The Miseducation of Cameron Post Reveals the Harm of Conversion Therapy

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, published in 2012, is Emily Danforth’s first and only novel. It has been adapted into a film of the same name starring Chloë Grace Moretz as the protagonist, Cameron Post. I read the book when it first came out and I thought it was thought-provoking but incredibly sad because of the conversion therapy Cameron had to go through. Rereading the book this time, the feeling remained.

What is conversion therapy:

Conversion therapy is a range of counseling and psychotherapy administrated by various groups to attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Often, patients were minors who were not given a choice in the matter.

Current Status of Conversion Therapy in the United States

A study by UCLA’s William Institute published in January 2018 indicated that “698,000 LGBT adults in the U.S have received conversion therapy at some point in their lives, including about 350,000 who received it as adolescents”. And an estimate of 77,000 LGBT youth ages 13 to 17 will receive conversion therapy from either licensed health professional, or a religious center before they reached 18.

The book:

The book was written in the first-person point of view, in the voice of Cameron Post. It was divided into three main parts and followed Cameron through a couple major events:

Part One: Summer 1989 (the day before Cameron’s parents died and Cameron’s first kiss with her best friend Irene)

Part Two: High School 1991-1992 (Cameron’s multiple female crushes and how she was ‘discovered’)

Part Three: God’s Promise 1992-1993 (Cameron’s time in the gay conversion program)

Cameron Post

Cameron reminded me of Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. She wasn’t as foul-mouthed as Holden and didn’t call anyone phony outright. But like Holden, Cameron was able to see the world for what it was- hypocritical. It was this honest and insightful trait of Cameron that uncovered the inherent harm of conversion therapy.

God’s Promise

God’s Promise vowed to gear the disciples (the students) back on the right path from the sin of homosexuality. Disciples lived in the same room and hung around with the same sex, under supervision. Presumably, it would allow them to form the proper (non-sexual) relationships with the same sex.

Based on Cameron’s description, there was nothing particularly bad about the school. The disciples mostly got along with each other, and despite how stern the headmaster was, there was no physical abuse. The abuse, was emotional, as was so clearly seen by the build-up to the climax and its after-match.

The Climax

During the climax of the book, a preventable traumatic event happened to one of the most devoted disciples, Mark. He believed in the program wholeheartedly but still failed in becoming heterosexual enough for his father. So Mark attempted to take the situation into his own hands. This led to an investigation by the Child and Family Services and revealed the damage these programs, like God’s Promise, could inflict on LGBTQ+ teens.

What the book suggested about conversion therapy:

  • There is no evidence that conversion therapy works

This traumatic event led to Cameron’s outburst, directed to the pastor of the program, about the uselessness of conversion therapy:

“You guys don’t even know what you’re doing here, do you? You’re just like making it up as you go along and then something like this happens and you’re gonna pretend like you have answers that you don’t even have and it’s completely fucking fake. You don’t know how to fix this. You should just say that: We fucked it up.”

Conversion therapy made false promises to the LGBTQ+ teen and their family about the possibility of changing the teen’s sexual orientation.

  • Conversion therapy is dangerous and teaches LGBTQ+ teens to hate WHO they are

Cameron explained to the investigator the abuse the students experienced at God’s Promise and how it can be detrimental to their mental health :

“Nobody’s beating us. They’re not even yelling at us. It’s not like that…the whole fucking purpose of this place is to make us hate ourselves so that we change. We’re supposed to hate who we are, despise it…. my whole point is that what they teach here, what they believe, if you don’t trust it, if you doubt it at all, then you’re told that you’re going to hell… and [if] you do believe all of this,… and you still can’t make yourself good enough, because what you’re trying to change isn’t changeable, it’s like your height or the shape of your ears, whatever, then it’s like this place does make things happen to you, or at least it’s supposed to convince you that you’re always gonna be a dirty sinner and it’s completely your fault”.

Homosexuality is not a mental illness

As summarized by the Human Rights Campaign, various medical associations have validated same-sex attraction and behavior as normal and denounced the use of conversion therapy as harmful to the participants’ mental health. Compared to LGBTQ+ teens accepted by their family, highly rejected teens are:

More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide. Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression. More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs. More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.
source: Human Rights Campaign

The ones hurt the most by conversion therapy wasn’t those who don’t believe. Instead, it was those who believed and yet couldn’t change themselves. Gay conversion therapy doesn’t work, re-education doesn’t work. What it was, was a MIS-education, pushing LGBTQ+ kids toward the edge of mental illness and self-hatred.

The book is aptly named. Cameron knew precisely from the beginning who she was and she accepted herself. There was no big realization or revelation on her part, the challenge was to stay true to herself and remained unchanged through these unfortunate events happening to her.

The Movie:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, starring Chloë Grace Moretz, is directed by Desiree Akhavan has won 2018 Sundance Film Festival grand jury price. In this interview with LA Times, Mortez commented on Americans’ fear of female sexuality and the difference in treatment of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and another movie about conversion therapy Boy Erased. While Boy Erased, a film directed by a white male shot through the straight male gaze is going to be widely distributed, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a film with a diverse cast and directed by a bisexual woman of color, struggled to find a distributor.

The Takeaway:

This book wasn’t a documentary, and we don’t know the range of things that go on in different conversion therapy programs. But Miseducation of Cameron Post‘s portrayal of a conversion therapy program made us rethink how we can help teens in unaccepting households. Is the best course of action keeping them in the household who hated them enough to send them to conversion therapy? For those who run away, what can we do to house and provide for homeless LGBTQ+ teens?

What can you do?

  • Act to ban conversion therapy

As shown on Movement Advancement Project (MAP) , 36 out of 50 states have no law banning conversion therapy. In some states, some of the cities and counties have passed local conversion therapy bans.

If you are in one of the states/ cities/ counties that currently do not have a law banning conversion therapy, urge your legislators or get involved to introduce legislation to ban conversion therapy here.

The Trevor Project is a US organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ people under 25. It serves >100,000 LGBTQ+ youth every year with programs such as Trevor Lifeline, TrevorChat, Ask Trevor and TrevorSpace. In light of The 100 debacle with Clexa, there is also a Leskru donation page.

  • If you are a LGBTQ+ teen with an unaccepting family, seek help

Resources from National Coalition for the homeless

Map for LGBT centers

Trevor Project Hotlines

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If you have seen the movie, leave a review or give a quick rating here.

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