The XX Factor

Ex-Gay House of Mirrors

I’m deep in unpacking hell right now, and yearning for some entertaining stuff to play on the computer to divert me while I empty boxes. Thank the powers at MSNBC, therefore, for this interview Rachel Maddow did with professional “ex-gay” Richard Cohen . Under Rachel’s steady but fair line of questioning, Cohen seems increasingly bizarre, jackhammering in plugs for his Web site and trying to avoid admitting that he’s not only been discredited as a professional, but that he had sex with men after he married. The comic highlight may have been when Cohen described being expelled by the American Counseling Association as a “hate crime” against him for being “ex-gay.” The segment was funny but also incredibly enlightening for an 18-minute segment of cable news.

Many, if not most, Americans have probably heard of and laughed at the “ex-gay” movement, but as the segment shows, most of us probably don’t know much more about them other than that they attempt to pray the gay away and usually fail. But you can’t enjoy the true absurdity until you start digging in, as Maddow did. The world of ex-gays is one so thick with bad-faith rationalizations that it might constitute a whole new level of right-wing nuttery. And the fact that they offer a theory for the “cause” of homosexuality that they made up whole cloth is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ex-gay therapists claim to be apolitical, for instance, and feign shock whenever someone points out that they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for right-wing opposition to gay rights, specifically the need for some pseudo-evidence that homosexuality is a choice. (I’d argue the choice that homophobes are thinking of is whether or not to be in the closet , not whether or not you’re gay.) Indeed, a cursory glance at the reality of ex-gay therapy demonstrates that it does nothing for the very few people who even look at it, and so, really, the ex-gay movement exists strictly as a political beast. But try getting any of the spokespeople to admit the truth. In this clip, Cohen denies a political bent even as Maddow demonstrates that he sends his book to Ugandan anti-gay activists who are behind a bill to institute the death penalty for being gay.

Ex-gay spokesmen like Cohen also use the sophisticated political technique known as the “I know you are, but what am I?” method. The overwhelming evidence demonstrates that they exist to give a smiley gloss to vicious bigotry against gay people. Even the suggestion that being gay isn’t a real sexual orientation is offensive enough, but they usually go way beyond that, as Maddow demonstrated when she pointed out the phony statistics about how gays are child molesters in Cohen’s book. But according to ex-gays, they aren’t the real bigots just because they promote the idea that being gay makes you a child molester who will die alone at 30 before going straight to hell. They claim that they’re actually the victims of bigotry, apparently at the hands of the homosexual mafia. That’s why Cohen was quick to describe his expulsion from the ACA as a “hate crime.” It’s a tactic to minimize the ugly reality of real hate crimes, ones that involve physical assault and bona fide bigotry.

The good news is that the sheer weirdness and strained logic of the ex-gay movement demonstrate how thoroughly the right is losing this battle. Pointing to ex-gays and claiming there is a “cure” is all they’ve got left, and it reads like a joke in the United States. The bad news is that defeated right-wing nuts in the United States are taking the hate parade to places like Uganda, where their message of bigotry is taking on genocidal proportions.