Friday, June 10, 2005
Something Sick And Depraved Is Happening In Memphis

And I'm not talking about the gay kids; I'm talking about the fundamentalist Christian response to gay kids.

I've been trying to figure out how to approach this one for a few days. On the one hand, the appropriate ethical and moral stance couldn't be clearer; on the other, this event has become the current focal point (and a source of some amount of angst) for a number of my local friends who are directly involved.

Memphis is the home of a new make-your-kids-stop-being-gay camp that's gotten a fair bit of attention in the blogosphere over the last week. "Love In Action / Refuge" is one of those fundie-based sexual repression programs, this time geared towards queer teenagers whose fundie parents feel they need to "rescue" their kids from a "life of sin." It's run by a purportedly "ex-gay" minister (read: profoundly repressed self-hating gay man with an intellect equivalent to that of a four-year-old and a bad case of spiritual retardation to boot), and "participants" are forced to attend daily sessions in which they are harangued, lectured, guilt-tripped, abused, and humiliated into subverting their actual identities at the most crucial moment in their personal growth.

Needless to say, the Memphis gay community -- especially that part that is committed to helping gay teens -- is pissed as hell. Mind you, this is a gay community that has to live in a relatively hostile environment, so they're some tough bastards and not easily cowed. Memphis Area Gay Youth and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center have been holding protests outside the church "hosting" this little exercise in psychological torture twice a day every day, and plans to continue to do so throughout the duration of the camp session: once in the morning to greet the teen victims and their parents, and once in the evening when they're leaving to go home. I haven't joined the protests yet myself, but I plan to get up there at least a couple of times before it's over.

I've been asked in the past -- only ever by my straight peers -- why it matters to me since, as a heterosexual, I'm not directly affected. Nobody ever pressured me to be someone other than who I was, I never felt any condemnation from my family and society for being myself, and this is something that could be easily filed under "not my problem." But the thing is, y'see, I deeply love a number of gay people. That's not a some-of-my-best-friends statement: truly, my gay friends have been some of the most overwhelmingly generous sources of love, support, and friendship I've ever had the good fortune to find, and my world wouldn't be nearly as happy a place without their influence. More importantly, I adore them as they are -- their lives are better when they can be themselves, as are the lives of everyone who knows them. I can't imagine seeing any of those people put through this kind of rejection and emotional trauma (even though I know none of them have escaped unscathed); it would break my heart.

In short, if you insult my queer friends, you insult me; you fuck with them, you'll have at least one straight girl on your ass. It's not often I'm inclined to make statements like that, but this is one issue that could definitely make an activist of me, regardless of my personal stakes.

I don't know any of these kids personally, but it disgusts me that any loving parent would put their child through this hell. Oh, I'm sure they mean well, but this is the most evil kind of "Christian love" imaginable... this is sick, this is depraved, and it has been bringing up a large amount of angry-mama-bear energy in me lately: I swear to God (the good one that loves everyone, not the vicious one that "hates fags") nobody would ever, ever touch any kid of mine; if they tried, I can assure you they wouldn't leave the attempt unscarred. The protestors, being outside the direct circle of influence for these kids, are unable to change the actual fact of their torment, but they can be there to let those kids know that beyond the walls of their church and (sadly) their family home, there is support and love for them as they are, and there are people who are eager to accept them as friends and family. I'm usually pretty skeptical of the value of protest, but this is one instance when the word "protest" finds its fullest meaning and become enormously important in itself, apart from whatever symbolic or civil power it might contain.

I'll end with a selected look at the soul-killing rules these kids have to deal with during the program -- the complete rule list is enormously long and littered with scripture; you can read them in their entirety at the blog of one of the poor kids forced to live under them for the next few weeks.

2. No sexual/emotional misconduct. Any temptations, fantasies, or dreams are to be presented to one's staff worker only. Sexual misconduct includes viewing pornography, visiting an adult bookstore, emotional dependency, voyeurism, stalking, masturbation, mutual masturbation, or any form of genital or sexual contact with another person. Sexual temptation, as well as the above, is not to be discussed between clients. This includes MI's (Moral Inventories) written on current sexual struggles or temptations).

3. No hugging or physical touch between clients. Brief handshakes or a brief affirmative hand on a shoulder is allowed (exception is when observed by therapeutic accountability).

4. Clients are to remain within the "safe zone" while in the program. This "zone" is illustrated on a map of the Memphis area in the office. An exception is for clients who reside or are staying outside the safe zone, and commuting to the Love in Action campus.

You will be forced to describe in detail the most personal, intimate aspects of your life, and will then be judged in a way that no adult (including your parents and straight-camp staff) would tolerate. You will be cut off not only from your pre-existing sources of support, but from each other as well. No hugs. No human contact. You are anathema and untouchable to us and to each other. Your human dignity is evil.

Men may not wear any jewelry (other than a watch and a wedding band) unless approved through a C.O.C. In addition to a watch and wedding band, women may also wear a pair of simple earrings (one earring per ear.) The clients may not wear Abercrombie and Fitch or Calvin Klein brand clothing, undergarments, or accessories.
Men: Shirts are to be worn at all times, even while sleeping. T-shirts without sleeves are not permitted at any time,
whether worn as an outer garment or an undergarment. This includes "muscle shirts" or other tank-tops. Bikini-style underwear is prohibited.
Women: Bras must be worn at all times, except while sleeping. Thong-style underwear is prohibited.

No expression of human sexuality is permitted ever, under any circumstances, whether gay or straight. You can't be thoroughly repressed if you can still find your genitals. Your body is evil.

4. All Refuge program members must complete four MI's (Moral Inventories) per week unless otherwise instructed. Detailed instruction on writing MI¹s will be provided within the first few days of beginning the program.

5. Refuge clients will be prepared to give an Introduction ("Intro") at every Intro Rap. Detailed instruction on giving an intro will be provided within the first few days of the program.

(...)

9. Refuge clients are expected to maintain a committed pursuit of a positive and thankful attitude.

10. Absolutely no journaling or keeping a diary outside of the MI process unless directed or approved by staff.

Under no circumstances are you to think for yourself or feel anything other than what we permit. We demand full access to your thoughts and emotions; we will stamp out those thoughts and feelings that do not meet with our approval. You will thank us for your humiliation. Your mind and soul are evil.

1. LIA wants to encourage each client, male and female, by affirming his/her gender identity. LIA also wants each client to pursue integrity in all of his/her actions and appearances. Therefore, any belongings, appearances, clothing, actions, or humor that might connect a client to an inappropriate past are excluded from the program. These hindrances are called False Images (FI's). FI behavior may include hyper-masculinity, seductive clothing, mannish/boyish attire (on women), excessive jewelry (on men), mascoting, and "campy" or gay/lesbian behavior and talk.

2. As non-residential clients, Refuge participants must submit to an F.I. search every morning. With the exception of the very first program day, when they may arrive no later than 9:00 a.m., Refuge clients will arrive daily at the Love in Action campus no later than 8:50 a.m., waiting in a designated area until a staff member meets them to perform the F.I. search and check them in. Refuge clients may not enter any of the client spaces on campus before submitting to an F.I. search. All belongings brought to campus will be searched, including book bags, notebooks, wallets, handbags, purses, etc. Items that violate the F.I. policy or the dress code will be held for the client, to be returned no later than the client¹s last day in program. Clients may request to have their F.I. items returned by filling out a C.O.C.

We can tell if you're still gay by your clothing and possessions; we'll be watching for creeping signs of faggotry. The merest hint of fagginess (or, for girls, dykiness) will result in additional abuse and humiliation. We will take from you every potential reminder that support and acceptance are available. Your personal history is evil.

5. Due to the nature of many gender identity struggles, issues of enmeshment and emotional dependency can develop not only with same sex, but sometimes even more easily with the opposite sex. Because healthy and appropriate same and opposite-sex relationships are encouraged, dating and exclusive relationships of any kind are prohibited while in the program.

Your sexual identity is an addiction, not a source of personal fulfillment. Your desire to find mutual support with other human beings will be thwarted and punished. You're in this hell alone -- all alone -- except for Jeezus and your tormentors. Your capacity to love other people is evil.

1. All new Refuge clients will be placed into Safekeeping for the initial two to three days of their program. A client on safekeeping may not communicate verbally, or by using hand gestures or eye contact, with any other clients, staff members, or his/her parents or guardians. In case of a practical need, Safekeeping clients may write down their question or request and show it to another client, staff member, or their parent or guardian. Writing may only be used when absolutely necessary. Parents and guardians must enforce their child's safekeeping status at home or in their temporary lodging.

2. Refuge clients may C.O.C. to be removed from Safekeeping status. Safekeeping clients will be removed from Safekeeping at their staffworker's discretion.

3. Any client may be placed into Safekeeping at any time, at a staffworker's discretion.

(...)

5. Safekeeping clients are required to spend a minimum of two hours (in one sitting) a day alone in their room (note: by "alone" it is understood that parents or guardians can be in the room but are not to interact or disrupt the alone time of the safekeeping client). During the alone time Safekeeping clients may work on their treatment plans, read program materials or the Bible, pray, or work on other assignments from their staffworkers.

You'll be kept in solitary confinement until we say you can leave. You can be returned at any time on our orders, for whatever reason we decide. You will be cut off from all human contact. You can't speak to anyone, including staff members, unless spoken to; writing is permitted strictly at our pleasure. You are unfit for society. Your need for companionship and social interaction is evil.

1. No discussing therapeutic issues at home. Keep conversations positive.

(...)

5. Refuge clients may only read materials approved by staff.

6. No television viewing, going to movies, or reading/watching/listening to secular media of any kind, anywhere within the client's and the parent's/guardian's control. This includes listening to classical or instrumental music that is not expressly Christian (Beethoven, Bach, etc. are not considered Christian). The only exception to the media policy is the weekly movie.

7. Refuge clients may watch one video/DVD per week that has been approved by staff via C.O.C. Movies submitted for approval must be rated G or PG. The parents/guardians are responsible for securing the video/DVD.

(...)

19. Refuge clients must keep their bedroom doors open at all times, day or night.

20. Proper bedclothes must be worn during nighttime sleeping hours. Appropriate bedclothes include full pajamas (tops and bottoms) or a pair of non-underwear-type shorts and a T-shirt. Nightgowns are not allowed.

Don't tell your parents what happens at straight-camp. They neither want nor need to know what we're doing to you.

You will be exposed only to those cultural influences that meet our approval.(Note: how the fuck is Bach not sufficiently "Christian"? Is "Ode to Joy" somehow now considered an anti-Christian composition?) And god help you if we catch you masturbating. Your desire for respect and privacy is evil.

And my favorite:

1. Be honest, authentic, and real.

But do not, under any circumstances, be what you honestly, authentically, and really are. Jesus loves you, but he hates you when you're gay.

It goes on and on and on like this... I suspect that half the point is to make the rules so extensive and numerous that no teenager on earth could keep them all straight in his or her mind, and is thus doomed to commit at least a few infractions: yay, an excuse to mete out some godly punishment! These are some sick fuckers running this joint; remember, these aren't "bad" kids or problem children, they're not committing crimes or hurting themselves or getting into trouble. They're just gay. In modern-day America, though, that's more than enough to justify punishment and psychological torture.
4:09 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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