Conversion Therapy: Background information when reading The Miseducation of Cameron Post

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post

by Emily M. Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth X
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2012, 480 pages
    May 2013, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

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Beyond the Book:
Conversion Therapy

Print Review

Two thirds of the way through The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Cam's aunt sends her away to God's Promise: a Christian School and Center for Healing. Its mission is to help "adolescents yearning to break free from the bonds of sexual sin and confusion by welcoming Jesus Christ into their lives." How does God's Promise achieve what it purports to do? Through a kind of therapy called "conversion therapy."

Conversion therapy (also known as reparative therapy) is a formal attempt to change a gay person's sexual orientation, from homosexuality to heterosexuality. The conversion methods can include one-on-one counseling, group counseling, prayer, exorcisms, and gender modeling activities to name a few. (It is crucial to note that there is no one method; no system that has been studied and regulated and agreed upon by those who administer it.) Most often the counseling is centered on the belief that same-sex attraction is an attempt to restore broken familial relationships in an unhealthy way.

While God's Promise is a fictional place, there are many real places like it and hundreds - maybe thousands - of teens (and adults, for that matter) experience the practice of conversion therapy. It is, not surprisingly, a very controversial practice. Exodus, a non-profit Christian organization, is a high profile example of a place that condones it. According to the Exodus website, their mission is "Mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality... We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the inspired Word Of God, the final authority for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction for right living." There are many organizations similar to Exodus, and they all use literal interpretations of the Bible as a platform for the conversion therapy work they do.

Soulforce, on the other hand, is a national non-profit that works nonviolently to end the religious and political oppression of LGBTQ people. Consider this quote about science and sexual orientation from their webpage:

rainbow flag Though no Christians today argue about whether the earth is round, five hundred years ago most Christians, based on the Bible, believed the sun revolved around a flat earth. They could not integrate their reverence for the authority of Scripture with Galileo's scientific work. The Church tried Galileo and condemned him for heresy in 1633, banning the publication of his scientific work. Still under house arrest, Galileo died in 1642. Yet in the following century, as the weight of scientific evidence proved the earth revolved around the sun, Galileo was reburied in hallowed ground, and the Church allowed his scientific work to be published. In 1992, 350 years after his death, Pope John Paul II expressed regret for Galileo's treatment by the church. Science helped people of faith understand that the earth revolves around the sun. Just as people of faith have come to reconcile the clash of science and Scripture over this issue, [we] believe the same is possible when it comes to the mystery and diversity of human sexuality.

And yet another perspective is from the American Psychological Association from a statement in 2006: "For over three decades, the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA's concern about the positions espoused by NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) and so-called conversion therapies is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficient scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."

The Miseducation of Cameron Post takes place in the 1990s. But, as Emily Danforth eloquently states in her editorial in the Huffington Post:

I wish that the whole of Cam's world felt dated to readers - not just the movie references or the song titles, but also the culture of overt and sanctioned bigotry. It would be nice if a teenager could read the book and say, "Wow, things really were so much worse then. What a bunch of homophobes." And maybe some can. But what's absurd, what's unthinkable, is that there are plenty of teenage readers today who can fully relate to Cam's experiences (and much, much worse). Just change the fashion, switch mixtape to iPod, but keep the culture of hate and fear. That's just not "progress" enough.

Late in her stay at God's Promise, Cameron says, "...what they teach here, what they believe, if you don't trust it, if you doubt it at all, then you're told you're going to hell, that not only everyone you know is ashamed of you, but that Jesus has given up on your soul... [but what if] what you're trying to change isn't changeable, it's like your height or the shape of your ears."

If her sexual orientation is a part of her, just as her height, the shape of her ears, nose, and face, and the color of her hair are; if it is just as much a part of her nature as it is about her "nurture"... well, then those who reject her sexuality are rejecting her. Her individual self. This is the crux of what Emily Danforth brings to light, both in the subject matter and the structure of her book. She says:

One of the joys of reading a novel, for me, is living fully in the head of a particular character, experiencing her/his prejudices and moments of grace, joys and fears and basic observations. The world is not a black and white place. In our daily lives we do not (or should not, anyway) spend time determining who is a hero and who is a villain. That's just not how we relate to each other, at least not productively. So, given this, and given that I wanted my novel to attempt to "get at" what it means to be human; I couldn't do that in my fiction, either. Human existence is much too complicated to be so reductive.

That reductive attitude, or that amnesia or ability to "forget," is much easier in the context of political discourse or religious doctrine or, simply, distance. We can't reconcile large constructs and beliefs without experiencing intimate, real relationships. This is why Cameron is a critical character. She is a multi-faceted human being, and as a reader it is easy to enter into a relationship with her. Cameron - and her whole, complicated, compelling story - allows the reader to make her own decisions about conversion therapy, homosexuality, and the character as a whole.

Click on the video below for a look at how conversion therapy has affected people - both gay and straight - in various communities across the United States.

Article by Tamara Smith

This article was originally published in March 2012, and has been updated for the May 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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