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A sad, SSAD story.

Just as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is a sure sign that February is almost over and the plastic grocery bag caught billowing in a bare tree branch is a harbinger of spring in the Northeast, the annual appearance of "ex-gay" ads is the new portent of summer. I never thought I'd miss seersucker.

When I saw the first newspaper ads that claimed, with the help of God's ministers, to retool gay people into if not full-blown straight people then at least ex-gay people, I thought, Gosh, it can't be going well for straight people. They have to advertise now.

Sponsored by a coalition of religious-right groups, including Fuckus on the Family, the ads featured Anne and John Paulk, both so-called ex-gays. I was fascinated by Anne, a "former lesbian," and did some informal research in my travels. The lesbian population is not large. If you laid every lesbian end to end--what a weekend! My point is, we know everybody's business; it's like six degrees of separatism. Everywhere I went I asked audiences if anyone present had dated or knew someone who had dated Anne, and there was never a hand with a shortened index finger raised. If we didn't know about her, I say she wasn't a lesbian in the first place.

This proselytizing season, as we await this year's ex-gay poster couple--and why do so many ex-gays date each other?--we can read the new book Coming Out Straight by Richard Cohen. OK, we don't have to read it--I read it for you.

Subtitled Understanding and Healing Homosexuality, the earnest tome has a foreword by the much aggrieved Dr. (of what?) Laura Schlessinger. Her screed against the monolithic "agenda" of "homosexual activists" made me wonder what united gay front I was missing. Her plucky exhortation that "with the help of God and some intestinal fortitude, many [gays] can change their lives, if they choose to do so" made me want to wrap my bootstraps around her plucking little neck.

But like the nails, I pressed on. The author, Richard Cohen, who also successfully rid himself of his Jewish identity, was told when he was young that he was not ready to play Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," so he just went out and bought the music and taught himself, damn it. And gaysayers to the contrary, he says that with the help of a very handsome Jesus in his life, a long-suffering wife, and male mentors who hugged him nousexually, he healed from homosexuality. One can do it. And then one can then leave one's job as part-time waiter-ballet manager, become a well-paid counselor-lecturer, head a foundation that preys on tortured gay people, make a lot of money, and put an addition on the house, he does not add.

In an early disclaimer Cohen announces that "instead of saying he and she each time, I will use the masculine pronoun." He is a busy guy, and those extra s's slow him down. Amid snappy flowcharts and impressively footnoted diagrams, we learn that no one is born homosexual, no one chooses to have same-sex attractions, anyone can choose to change, what was learned can be unlearned, and, my favorite, "It's not gay nor bad, it's SSAD--Same-Sex Attachment Disorder." He claims that homosexuality, which he says does not exist, is in fact caused by heredity, temperament, hetero-emotional wounds, homoemotional wounds, sibling wounds-family dynamics, body image wounds, sexual abuse, social or peer wounds, cultural wounds, and "other factors" such as "divorce, death, intrauterine experiences, adoption, and religion." I thought you'd want to know.

Whenever I hear "ex-gay" I am reminded of one of my favorite Monty Python sketches. A man returns a parrot to the pet shop where he purchased it and tells the clerk, "This parrot is dead. It is an ex-parrot." And the clerk argues, "He's not dead. He's pining." Coming Out Straight left me feeling SAD, filled as it is with stories of ex-gays not dead despite attempted suicides and near-life experiences but pining for peace with their desires and attractions. Even the glad news that the profoundly reactive ex-gay movement would not exist without an active gay movement is small consolation.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Clinton, Kate
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 20, 2000
Words:692
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