Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement (University of California Press, 2006), is an ethnographic and historical study of the ex-gay movement and the sexual politics of the Christian Right. Straight to Jesus traces the stories of people who join ex-gay ministries out of a conviction that the conservative Christian beliefs of their upbringing and their own same-sex desires are irreconcilable. Rather than definitively changing from homosexual to heterosexual, the participants experience a “queer conversion” that is both sexual and religious as born-again Christians. By building new forms of kinship and belonging and becoming what they call “new creations,” these men and women testify to religious transformation rather than changes in sexual desire or behavior.
The book won the Ruth Benedict Prize from the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists and the Gustave O. Arlt Award from the Council of Graduate Schools. The book was featured on MSNBC, National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, and other radio programs.
Partners in Prayer, The Boston Globe June 2006
“Erzen wasn’t interested in collecting fodder for political battles, though, and that’s what makes “Straight to Jesus” so enlightening. As an ethnographer, she made every effort to listen to and understand everyone at New Hope Ministry, whether or not she agreed with their beliefs (and it’s fairly clear that most of the time she didn’t). That’s practically unheard of in most popular discussions of charged issues like homosexuality — and rare in scholarly discussions, either. Nowadays, everyone’s convinced that they already know everything the other side has to say and that actually having to listen to it would constitute an insupportable demand on their own patience. Everyone thinks their side of the argument never gets any exposure, yet rabid, ranting opinion of all varieties howls at us everywhere we turn…. What emerges from “Straight to Jesus” is a far more nuanced and moving picture of the “ex-gay” movement than most readers will expect.”
—Laura Miller, Salon (July 11, 2006)
“This is ethnography at its best: an outsider’s careful, respectful translation of a subculture that is often poorly understood and easily dismissed in academic and political discourse. In this case, the subculture is religious conservatives who believe that homosexuality is a choice to be overcome. Erzen, an assistant professor of comparative studies at Ohio State University, spent a year of intensive dissertation fieldwork in 2000 with a residential program in the ex-gay movement called New Hope. The ministry caters to men, usually from conservative Christian backgrounds, who struggle with a deeply felt contradiction between their sexual desires and their religious convictions. Erzen argues that most analysis of the ex-gay movement has failed to grasp the powerful role of religion, and how many homosexuals yearn to reconcile sexuality and faith. Her study puts complex human faces on this small piece of the ex-gay movement while at the same time providing a well-researched backdrop for where the ministry fits into ongoing debates. She has terrific chapters on the history of the ex-gay movement, the nature/nurture debate around homosexuality and the discourse of addiction that undergirds much of the ex-gay movement. Her book is likely to become a staple for college courses on political discourse, religion and sexuality.”
—Publishers Weekly Starred Review February 27, 2006)
Interview with Publisher’s Weekly
“Tanya Erzen’s Straight to Jesus is one of those books that you hope someone will ask you about, when you are reading it in public. You simply want to share the complicated, seemingly contradictory ex-gay world Erzen so eloquently describes in her ethnography.”
—Howell Williams, H-Net Review, (August, 2006)
“Books like Erzens. . . are increasingly important as Christians struggle with the questions of sexual identity. They should be widely read by people who want to understand the political positions not only in the light of theological pronouncements, but also through the textures of individual lives and experiences.”
—Amy Johnson Frykholm, “Formerly Gay?, Christian Century (May 15, 2007,) p. 34.
“Covers the clash of Christian conservatism and gay identity with compassion and grace. Informative, well written and accessible, this book will be a compelling read even if you have no previous knowledge of the subject.”
“…It’s difficult to think of the ex-gay movement as anything but a political tool of reactionaries, who proclaim love for the sinner while conducting well-financed campaigns that claim same-sex love will lead to the collapse of Western civilization. Yet Tanya Erzen’s book allows you to do just that. She reveals the ex-gay project at its most authentic, through a dozen or so lives…. the tale is fascinating….
—Esther Kaplan, Women’s Review of Books, (May-June 2007).
“Erzen is sensitive, savvy, and provocative. Her mastery of historical sources, ethnographic technique, and accessible writing style are evident throughout. She illuminates aspects of conservative Christianity central to the ‘culture wars,’ deepening our understanding of the movement’s internal struggles over sexuality, gender, and family issues. Erzen has written a wonderful book.”
—Diane Winston, Knight Chair in Religion and Media, USC, author of Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army
“Tanya Erzen’s wonderful and timely book provides us with a compelling cultural history of the Christian right in the post-war period—from the cold war to family and sexual politics—as well as remarkable ethnographic insight into the dynamics of Exodus International. With compassion, humor, and insight, Erzen takes the reader through the ideological, organizational, and daily practices used in efforts to change people’s theological and sexual orientations, from self-help to conversion testimony.”
—Faye Ginsburg, Professor of Anthropology, New York University, author of Contested Lives
Tom Linneman, Men and Masculinities, 2007 10: 123-126.
Elizabeth Kaminski, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2008, vol. 33, no. 3.
Amy DeRogatis, Religious Studies Review, 2007.
R. Marie Griffith, Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, Volume 77,Issue 01, March 2008, pp 225-228.
Christine M. Robinson, Sociology of Religion, spring 2008, p. 110.
Omri Elisha, Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, Volume 15 Issue 2 2008.