12 April 2009

Book Review: Straight to Jesus

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.


  1. homosexuality is like the modernized type of racism from being black in the US. It feels sooo sad to see how most people look at books more than what their super ego could say to them.

    when will we ever get through this line of thought that homosexuality is not syndrome? I remember my Mom talking to me about it when I was a kid-to not be friends with any gay men cause you could catch up with their disease.

    ....sigh. and she even told me to drink male hormones so I'd be straight again.

    Its the pressure of being an only son to a culture living in the province.

  2. Alam ko right? You should have told her hindi nakakahawa ang kabaklaan dahil ito'y gawa ng mangkukulam (katulad niya)! She even made you drink her potions naman.

  3. ngayon lang kita nakita nagtaglog. i swear, i'm sitting here mouth agape and everything. haha

    i vaguely remember seeing but i'm a cheerleader when i was in high school or something but i never really saw the political and moral implications of the film. i just saw it as a quirky little teen film.

  4. "it is church organizations' collective opinions about who and how God is that causes tremendous suffering in many -- like the ex-gays." - I COULDN'T AGREE MORE.

    "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." - OMG. SMH. This is so sick. I can't believe this, how hypocrite!!!

  5. @CB - hahaha. i know right! he speaks the mother tongue pala! chos! hahahaha

    i had my hair sprung up when i read him say "pasenysa na!" on one of my post while saying to myself "the bitch speaks tagalog pala?!" LOL


    this made me more excited about reading your book soon <3

  6. @cb: yeah. when i saw it 10 years ago, i thought it was very funny. and i did feel it captured the craziness i felt coming from religious conservatives pushing their agenda. looking back on it though, it caricatured both them and us!

    @parteeboi: Erzen talks about how exgays, who have tried to gain acceptance in mainline evangelican circles, found their being appropriated as a way to attack anti-discrimination laws a total betrayal. of course, sitting on the outside reading, I thought, "wake up call" but then I realized this constant betrayal, is the theme that pushes some of these guys into the exgay thing in the first place.

    @herbsD. anat ibagbagam a "the mother language"? saan nga tagalog ti mother language mo, kadi? matalawam ti ilocos, ngem dinaka talawan ti kina ilocanom.

  7. page has been digged and bookmarked, Thankx

  8. from what little i understood, you're ilocano? that's cool. i have a lot of good friends from the area.

  9. batangueno-mestizo ako! ilocano ang partner ko.

  10. argh, i am an social anthropology graduate and have heard tanya erzen for sometime now. especially since i have shifted my focus in gender studies. kaya sobrang naiinggit ako nabasa mo na siya. ill try my luck in finding myself a copy.

    it seemed like gender has been a hot topic ulit sa mga blogs. hehehe!

  11. oh i see. e-mail me if you'd like, perhaps I can get it or a scanned copy of it to you.

  12. @line of flight- ZOMG. you multilingual mofo! LOL. I have to learn french soon!

    i know right. random.