Saturday, April 01, 2006

Peterson Toscano: Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House:

Peterson Toscano: Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement

Performed at the Church of the Pilgrim, 23rd and P NW, Washington DC, Jan 31, 2004

Shortly after I moved back to the DC area from Texas in 1988 (that was the first of two prodigal son back-relocations), I met a co-worker at a new job who had a roommate involved with “Love in Action.” This was a group claiming a Christian approach to treating AIDS patients and claiming to help young men “give up the gay lifestyle.” One Sunday night, in March 1990, some of us went to a special service sponsored by Love in Action at the conservative National Presbyterian Center in “far” northwest Washington. Now, the coworker and this friend lived in a “group home” in Arlington, a term that referred to a house rented to young adults in which each person had his own bedroom. There was no particular coercion. I digress for a moment to mention the employer, Lewin, in case anyone remembers me there—this was a most curious and interesting time. My own blog on health care, by the way, is at

This play, like Marc Wolf’s Another American: Asking and Telling, is performed by one person, who simulated five different characters in an “ex-gay” halfway house, that is modeled a bit like a twelve-step program and is supposed to sound legitimate. That is, rehabilitation from homosexuality is supposed to be like treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction. If so, imagine what a self-introduction at a meeting would start like: “Hi…Hi…. My name is ____…. I am a ______”

Of course, the play is a delicious satire, poking fun at the whole idea. I wont’ spoil the fun with too many of the details. But a few have to be mentioned. The resident pays $950 a month for the privilege of living in the halfway house, and has 275 rules to follow. Only Christian books and music are allowed (there is even an assignment of “Christian” alternatives for Justin Timberlake and Britney Speers.) No bananas are allowed because, even though they are healthful no-fat foods, they look like phallic symbols. Of course, no unsupervised Internet access (or television). No cell phones. No “creativity,” in fact, is allowed. You are a sinner, and the good news is that Jesus Christ will save you. I recall from cable programs on this subject that typically the resident is never allowed to be alone.

Of course, what matters here is the motive for a group running such a place and trying to “reform homosexuals.” I could be cynical and say that it makes money. (At one point there is a comment that a particular Christian book company is just now part of a corporate conglomerate.) Or the next best reason is to proselytize religion. For some people, proof of faith consists of converting others to one’s views, even at the point of a gun (as with radical Islam). Or to enforce a particular point of view about morals. And this is where it gets sticky. In a competitive, increasingly individualistic society that has emerged from previously religious roots, we have a wide variety of attitudes about the “right” way to balance one’s own personal interests with the communal demands of one’s group. Some people feel powerful if they can implement their morality on others, and this does not detract from the point that they seriously believe their morality. There is an arrogance in this: “We have the power, we won, we can’t stand to let you challenge us, so we make the rules for you!” That’s one argument for libertarianism: government is not very good at resolving the subtle things, and they simply wind up with a “tyranny of the majority,” or of people who do not want unpredictable competition from those who are “different.”

What rung truest for me was, perhaps, the whole “creativity” negation. The “moral” point is dangerous indeed: It maintains that, before any male, at least, is allowed to participate in our “free” society as an equal, he must first “pay his dues” and prove that he can be a provider of “women and children first” by doing manly things, fighting for them, and perhaps peddling in an “always be closing” commercial world for the sake of his family. Sensitivity is not allowed. Then there is the idea that you make “new friends” who are supposed to be older, overweight straight males. Juvenile narcissism is out, aesthetic realism is in. Finally, the program first denies it is “converting” you to heterosexuality, it just makes you ex-gay, and this is like giving Lex Luthor on Smallville electroshock treatment.

Afterwards, we had a question-and-answer session, in which the author told his own life story, which included missionary work in Zambia and a stint in a Love in Action ex-gay program in Memphis, TN. We discussed the results of these programs, which in general, to put it bluntly, don’t seem to “work

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