Sunday, November 14, 2010

Good Reads: EX-GAY NO WAY by Jallen Rix

After partaking of Jallen Rix's workshop at the 2010 Soulforce Symposium in Philadelphia, I purchased a copy of his 2010 book, Ex-Gay No Way: Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse. In the book, Rix describes his experiences in reparative therapy, his ultimate rejection of the ex-gay movement, and his journey to sexual and spiritual wholeness. More than a simple condemnation of reparative therapy, Ex-Gay No Way explores the dynamics of religious abuse and religious dependency, pointing to healthier paths that allow for spiritual maturity and the integration of sexuality and faith.

Raised in a loving and devout Southern Baptist home, Rix acknowledges both the delights and constraints of living in a conservative Christian community. Early on in his upbringing, young Rix learned that his Baptist religion saw sex outside heterosexual marriage as a sin, creating inner conflict about his own budding homosexuality. Devoted to his loving family and community, he dared not reveal his homosexual feelings for fear of his community's rejection.

In young adulthood, Rix was conflicted about his gay encounters and homosexual feelings. Guilt drove him to an ex-gay program in Los Angeles called Desert Streams, which claimed that participants could be washed clean of their same-sex attraction and become "new creatures in Christ". Combining pop psychology, disdain for unrepentant homosexuals, and evangelical Christianity, Desert Streams became Rix's weekly destination for the next eight months. However, Rix quickly observed that participants were not becoming heterosexual, and that the ministry's theory of homosexuality as a result of abuse or poor parenting didn't correspond with reality. In time, he observed elements of religious abuse in the program, such as us-versus them thinking and conflation of the will of leaders with the will of God. After disappointment with Desert Streams and a failed exorcism, Rix left the ex-gay group and began to explore his sexuality in a more open-minded way. Finally, while at a church planning meeting, he felt the divine voice quietly telling him not to worry about his sexual orientation, assuring him that God was still with him. This realization -- that God loved him and did not condemn his homosexuality -- liberated Rix from his fears of rejection, allowing him to nurture his spirituality without repression or fear.

In the rest of the book, Rix shares the experiences of other reparative therapy survivors, observing characteristics of religious abuse in countless ex-gay programs. He peels away the bogus "psychobable" of reparative therapy, revealing its baseless claims and listing over a dozen respected medical organizations that have denounced ex-gay programs. Additionally, he explores the powerful role of denial and religious dependency (sometimes called religious addiction) in ex-gay program participants.

In the second half of the book, Rix charts his spiritual journey, acknowledging that spirituality and sexuality are intimately intertwined. He offers observations on mature, authentic spirituality and its relationship to healthy sexuality, which many fundamentalist faith traditions have yet to grasp. Diversity -- the innumerable differences among human beings -- is a boon that should be celebrated in society at large as a reflection of our multifaceted humanity.

Ex-Gay No Way is not simply an expose of ex-gay therapy, but a nourishing, uplifting book about sexuality, faith, and the psyche. Survivors of reparative therapy will enjoy Rix's in-depth analysis of the motivations behind ex-gay programs, and students of religion will appreciate his observations on religious abuse and dependency. Spiritual seekers of any faith tradition will enjoy his heartfelt commentary on the body, spirit, and God, infused with a progressive sense of justice. In short, Ex-Gay No Way is many things to many readers, with something insightful to offer nearly everyone. Recommended!

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