation through 30 years of marriage and “ex-gay” ministry.
How about the human misery of the 10% of straight identified men who have sex with men? How about the human misery of the 70% of those men who are married to women? How about the human misery of the women who are married to them?
We’re talking about the human misery of people like Kyle Rice, who’s been so effectively taught to hate being gay that he’s likely headed for a fate similar to those mentioned above.
We’re talking about the human misery of kids like Zach, whose parents put him in a reparative therapy camp after he came out to them.
Or the human misery of a son who commits suicide after coming out to his mom, who responded with the same pseudo-statistics that ex-gay ministries spout.
And then there are the gay and lesbian families bearing the brunt of the discrimination advocated and legislated by the religious political organizations that support these groups: a gay dad who was turned away from emergency room doors when their partners are on the other side of it; Bill Flanigan, who was kept from his partner Robert’s side even as Robert lay dying; Sam Beaumont, who lost everything when his partner of 23 years died without a will, and his partner’s homophobic family took away his home; Laurel Hester,who was dying of cancer but still had to fight to leave her pension to her partner; Crispin Hollings, who had to mount a legal fight in order to arrange his partner’s funeral; Robert Scanlon and Jay Baker, who will have to liquidate their belongings to pay for Robert’s care as he fights ALS; and Bill Randolph, who lost his partner of 26 years in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center but doesn’t get the relief or benefits a legal spouse would get, like other gay Americans who lost partners and family members on 9/11.
But you can’t make that connection, between the “ex-gay” movement, the religious political (read “theocratic”?) organizations that support them, and painful stories of people like those I just mentioned. You can’t make the connection that these stories are directly related back to the beliefs that they “ex-gay” movement is founded upon, and that the organizations that support them would like to and have attempted to legislate, to ensure that there will be many more stories like these. You can’t make the connection unless you’re willing to tell them that their beliefs, their religious beliefs, are wrong.
So, the purpose of “ex-gay” ministries and organizations isn’t merely to offer an alternative to people whose sexual orientation conflicts with the religious beliefs. Their underlying message is, “If you don’t want to be discriminated against, etc., then change.”
But that is outside the realm of what you can say, at least anywhere in the media.