Friday, June 1, 2012

Doubled Up Inside

What I didn't count on when I wrote my book, was that it was going to lead me to direct engagement with a public discourse. I would be drawn into the cultural currents. I would be expected and pressured in countless subtle ways to dress up my discourse in the right linguistic uniform, to show which side of the culture wars I was on. No matter how much I disliked the ex-gay narrative, no matter how much I wanted to avoid being paraded like a pet peacock, an example of a successfully reformed lesbian, it was going to happen.

My father in law warned me. He said, with a wisdom that I couldn't recognize, “People are going to try to use your story for their political ends.” I was just so happy to be able to speak; it was part pride, I'll admit that. The pleasant vanity of hearing one's own voice on radio, of sitting in a television studio and talking about oneself. I was also terrified, paralyzed by stage fright. My husband wanted to discuss what I was going to say, how I was going to avoid sounding plastic or saccharine, but I just wanted to plug my book and get out alive.

When I went on Catholic radio for the first time the host, a well-meaning pious woman, cornered me. She said, “So you heard God speaking to you in your heart?” I fumbled. I stuttered. I said, “Yes. In a sense,” or something like that. When the interview was over, I hung up the phone and sat staring at the wall, wondering what had happened. My husband asked, “How did it go?” I said, “I told them that I heard God speaking to me in my heart. I gave a classic conversion testimonial. I didn't mean to.” He said, “Next time, we'll get you ready before you go on.”

My next radio interview was better, so I figured that I was okay when EWTN invited me down to appear on the Abundant Life. Then I got there, and I realized that I wasn't in Canada anymore. I was in Alabama. The women at the EWTN mass were all wearing pretty skirts, and many of them had their heads covered. Black people worked all of the service jobs, and they referred to me as “ma'am,” in this weird way, as if slavery had never really come to an end. People would ask me what I was there to do a show about, and I would say “homosexuality. I used to be a lesbian.” Then they would talk about the gay agenda, and Prop 8, and how the gays were taking over the schools. It was so strange, this presumption that since I had left my lesbian lover behind I would therefore look on homosexuality with fear and loathing. I smiled and nodded, because I didn't know what to say.

Eventually I got to the studio where I was greeted by Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a reparative therapist from NARTH who was to be appearing alongside me on the show. He was the expert, the doctor. I was automatically, in some way, cast in the role of the patient, the one who had been successfully treated and reformed. Only I had never been treated. I had never been to any therapy. I had never been repaired. There was a sort of awkwardness in that which got under my skin.

Then, at some point during filming when the camera was off, Dr. Fitzgibbons turned to me and in a hushed tone of voice that suggested he was sharing an appalling secret with me said something about “gay bowel syndrome” and rectal cancer. I was stunned. I didn't know how to react to that. Was I supposed to be horrified? Disgusted? Shocked? In disbelief? I was none of those things. I just sat there, waiting for Rod Sirling to pop out and explain how I'd gotten into the Twilight Zone.

I got another jolt of cognitive dissonance a little later in the program, when the host turned to me and enthused “You're so honest!” I was suffering from culture-shock and intimidation in the presence of an expert, and I was giving a really wooden, highly expurgated account of myself. I was behaving so artificially that when my husband later tried to watch the show on YouTube he couldn't make it through more than five painful minutes. I didn't resemble myself at all, yet I was being praised for heroic authenticity.

I felt like a fraud. I'd written a book about how the Culture Wars mentality was wrong, and suddenly I was in the thick of that war, an artillery piece in the battle against the Gay Agenda. Moreover, I knew that the politicization of my sexuality was an obstacle to the work that I actually wanted to be doing. I was producing the kind of ex-gay narrative that appeals to good Catholic mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who dearly want their loved one's to be able to acheive a full, vibrant, healthy, happy heterosexuality – the kind of ex-gay narrative that has failed the LGBTQ community so badly because it falls afoul of the real experience of many people with SSA.

I was fast becoming the very stereotype that I had so pointedly criticized in the opening chapter of my book and I didn't know where I was going to find the courage to go back to being myself.

(part 4 of 12)

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Makes me glad that no one in the media wants to know about my own experiences--- or the experiences they want me to have had. I think you are doing a great thing, even if it's hard and doesn't go as you've planned.

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  2. I'm glad that the post scripts no long say "part #, _hopefully_ of 12" because I have loved reading these - they are insightful and I am thankful for your words. Glad that it seems like more are their way.

    Carlos

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  3. psst . . . one very tiny note: Though it is disconcerting for a northerner to hear "ma'am" and "sir", it should not be understood as servility, but as a simple courtesy. The CEO, if well-taught, would call the cleaning staff "ma'am" and "sir". It is not the fault of the locally-hired employees that they are the only ones with good southern manners.

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  4. Thank you for this. When I had what really was a conversion experience, and at least thought I'd heard the voice of God, I experienced, on a smaller scale, the same kind of pressures. I was paraded about in the small circles in which I moved as an example of an 'ex-gay'. I'm not an 'ex' anything. I'm a sinner saved by grace, doing my best (with God's help) to live in His will day by day. Sometimes a Christian's worst enemies are well-meaning fellow Christians.

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  5. Melinda,

    I'm sitting in a coffee shop reading this for the first time. I'm doing all that is within my power not to spring up out of my seat and jump around maniacally with ecstatic exuberance.

    This is the same exact thing I have been thinking of SOO much lately. It started when a good mutual friend got published for the first time when speaking of a certain gay someone in the public eye that I won't mention. It was expected that he would receive negative feedback for referring to himself as the "g" word and a faithful Catholic as well, but what I saw from a friend on facebook was, IMHO, even worse. He shared a commentary on the piece that mentioned a lot of what the author did and more or less agreed with those points. The only thing my friend could say, however, was that he was so thankful for the witness of a chaste, gay Catholic today and how he was glad to be able to point his dissenting friends to something concrete. I thought "REALLY?? That's the ONLY thing you gleaned from both the piece and the commentary on it? The two measly little lines in which he mentions something both important and yet, in light of his message, trivial about himself are the only things you can appreciate?" It's almost like an orthodox Catholic feminist commenting on the role of women in larger society and in the Church and then a man saying "Aren't you glad for a feminist who stands up for the faith? Kudos to her!" without giving a bit of thought or commentary to what it is that she's saying.

    I feel that this is a real problem that a lot of people experience within the Church and Christianity as a whole. I'm so glad that you speak out on your own behalf and on behalf of so many who don't feel that they have a voice. Thank you.

    God bless,

    Rob

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  6. Yeah, I did my best to avoid being the "trump card," the "Exhibit A," in my First Things articles, but honestly, there's only so much you can do!

    Joshua

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