mental health, obits, psychology

This morning, I learned about the late Norah Vincent… now I want to read her books.

Prior to this morning, I had never heard of the late author, Norah Vincent. Then I read the New York Times obituary that detailed her remarkable life and the books she wrote. Now, I’m going to have to add some of her books to my pile to be read. I wish I had found her in the early 00s, when she was a “media darling” for passing as a man for about 18 months as research for her book, Self-Made Man. The book was an instant best seller. Vincent was a lesbian, and she identified as a woman. Her pronouns were “she/her”. She was not transgender or non binary. She simply wanted to explore what it’s like to pass as a man in today’s world. Or, at least as it was circa 2003 or so, when she was a 35 year old journalist.

Vincent went to great pains to be convincing in her quest to “pass” as a guy. She got coaching from a voice teacher at Julliard, who taught her how to deepen her voice. She bound her breasts with a too small sports bra and wore a jockstrap with a realistic prosthetic penis in it. She cut her hair very short, and learned from a makeup artist how to make it look like she had beard stubble. She even built up her back and shoulder muscles through workouts designed to increase her upper body strength. Then she did hard core “masculine” things, like joining a bowling team, a la Fred Flintstone. During her time posing as a man, she called herself Ned, dated women, went to strip clubs, and experienced being “rebuffed” at bars.

The experience led to a reportedly excellent book, but according to her obituary, it took a toll on her mental health. She was left disoriented and alienated to the point at which she checked herself into a hospital to recover from severe depression. She spent the next year and a half bouncing from hospital to hospital, which resulted in her next book, Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin. That one sounds even more intriguing to me than the first!

More books followed, and people got to know her controversial maverick style. I haven’t read any of Norah Vincent’s books yet, but I can already tell that I’m probably going to enjoy her writing, just by reading her obituary. The author of the obit, Penelope Green, writes:

Ms. Vincent was a lesbian. She was not transgender, or gender fluid. She was, however, interested in gender and identity. As a freelance contributor to The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice and The Advocate, she had written essays on those topics that inflamed some readers.

She was a libertarian. She tilted at postmodernism and multiculturalism. She argued for the rights of fetuses and against identity politics, which she saw as infantilizing and irresponsible. She did not believe that transsexuals were members of the opposite sex after they had surgery and had taken hormones, a position that led one writer to label her a bigot. She was a contrarian, and proud of it.

Even though I doubt I would agree with a lot of Ms. Vincent’s opinions, I have a feeling I would enjoy reading about them. I admire people who are brave enough to express themselves and do so with intelligence and style. I like reading well considered and thought out viewpoints, even if they don’t agree with my own. I read that she was for fetal rights, but somehow, I doubt her argument is going to be the same as some of the pro-life males’ arguments in any comment section of a mainstream newspaper’s. I doubt her comments will be based on religious or political dogmas, as are most opinions shared by everyday people. I do think it’s interesting that she was pro-fetal rights, especially given the way she exited her life.

According to her New York Times obituary, Norah Vincent died on July 6, 2022, at age 53, having gone to a clinic in Switzerland to end her own life. In my review of Amy Bloom’s recent book, In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss, which was about Bloom’s husband’s decision to end his life at Dignitas, a Swiss organization that helps people commit suicide, I wrote about how people can more easily end their own lives in Switzerland than they can in the United States. I don’t know what reasons Vincent used to justify ending her life. According to Bloom’s book, even the folks at Dignitas have to be convinced that the person committing suicide isn’t clinically depressed. The obituary doesn’t mention a terminal illness, other than mental illness. Below is exactly what Penelope Green wrote in Vincent’s obit:

Ms. Vincent died on July 6 at a clinic in Switzerland. She was 53. Her death, which was not reported at the time, was confirmed on Thursday by Justine Hardy, a friend. The death, she said, was medically assisted, or what is known as a voluntary assisted death.

Having experienced clinical depression and anxiety myself, I have a slight inkling of what may have been tormenting her. Whether or not people want to realize it, mental illness is still medical illness, and it can make living very difficult. It sounds to me like Vincent was an unusually sensitive soul with unique ideas and incredible powers of creativity. Sometimes that combination in a person can be devastating, as the person goes from brilliance to despair. Perhaps her creativity made her experience life on a much more intense level that was just too much to bear. Or, maybe something else was going on that she chose not to disclose, because frankly, it’s no one else’s business.

A lot of people in the comment section, many of whom obviously didn’t read the article, were making wrong assumptions about her. Some were even bold enough to use her story, which they never bothered to read, to support their own theories about gender politics. I wish people would read more. And I wish they would at least read comments by people who have read before they chime in with their own opinions. Alas, people don’t want to spend the money on a subscription or take the time to read. Yet they want to be heard. I would like to know why we should listen to people who don’t bother to listen to others. I think it would be great if, somehow, social media platforms could determine if people had read before allowing them to post. It’s a pipe dream, I know. Especially given our First Amendment rights in the United States, which overall are a good thing.

I still have a lot of books to be read, so it may be a long time before I get to Norah Vincent. But I hope I do, because she sounds fascinating. I wish I had discovered her before she exited life. And the comments about her are equally interesting– from those who didn’t read and assumed she died in the United States, to those who accused her of being “ableist” for the title of her second book (even though she was suffering from mental illness herself).

I don’t know about you, but it really is becoming exhausting keeping up with all of the “ist” labels people throw out these days. You can’t win, no matter what side of the spectrum you’re on. Why do people have to put labels on behaviors the so-called “woke folks” determine are somehow “harmful”? I don’t like the term “snowflake”, because I think it’s become very cliched. However, I do think that constantly judging and criticizing people for their thoughts and opinions makes life more difficult than it needs to be. It’s tiresome and obnoxious. But maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety… and tired of the thought police.

Gonna close this post now, and head over to Amazon to buy a couple of Norah Vincent’s books, which I hope to review in the near future. I’m sure whomever is in charge of her estate will appreciate the sales. If you want to join me, you can click one of the links below. If you purchase through either link, I will get a small commission from Amazon, which would be nice for me. But if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine too. Because I don’t blog for money, in spite of what some people wrongly ASSUME about me. Below are the two I’m most interested in at this point.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of Salty Baby, by Orla Tinsley… 

Somehow, I never got around to reposting this review of the book, Salty Baby. This review was originally written and posted in December 2013, and reappears here as/is. I remember that this book was recommended to me by one of my Irish readers. Thanks again for that, Enie!

A couple of weeks ago, a visitor to this blog from Ireland alerted me to Orla Tinsley’s 2010 book, Salty Baby.  Orla Tinsley was born in March 1987 and has cystic fibrosis, which was discovered three days after her birth.  I was interested in her story because I have read several books on CF and because it offered a perspective of how people handle this devastating genetic disease in countries other than the United States.  The title of Tinsley’s book, Salty Baby, refers to the unusually high concentration of salt people with CF have in their bodies.

Tinsley’s writing career seems to have started with a stroke of luck.  In Ireland, patients in hospitals are often kept in wards.  It was not unusual for Orla to be sharing a room with five other people.  One time, she happened to be sharing a room with a woman whose daughter was a reporter for the Irish Times.  Tinsley ended up writing several articles about CF for the Irish Times, particularly about the sorry state of hospitals for adults with cystic fibrosis. 

This book is also a coming of age story.  Tinsley writes about what it was like to grow up with CF among healthy Irish kids, some of whom called her “germ girl”.  She was interested in music, poetry, writing, and drama and was often involved in theatrical productions, despite being sick with CF.  I’ve often heard it said that kids with CF are kind of “special” in that they tend to be remarkably mature and “good”.  I definitely got that sense about Orla Tinsely, who bravely seemed to want to wring everything out of living as she could, even as she saw some of her friends dying of the same disease she was born with.

Tinsley had grown up going to a children’s hospital, where her illness was taken very seriously and nurses took pains to help her and other patients avoid cross-contamination.  She got her medications on time and the staff was very proactive in the care they delivered.  Once she graduated to the adult hospital, she discovered a whole new and terrifying world… where there weren’t enough beds to keep CF patients from mingling with each other.  Orla saw people die before their time, mainly owing to the poor conditions in the hospitals.

In a way, cystic fibrosis seems to have given Orla Tinsley a calling.  She became an activist in Ireland, working hard to improve the sub-par conditions in hospitals for CF patients.  While she doesn’t really explain everything that CF does to the body or even what it did to her body, she does explain that people who have cystic fibrosis must be very careful about not coming into contact with bugs, particularly if they come from another CF patient.  She writes of how hygiene standards were not as strict at the hospital for adults.  One time, she saw a male nurse preparing a needle with a tray that had blood on it.  She spoke up, which annoyed him… and probably spared her a serious setback in her illness.

Tinsley also goes a bit into sexuality with this book.  She realizes that she has romantic feelings for women and writes that she might be a lesbian.  And she also writes about her flirtation with eating disorders.  Although it was always my understanding that it’s very difficult for CF patients to keep weight on, Orla apparently was heavier than many patients are.  On a trip to Rome, she ran into an Italian man talking to a couple of ballerinas from Ireland, who were very thin.  When the Italian guy realized Orla was also from Ireland, he was surprised because she wasn’t as thin.  She didn’t realize that many Italian men apparently like “curvy” women (it’s my experience that they just plain like women). 

Orla writes that she had to talk to psychiatrists about her eating “problems”, that she claims she didn’t really have.  But then she writes about being very body and image conscious.  I would imagine with a disease like CF, it must be especially difficult growing up and dealing with body image issues.  Because she has had to have so many IVs in her lifetime, her veins are all pretty much shot.  So she’s had to have picc lines and port-a-caths installed in her body and she writes a bit about what that was like, too.  Due to her CF, she also has diabetes, and she writes about some of the special issues that have come up because of that.  She once got busted in the library for eating a banana and using her cell phone, which apparently results in a 10 euro fine.   

I mostly enjoyed reading Orla Tinsley’s book, Salty Baby.  She is an engaging writer who has a lot to say and comes across as very personable and intelligent.  The one thing I did notice about this book is that it’s a bit long and detailed.  There were times when I thought it could have been edited and streamlined a bit to make it a bit less cumbersome to read.  But overall, I was mostly just very impressed by Orla Tinsley and all she’s done to make CF care better in Ireland.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about cystic fibrosis, particularly as it’s treated in Ireland.

Here’s an article Orla Tinsley wrote for the Irish Times in June 2013…  She also has a blog that hasn’t been updated since 2014.

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book reviews, celebrities, homosexuality

Repost: A review of Meredith Baxter’s Untied

I originally wrote this review for Epinions.com in March 2011. I am reposting it here, as/is.

As a child of the 1980s, I would have had to have been living under a rock not to know who Meredith Baxter is. The beautiful blonde actress had made her mark back in the 70s with television shows like Bridget Loves Bernieand Family, but I knew her as Elyse Keaton, feminist matriarch of the Keaton family on NBC’s hit sit-com, Family Ties. In those days, she was known as Meredith Baxter-Birney, having married her Bridget Loves Bernieco-star, David Birney. Baxter and Birney later divorced; recently, Baxter made headlines by coming out as a lesbian. I learned about all of this and more by reading Baxter’s brand new memoir, Untied: A Memory of Family, Fame, and Floundering (2011). I purchased this book for my Kindle last week and found it a quick and interesting read. 

Meredith Baxter’s beginnings

After a brief introduction, explaining how she came out as a lesbian, Baxter begins describing her childhood. Meredith Baxter’s mother was an actress named Nancy Ann Whitney, who later came up with the stage name Whitney Blake. From a very early age, Baxter was required to call her mother Whitney, because Whitney didn’t want people thinking she was a mother. Baxter’s father, Tom Baxter, was a sound engineer specializing in live television and radio. Though her parents were married for ten years and had three children, their union ended when Baxter was just five years old. After the divorce, Tom Baxter remained a very small part of his children’s lives. Meanwhile, Whitney remarried twice.  

Baxter grew up in southern California on the fringes of show business. Her first stepfather, Jack Fields, was an agent who helped Whitney Blake get parts that later blossomed into a successful career on television. Baxter describes Fields as cruel, manipulative, and strict, but it was Fields who helped Baxter with her own foray into show business when she was a child.  

A complicated life

Though Meredith Baxter grew up to be a beautiful young woman, she comes across as a bit mixed up. In confessional prose, she admits to dabbling in drugs and alcohol, half-heartedly attempting suicide, and getting married for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, she was both lucky and talented and eventually started working as an actress. She had two children with her first husband, Robert Bush, and three with her second husband, David Birney.

Bitterness toward Birney

Meredith Baxter has a lot to say about her second marriage to David Birney. Baxter was married to Birney for about 16 years. Their union lasted three times longer than her marriages to Robert Bush and Michael Blodgett. However, the added length of the marriage seems to have tripled Baxter’s pain. She makes some very unflattering comments about David Birney and basically describes him as an abusive narcissist.  

A book about Meredith Baxter, not Family Ties… 

Though Meredith Baxter does dish quite a bit about being on Bridget Loves BernieFamily, and Family Ties, as well as a few of her better known made for television movies, I want to make it clear that this book is really about her life. And she has led a very complicated but interesting life, fraught with struggles, including alcoholism, breast cancer, and coming to terms with her homosexuality. But while there were times I kind of cringed while reading this book, I do think that ultimately, Baxter has put out a very positive memoir.  

Toward the end of the book, Baxter writes about what it was like to meet and fall in love with her current partner, Nancy Locke. Though she is “out of the closet”, I still get the feeling that being out is kind of hard for her. She very candidly explains how difficult it was for her to admit and accept her feelings for women. She also explains how hard it was for her to come out to people she loves… and how their reactions to her big news were surprisingly low key.  Untied also includes plenty of pictures.

Overall

I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because I’m a child of the 80s and I love biographies. I think Meredith Baxter did a fairly good job writing her life story. She really comes across as extremely human and somewhat down-to-earth. I do think she’s still in some real pain over her relationship with David Birney, but she seems to have learned from the relationship as well. I think Untied is worthy reading for those who are interested in Baxter’s life story.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Kathryn Casey’s She Wanted It All…

Here’s a repost of a review I originally wrote for Epinions.com back in the spring of 2007. Of all of Kathryn Casey’s books, I think this one might be my favorite. Of course, it’s also very triggering, because Celeste Beard Johnson reminds me so much of Bill’s ex wife. Things have happily changed for Bill and me since I wrote this review.

Not long ago, I was watching the true crime show Snapped on the Oxygen network. Snapped is a half hour program that showcases murders committed by women who have “snapped”. It was while I was watching that show that first heard the name Celeste Beard Johnson, a woman who seemed to have everything and threw it away because of her greed. Needless to say, I was intrigued by her case and that’s what prompted me to purchase Kathryn Casey’s 2005 book, She Wanted It All: A True Story of Sex, Murder, and a Texas Millionaire. It took me the better part of a week to read this fascinating book. I don’t mind sharing that I had a nightmare the first night I started reading.

She Wanted It All is the complicated story of Celeste Beard Johnson, a sexy, money hungry, mentally ill mother of twin girls who changed husbands like she (hopefully) changed her underwear. Celeste grew up in California, one of four adopted children. Although Celeste’s adoptive mother claimed that her children enjoyed an idyllic life, the children claimed that their parents were weird and unhappy. Nevertheless, Celeste seemed to be a happy, precocious child who was the type of person who could sell ice to Eskimos. She could be so sweet, then suddenly turn psycho.

At age seventeen, Celeste married her first husband, Craig Bratcher. She was very pregnant with twins on her first wedding day. Three months after her wedding day, Celeste gave birth to twin daughters, Jennifer and Kristina Bratcher. Less than a year later, the marriage was on the skids. Celeste didn’t take to motherhood very well and was frequently distracted by other men. Eighteen months after their wedding day, Celeste and Craig got a divorce. Although Celeste was initially granted custody of her babies, she frequently dumped them with other people. At one point, the girls were in foster care. Craig and Celeste reconciled for awhile and Celeste became pregnant again. When she had a third baby girl in November 1986, she gave her up for adoption. That was probably the kindest thing she ever did in her life.

As the years passed, Celeste found herself with a series of different men. In December 1988, she married her second husband, Air Force mechanic Harald Wolf, who was wary of Celeste from the beginning. Like others in Celeste’s life, Harald described her as wonderful at times. Then, her behavior would become erratic and hateful. Harald wanted to get away from her, yet he missed her when they weren’t together. An overseas transfer to Iceland without Celeste turned out to be a lifesaver, but not before Celeste financially ruined him.

In August 1991, twenty-eight year old Celeste married for the third time, this time to Jimmy Martinez. Again, the marriage was not destined to last. Celeste continued living a wild life, leaving her twin daughters home alone. Her third husband had moved to Austin, Texas for a job and their apartment needed to be packed. Celeste ordered her eleven year old girls to finish packing while Celeste went out and partied.

Celeste made up wild stories about her past and even claimed to have suffered from cancer. She accused her father of molesting her. She alienated her daughters from their biological father, prompting them to tell him that they hated him. And when first ex husband Craig Bratcher took Celeste to court in a bid to take custody of their daughters, Celeste painted herself as a victim. It wasn’t long before her third husband, Jimmy Martinez, noticed that his credit was in the toilet. Soon, they were divorced and Celeste was courting husband number four, Steve Beard, an elderly, wealthy, lonely Austin television mogul whose beloved wife had just died. Though Steve was 38 years older than Celeste was, they married in February 1995. Craig Bratcher eventually became so broken that he committed suicide. At Celeste’s insistence, Steven Beard adopted the twin girls.

From the very beginning, Celeste wanted Steven Beard for just one thing– his money. While Steve Beard was looking for a loving companion and partner, Celeste was looking for someone to bankroll her extremely extravagant lifestyle. She would be loving to him in person, but in private she referred to him as an old fat f*ck. At night, she’d spike his food with sleeping pills and his vodka cocktails with Everclear, wait for him to pass out, then go out and party. She spent his money recklessly and lamented to friends that she was just waiting for him to die. At one point, Steve Beard grew tired of Celeste’s antics and suggested divorce, threatening Celeste’s source of cash. Celeste became so despondent over her plight that she threatened suicide. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital, where she would be diagnosed as having both Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders.

The hospital is also where Celeste Beard met her lesbian lover, Tracey Tarlton. Tracey Tarlton fell head over heels for Celeste Beard and believed her when she claimed to be married to a monster. Like so many people before her, Tarlton fell into Celeste Beard’s trap, becoming so entangled that at Celeste’s behest, she ended up shooting Steven Beard while he slept, after the two women tried to poison him by growing botulism. The poor man lingered on the brink of death before he finally succumbed to a massive infection brought on by the gunshot wound and Celeste Beard’s deliberate attempts to cause the infection. She dressed his wounds with dirty bandages and didn’t wash her hands when she touched her husband; she also visited him when she was sick in an attempt to pass her germs to him.

And yes, once Steve was dead, Celeste Beard did eventually marry a fifth time. Husband number five was a young man named Spencer Cole Johnson; they wed right before Celeste went to prison for murdering her fourth husband. Oddly enough, the woman married five times and her last names came full circle (Celeste Johnson Bratcher Wolf Martinez Beard Johnson)

Does this story seem complicated? It is. I’ve just scratched the surface with the summary above. There’s a whole lot more to the story and Kathryn Casey has done a masterful job of keeping the details straight. She includes a photo section that shows several incarnations of Celeste. Like her contemporary, Ann Rule, Casey keeps her writing dignified and classy. There’s a minimum of gore, although the story is very scandalous and almost unbelievable. But unfortunately, I can believe this story. I mentioned at the beginning of this review that this book gave me nightmares. That’s because my husband’s first wife is in many ways a lot like a less money hungry version of Celeste Beard. As I read this book, I was blown away by the uncanny similarities between my husband’s plight and those of Celeste’s ex husbands. I can only hope that I don’t someday read a book about my husband’s ex.

This book hit really close to home for me, mainly because I’ve seen firsthand the lingering damage that can come from having a relationship with someone like Celeste Beard. My husband bears battle scars similar to those of Celeste’s ex husbands. He went through a period of financial ruin and his kids no longer speak to him. But I’d say despite that, my husband is a very lucky man. He still has his health, most of his family, and he’s recovering financially. Best of all, he’s alive and married to me. I am appreciated like I’ve never been appreciated by anyone; in turn, he is also appreciated for the wonderful man he is.

Obviously, as much as this book fascinated me, I will issue a caveat that it may cause nightmares. On the other hand, this book also inspires hope because it offers a glimpse of what it was like for Celeste’s children. My husband once enjoyed a close relationship with his children and now they apparently hate him. Celeste’s kids acted the same way with their bio father, but it later came out that they behaved that way because they were terrified of their mother and knew what she was capable of doing. It gives me hope that maybe someday, my husband’s kids will come around. I just hope no one has to die for that to happen.

For the most part, I think She Wanted It All is a very well-written, compelling book. While it is a true crime account, it’s also a fascinating case study of personality disorders, which may especially appeal to those with an interest in psychology. 

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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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