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4093Tanya Erzen's 'Straight To Jesus'

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  • Norm
    Sep 5, 2006
      I posted a mini book review on my blog(0) regarding the new book on
      the ex-gay movement.


      As I mentioned previously, I finished Tanya Erzen's book, 'Straight
      To Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-gay
      Movement'(1), last week. This is the second recent book on the ex-
      gay movement I've read in the last few years. The other, Wayne
      Besen's 2003 book, Anything But Straight(2), was written from a
      critical activist's perspective and focused on the many ex-gay

      Erzen takes a more ethnographic approach that tries to
      understand ex-gays' perspectives. She spent over a year studying
      Frank and Anita Worthen's New Hope(3) ministry, its 15 live-in male
      participants during 2000 and 2001, and the 2000 Exodus International
      (4) conference.

      Here are a few of the interesting and entertaining things I learned
      from Erzen's book:

      * NEW HOPE DROP-OUTS AND DRAMA: Ex-gay ministries rarely release
      statistics or discuss success rates. So it is very unusual for New
      Hope to allow Erzen the ability to personally witness the progress
      of their live-in participants and interview past participants. Seven
      participants did not make it through the program [page 217] who
      either voluntarily left or were asked to leave after confessing some
      violation. I don't believe the book explained all of the departures,
      but I may have lost track of all the people Erzen named.

      In addition, "Curtis" the youngest participant and frequent subject
      in the book purposely overdosed on Vicodin so he could be
      hospitalized and temporarily get out of the program. He claimed it
      was not a suicide attempt [page 102] and did complete the program;
      however, Erzen reveals early in the book that he accepted his gay
      identify after leaving the program.

      Disturbingly, another participant and leader in training, "Paul",
      was found dead in his hotel room while on a business trip. Paul was
      a former drug user who followed his ex into New Hope. While Frank
      and Anita Worthen claimed his death was caused by a heart attack,
      there was no autopsy. Erzen seemed frustrated by the lack of details
      regarding Paul's death and puzzled by New Hope's muted reaction.
      [Pages 123-124]

      F.A.G.: Exodus International was originally named Free All Gays
      but "was quickly scrapped after the organizers realized the
      potential contradictions of its acronym" [page 33]. I have a hard
      time believing this, but Erzen doesn't seem to be joking. (This too-
      good-to-be-true naming mistake reminds me of the Film Actors Guild
      in the movie "Team America"(5).

      "LOTS OF ACTION": Frank Worthen admits that Love In Action and
      Exodus experienced many sexual scandals in the 1970s and 1980s. He
      even joked that LIA meant "Lots of Action" [page 27]. Erzen does
      mention many of the early ex-gay scandals such as Michael Bussee and
      Gary Cooper's affair [pages 34-35]. She also notes that there were
      media reports claiming men that promoted ex-gay change "had sex with
      each other at night during Exodus conferences" [page 163]. Erzen
      questions Worthen about Exodus' early problems: "Frank [Worthen] was
      vague and uncomfortable talking about this period in Exodus's
      history. 'We had a terrible time the first few years. One of the
      reasons I wanted Exodus to become an organization was because I
      wanted to set a standard of ethics for that kind of ministry. Most
      of the people were in it for their own needs. They were lonely, they
      felt guilty and stayed on the fence and started ministries that
      should never have been started. We had a terrible time--a terrible
      time, initially'." [page 35]

      SMID ABRUPTLY MOVED LIA: In 1994, while Worthen was building ex-gay
      ministries outside of the country, Smid abruptly relocated the ex-
      gay ministry Worthen founded, Love In Action(6), from San Rafael,
      CA, to Memphis, TN. Worthen returned to the U.S. and continued the
      San Rafael ex-gay ministry under the New Hope name. Understandably,
      Worthen and Smid's relationship was strained after the split [page
      38-40]. Now, as LIA's current executive director, Smid is infamous
      for another heavy-handed tactic: forcing gay teens into ex-gay
      programs like Zack Stark [page 50].

      WORTHEN WAS LIA'S LANDLORD: In re-counting LIA's abrupt 1994
      relocation, Erzen explains that Frank Worthen personally owned the
      LIA live-in program properties and lived off the rents. Erzen
      doesn't explore this unusual arrangement or how Worthen came to own
      the apartment complexes. While Worthen stresses the importance for
      ex-gay ministries to have oversight and standards, it's hard to
      believe any nonprofit or church board of directors would allow an
      organization's executive to also act as its landlord. This could be
      a contributing factor to Smid's decision to relocate LIA out of
      Worthen's control. [pages 38-39]

      SPITZER ADMITTED TO SKEWING 2001 STUDY: Erzen met Dr. Robert Spitzer
      in 2000 while he was working on his 2001 study of ex-gays. She
      recounts: "Over lunch, he had admitted to experiencing difficulties
      in finding respondents for his study, and he had warned ex-gay
      leaders that if they did not refer more people, he would be
      unable to write a positive study for them" [page 130, bold added].
      Erzen also echoes many of the criticisms raised about the study's
      methodology such as: "Inevitably, Exodus had sent him the names of
      men and women who direct ministries, which raised questions about
      how people represent themselves if they feel a responsibility to
      legitimate the ex-gay movement" [page 131]. While I've heard (and
      expressed criticism) about Spitzer's study's methodology, bias, and
      significance, this is the first I've heard Spitzer blatantly admit
      to fixing his own study's outcome.

      SPITZER'S VIEW ON HOMOSEXUALITY: While she acknowledges Spitzer's
      leadership role in removing homosexuality from the DSM in 1973 and
      his support of gay civil rights, he also did not believe that
      homosexuality was normal and called it "suboptimal" [page 142] even
      after the landmark DSM decision.

      "HOMODYSPHILIA" AND "DYSHOMOPHILIA": Spitzer coined a new term that
      would seem to describe "ex-gays": "In 1975 Spitzer developed another
      term, 'homodysphilia', that applied to homosexuals who were
      distressed by their sexual orientation . . ." [page 142]. Spitzer
      later changed the term to dyshomophilia "lumping it with fetishism,
      zoophilia, pedophilia, voyeurism, and sexual sadism" [page 142]. I'm
      surprised the Religious Right and Exodus have not yet adopted these
      terms. Since no one on either side of the pro-gay/anti-gay debate
      seems to really think "ex-gay" is an accurate term, homodysphilia or
      dyshomophilia would seem to solve some terminology issues.

      While Erzen does mention many ex-gay scandals that have occurred
      since the ex-gay movement's origins in the 1970s, these are not the
      book's main focus. So if you're seeking a book about ex-gay
      scandals, you may be little disappointed. Rather, the book tries to
      convey what it is like to be in an 24/7 ex-gay ministry, and the
      history, psychology, religion, and politics surrounding the ex-gay

      The book did remind me of my own ex-gay experience and provides a
      glimpse into the internal conflicts of ex-gay life. The ex-gay
      lifestyle is certainly confusing, frustrating and humiliating while
      at the same time there are spiritual moments and camaraderie. I
      certainly empathizedd with the participants described in the book
      and Erzen seemed to as well.

      As an ex-exgay, I admit my own bias against the ex-gay movement. So,
      I was a little frustrated by Erzen's seemingly objective approach.
      That's not to say the book was naive or did not question ex-gay
      claims and methods, but it didn't demand answers to the questions I
      would have asked. Overall, though, I think this book provides
      probably one of the most objective and accurate views inside the ex-
      gay movement.

      (0) http://nojam75.blogspot.com
      (1) http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10489.html
      (2) http://www.anythingbutstraight.com
      (3) http://www.newhope123.org
      (4) http://www.exodus.to
      (5) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372588/
      (6) http://www.loveinaction.org