This week, I finished reading a wonderful book – God Says No, by James Hannaham. The protagonist, Gary Gray, has this endearingly earnest, not-too-bright, surprisingly perceptive and doomed sense about him that really made me want to root for him throughout. Gary’s an overweight black guy attending a Christian college in Central Florida; he gets his girlfriend pregnant just as he realizes he has to question his sexuality. These two events catalyze a series of fairly significant catastrophes in Gary’s life, and through each one, I wanted Gary to succeed, to attain what he wanted.
Gary ends up in a “reparative therapy” institute that promises to teach him how to leave homosexuality. And what surprised me was how fervently I was rooting for Gary here too. He wanted so badly to become straight. Before I knew it, I found myself hoping he’d succeed – knowing it would be an extremely difficult journey, but wishing him strength, willing him to find a small stirring of bisexuality somewhere deep inside himself he could cling to for as long as he wanted it.
The ex-gay movement is incredibly personally threatening to gay folks, especially to those of us who’ve broken from deep, conservative Christian roots and left the closet behind for good. It’s threatening because we know how many people continue to believe that we could change if we only had the willpower, and we know what evil that belief continues to inspire. So the gay community has drawn together significant efforts – commercial, political and rhetorical – to try to discredit that movement.* But when I caught myself wishing for Gary to succeed in his quest to turn straight, I realized something:
We won’t have won the fight for equality when we’ve discredited the ex-gay movement. We’ll have won when we’ve made it beside the point. As long as gays and lesbians face widespread discrimination and disapprobation, there will be folks trying to become straight, and others claiming to have done it. Perhaps one day they’ll figure out the combination of neurons, hormones and genes that determines a person’s desire, and they’ll concoct a treatment that can reverse our sexual triggers. We’ll have won if on that day we can applaud the scientists, wonder why anyone would choose to alter themselves that way, and yet accept – with no sense of personal threat – that there might be folks who will. We might even wish them success, as I found myself doing for Gary, because everyone’s journey is difficult in its own way.
And who are we to question another’s pursuit of happiness, if it causes harm to no one else?
* There’s another very good reason to seek to disarm the ex-gay movement: it often ensnares children who don’t have a choice in the matter. That’s insidious. I’ll happily fight for that practice to be brought to an end.