Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dodging The Question As Jesus Would

Wait, I don't think Jesus would have dodged a question....I digress. This week the Christian worship group on campus, Real Life, hosted an appearance by Chad Thompson, a professional ex-gay (read: traveling snake oil salesman, do pardon my sarcasm). Chad Thompson is the author of the book Loving Homosexuals As Jesus Would, which is at heart a personal testimony of an ex-gay and a call to Christians to treat homosexuals with love and compassion, even the ones who have embraced their identity and have no intention of following an ex-gay lifestyle.

On the outside, this seemed like a good thing. I was skeptical, no doubt, but I held out hope that what I would find was a no-strings-attached call to America's evangelical Christians to seriously reconsider not only their treatment of homosexuals in this country, but their perceptions of them which are largely based on stereotypes and perpetuate on comfortable ignorance. I have to give Chad credit, he did make those calls to Christians in the audience and everywhere, and he also made sure to always use "I statements," which is a fancy way of saying you make sure never to speak for others, only for yourself, which in Chad's case would be when he described why he thinks he was a homosexual.

The conversation started heading south, in my mind, when the more political side of Chad's message started to show. It started with Chad pointing out that it may seem like a contradiction for Christians to say that they love homosexuals, when at the same time so many Christian organizations, including multiple ones Chad is tied to himself, politicize themselves so strongly on anti-gay legislation and fighting pro-gay legislation. Having identified the very real contradiction, he sort of just left it at that, not really resolving the contradiction or condemning the religious right's political targeting of queer people but just sort of saying that it's not really a contradiction because they love us. Pay no attention to the agenda behind the curtain.

Following that was a light presentation of out-dated and easily refutable ex-gay propaganda about research concerning the origins of homosexuality which, fortunately for Chad, aren't really that easily refutable when the only place to call him out on it is a very brief Q&A session following his talk.

I don't want to go in to details, let's just say he needs to know that "genetic" doesn't mean a literal gay gene, and that when articles about research use catchy titles referring to the abstract "gay gene," any legitimate data and theories brought up in said research can't be dismissed by claiming that the "gay gene" doesn't exist. That's called a straw man. If I can take just a second to soapbox on the idea of nature v. nurture, whether it is nature or nurture that brings a person to their identity and their sexuality, if they are content with that identity or sexuality then any suggestion that they need "fixing" is a direct affront to their dignity.

During the Q&A session he was asked questions solely by queer people in the audience, and they made up less than half of that audience (honestly I think Chad was a bit more conservative than UCSB's more liberal-leaning Christians are used to). When confronted about the contradictions in both his opinions and arguments presented in his speech, Chad would generally sort of just dodge the question and bring the focus on something else. I called Chad out on the contradiction that he identified himself and then promptly swept under the rug, asking him how he can ask Christians to show unconditional love to homosexuals while at the same time use the power of their vote to see to it that queer people do not enjoy the same opportunities and protections as they do. I brought up the issue of same-sex marriage, pointing out that in Michigan 80% of evangelical Christian voters voted to ban same-sex marriage, and thanks to the wording of the amendment, just this past month it was used to void benefits that had been granted to same-sex domestic partners since before the same-sex marriage wave that swept country in recent years.

Chad avoided the issue of same-sex marriage and responded by talking about anti-discrimination law, saying that if such legislation were approved then he would be arrested for talking to me as an ex-gay. In the most polite way I could muster I told him that his response was so much bullshit, and asked him how he could justify voting against legislation that would protect a person from being denied equal opportunities for employment or housing simply because he was afraid of some bizarre situation that would be thrown out of court faster than you could say "wasting ministry time and paper" (nod to Brazil! fans). Chad was asked by the person after me to give just one concrete piece of reasoning as to how same-sex marriage could be harmful and thus justly voted against, and all he could offer were proof substitutes about how the "breakdown of the family unit" has been shown to increase rates of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, wanton sex parties at my house, etc, which was also a fallacy of false cause I might add.

To sum it up, Chad's basic premise behind his response to the attitude of evangelical Christians toward queer people is that "gay people do it to us too," and how he's "had more difficulty from gay people by being an ex-gay than he ever had from straight people by being gay." You know what Chad? Let me break out my violin while I bask in the irony of a politically motivated professional ex-gay who actively supports anti-gay legislation trying to kid himself that gay people would have a grudge against him just because he made a personal decision about his identity based on his faith.

Lastly, Chad described being ex-gay as a lifelong struggle for many, and that when a person like Ted Haggard or John Paulk are caught dabbling in the forbidden fruit, it's simply a "relapse," and that doesn't mean that they're still gay, just that they're human, because after all none of us are perfect (hell I know straight guys that relapse in to gay sex all the time!) The real point I'm getting to is that someone came up for a great idea for Queer Student Union's next shirt design:

"wanna relapse?"

6 Comments:

Blogger Norm! said...

Maybe Jesus would love homosexuals by using the term "gay". (Of course, conservative Christians would never buy a book with the word "gay" in the title.)

I'm amazed that no questions were asked by conservative Christians in the audience. I suspect the Campus Crusade for Christ group was desperate to support Thompson's message. After all, the possibility of turning gays straight solves so many problems. Politically, gays are not entitled to protections or rights because it's a curable condition. Religiously, gays can be fixed with faith and therefore it's not hateful to damn gays to hell.

Over ten years ago, I confessed my homosexuality at a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting, which led to two years in an ex-gay ministry. Needless to say, the pschobabble and mixed messages didn't work for me or most of the other ex-gay participants I knew. I'm glad you and others' challenged the ex-gay propoganda.

8:48 AM  
Blogger zortnac said...

Thanks for the comment, and I'm happy to know that you've come out of that experience with a positive and good sense of identity :-)

12:03 AM  
Blogger Regan said...

I've never met Chad. But I know him pretty well. I read his book, have regular correspondence and we've had lengthy talks on the phone.
I'm a hetero black woman. And for the last seven years or so have been studying this ex gay business. Had talks with so called ex gays and made observations of my own.

There is nothing stranger than pleather trying to convince you it's genuine cowhide.

When a person is straight, you don't need to reassure people you are. Let alone expect medals and huzzhas and well dones for it, as ex gays do.
Young men his age who are straight, don't go on...'I really am, but I'm currently not having sex that will qualify me just yet' tours.

And they attract OTHER straight women, the kind of women who are self assured and experienced.

Chad's not attracting women like that. He's not attracting any at all.
He's not college age, he's almost 29 years old.
He's long in the tooth for experience, gay or straight for any sexuality to assert itself and he not have a college aged babe somewhere in the background.

But having the affectations: the opposite sex spouse, a gaggle of children, do NOT prove a person is straight.
These are affectations, the qualifications are in the bedroom, and to what intensity and degree.
At that point and ex gay is a trained monkey, performing to superficial exptectations, but clearly not being themselves.

Chad isn't stupid, nor is he unlikeable per se.
But he IS dishonest, intellectually, especially.
He bought into the pseudo analysis of what made him gay...and he's selling it elsewhere.
He's not real, he's not genuine.

Pleather...so to speak.

Identity is a powerful thing. Whether it's cultural, religious or personal.
The ex gay industry paints itself as peer credentialed and supported, when in reality it's members adhere to archaic and long abandoned methods and practices unnacceptable to psychiatric peers.
The rest is made up in religious editorialism.

Chad is the only ex gay who has spoken to me at length.
The others suspect a non believer and run balls up for the hills. I get ignored or treated with distinct hostility.

But Chad too will not be honest about how his activity compromises gays and lesbians and their justifiable assertions that they not only can't change, but shouldn't be FORCED to.

I told him that gays and lesbians are much like Jews in the world.
Constantly under attack and diasporic.
And a distinct minority in the world.
So, we don't need LESS Jews, there need to be more and Jews should not have to fear annihilation and threat.

There need to be MORE gays and lesbians not LESS.
There is still so little that is known, understood and allowed to be known of this group.
The threat to their existence is what the ex gay industry represents, and they don't even have a solid justification.
They are literally thriving on innuendo, stereotype and no evidence.

Chad helps create suspicion and confusion, and given the threat that gay people are still under,
that's unforgivable.

I told him all this, and all the while he still needed to be assured in his mind he was doing the right thing.
Of course he would.
But I'm not doing such a thing.
To love gay people as Jesus would, is to encourage acceptance of the underdog, the enslaved, the powerless...to treat another as you wish to be treated.
And never lie against your neighbor or profit from the lies.

I'm not even Christian and I know that.
Chad needs his gig, and the ex gay industry, is giving it to him.
If he were pure of heart and morally sound in mind...he'd tell them to go pound sand and be honest about himself and what he's really had to commit to.
He's a priest right now, an asexual and in no place to be telling anyone else where to put THEIR sexuality, especially in the political arena.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Ynot said...

I completely agree with Regan's point of view. Whomever this Chad guy is, he needs some serious therapy. And I don't mean that in a bad way. You can no more be ex gay, than you can be ex black, nor should anyone try to be. I think it is very unfortunate that the current thinking in the US is that homosexuality is something which can be avoided, cured, or be thought of as an option. I have a friend who the other day was asking about gay rights and marriage. I live in Spain, and gay marriage is legal. She wanted to know why did "we the gay" (because of course I am friends with Gay Central and carry a card) could not settle for, first, civil unions, then, a few years later, another step, then another, and then eventually marriage. I have no idea about her timetable, but I could see that I'd be dead long before that happened. I told her that, if she has difficulty understanding what "we the gay" mean by all the things we say and why we ask for all these rights, she should replace the word "gay" and insert the word "black" into her thinking. She stood silent for about 20 seconds. Then, for the first time in a long time, she nodded and said, "Oh, I see". Certainly praise-worthy since in Spain, there aren't many black people yet.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Lowell Ballard said...

On the question of whether some people can become ex-gay, see http://www.amazon.com/Ex-gays-Longitudinal-Religiously-Mediated-Orientation/dp/083082846X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1224104006&sr=1-1

The study seems to be academically rigorous and seems to say that at least some people can have meaningful change in this area.

1:59 PM  
Blogger zortnac said...

Lowell, true, but what I think is important to realize is that "meaningful change" can be meaningful in any number of ways for an individual.

This is very different from saying that it's possible to actually transition from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one.

My biggest problem with the ex-gay ministry is how much they rely on the ambiguity of what they are selling, using phrases like "freedom from homosexuality" and "change is possible."

What they are really selling is often nothing more than community and the willpower to live a lifestyle and adopt an identity that is compatible with their faith, which they believe prevents them from seeking homosexual relationships. Of course they would never outright say from the beginning that "we can help you live a celibate life," because that's not very attractive of an idea to most people.

3:34 PM  

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