This Week's Guest: Ryan Kendall
We often talk on this show about escape, and it’s usually with the assumption that having an escape is a good thing. But there can be consequences to leaving the world you've always known behind -- even when that world is actively causing you harm. My guest this week is Ryan Kendall, whose parents subjected him to devastating homophobia, and dangerous "ex-gay" abuse. After Ryan legally emancipated himself from his parents, what followed was a period of homelessness and addiction that took years for him to overcome.
I first met Ryan after he testified in the trial to overturn Proposition 8. As a witness, Ryan was called to provide evidence that sexual orientation isn’t something you can deliberately change. And as you’ll hear, he was able to provide particularly vivid testimony to that effect.
We recorded this week's episode during a thunderstorm in Colorado, so you'll hear some noise of rain in the background and a few rolls of thunder that were oddly perfect additions to Ryan's story.
And I hope you'll join me for two exciting livestreams coming up. One is a Sewers of Paris livestream on March 25, and the other is a Dungeons and Dragons livestream on March 31.
That Sewers Of Paris livestream is happening this Sunday, March 25th, at 2pm pacific. It has been such a delight to chat with Sewers of Paris listeners about your favorite media and what you're watching and reading and listening to right now. I hope you’ll join us this Sunday, the 25th — you can find a link to the livestream in the show notes (it's at https://youtu.be/Xp5u9rMSvW4 ) and on the @Sewersofparis twitter feed.
The Dungeons & Dragons livestream is the following Saturday, March 31. I'll be joined by comedian Bryan Safi, writer Anthony Oliveira, critic Carlos Maza, and LGBT film scholar Bryan Wuest -- we’ll be playing an all new D&D adventure at 1pm pacific — head over to twitch.tv/prettyprettypixel to join us for that at 1pm on March 31st.
And we’re in the home stretch on the crowdfunding for our brand new upcoming podcast, Queens of Adventure, starring four drag queens playing an ongoing game of Dungeons and Dragons. Thanks to backers we’ve fully funded the first season of the show, and now we’re reaching for stretch goals, including livestream with the queens. Head over the QueensOfAdventure.com to help bring that show to life.
This Week's Recommendation: But I'm a Cheerleader
Thanks again to Ryan for joining me. For my recommendation this week, check out a movie he mentioned in passing — But I’m a Cheerleader. Just to prepare you, it is a movie that telegraphs intensely that it is a product of the late 90s. And as a low-budget indie film, it has a somewhat hand-made feel. But oh boy, it has a lot of feelings about queer love.
The story of the film is simple enough: a teenage girl exhibits signs of lesbianism, like a predilection for Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, and so her parents send her to an ex-gay camp. In the film, the camp is sort of John-Waters-lite — it’s over-the-top and, well, campy. The authorities are themselves living in a bonkers delusion that sexuality can be manipulated, and in a particularly arresting bit of casting, one of the most strident ex-gay characters is played by RuPaul.
Naturally, the young queers learn to break free from rigid gender stereotypes and accept themselves for who they are. The conclusion of the film is pleasant, not particularly surprising, but gentle and sweet and optimistic. Which is something queer people really needed around the time this movie came out.
But I’m a Cheerleader is a strange artifact from a very particular time. Watching it now feels like an outright fantasy, but when it came out, less then 20 years ago, it was common — even expected — that queer people would be subjected to treatments not too dissimilar from those in the film. At the time, ex-gay camps were just a fact of life.
But over the last two decades, we’ve experienced a sort of emperor’s-new-clothes when it comes to praying away the gay. Thanks to movies like But I’m a Cheerleader, and to real-life survivors like Ryan sharing their ordeals, gradually mainstream culture has come around to recognize just how ridiculous the practice is.
Of course, for many people, ex-gay abuse is still a fact of life. But hopefully not for much longer, with more and more states banning the practice. Those legal reforms simply wouldn’t be possible without the voices that got the ball rolling and kept up the momentum. And a look at how much things have changed in the last 20 years is a reminder of how fortunate we are today.