Confess the Gay Away? Media, Religion, and the Political Economy of Ex-Gay Therapy
Thorn, Michael Edward
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The “ex-gay” movement does not encourage people to pray the gay away but confess it away. As a loose organization of mostly Christian ministries and psychotherapy practices offering “freedom from homosexuality,” the movement utilizes religious and psychological confessions of sin and disease and testimonies of truth and belief as technologies of both self-sacrifice and identity formation. The aim is to control unwanted same-sex desire through life-long labour and struggle and to sacrifice one’s gay or lesbian identity for an ex-gay identity. However, in the debate surrounding the movement, those opposed use confessions of trauma and harm, and testimonies of their own truth and belief, to try and sacrifice the movement in favour of gay and lesbian identities. Confession and testimony, then, underlie the discourses and practices of all involved in ex-gay truth games as two sides of the same coin. Although the movement formed in the 1970s, this dissertation analyzes it from the 1990s, when, in alliance with the Christian Right, it “came out of the closet” through a cross-platform advertising campaign that generated fifteen years’ worth of “earned media” in news and popular culture entertainment. By deploying an economic discourse of consumer choice, the movement hoped to justify itself as a legitimate form of intervention while the Christian Right hoped to use it to encourage the repeal of gay rights legislation. Those tactics backfired, resulting in a consumer fraud lawsuit, legislation banning conversion therapy for minors, and scathing critiques and satires in mainstream popular culture. However, the movement has legitimized itself within its own conservative Christian communities. In this dissertation I show that limiting the ex-gay debate to commercialized and politicized concepts and strategies neglects the real problem at the heart of the controversy: the paradoxical use of confessions of self-renunciation and true-belief as technologies of self-emergence sacrifices the self to unstable and “fundamentalist” truth games; on both sides of the debate. Using a Foucauldian discourse analysis, I treat the movement as a mediated cultural phenomenon currently constituted by cost-benefit calculations and marketing protocols but historically constituted by the psychological and religious governmentalities that pervade its thought and practices.