Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Leopards and Spots, Silk Purses and Sows' Ears: Exodus International and Reality as Reality

And speaking of media-hyped, market-driven re-branding (as Valerie Tarico does in her take on the Southern Baptist Convention's latest moves, about which I just posted): I think Zack Ford is right on target in his analysis of media coverage of the latest developments with Exodus International.  As Ford notes, the influential "ex-gay" organization is now stating that it repudiates the notion of gay-conversion or reparative therapy.  Because it doesn't work, and there's abundant evidence it doesn't work.

The jury has been in for some time now: you simply can't change people's sexual orientation, since this is an inbuilt component of their nature.  You can perhaps change their behaviors.  But you can't remove the spots from the leopard or magic the sow's ear into a fine silk purse.

Just doesn't happen.  In the real world where most of us live, that is.

And, though the media have been presenting Exodus International's admission that reality is reality as a promising breakthrough for the "ex-gay" movement, Zack Ford thinks that mainstream media stories about what's going on with Exodus, including a piece by Eric Eckholm in New York Times and a story by Barbara Bradley Hagerty at NPR, are both burying the primary lede vis-a-vis Exodus's recent "conversion":

But both of these stories, like others before them, bury the crucial question: If Exodus is no longer going to offer reparative therapy, what is it going to offer? At the bottom of the NYT piece, Chambers says that “many Christians with homosexual urges may have to strive for lives of celibacy.” NPR admits toward the end of its story that “Chambers compares same-sex attraction to adultery or pride,” believes that “homosexual acts are a sin because the Bible calls for heterosexual marriage,” and says that "gay Christians must either be celibate, or if they want to marry, it must be with someone of the opposite sex."

To a great extent, Exodus and other "ex-gay" groups are involved right now in a major re-branding process which recognizes that the cultural pendulum has swung so far in the direction of acceptance of LGBT persons that what these "gay conversion" groups have to sell is now significantly outdated.  But this re-branding does not mean that these groups intend to give up their claims that being homosexual is an undesirable and inferior way of being in the world.

They intend to keep promoting--and they will now almost certainly hype up the claims marketing this product--the notion that there's a miserable "lifestyle" out of which self-respecting gay folks want to emerge, for the ostensibly more natural, more normal, more healthy and balanced (and, it goes without saying, "Christian") lifestyle of heterosexuals.  As Lynne Gerber notes in this valuable statement at Religion Dispatches, there are strong indicators that groups like Exodus now intend to move in the "compassionate" direction of Catholic groups like Courage, which have long successfully marketed themselves as hate-the-sin-but-love-the-sinner "support" groups.

As groups which accept that there are gay folks in the world and that those who are gay will remain gay, but which continue to stigmatize and denounce the "gay lifestyle" while promoting a bogus gospel of Christian transformation in which gays are challenged to live as if the "heterosexual lifestyle" is normative--is normal and the default way of being human in the world.  As if God designed things this way.

But as Gerber also notes, ironically, the "ex-gay" convert to Catholicism Andrew Comiskey, who has just come out against Exodus's disavowal of "gay conversion" therapy, is now making noises about marketing the "ex-gay" conversion model within Catholic dioceses in the U.S., which have expressed more and more interest in programs that offer to save gays from their unhealthy and immoral "lifestyles"--and even in "converting" gay folks to straight ones.

Bottom line: the growing awareness of more and more folks in the developed sectors of the world that some folks are gay, that many of these folks live "lifestyles" just like your life and mine, that they are productive and valuable friends, neighbors, family members--all of this is forcing "ex-gay" groups like Exodus or Comiskey's Desert Streams group to cast about for re-branding devices.  These re-branding devices will mute the hardline message that gays are evil and headed straight to hell do not pass go.  

Just because.  Because they're gay.

But it's not a foregone conclusion that the re-branding process is going to break with the notion that the "gay lifestyle" is undesirable and inferior to the normative heterosexual "life."  To break with that notion would, after all, put these ministries out of business, and would significantly undermine the growing business of "saving" gay folks in right-wing versions of Christianity like the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Catholic church, insofar as that church dances to the bishops' tune.

And being in and remaining in business is what these folks are all about.

The graphic is a billboard advertising an Exodus International "Love Won Out" conference in Atlanta, from Jeff Davis of Creative Loafing.

P.S. I hope I don't have to spell out that I believe I and my gay brothers and sisters are mama pigs' ears. I'm simply drawing on the deep folk wisdom of the old saying which recognizes that you simply can't change some things, including folks' God-ordained constitutions.

No comments: