'Would you let drug addicts throw parades for themselves?'
Whilst I wouldn't usually give away a film plot, I am going to break with convention and open with the spoiler that conversion therapy, the ‘intervention’ offered to the protagonist in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, to cure her of her lesbian sexuality, doesn’t work.
I know! Shocking!
All jokes aside, electric shock therapy has actually been offered as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality more recently than you might think. In the award-winning film directed by Desiree Akhavan (pictured above, left), our heroine is offered ‘treatment’ of a more spiritual kind at the summer camp, God’s Promise.
The film (based on a 2012 novel by Emily M. Danforth) tells the story of a girl, Cameron Post (played by Chloë Grace Moretz, pictured above right), who is exposed to interventions more akin to emotional abuse than any desire reversal. 'How is teaching us to hate ourselves not emotional abuse?', asks Cameron.
With the very real rolling back of LGBT rights in America and across the globe, at a time where much of Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Oceania, and parts of Asia still consider homosexuality illegal (Akhavan herself coming from Iran a country where homosexuality is punishable by death), we would do well to remember that rights won can be lost and understanding gained can be easily overturned with zeal. The use of non-peer reviewed journals to publish biased and non-comprehensive literature summaries to construct arguments for pseudo-scientific organisations such a Christian Concern and the Narth Institute is one method that is used.
This important film illustrates how conversion therapy has been carried out in real settings, as Akhavan relays in an interview at the Undone Festival, all the techniques in the film were stolen from things they had read or heard. No imagination required. They were real.
Evidence drawn from primary research shows that attempts to change sexual orientation are unsuccessful and have been known to cause harm. The recently published Memorandum of Understanding indicates the number of UK organisations who oppose this practice. With the recent publication of the LGBT Action plan the Government indicates it intends to ‘bring forward proposals to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK’. One might wonder how it has taken so long.
The film focuses on the religious context of conversion therapy, a more American concept than British but a reminder that laws for therapists are likely easier to enforce. A story that could be set in 2018 not 1993, as the book’s author Emily M. Danforth expected, there would be plenty of the film audience who could 'fully relate to Cam’s experiences (and much, much worse)'.
A stunning soundtrack accompanies, including the Christian rock band Wild Yawp. Combined with sublime acting by Chloë Grace Moretz and Akhavan’s subtle and delicate direction, this makes for an important, contemporary and relevant film.
- Joanna Semlyen is prior Chair of the British Psychological Society's Psychology of Sexualities Section, and is based in Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia https://www.uea.ac.uk/medicine/
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