Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Books from the Religious Right: WILD ELEPHANT by Janice Barrett Graham

(UPDATED 10/12/10)

After sifting through the free books I picked up at the Values Voters Summit again, I decided to review a book I'd found at the PFOX table entitled Wild Elephant: The Gospel Truth about Today's Stampeding Sexuality by Janice Barrett Graham. The author is the wife of Stephen Graham, the head of Standard of Liberty, an "LDS-oriented" organization that promotes homophobia.

It appears I have great synchronicity. Today, I stumbled on an article stating that over 100 Wal-Mart stores are carrying the book under an alternate title, Chased by an Elephant: The Gospel Truth about Today's Stampeding Sexuality. People will be buying this for their sons and daughters. What better time to discuss this distorted propaganda piece than now?

Wild Elephant is a fundamentalist Christian book on sexuality, geared toward adolescents. Please note that it is not a book on sex education per se, as it does not discuss anatomy, puberty, reproduction, or sexual health. Rather, the book is a fundamentalist condemnation of homosexuality, masturbation, pre-marital sex, abortion, and any conception of gender outside of stereotypical gender roles. The fact that this propaganda is being directed at young people makes it especially troubling.

In the introduction for parents, Graham claims that the principles put forth in Wild Elephant are meant to prevent the destruction of families and the disintegration of civilization itself. Homosexuality, abortion, and pre-marital sex are tantamount to a rejection of God, which will lead to the destruction of our society, Graham claims. Calls for tolerance and equality are labeled "false banners" that can lead youth astray, thereby precluding any meaningful discussion of LGBT sexuality. The rest of the book is equally seeped in homophobia and fear-mongering, making it a nauseating read.

The title Wild Elephant (or alternately, Chased by an Elephant) refers to Graham's metaphor comparing sexuality to an elephant. According to Graham, both can be safe if properly trained, but both can be dangerous if left to run wild. Sexual purity, she explains, is the means by which young people are to "train" their sexuality to follow its proper course -- that is, to find expression in procreative heterosexual marriage alone. Sexual expression outside heterosexual marriage is declared sinful, the result of people who ignore the Holy Spirit and fail to discern right from wrong. STDs, abortion, and broken families are brandished over young readers as consequences of sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Conveniently, Graham ignores the fact that these things can be present within heterosexual marriages too. The idea that someone could have a nourishing, healthy sexual life outside of heterosexual marriage is completely alien to Graham's paradigm.

Wild Elephant states that human beings are either male or female, ignoring the realities of intersex, chimeric, and transgender people. The "fact" of two biological sexes is placed alongside other unshakable "truths", such as God's word and the persistence of binary gender roles in civilized societies. (This last claim, of course, ignores the fact that many societies acknowledge more than two genders, such as the Lakota winkte, the Mohave hwamee, the hijra of India, and the sworn virgins of Albania. It also ignores evidence that gender roles vary dramatically from society to society and era to era.) Repeatedly, the book conflates biological sex with gender, advocating for binary gender roles in alignment with biological sex.

However, Graham can't seem to decide if gender roles are innate or learned. On one page, she states that the "right way" to act as a boy or girl is learned, encouraging adults to model gender for young people. On another page, she argues that gender is an intrinsic trait reflecting biology, and condemns the blurring of traditional gender roles for going "against nature". Well, which is it?

Graham decries the "jungle" of modern day society in which sexual anarchy supposedly prevails and no one acknowledges absolute truth (read: in which folks are tired of shoehorning their sexuality and gender into rigid boxes). She claims that terms such as social justice, diversity, tolerance, equal rights, and discrimination have been twisted so as to confuse the truth about sexuality and God's law (read: how dare those dirty gays demand rights!). Homosexual feelings are branded as dangerous and antithetical to God's law. Wild Elephant insists that no one is born gay, and presents reparative therapy as a legitimate means by which people can conquer same-sex attraction, ignoring the ex-gay movement's litany of bogus science and psychological harm. To top it off, Graham brazenly claims that homosexuals supposedly want to overturn society's Biblical standard of virtue so that they can indulge in depravity. Homophobia gushes from the text!

The rest of the book features misinformation about the evils of comprehensive sex education, masturbation, abortion, immodest dress, and any attitude that does not conform to fundamentalist Christianity. Accepting Jesus as one's savior and opening oneself to the Holy Spirit's guidance are encouraged, and chastity is held up as a means by which one shows love toward God.

Graham presents no real arguments for her claims, preferring to state her views on sex and gender as fact. In true Religious Right form, she relies on fear and misinformation to shape readers' views, ignoring evidence that would contradict her claims. Important elements of healthy sexuality, such as communication and consent, are barely touched. In essence, the book orders young people to conform to outmoded gender roles, condemn others whose do not fit the fundamentalist mold, and stifle any inclination to explore their sexuality outside of heterosexual marriage. The complexities of human sexuality and the means by which we can navigate them (such as safe sex and communication) are ignored.

In conclusion, Wild Elephant contains more propaganda than information, and I do NOT recommend it as a resource for young people. Inadvertently, the author reveals her own anxieties about gender, sexuality, and the LGBT community, demanding that we share those anxieties too. This is one elephant that can stay at the circus!

Lez Get Real and Progressive Puppy posted commentary Wal-Mart's decision to stock the book.

Lez Get Real: Some Walmarts Selling Homophobic Mormon Children's Book

Progressive Puppy: Wal-Mart Sells "Ex-Gay" Propaganda for Kids

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