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The Straight Line

How the Fringe Science of Ex-Gay Therapy Reoriented Sexuality

2015
Author:

Tom Waidzunas

The Straight Line

The consequences, for science as well as public policy, of relegating ex-gay therapies to the scientific fringe

Drawing on extensive participant observation at conferences for ex-gays, reorientation therapists, mainstream psychologists, and survivors of ex-gay therapy, The Straight Line traces reorientation debates in the United States from the 1950s to the present.

In The Straight Line, Tom Waidzunas offers a nuanced account of conflicts over sexual mutability in relation to civil rights and equal protection under the law. This book astutely analyzes the cultural saturations of scientific claims concerning ‘reorientation,’ tracing the ex-gay movement’s origins and its decline in the United States as well as its troubling ascent in post-colonial Uganda.

Jennifer Terry, University of California, Irvine

To be taken seriously, therapies that claim to “cure” homosexuality wrap themselves in lab coats. Even though the fit is bad, and such therapies and their theorists now inhabit the scientific fringe, the science of sexuality has made some adjustments, too, Tom Waidzunas tells us in this provocative work.

Intervening in the politics of sexuality and science, The Straight Line argues that scientific definitions of sexual orientation do not merely reflect the results of investigations into human nature, but rather emerge through a process of social negotiation between opposing groups. The demedicalization of homosexuality and the discrediting of reparative therapies, ex-gay ministries, and reorientation research have, Waidzunas contends, required scientists to enforce key boundaries around scientific expertise and research methods. Drawing on extensive participant observation at conferences for ex-gays, reorientation therapists, mainstream psychologists, and survivors of ex-gay therapy, as well as interviews with experts and activists, The Straight Line traces reorientation debates in the United States from the 1950s to the present, following homosexuality therapies from the mainstream to the margins. As the ex-gay movement has become increasingly transnational in recent years, Waidzunas turns to Uganda, where ideas about the scientific nature of homosexuality influenced the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014.

While most studies treat the ex-gay movement as a religious phenomenon, this book looks at how the movement, in its attempts to establish legitimacy, has engaged with scientific institutions, shaping virulent anti-gay public policy.

The Straight Line

Tom Waidzunas is assistant professor of sociology at Temple University.

The Straight Line

In The Straight Line, Tom Waidzunas offers a nuanced account of conflicts over sexual mutability in relation to civil rights and equal protection under the law. This book astutely analyzes the cultural saturations of scientific claims concerning ‘reorientation,’ tracing the ex-gay movement’s origins and its decline in the United States as well as its troubling ascent in post-colonial Uganda.

Jennifer Terry, University of California, Irvine

How do you measure sexual orientation? In this intriguing book, Tom Waidzunas examines encounters between opposing social movements and mainstream science over the efficacy of ‘reorientation,’ ‘reparative,’ or ‘ex-gay’ therapies, tracing how these battles have affected the way we think about sexuality. The Straight Line masterfully queers the meaning of evidence, credibility, and knowledge in the construction of sexual subjectivities.

Amin Ghaziani, author of There Goes the Gayborhood?

Finally we have a book that takes a deep, inside look at sexual reorientation therapies and their far-reaching cultural effects. In a provocative turn, The Straight Line not only interrogates the fringe science of sexual reorientation, but it shows us how these efforts to reorient gays and lesbians have shaped—and been shaped by—more liberal ideas about sexuality.

Jane Ward, author of Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men

The Straight Line is a remarkably forward-thinking work of scholarship with the potential to disrupt normative academic discourses in the best possible ways.

Lambda Literary

The Straight Line

Contents

Introduction: The Shifting Straight Line
1. The Reorientation Regime: Therapeutic Techniques in an Anti-Homosexual Era, 1948–1972
2. The Evolution of Dr. Robert Spitzer: The Rise of Gay-Affirmative Therapies, 1970–2003
3. Ex-Ex-Gays Match Testimony with Testimony, 2004–2007
4. Reorientation’s Last Stand: Showdown at the American Psychological Association
5. A National Movement against “Homos”: How Reorientation Concepts Traveled to Uganda, 2009–2014
Conclusion: Sexuality Is a Matter of Perspective
Acknowledgments
Methodological Appendix
Notes
Index