“You want to go to heaven, don’t you?…You need to be heterosexual.” Who actually talks like that? Certainly no one who works with same-sex attracted (SSA) people rejecting the gay identity. But so opens the film billed as “the true story” of Michael Glatze, ardent gay activist turned intergendered married Christian pastor. In the scene, the converted Glatze (played by the always-up-for-adventure James Franco) tries to help a teen struggling in his desires and his faith, a teen who, the film later makes abundantly clear, safely rejects Glatze’s counsel and adopts his true self as gay.
Advertised as an even-handed account and praised as unbiased and non-judgmental, the movie presents over and over the above caricature of Christianity. Michael’s lines throughout his journey, “Choosing a gay identity will condemn you to an eternity of suffering,” “I just want to be with my parents in heaven, okay?”, and of course the tract he finds that so moves him, “Turn or Burn!”, trumpet the message, you must have straight desires to be saved from hell. This decidedly non-Christian idea, essentially salvation by works, is supposed to have been responsible for Glatze’s change of life.
So when his new girlfriend asks Franco, “Are you still attracted to men?” He shoots back “No. That was all in the past.” Who talks like this? It is like asking a husband, do you ever experience attraction to someone who is not your wife? And then implying that answering ‘yes’ means that you are denying your true identity by being married.
The makers, described as “determinedly balanced,” eagerly show us the former life of Michael and Bennett (played to a tee by the talented Zachary Quinto) as idyllic, spending almost a third of the movie portraying a wonderfully contented couple, and then, committed threesome! Surely that happy, joking, caring arrangement was stable and satisfying to all involved. Threesomes work out that way all the time in real life, right?
But this makes all the greater contrast to Franco’s tortured character after his conversion to Christ, obviously anything but peaceful while claiming that he is. So when he makes his 2006 decision to leave this “shallow lifestyle,” they make sure we’ve seen a lifestyle anything but shallow, leaving us with no plausible motivation for Michael’s leaving except that he is a little loco. And his subsequent blog posts about how happy he is are interspersed with hard-jawed scowls of dark brooding.
Evenhanded? Determinedly balanced? Only if you like getting hit with a sledgehammer.
The story is further told by the camera angles and lighting. Every shot of boyfriend Quinto is front on and beautifully lit, displaying the open honesty of his gay life. His furniture is always nice and his hair is virtually sculpted. Post-conversion Franco gets the opposite treatment, his protestations of joy shot from strange angles and with dark greenish lighting, tastefully highlighting the ugly clothes and aging Danish modern furniture of his new Christian life.
While graphic gay sex scenes punctuate the former relationship, there is no such sensual—or even a long kiss—scene of Michael with his wife, just one shot of how Michael fails to get aroused with a woman he picks up at a bar. Christians don’t really have sex, I guess. Hey, would you choose this life?
All of this forms the backdrop to dialogue designed to force the same conclusion. Bennett’s patient, understanding, ever loyal words are contrasted to Michael’s rude, awkward, almost antagonizing exchanges with his former friends. Right up to his closing panic attack as a Christian, we are driven to ask, of course, who is the attractive person here? Which one is really in touch with himself? The answer in this movie is obvious.
So why was this movie made? It was not to tell the truth about Christian conversion. You can go find out yourself how much of it was accurate. The real Michael Glatze has said and written enough things one can pick out to shape an extreme narrative. But many things you don’t have to research-like whether Protestant Bible schools put crucifixes on their dorm walls or whether, after becoming a Christian, people wear mustard-colored pants.
And the ‘why’ of the movie had nothing to do with even-handedness. But this movie had to be made. Why? Because it is increasingly difficult to deny the presence of many SSA individuals who go on to intergendered marriages, even among those previously identifying as gay (I mean, really identifying).
Our Higher Ground ministry in New York City, for example, runs a Christian disicpleship group in Greenwich Village for those with unwanted SSA. Even though not large, the Village group has seen seven intergendered marriages (and five babies born) among attendees in the last three and a half years. This group is not unusual. So the cultural narrative insisting that people with SSA must be gay is being contradicted all around us. The myth that a Christian with SSA cannot be happy in an intergendered relationship is too often challenged by the real people in our lives to go unaddressed.
So what was this movie? Damage control.
Did you see it?