book reviews, LDS

Reposted book review: Saving Alex

I posted this book review on my original blog back on March 4, 2016. Because a friend reminded me of it, I’m reposting it here as/is. In other words, pretend like you’re reading this in 2016, because I’m not editing it.

Last night, I read almost entirely in one sitting, a brand new book that was released on March 1, 2016.  It’s been a very long time since I last read a book in a matter of hours.  My attention span is not what it once was.  Nevertheless, I was compelled to finish this book.  Once I was finished reading, I was good and angry.  I think if I hadn’t taken a couple of Advil PMs, I would have had a really hard time falling asleep. 

Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began is certainly a mouthful of an unoriginal title.  Had the author, Alex Cooper, simply called her book Saving Alex, it may well have gone unnoticed.  Ever since the blockbuster film Saving Private Ryan came out, there have been other titles that have used the “saving” motif.  It’s the second part of the title– the mouthful part– that got me to order it.  I read a lot of so-called “exMormon lit” and I am also interested in gay and lesbian issues.  I have also read a whole lot about the so-called “teen help” industry, especially as it exists in Utah.  It was only natural I’d want to read Alex Cooper’s story, so I did.  And folks, it made my blood boil, even though I am neither a parent nor homosexual.  Some parents are simply shitheads and I think Alex’s parents qualify.  Edited to add:  I read in another review that Alex and her parents are on good terms now and they are very sorry for what they did.  I’m glad they have made amends, though I still think what they did puts them in shithead territory.  Just my opinion, though.  I’m not known for being forgiving.

Alex Cooper’s story

Fifteen year old Alex Cooper’s parents had moved to Victorville, California in an attempt to raise their daughter in a “safe” environment.  Alex’s mother was born and raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Her father was a Mormon convert who didn’t necessarily agree with all of the church’s teachings, but decided to go along with them for his family’s sake.  Alex points out that her dad had chosen the religion as an adult, whereas she had been born into it and was forced to live by its tenets her whole young life.

Alex hated Victorville.  She found it boring and uninspiring.  As she was approaching adolescence, she also started to realize that she had romantic feelings for females.  Mormons are famously intolerant of homosexuality.  It’s considered a grave sin for church members to act on “same sex attraction”.  Nevertheless, despite Alex’s strict Mormon upbringing in the church and association with church members, she turned out to be a lesbian.

One day, a few of Alex’s Mormon friends introduced her to a beautiful 18 year old woman named Yvette.  Yvette was pretty much on her own, making her own money selling marijuana.  She was a lesbian.  Alex became fast friends with Yvette, and they were soon engaged in a sexual relationship.  On a couple of occasions, Yvette and Alex took off together without telling Alex’s parents where they were going.  Alex’s parents did not know Yvette, and would not have wanted Alex hanging around with her if they did.  They were faithful church members who believed homosexuality is wrong.  Besides that, Yvette was a legal adult who supported herself by selling marijuana.  Alex and Yvette were very attracted to each other, and Alex describes Yvette as a good person, despite her less than church approved lifestyle. 

Alex’s parents became aware of Yvette’s presence in their daughter’s life after the second time the pair had run off for a couple of days.  Alex had left a note lying about her whereabouts.  During the confrontation, Alex came out to her parents.  They promptly kicked her out of the house.  Alex stayed with friends for a couple of weeks.  It was during the summer and Alex wondered what she was going to do when school started again.  Would she even get to go to school? Would she be homeless?  Little did Alex know, her parents had some big plans for her.

Conversion “therapy”

It’s not a big secret that many Mormons think they can “cure” homosexuality through so-called conversion therapy.  For many years, there was a program based on church teachings called Evergreen International.  It was considered a “support group”.  I have read some heartbreaking accounts of what “support” at Evergreen was actually like.  Evergreen is now defunct; it has been replaced by another program called North Star.  North Star supposedly focuses on the “law of chastity”, accepting that some church members struggle with same sex attraction, but must be encouraged never to act upon those feelings.

Alex was not sent to a program like Evergreen or North Star.  Her parents told her they were going to send her to live with her grandparents in Utah for awhile.  They packed up all of her things and drove to St. George, a town in southern Utah that has hosted a number of so-called teen help facilities.  There is big money to be made in the troubled teen industry.  Having informally studied the industry for about fifteen years, I have noticed that many programs targeting troubled teens are run by faithful Mormons.  Some are run by other religious groups, such as southern Baptists, but Mormons seem to really have a stake in the industry.  I have written about this phenomenon plenty of times in the past, so I’m not going to rehash it in this post.  Suffice to say that if you Google, you will soon find out more about churches and “troubled teens”.

LDS leader David A. Bednar explains why “there are no homosexual members in the church”.

Dirty trick

So Alex arrived at her Mormon grandparents’ home in Utah.  She greeted them warmly, thinking they would offer her love, acceptance, guidance and shelter as she tried to straighten out the mess she was in.  But her grandparents and her parents had banded together and came up with a plan to deal with Alex’s “problem”.  They enlisted help from Johnny and Tiana Siales, a Mormon couple who attended the same ward as Alex’s grandparents did.  The Siales took “troubled youth” into their home in an attempt to rehabilitate them, even though neither Tiana nor Johnny had any real training in counseling.  They were just devout Mormons who had worked in Utah’s burgeoning teen help industry and knew a few abusive techniques to get teens to do their bidding.

Johnny had a bad temper and suffered from gout, so he was unable to work.  He spent his days playing video games.  Prior to “helping” Alex, Johnny had been a goon at one of the teen help schools in the area.  Tiana worked nights as a “counselor/security guard” at one of the local facilities; it was her paycheck that mostly supported the family.  They also had young children of their own.  Alex was forced to share a room with the Siales’ young daughters.  She slept on a mattress and wore “modest” clothes that were cast offs from Deseret Industries.  The Siales destroyed Alex’s own clothes.

Even though her parents didn’t know the Siales from Adam, they decided the Siales’ home was a better place for Alex to seek help for her “issues”.  They signed over custody of Alex to Johnny and Tiana.  And then, the nightmare began in earnest. 

My thoughts

I’m really tempted to keep writing Alex’s story and describe all of the horrors her caregivers subjected her to.  I’m not going to do that, though, because that would make reading Saving Alex unnecessary.  I think people should read this book, especially those who don’t have a clue about the Mormon church’s ugly policies regarding homosexuality and their attempts to “cure” it.  Alex was basically held prisoner by a couple of incompetents who abused her for months, trying to get her to change her sexual orientation.  What they did to her was cruel and disgusting.  I was seething as I read about Alex’s “treatment”.  Incredibly, she still wanted to go home.  She missed her parents.  Had I been in her shoes, I’m not sure I’d ever want to speak to my parents again.

Now, I’m not trying to say that Alex was totally innocent in this situation.  Had I been her mother, I would have been very upset about my 15 year old daughter running off with an 18 year old and not telling anyone where she was going.  I probably would have been highly inclined to discipline her.  I don’t think that’s unreasonable under the circumstances. 

What I do think is unreasonable is kicking your minor child out of the home and then sending her off to live with people you don’t even know.  Then, when she tries to tell you what they are doing to her– and what they are doing is legitimately abusive— turning your back on her and forcing her to continue to endure it.  And I ABSOLUTELY think conversion therapies are ineffective and damaging, even as I understand that there is a market for them.  If a legal adult wants to try conversion therapy, that’s their choice.  Personally, I don’t think it works, but I also think adults have the right to make their own decisions. But conversion therapy should never be forced on a child.  And a fifteen year old is still, by legal definition, a child!

Alex Cooper spent days wearing a backpack full of rocks, staring at a wall.  She was beaten, isolated, shamed, called a “dyke” and kept out of school.  Her parents completely abdicated their responsibility to raise their daughter to total STRANGERS with no actual expertise in helping teenagers except by employing abusive brute force methods.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  The many church members who witnessed the Siales’ abuse of Alex Cooper, including the many Mormon missionaries who came over for dinner and saw Alex wearing a backpack full of rocks, should also be ashamed of themselves.

I’m not sure how Alex’s life is going now.  She seems remarkably mature and evolved, especially given what she went through.  I admire her bravery and respect those who helped her, which included some good-hearted Mormon church members who are a bit more evolved than Alex’s family was.  Her book pissed me off, though.  I do recommend it to those who need to be educated about conversion therapy and Utah’s “teen help” industry. 

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homosexuality

Taste the rainbow… get kicked out of school?

This morning, I read a story about a fifteen year old girl named Kayla Kenney who got photographed blowing out the candles on her birthday cake at Texas Roadhouse. She wore a rainbow sweater and smiled pretty over a rainbow themed cake with two candles, a one and a five, on top. The photo was posted to Facebook and, apparently, that meant the end of Kayla’s freshman year at Whitefield Academy in Louisville, Kentucky. Someone shared the photo with officials at her school, and next thing she knew, she was a girl with “no class”… (sorry, for the obvious joke).

Kayla’s mom, Kimberly Alford, alleges that her daughter was expelled from the private Baptist affiliated academy solely because school administrators felt the colorful cake promoted “gay pride” and by posing with it, Kayla was endorsing homosexuality. Ms. Alford received an email from the school’s headmaster, Dr. Bruce Jacobson, who wrote that Kayla,

demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs and follows two years of lifestyle violations.

Alford admits that her daughter did have a couple of disciplinary issues at school. Once, she got caught with an e-cigarette (Juul Pods in her backpack) and another time, she was disciplined for cutting class. Jacobson did not provide details about Kayla’s transgressions in an emailed response to the Washington Post, but he did issue the following statement about this case:

“Inaccurate media reports are circling stating that the student in question was expelled from our school solely for a social media post,” the school said in a statement. “In fact, she has unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years.”

Jacobson added that, “Whitefield Academy is accredited by ACSI/AdvancEd and a member of the Non Public School Commission of Kentucky, and therefore we meet all Kentucky regulations and laws.  Our code of conduct is on par with other private Christian schools in our area.  It is unfortunate that one of the student’s parents chose to post internal family matters on social media, and we hope our former student is not adversely affected by what her parents chose to make public about her situation.”

Furthermore, Jacobson writes that all of the families who enroll their children in the private Christian school, which takes students in grades K-12, are aware of the school’s rules and the expectations regarding the students’ conduct. Another article went into more detail about what Jacobson wrote than the Washington Post did.

However, although Ms. Alford acknowledges that Kayla has had some disciplinary problems in the past and was on probation, she states that since the e-cigarette incident, Kayla had not been in any trouble. Therefore, Ms. Alford concludes that Kayla’s rainbow themed birthday celebration was the reason she was kicked out of school, since rainbows and rainbow colored flags are often used to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride and support for LGBTQ rights. Ms. Alford also emphatically assures everyone that her daughter isn’t gay, even though she likes rainbow themed decorations.

So what do I think about this? Well… it seems to me that anyone who attends a Baptist affiliated school in which it explicitly states in the student handbook that homosexuality won’t be tolerated probably should have realized school officials would not appreciate a student giving off the slightest appearance of promoting homosexuality. That means that publicly posing with anything that has rainbows on it probably does put students on the school’s radar. And if a student has already been in trouble with the administrators over cutting class and having vaping paraphernalia, this might be the last straw. It’s ridiculous, of course, but so is paying money to attend a school with homophobic policies, especially in this day and age. Right here on page 18 of the school’s handbook is the following statement:

Role of the Christian School

Whitefield Academy’s Biblical role is to work in conjunction with the home to mold students to be Christ- like. On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong (Rom. 1:18-32, I Cor. 6:9). If the home environment is not in harmony with the school’s doctrinal belief in the centrality of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture and Biblical lifestyle, it will be difficult for the school to cooperate with the home and achieve the goal of a student becoming Christ-like. In such cases, the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student.

So, while Dr. Jacobson claims that Kayla wasn’t kicked out over posing with the rainbow themed cake, I have a feeling that the rainbow themed cake, along with some of Kayla’s other “missteps” from the straight and narrow (ie; dressing like a “tomboy” and being “athletic”, as her mom puts it), made her appear to be less suitable for the strict Christian school, which claims to want to mold its students in the image of “Christ”, but in policy, seems rather un-Christlike to me. After all, Christ was all about being kind, forgiving, and inclusive, wasn’t He? But… as Whitefield Academy is a private school, I suppose they do have the right to make and enforce rules as they deem fit.

My comments about Kayla being “unsuitable”, by the way, isn’t a slam on her. I, myself, would be highly “unsuitable” as a student at that school. I like beer and I cuss like a sailor… and I support people loving whomever they choose to love, as long as the relationship is consensual and legal. I also highly object to this policy on page 17 in Whitefield’s handbook:

Fine Arts Works

All original student work, whether graphic, written or performed, is considered the property of Whitefield Academy. The school reserves the rights to print and reproduce copies of the student work for sale and display in an effort to continue to fund the training of students in a performing fine arts area. This policy also protects the amateur status of the serious fine arts student until such a time as he/she is ready to assume the responsibilities of a professional artist.

All original work produced by the student within the school and under the instruction of a Whitefield Academy instructor will be returned to the student at the end of the school year. The student is not permitted to sell any original work or copy of original work while holding the status of student at Whitefield Academy. The sale of original work or copies of an original work by a student may result in his removal from the Fine Arts Department or even dismissal from school.

Once a student has graduated, transferred or otherwise left Whitefield Academy, he will be granted by Whitefield Academy non-exclusive rights to any work done while at Whitefield Academy. These rights are non-exclusive: Whitefield Academy will maintain the right to reproduce from a copy any student work for resale or display while allowing the student to do the same from the original.

I think artists, performers, and writers get shafted enough as it is when it comes to ownership of their works. Whitefield Academy should not, in my view, lay claim to work done by a student. Just my opinion, though… and it would not top the list of reasons why I would never let my hypothetical child go there or to a similar school. However, I guess I do still support the all American right of freedom of choice.

Ms. Alford claims that her appeal to get Kayla back into her private Christian school was immediately denied. Kayla is now enrolled in a public school, which I think will be a better environment for her. Although Kayla’s older sister is a Whitefield Academy graduate, Kayla seems a bit too free-spirited and open-minded for such an intolerant environment. I hope that Ms. Alford gives some more thought about her decision to send her children to a school that espouses such “judgmental” policies. She apparently didn’t have a problem with those policies before her daughter was tripped up by one. I would encourage her to consider whether or not conservative Christians are really all that “Christlike” after all. Maybe public school is where God thinks Kayla should be… where she can be around people who are truly forgiven for their mistakes.

Lots of fine people would not fit in at Whitefield Academy. It seems to be a special kind of place for a special kind of people who happen to fit the conservative “Baptist” Christian norm. Plenty of wonderful people can’t do that even on their “best” day… and frankly, in my view, that’s often to their credit. Who wants to hang around a bunch of legalistic uniformed Bible thumpers, anyway? Why pay for that experience? I wish Kayla much success and happiness in her new school.

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homosexuality

“Going straight…”

The month of June has been set aside to celebrate gay pride. I happen to have several gay relatives and many gay friends. For some reason, I’ve never been particularly homophobic, even though I grew up in a very conservative, Christian town and, despite having gay relatives, I come from a conservative Christian family. Maybe it’s because I watched a lot of Three’s Company when I was coming of age. There weren’t any actual gay characters or cast members; John Ritter, in his role of Jack Tripper, was simply tasked with acting “gay” so he could fool the landlords into letting him live with his two female roommates.

That show would probably not fly today. People are expected to be tolerant of homosexuality. And, over the past forty years, I have noticed that a lot of people are less freaked out by homosexuality… at least on the surface. Then, there are people who can’t or won’t accept homosexuality and feel the need to speak out about it.

Last week, I read an interesting blog post about Bible translations of the past. The author of the post wrote:

“I had a German friend come back to town and I asked if he could help me with some passages in one of my German Bibles from the 1800s. So we went to Leviticus 18:22 and he’s translating it for me word for word. In the English where it says “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination,” the German version says “Man shall not lie with young boys as he does with women, for it is an abomination.” I said, “What?! Are you sure?” He said, “Yes!” Then we went to Leviticus 20:13— same thing, “Young boys.” So we went to 1 Corinthians to see how they translated arsenokoitai (original Greek word) and instead of homosexuals it said, “Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

This kind of changes everything, doesn’t it? That passage that homophobic people tend to trot out whenever they justify their disdain or outright hatred of homosexuality isn’t necessarily about homosexuality so much as it is child molestation. The blog author looked at other Bibles from other countries and found the same thing. The Bible calls out pederasty, not homosexuality. Also from the post:

“I also have a 1674 Swedish version and an 1830 Norwegian version of the Bible. I asked one of my friends, who was attending Fuller seminary and is fluent in both Swedish and Norwegian, to look at these verses for me. So we met at a coffee shop in Pasadena with my old Bibles. (She didn’t really know why I was asking.) Just like reading an old English Bible, it’s not easy to read. The letters are a little bit funky, the spelling is a little bit different. So she’s going through it carefully, and then her face comes up, “Do you know what this says?!” and I said, “No! That’s why you are here!” She said, “It says boy abusers, boy molesters.” And, in fact, in the Norwegian version, she pointed out, that if you were to line up boys of different ages and say which group of these boys is this referring to, it would be the 8-12 year old group. That was how the linguistics were working and it was obviously referring to the pederasty, not homosexuality!” 

This morning, one of my super Christian relatives posted a video that turned my stomach. It came from a faith promoting Web site called Faith It. The video starred a young woman named Emily who had identified as a lesbian and used to say that Christians shouldn’t judge. When her dad noticed a hickey on her neck, Emily told her father she was gay and dating women. She implies that she led a sinful lifestyle, perhaps not just because of being gay, but because of promiscuity and, perhaps, partying too much. She was very young at the time, and partying too much is what a lot of young people do. I wouldn’t say being a lesbian had much to do with that.

Emily then had an epiphany after attending a Bible study. According to the article my relative shared: “along with the drunkards and other sinners, she saw that those who engaged in homosexuality were also on the list of those who wouldn’t enter the kingdom of God. Thankfully, the following verse offered hope for her redemption — along with all those who would repent of their sinful nature, by the blood of Jesus Christ.” Emily then, apparently, had a change of heart and a change of her sexual preferences.

To those who say they were “born gay”, she says, “It’s not gay to straight. It’s lost to saved.” She says Jesus has to come to lead homosexuals to the “right affections”. God wants us to have families and to have a family the usual way, one must have a man and a woman. Or… at least that’s the easiest way to do it. Being in a homosexual relationship won’t lead to having a traditional family.

Frankly, I find that mindset really upsetting. Plenty of straight people are married and have no children. Sometimes, it’s by choice. Sometimes, it’s not. Even still, I think about homosexuals who have tried to go straight, yet never really love their partner in the way they should. That’s not fair to either party. It’s not right to marry someone and pretend to be attracted to them for the sake of making babies. In fact, it’s often a recipe for disaster, especially for the innocent children who are born to couples that don’t really love each other.

I’m not very close to my super Christian relatives. The older I get, the less I have in common with them. They’re all Trump supporters and, though they spend a lot of time reading the Bible and going to church, they don’t seem to be very Christlike. The relative who shared this video has a niece who is a lesbian. As far as I know, they’re still very close to her. She has a wife and a son. We also have a male cousin who is gay and has been in a committed relationship for over twenty years. I can’t help but wonder what it must be like in their immediate families, dealing with this kind of cognitive dissonance. You have a close loved one who is homosexual and lives the lifestyle, yet you post this kind of trash on social media?

Bill’s sister, who was adopted by his dad and stepmother, is a lesbian. For many years, her Catholic mother lamented that her daughter was destined to go to Hell, just because she loves women. My husband’s stepmother’s best friend is also a lesbian, yet she evidently believed (and perhaps still believes) that her loved ones are going to burn in eternity only because of whom they choose to love. My sister in law and her wife are wonderful, kind, decent people. I refuse to believe they’re going to Hell simply because they’re lesbians. It wouldn’t be right or natural for them to try to be straight. That would be disastrous for everyone involved. If Emily from the video is truly gay, her life will not be easy as she tries to be straight. And it won’t be easy for the men she’s involved with, either, or the children that might come from such a union.

Anyway… I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m disappointed. I don’t understand the extreme religious mindset of people who profess to be Christians, yet don’t act as Christ would. Many of the comments on that video are pretty disheartening and some are downright sickening. I think of all the people I’ve heard about who have suffered because they have been told being gay is unacceptable and wrong. And they have been mistreated simply because of whom they choose to love. In American Bibles, it says that homosexuality is “sinful”, but other Bibles are translated differently. Could it be that those who are pushing this narrative against homosexuals have fallen for an agenda pushed by an organization rather than following the actual word of God? Not that I profess to be an expert on the word of God. I sure as hell am not. It’s just that this attitude against consenting adults loving other consenting adults is strange to me.

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