I bought this book a few years ago intending to read it for Banned Books Week. It almost seems “quaint” now in this year of “gender fluidity” and California legalizing gender-less birth certificates to read about a teenage girl sent to Christian program to help teens to stop committing the sin of lust toward those of the same sex.
Cameron Post is a teenage girl in Miles City, Montana. She’s a swimmer and a tomboy who hangs out mostly with boys. In some, but not all ways, she identifies with young men, holding them as role models.
“Most of the girls on my team had a crush on Ted. I wanted to be like him, to drink icy beers after meets and to pull myself into the guard stand without using the ladder, to own a Jeep without a roll-bar and be the gap-toothed ringleader of all the lifeguards.”
She finds herself attracted to another girl just when tragedy strikes her family. In the aftermath of the tragedy she immerses herself in videos as an escape. Later the decision is made to send her to a program for Christian teens that proclaims there is no “homosexuality” only sin.
While the students in the program are treated very decently and do willingly comply with much of the program they are expected to work to block feelings and fantasies of same sex attraction or drugs or whatever their “sin” is. In Cameron’s case she is somewhat shamed for her parents giving her an androgynous name and is encouraged to embrace femininity. Students are assigned same sex roommate to begin to develop typical same sex friendships without lust and sexual attraction, which they find troubling. To program staff, Cameron’s roommate developed an unhealthy level of interest in the Minnesota Vikings and bonded in inappropriate, masculine ways, with her Dad over football.
Parallels With Real Life
One boy, the son of a megachurch pastor, was sent to the program for being too weak and effeminate. Sadly, I was reminded of one of the Duggar boys on T.V.s 19 Kids and Counting or the current show, Counting On on TLC. That boy had been very sweet and caring and underwent a transformation that made me think he’d been to a program like this. [I have no proof of this, but he did attend their cult-like organization’s paramilitary training which stresses manliness). Also there is the oldest son’s brother-in-law (his wife’s brother-in-law) who is to most viewers very, very effeminate, but seems very controlling toward his wife. He throws himself into all sorts of “manly” activities on camera. This behavior, of course, proves nothing, but represents the sort of transformation the program in the book was trying to achieve.
So the sweet young boy at the onset of puberty who happily picked flowers for his grandmother is suddenly told he must change and is now shown doing manly work in garage or cleaning out a trashed rental house. A courtship is hastily announced and canceled. But no more weakness, no more gentleness. He’s a manly man now. So, too, his tomboy sister is married off early, though she shows not the slightest interest in her wedding dress and is now show saying she’s put her tomboy days behind her. The brother-in-law who posts lots of photos of himself with another young man (who is also a young husband and father) throws himself into football games or wrestling matches or whatever to show his manhood on t.v. but seems more at ease with his male friend than he ever does with his wife in their “ministry” videos.
Why the Book Was Challenged
“I just liked girls because I couldn’t help not to.”
“…stop thinking of yourself as a homosexual. There’s no such thing. Don’t make your sin special. [Cameron responds] ‘you’ve built an entire treatment facility to deal with it. What I said out loud, though was “I don’t think of myself as a homosexual. I don’t think of myself as anything other than me.'”
The fact that teenage girls “make-out” (even though both date boys both of whom are active at church) is one of the reasons this book was challenged. The fact that Christian programs exist to try to change a person’s thinking and that the program is viewed as wrong is another reason Christian parents spoke out against the book.
[There is no homosexualtiy] “Do we say that someone who commits the sin of murder is part of some group of people who have that identity feature in common? De we let murderers throw themselves parades and meet in murderers’ clubs to get high and dance the night away and then go out and commit murder together?”
Then there is the presentation of Christians in the book, which many felt was blatantly disrespectful. I honestly felt the book was NOT demeaning of Christians. I attend a conservative church, but not one so conservative that it embraces this type of program. I did get a chuckle that Cameron’s home church was called “Gates of Praise” or GOP for short (giggle). [Many people in conservative churches are not GOP voters but that always gets overlooked by election pundits]. That does not mean that the book in any way agreed with conservative Christian leaders who say that homosexuality is learned and not innate–it just wasn’t disrespectful or snarky in tone.
“…it’s not like being real at all. It’s plastic living. It’s living in a diorama.”
All the counseling students are given is on their sin. They are only allowed to discuss homosexuality or drugs or whatever in terms of sin. No exploration of fantasies or the reason for the attraction to someone is ever allowed. Cameron and the others have to struggle to go along with this. They are young people, at an age when everything is questioned.
“…how could it be expected to live in this new world without its past, without everything it knew from the world before from its place in it, tripping it up again and again?”
What they got from the therapy was “fake it till you make it.” Put on the appearance of a girly-girl if you are female or a manly man if you are male. No matter that they are taught…
“I will not pray for God to change me because God does not make mistakes and I am the one who is tempted by sin. Change will come through God, but within me. I must be the change. The opposite of the sin of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. it is Holiness.”
Christians and Catholics have long been taught to suppress ‘impure’ thoughts of all kinds. Many people over the centuries have found this beneficial to their happiness, like Reverend Rick in the book. Some don’t. It’s as simple as that. The program Cameron was in used this method to fight lust toward same-sex persons. But a students made an important discovery:
“”Really? Adam said.
“Nobody’s ever passed the program or whatever? Gotten ex-gay enough to go back to normal high school??”
“Because it can’t be done,” I said.
“And because there’s no real test that could prove your transition anyway.”
“You can change your behavior, but if you don’t have [counselor] breathing down your neck, that will only last so long. Besides, it doesn’t mean anything else about you has changed, inside, I mean.”
And that is the crux of the thing: Is homosexuality innate or learned? Are people born that way? Are that transformed into this throw a tragedy? Are they willfully sinning? Is it a sickness to be cured? Or is it, like red hair or blue eyes something that cannot be altered?
What I Liked
I liked that the students tried to do what they could with sincerity in the program. Cameron does think and explore. But not being allowed to look back and analyze why she was attracted to girls left her with no foundation upon which to build. The program was flawed in many ways. You can’t make a person try, you can’t make them believe and you can’t make them change. The teenage years are full of experimentation. Even a straight-A student, confident in his or her sexuality takes risks and experiments in some way. For some it might be as simple as not studying for a big text. For others it might be trying a same sex relationship. This was not acknowledged in the program as normal or healthy.
I also liked that the students could see when people did sincerely believe in the Bible and sincerely embraced the Christian faith. They did not tease or ridicule for this. They were at least outwardly polite and respectful, with a few typically teenage exceptions, to the staff and Cameron to her family. That was a good thing to see in a Young Adult book.
According to IMDB this book is becoming a movie to be released in 2018. Here is a link to the cast list and other details.