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Anything But Straight

By Jesse Monteagudo
The Book Nook

Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth by Wayne R. Besen; Harrington Park Press; 242 pages; $39.95.
In 1998, the "ex-gay" ministries became major players in the culture war between the Religious Right and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) movement. The hate-crime deaths of Matthew Shepard and other GLBT people made all-out hatred against us seem mean-spirited and nasty (except to Fred Phelps and his ilk).

Embracing "ex-gays" allowed the fundamentalists to continue their antigay war while at the same time appear to be compassionate conservatives who hate the sin but love the sinner. Soon "ex-gays" began to appear as guests of honor in every Religious Right gathering, living proofs of the success of their cause.

When Republican National Chairman Marc Racicot met with representatives of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), fundamentalist leaders demanded that he make up for his gaffe by meeting with leaders of the "ex-gay" movement.

Exposing the "ex-gay" movement as the fraud that it is has long been a personal project of activist Wayne R. Besen. Besen, who I knew through his involvement in Sons and Daughters of America (SDA) in Fort Lauderdale, was active with HRC during the "ex-gay" moment.

In 2000 Besen and the "ex-gays" met face to face when he and his camera caught "ex-gay" poster boy John Paulk at Mr. P's, a gay bar in Washington, D.C. Though Besen was only able to photograph Paulk's backside - as Paulk hastily left the bar for parts unknown - the resulting ruckus was enough to make Besen famous and force Exodus International to remove Paulk from his position of leadership. The Paulk incident also gave Besen an appropriate opening for his new book.

Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth is the first book-length analysis of the "ex-gay" and reparative therapy groups and their role in the current culture wars.

To Besen, "the ex-gay ministries and reparative therapy are truly a testament to how the power of belief can be twisted in a distorted and deranged manner to take advantage of the weakest people in our society. . . . Just like the televangelist faith healers, the ex-gay ministries and reparative therapists prey upon the vulnerable and the gullible and suck them in with promises of celestial healing and divine intervention. And for a time the power of belief can make some people genuinely feel they have become heterosexual. This temporary leap of faith can lead to a brief period of euphoria and explains why some ex-gays offer loud declarations of their newfound 'heterosexuality.' "

Besen does not claim impartiality, nor does he give the "ex-gay" groups enough credit for their (few) positive achievements, like helping their members give up drugs or alcohol. Even so, Besen was able to interview "ex-gay" leaders, including Paulk, though they were well aware of his intentions. Besen also did undercover work and attended both "ex-gay" and reparative therapy conferences.

In Anything But Straight, Besen explores (1) "the historical failure of the ex-gay ministries and reparative therapy"; (2) "the dangerous quack psychology of the lucrative reparative therapy industry"; and (3) "how the unholy alliance between the Religious Right and ex-gay groups threatens the civil rights of all Americans."

For all of its ballyhoo, the "ex-gay" movement has a dismally low success rate; and Besen has been able to find quite a few former "ex-gay" leaders who are now happy "ex-ex-gays".

Author Wayne Besen Some of the "ex-gays" were never gay at all, like John Paulk's so-called "ex-lesbian" wife, Anne. All in all, writes Besen, "Exodus and other ex-gay groups have a near total failure rate, they are dishonest, most of the people are chronically depressed, and the very sex they forbid occurs on a frequent basis."

Anything But Straight reverses the "ex-gay" groups' promise by offering in turn "hope to those who are stuck in a lifestyle where they are demeaned, diminished and dehumanized for who they are. This book shows that there is a way out of this circle of shame and that it is possible to be both Christian and gay, and to be gay and happy - which reparative therapy and the ex-gay ministries say is impossible. ... This book is intended to educate people about these futile programs so they can make informed decisions armed with all the facts."

Though books like Anything But Straight are valuable resources for us in the ongoing culture war, they cannot replace the many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people who are making their own statement by coming out and leading their lives. The existence of a vital, positive GLBT community - and of talented advocates like Wayne Besen - is the best way to challenge the "ex-gay" movement.

Jesse Monteagudo tried to be an "ex-gay" for a few days in 1974, but soon got over it. You can reach him at jessemonteagudo@aol.com

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