Gerry B's Book Reviews

Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, by Bernadette Barton

An interesting and informative study

In the Bible Belt, it’s common to see bumper stickers that claim One Man + One Woman = Marriage, church billboards that command one to “Get right with Jesus,” letters to the editor comparing gay marriage to marrying one’s dog, and nightly news about homophobic attacks from the Family Foundation. While some areas of the Unites States have made tremendous progress in securing rights for gay people, Bible Belt states lag behind. Not only do most Bible Belt gays lack domestic partner benefits, lesbians and gay men can still be fired from some places of employment in many regions of the Bible Belt for being a homosexual.

In Pray the Gay Away, Bernadette Barton argues that conventions of small town life, rules which govern Southern manners, and the power wielded by Christian institutions serve as a foundation for both passive and active homophobia in the Bible Belt. She explores how conservative Christian ideology reproduces homophobic attitudes and shares how Bible Belt gays negotiate these attitudes in their daily lives. Drawing on the remarkable stories of Bible Belt gays, Barton brings to the fore their thoughts, experiences and hard-won insights to explore the front lines of our national culture war over marriage, family, hate crimes, and equal rights. Pray the Gay Away illuminates their lives as both foot soldiers and casualties in the battle for gay rights.

Bernadette Barton (Ph.D. University of Kentucky 2000) is Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University. Her research and teaching interests include sexuality, gender, popular culture, religion, qualitative methods and the sex industry.

Bernadette’s scholarship explores the experiences of members of marginalized groups. She is most fascinated by issues of transformation and social justice, such as: what makes someone conscious of social inequality? What causes people to change oppressive attitudes and behaviors? How can we really see one another across vast differences of geography, gender, race, class and sexual identity? Over the past fourteen years, Bernadette has worked on two major research projects, each exploring issues of inequality, gender, identity and sexuality. The first is a study of exotic dancers, published by New York University Press titled, Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers, and the second a study on religion and homosexuality in the Bible Belt titled, Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

While Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, by Bernadette Barton, [NYU Press, 2012] may not be for everyone, it is nonetheless a timely (and scary) read.

We (including us Canadians) have just come through what is arguably the nastiest presidential election campaign ever in U.S history, during which the fundamentalist Christians tried to set GBLT human rights back at least a half-century or more.

It is not to say that all Christians are homophobic, and there are plenty of homophobes who are Non-Christian, but almost invariably the Christian card is dragged out to condemn homosexuality for everything from the Great Flood (itself a myth) to Hurricane Sandy.

Sociologist, Bernadette Barton, is well qualified to tackle this subject, which she does so by going to the source—gays living in the so-called “Bible Belt.” What she finds is not particular new or surprising. Homophobia is a self-perpetuating attitude, generally planted by narrow-minded, uber-religious types, and carried forward from generation to generation by negative reinforcement. This accounts for broad-based consistency sufficient to identify a particular area as being homophobic.

From the recipients point of view, growing up gay in such a repressive atmosphere can be isolating and traumatic (sometimes physically), and it takes a Herculean amount of courage to come out under such hostile circumstances. None of this is particularly new, however, and so a ‘break-through’ study it is not.

Nonetheless, the writing is at a very high level, and Professor Barton’s insights are reliable and informative; therefore, I recommend Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gaysas a really interesting read. Four bees.

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November 19, 2012 - Posted by | Gay non-fiction, Non-fiction

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