For many Canadians, the ex-gay movement seems like a bizarre modern example of American evangelicalism. However, check your feelings of national superiority at the door. In Christina Willlings’ latest documentary, The Cure for Love, we learn that there is a discreet network of ex-gay ministries throughout Canada.
The documentary follows the lives of people on the inside of the movement: a pastor who runs an online youth forum, a robotics engineer who considered suicide, and Brian and Ana — two people who married last year after they “reoriented.”
“I am happy with gentleness of the piece,” Willings explains.
“As a gay person I have spent my whole adult life as an activist in one way or another, but my mode of examination has changed. I now feel it is more useful to foster understanding as opposed to bashing another’s perspective. I developed compassion for many of the subjects in the film and have some measure of respect for the authenticity of their struggle.”
“But hanging out with the Christian right for three years has been excruciating,” she laughs.
While working on the project, Willings says she found it challenging to watch her subjects struggle. Indeed, through following their character development, Willings found herself unexpectedly introspective.
“I had thought that my hook for making this film was the complete injustice of the situation but I discovered that I wasn’t quite finished dealing with my own background. I grew up in an evangelical Christian family, and was familiar with some of the struggles that these people seemed to be dealing with. Even though my political rhetoric had largely protected me, underneath there was still some healing to be done.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Willings sees several trends with respect to the future of the ex-gay movement.
“I am concerned about the expansion of the movement recently in Canada. There is an organization called Exodus Global Alliance, whose specific mandate is to eradicate homosexuality worldwide, through a 19th century styled expansionist mission mostly to developing countries. They chose to launch this initiative from Canada as Canadians are seen as ‘global cooperators,’ in contrast to the US who are perceived to be ‘overbearing cowboys.'”
Willings also notes that some extremists claim the ex-gay concept is proof that homosexuality doesn’t exist. Some are using that argument in order to fight progressive legislation, but she doesn’t think it will last.
“Honestly, in the long term, I think the ex-gay movement is going to peter out because it is so ridiculous — people might be able to live life as a heterosexual for a while, but eventually they will explode and maybe get caught giving someone a blowjob in a bar or something equally sensational.”
She says that some change is already happening within the movement.
“They are now talking about whether they can really change, and are modifying their language. People in the movement are saying, ‘I have a hard time with the term ex-gay, because I still see myself as gay but am choosing to live my life as a heterosexual.’ There is more honesty creeping in.”