DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW (counterpoint on ex-gay issue); HRC “Finally Free”; Laura Schlessinger: In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms


Author (or Editor):  Cohen, Richard (foreword by Laura Schlessinger)

Title: Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality

Fiction? Anthology?  

Publisher:  Oakhill Press (Wincester, Va.)

Date: 2000

ISBN:  1886939411


Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound

Relevance to doaskdotell: 

Review: Book Review of Coming Out Straight by Richard Cohen

Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality

Winchester, Va: Oakhill Press, 2000.

Countered by Human Rights Campaign: Finally Free

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 September 6, 2000) is an admission that secular intellectual arguments about “aesthetic realism,” however provocative, are unwinable in careful debate, or perhaps a simple religious argument is a convenient way to derail opposition. Another way to interpret her religious stand on homosexuality (status and conduct) is to posit that homosexual “attraction” may be a quasi-biological “handicap” which may well lead to an inferior assigned station in life, but one is supposed to overcome this through faith in God and some special spiritual purpose.  This is hardly acceptable even in mainstream moral thinking today.     


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 Oklahoma! make a “My Boy Bill” possible, and also give the elderly a decent place in society.  All of that is at risk.  Yet, both Cohen and Schlessinger seem too staid and inflexible, too lost in religious pomposity, to take their material where they could.  They have become like arrogant fools.  In fact, both sides seem afraid to debate whether consenting adult sexual choice ought to be a basic human right, as if each are afraid of the complicated issues that the other side can always raise.  I say, win arguments before winning converts.


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 the HRC booklet): the machinations intended to “convert” people to “come out straight” or to force them to “fit in” and “conform” (to “be like other boys”) are pretty horrible indeed, and involve a lot of dishonesty.  As I related in Do Ask Do Tell, I experienced my share of it in the 1960’s, first at William and Mary and then in a federal government psychiatric hospital essentially trying to “change” me.      


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)


Back to doaskdotell book reviews

Back to doaskdotell home page


Email me at