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.
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”.
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.
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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