Book Review: Straight to Jesus

Book Review on American Anthropology Professor Tanya Erzen's 2006 book "Straight to Jesus". This post was written by RBP team member line of flight from Sampaloc Toc.

Tanya Erzen is an American anthropologist and professor and identified herself as a "straight woman." She interviews and observes an ex-gay community south of San Francisco, California over the course of a year and does a bit of historical research of ex-gay faith communities, the media and political movements.

In the late 1990s, the religious right in the U.S. began heavily promoting ex-gays as a political maneuver to deny LGBT claims for anti-discrimination laws or equal protection under the law. The LGBT community responded with an attack on ex-gays -- the 1999 movie But I'm a Cheerleader is a classic example.

Yet, Enzer doesn't focus on either of these two opposing movements, the LGBT political movement or the religious right's political movement. Instead, she focuses on the suffering of the ex-gays themselves. She dispels the misunderstanding of both of those movements regarding ex-gays -- who do not seek a "cure" for their homosexuality but rather make it compatible with their understanding of their born again Christian faith. They treat homosexuality as Alcoholics Anonymous treats alcoholism -- as an incurable disease who progression can be halted by following their method but not cured (as in "once a drunk, always a drunk.")

Erzen does spends a little bit of time focusing on how both the religious right's appropriation of ex-gay ministries and the LGBT movement's response to that appropriation deprived ex-gays of their own humanity and stripped them of any social recognition of the conflict and suffering they experience. I myself felt a bit of remorse about my ignorance of the entire matter and comments I made in my youth. Many non-Western LGBT-like groups throughout the world, engage in a number of non-normative ascetic practices in the name of the spiritual meaning they bring to their LGBT-like gender or sexual identities. Ex-gays faith communities are apparently the U.S. contribution to that subfield of ethnography.

Erzen's objectively written but deeply empathetic account of the struggles of ex-gays puts them in the same light that other anthropologists put other marginalize LGBT-like communities elsewhere. Erzen leaves the reader to make her own conclusions about ex-gay faith communities.

I happened to see the 2007 Sundance film Save Me right after reading this book -- it just happened to come out on DVD at that time. I found Save Me to be in stark contrast to But I'm a Cheerleader in terms of the nuance and depth it portrayed the ex-gays and the LGBT communities involved. Without telling you the ending of Save Me, it comes to the same conclusions most readers of Straight to Jesus will come to: contrary to the religious right's or CBCP's collective opinion, sexuality and religion are not incompatible experiences of human existence and can coexist. And, in the final analysis, it is church organizations' collective opinions about who and how God is that causes tremendous suffering in many -- like the ex-gays.

The version I read was a 293 page paperback published by University of California Press (June 27, 2006), ISBN-13: 978-0520245822. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.

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