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    Thoughts After Seeing Boy Erased

    By Tom Moon, MFT–

    Boy Erased is a moving film about a gay teenager in Arkansas whose Baptist minister father pressures him into submitting to “conversion” therapy. One of the things I appreciated about the film is that it illuminates the background culture, which produces this bizarre form of emotional abuse. But since that same culture also produces millions of Trump supporters, it had the added bonus of also shedding light on the social conditions that sustain that cult as well.

    One thing that stands out in videos of Trump rallies is that you just don’t see people who seem contented and at peace with themselves. It’s impossible not to notice how miserably unhappy so many of them are. They’re also enraged, aggrieved and steeped in victimology. It’s no wonder. The conditions of life in the society depicted in the film are so oppressive, so hostile to life and so joyless, that they can’t help but produce people who are such bottomless pits of unhappiness and rage.

    The culture in which the protagonist struggles to find himself is thoroughly authoritarian. You do what daddy tells you, and you don’t talk back. Order and control are what matter; not personal freedom. There is a one-size-fits-all formula for who you are supposed to be and how you are supposed to live, and if you can’t conform, then you aren’t one of “us”; you are the dangerous Other who must either be converted or cast out.

    Central to this culture is religion: specifically, evangelical and fundamentalist Christian sects that disagree among themselves on theology, but which all seem to share a unanimous aversion to joy and celebration. These versions of Christianity aren’t exactly about dancing or festivals: on your day off you go with your family to church, where you sit upright in uncomfortable pews and sing songs about how grateful you are to be saved, after which the pastor lectures you on godliness and moral purity.

    Critical or independent thinking isn’t just discouraged; it’s essentially equated with sin. It’s no wonder that people who grow up in such environments are so uncritically accepting of everything that Donald Trump and right-wing media tell them. A popular bumper sticker slogan in the Bible belt reads, “Jesus said it. I believe it. That settles it.” As we all know, millions of devout Christians have widened this circle of infallibility so that it now includes Trump, which I find jaw-dropping, but apparently it really is true that when you have faith, all things are possible.

    One passage from the gospel of Luke exemplifies for me the attitude toward life of this kind of religion: “Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth.” Great! Then we’ll cover the land with asphalt and build strip malls. Imagine what a bleak place the world would be if it were ever really straightened out like that.

    Fortunately, there are other ways of understanding the spiritual dimension of life. I remember, as a young man, reading this from Zen hippie Alan Watts: “The universe, including ourselves, is thoroughly wiggly. Its features are wiggly in both shape and conduct. Clouds, mountains, plants, rivers, animals, coastlines—all wiggle.”

    As far as I can tell, this is a universal truth. That means that sexual orientation wiggles; and gender—so long assumed to be absolutely either/or, pick one, and never-the-twain shall meet—is actually as wiggly as everything else. We humans have a bad habit of imagining that there are sharp boundaries between things, but in reality, everything shades into everything else.

    The Creator—if there is one—surely made the world on the principle that variety is the spice of life. There’s at least one of every conceivable form of life; most of the time, there are millions. I suspect that one of the reasons queer people are such a problem for fundamentalists and evangelicals is because we are living reminders that limitless wigglines is the way things really are.

    That being the case, it would seem that the most intelligent thing for us to do would be to celebrate this riot of wiggliness. We’re never going to stop wiggling, so maybe the spiritual practice most appropriate to our lives on Earth would be to make our wiggles into dance and set them to music.

    Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. For more information, please visit his website