Let’s start with a question…is there anything better than spending a weekend watching movies?
I agree…there isn’t!
Sadly I am in stage of my life (I am a PhD candidate) where my ‘going for movie’ budget is slightly smaller than I would like so I have to wait for digital release of most of the ‘Most anticipated movies of the year’. But I decided to break the monotony on the past weekend and by 3.00 pm on Friday I had a ticket for a movie that evening and hard plans for two more movies on Saturday and Sunday. But this blog is not about the joy of cinema…its about the movie I saw on Friday and how it angered me deeply.
The movie I’m going to talk about is ‘Miseducation of Cameron Post’. I’m ashamed that I did not know about it but I am glad to have found it. It is a beautifully created piece of cinema. Not preachy in its tone and not overly apologetic in its message. There are no black and white characters here so there is no ultimate catharsis. The premise of the movie is simple enough. The titular Cameron Post is a high school student in the US in 1993. She is homosexual and when it is discovered by her family, she is sent to a “Conversion Center” called God’s Promise. There she meets a lot of other “patients” who are promised to be cured of homosexuality by prayer and counselling because they suffer from something called ‘Same Sex Attraction’ or SSA if you want to be glib. The head of the institute, Dr Lydia Marsh, is a kind looking strict woman who runs the facility with her brother (an ex-gay present Reverend) Rev. Rick. She says, and I paraphrase here, that there is nothing like homosexuality. There is only sin…would you let drug addicts hold parades for themselves? This was uttered pretty much in the first half an hour or twenty minutes into the movie and it sets the tone of the story for me and also gave me goosebumps for some reason. The first thing everyone is supposed to do at the facility is fill out a drawing of an ice berg with all the reasons they think are responsible for their perverse and sinful sexual proclivity. The ice berg, according to Dr Marsh, is a perfect metaphor for the deep seated issues that no one talks about that actually causes SSA and makes people act the way they do. The reasons people list out are as bizarre as encouragement towards sports for girls, involvement in feminine activities like cooking and sowing for boys, parental conflicts, and even having a unisex name like Cameron. God’s Promise has a cure no matter what your illness….homosexuality, gender confusion, bisexuality, you name it!
What took me aback is that it is set in 1993 in the US. For some reason I thought the institution shown in the movie can’t possibly be real in the 90s in the land of the free. It is true that bigots and homophobes still rule a large part of the world but there was a cognitive dissonance in me about their reach in the real world. It was only when I came out of the movie theater and read more about the inspiration for the story was my bubble burst. This is not a fictional or dystopian story. It is an adaptation of a book of the same name which is inspired from the very real interactions and experiences of the author. The only fictional part of the story is the names of the characters and the institution. What is even more shocking is these institutes exist to this day. “Conversion Therapy” is still practiced in various parts of the world. The funding source is unsurprisingly, right wing conservative religious groups. Some statistics that I came across in prominent newspapers in the US and UK** state that as of now only 14 states in the US have banned the practice of conversion therapy for minors . The institutes are still very much practicing these methods on adults and whats more is they are run by ‘doctors’. The Christian community in majority of the states in US is still trying to get people to ‘leave homosexuality’ and the incentive for people to go to these institutes and bear these practices is wider social acceptance by their religious communities.
It is sad that the target of such institutes are the teenagers. Well their logic is sound…get them young! But teenagers already feel like the world is conspiring against them or everyone hates them. Add to this, homosexual kids are put through a next level reaffirmation that they definitely do not belong and are hated by everyone because they don’t fit. Putting them through a ‘conversion therapy’ only results in a constant flux of emotions leading to insecurities and severe inferiority complex. There is a lot of confusion about sex and desire bundled with unnecessary guilt that you are not normal, you are bringing shame to your family, you are not religious enough (applies to all religions) and you are not to be loved because you don’t deserve it. It is not surprising though that people who come out of these places have not been cured but accepted that it is easier to lie for the rest of their lives.
Forget the conversion therapy…take the practice of female genital mutilation, denying entry to women to enter certain temples, denying civic rights based on castes…all of these bizarre practices have roots in some form of religious doctrine. Yet, the validity of God is not questioned by majority of the people. Is it that scary to be held accountable for your own actions? Why do we still need a sense of validation from a Supreme Power for everything that we do when most of them imply that we have to be cruel and apathetic to most other people?
I may sound anti christian but trust me I am anti every religion and religious practice that is anti basic human decency. Take the Sabrimala example in India where historically women have not been allowed to enter the temple because of some credible sounding incredulous reasons. I am sure no God came and told people that he doesn’t like half his fan base. You don’t need divine intervention to convince anyone that you are right, religious practices are more or less a manifestation of the very real power of human cunning. Similarly , the practice of making women and children forcefully wear the Hijab although seemingly devotional is nothing but power-play because the degree of clothing on the body of women in your family can not be a measure of the degree of your goodness/ godliness/ devotion.
I grew up in a society where people practice multiple religions and by the time I was 15 I knew none of them were ‘good’ or ‘would lead me to a higher power’. In fact, what was happening was quiet the opposite. I understood that no religion ever teaches us to be nice to each other….only a subset of people who follow the same beliefs or Gods are supposed to be treated like equals. My religion teaches you that people born in different social hierarchies belong their and that your virtue and identity is tied to your surname, it also teaches us that we can pay off our sins by donations to temples or priests, it teaches us to believe in the unquestionable authority of the ‘holy men’ and that the role of a woman is to be a pious, moral, self sacrificing person who can take care of the husband. The last one is so vital that it is always recited in all heterosexual marriages performed with Hindu rituals. Unsurprisingly, no such conditions are imposed on men.
I have, much like most atheists, my own philosophy and that is to live my life by the principles of decency and humanity. That is already making me a better person than any religious ritual or any teaching that I have ever learned from any religion around me. If I were sent to a conversion therapy to find divinity, the primary reasons listed for my ‘Lack of Faith’ syndrome on my ice berg would be a) intolerance to bullshit and b) irrepressible urge to think amongst others like too much exposure to good books and movies!