Author (or Editor): Cohen, Richard (foreword by Laura Schlessinger)
Title: Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality
Physical description: hardbound
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Review: Book Review of Coming Out Straight by Richard Cohen
Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality
Well, I ordered this treatise because it sported a foreword by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I wanted to see how Dr. Laura gives her side of the controversy over her apparent recent advocacy of the “ex-gay” movement and her reported claims that homosexuality is a “biological error,” etc.
Dr. Laura’s foreword is very short (2 pages), and is
essentially defensive. She claims that the homosexual lobby is out to get
her, and shut down any businesses that criticize homosexual behavior. And she
gives very little analysis to back up her now anti-gay beliefs, other than
religious experience in the conservative arm of Judaism. This is all rather perplexing to me
(particularly for someone with her background to call others names). While I was working on Do Ask, Do Tell
in 1996, I
used to listen to her talk-radio show, and then a lot of her views sounded
reasonable. Yes, she screened her
calls carefully, and there was “I am my kids’ mom,” etc. But she did talk a lot about personal
responsibility, and defrocked a lot of rationalizations people use to excuse
harmful behavior. She did seem to be
probing for more depth in the way people set priorities. But all she found, I guess, was religion
and perhaps notoriety. I can imagine
many other arguments she could use, and I will suggest them as I discuss
Cohen’s book. Perhaps, her punting to religion (“I didn’t make these rules of
morality, they were given to us by God”—as in CNN “Larry King Live” on
The dust jacket claims that Cohen is a psychotherapist and HIV/AIDS educator for the Red Cross. I’ll say right out that he could easily have an ulterior motive for a book like this. For he does make a lot of points that, considered alone, sound valid. Homosexual, he says, should be used only as an adjective, to characterize behavior and interests, not essential personhood. But, the real question, is why? Who cares? Well, let’s give the “religious right” its just due here.
In fact, the publisher, Oakhill (self-help books) brazenly advertises on the back jacket: “Someone you know needs this book,” and then includes all kinds of legal disclaimers to protect itself from legal charges or litigation based on “negligent publication.” This book must be the ultimate caricature of the self-help publishing business.
The book comprises three Parts: (1) Understanding (2) Healing (3) Compassion. Of course, this suggests the Jerry Falwell “love the sinner, heal the sin” approach. (George W. Bush sounds like this.) And indeed that is his overall approach. Religious faith seems to be the main justification for his paradigm. He gives detailed steps in “healing” and indeed for some people these steps might work. He makes valuable criticisms of the “immutability” theories (asking good questions about the studies of Levay, Bailey, Hamar. He makes many of the usual observations (Growing Up Straight, et al) about relationships with parents and peers, discomfort with the responsibility of the male role, sensitivity or modesty about one’s own body when compared to those of other men. The writing is oh, so professional and self-conscious, proper and even condescending to the point of seeming silly.
Cohen tries to defuse “homophobia” and balance “compassion” with his opposition to any attempts to protect homosexuals in the law. He outlines what he sees as the “Gay agenda’s” attempt to fool the public, particularly with immutability arguments and claims of horrendous treatment by society, as well as the presentation of homosexuality as a normal part of human sexuality. He rather ignores the fact that the law often specifically penalizes homosexuals (or, non-heterosexuals)—the military ban for openers.
All of this is to be expected from a book like this, perhaps. And indeed Cohen’s own paradigm is intellectually deceptive. For homosexual acts among consenting adults are private acts, so it is fair to ask the question why they are his business. Okay, it’s the expression of homosexual “values” that is troubling (private choices have public consequences) but he never gets around to arguing that.
So let’s have at it.
He could spend some space on public health, but that really would make
him come across like the worst of the religious right (the Paul Cameron/Gene
Antonio crowd). He could talk more about the notion that gay men,
particularly (and this is very important when comparing them to lesbians)
appear to be shirking their duties as “men”—to become providers and defenders
of women and children. That notion seems to drive the “sissy boy syndrome,”
the taunts that boys like me faced, the body and self-image problems—but this
has changed so much in a technological society (driven first by personal and
then by informational mobility) that I feel that one main reason that society
has become more accepting (not just “tolerant”) of gays is not legal pressure
but the libertarian notion that it can afford to be accepting—that it pays to
be accepting. But most of all is
aesthetics. Here we encounter the
Oscar Wilde-Dorian Gray problem, opposed philosophically by the now outdate
notion of "aesthetic realism."
Male homosexuality, particularly, has always come across to me as a
moral paradox, in human science a bit like the Heisenberg Uncertainty
Principle (or Pauli Exclusion Principle) in physics. It aspires to a
perfection that one can feel and see—a bit of narcissism and idolatry—as if
the most spectacular gay men in the Minneapolis Boom or Dallas TMC were
golden calves right out of Schoenberg’s Moses and Aaron (or like the painted
David Ferrie of Oliver Stone’s JFK). Be all
you can be (without being in today’s action Army). But, if you stumble, you’re left out in the
cold. You’re on your own, ready for a
Texas-style Blood Simple.
Sexuality is civilized by women and by family—the heterosexual myths
of Carousel and
Human Rights Campaign has come out with an impressive vinyl, spiral-bound booklet, Finally Free: Personal Stories: How Love and Self-Acceptance Saved Us from the “Ex-Gay” Ministries. Some of the people I know: Chris Camp, Scott Melendez. And a number of them are pretty frightening, with one of the men scarred by burns from aversion therapy. Interesting is the account of how Love in Action (a “Christian approach” to “helping” people with AIDS) ran rooming houses for its ex-gay ministries. The booklet does present the rebuttal to “reparative therapy” claims by both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.
Whatever the philosophical objections some people
subliminally maintain about homosexuality, one point is clear (especially in
Laura Schlessinger: In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms. 2009, Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-169029-7, 208 pages, hardcover. She calls the moms “SAHM’s” and introduces herself with the tautology “I am my kids’ mom.” She does say that the book is intended to be seen from the viewpoint of the kids: they are better off with mommy care than institutionalized care. Blogger.
Nicolosi: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality; Stanton: Ex-gays (same link)
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