My first crime thriller, Crossed, was published in August. I’d been working on the idea for this novel for a few years; once I got to know the main character, Luce Hansen, she grabbed hold of my heart and wouldn’t let it go. In the novel, Luce a detective for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, investigates a serial murder in the town of Willow’s Ridge where she has history. Her investigational path crosses with members of an ex-gay ministry—the same ex-gay ministry in which Luce struggled with in her youth. The first question both friends and total strangers who’ve read the book (thank you, readers!) ask is whether ex-gay ministries like the one Luce encounters are real; their second question is whether I ever went through anything like that growing up. The answers are yes and no.
The reality of Crossed is that both ex-gay ministries and conversion therapy exist—these monsters are real. Both claim to be the practice of “repairing” or “curing” a person’s sexuality or gender. Those methods, however, may ultimately be harmful to an individual, both physically and emotionally. In conversion therapy, the focus is on “psychological therapies” while ex-gay ministries focus on “healing” sexuality and gender through prayer and worship. Such groups have received more attention in the last year thanks to President Barack Obama and his willingness to address the dangers of such practices. He has shown support of Leelah’s Law, a proposed bill to end the use of conversion therapy in individuals under eighteen years of age. The bill is named in honor of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Cincinnati, Ohio, who committed suicide when her parents forced her to undergo Christian conversion therapy when she came out as transgendered.
Since Alcorn’s tragic death, there have been many strides toward ending these practices in the United States, particularly for minors. Some states have chosen to ban the practices for those under the age of eighteen and the year 2015 has brought two significant rulings regarding conversion therapy. In June, JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) went on trial in New Jersey for its methods used in conversion therapy. JONAH lost the lawsuit. The judge ruled that the group committed consumer fraud and unconscionable business practices with its promises to clients to change their sexual orientation. Not only did JONAH lose this first of its kind lawsuit, but an agreement between both parties ordered that the JONAH organization cease practice in the state of New Jersey. Additionally, the agreement prohibits the founder Arthur Goldberg and a counselor for the group Alan Downing from engagement in any form of conversion therapy in New Jersey. And, if that’s not enough cause for a celebration, the end of the year also brought the announcement that Cincinnati will be the first city to ban the practice of conversion therapy. A $200 a day fine will be imposed for those not adhering to the ban—a fantastic tribute in Leelah Alcorn’s honor.
Thankfully, I never experienced ex-gay ministries or conversion therapy. My only experience happened when I was eighteen and found myself at an ex-gay ministry meeting when I thought I was attending a support group for people questioning their sexuality. I learned quickly in those first few minutes of the meeting that questioning was not an option! It was the only meeting I attended, but the experience had a profound effect on me. I’ve never been able to really let it go.
In the novel, however, the ex-gay ministry One True Path, Pastor Jameson, and the rest of its members including Luce Hansen, are fictitious. These characters were not based on anyone I know, but rather on composites drawn from interviews I conducted and/or read from individuals who survived ex-gay ministries and/or conversion therapy. Without their honesty and bravery to come forward with their stories, my novel most likely would not have been written.
For my protagonist, Luce Hansen, coming out in her small, conservative, Midwestern town felt impossible. Luce was an only child and her mother left her when she was a toddler for fame and fortune in Hollywood. Luce never heard from her mother again and her father became both of her parents as well as one of her best friends. As the chief of police, her father was not actively homophobic, but Luce certainly received the message from him early on that it was not acceptable to be lesbian. Enter the ex-gay ministry her father encouraged her to attend—One True Path Ministry with Pastor Charles Jameson. Here, among the damning of anything other than heterosexuality, Luce met her first love Marci. Luce’s engagement with both the One True Path group and Marci came to a tragic end. These experiences have altered the world Luce inhabits and while it’s not always easy for someone to come out, it was particularly difficult for Luce. Her rocky path to healing is compounded because she doesn’t always make the best choices for herself. The monsters from Luce Hansen’s past, though, are never far.
Another great question I’ve gotten from so many readers is about whether or not there will be another Luce Hansen thriller. Absolutely! I’m hard at work on it now :). Look for Luce’s personal progress as well as a new serial murder in the second book of the thriller series, Forsaken Trust, in early 2017.
**If you’re interested in reading more about the role of ex-gay ministries and conversion therapy in society and in my novel, I wrote more about the topic here for Bold Strokes Books: https://boldstrokesbooksauthors.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/the-roar-for-change-leelahs-law/
Originally published in February, 2016 at the Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Month blog.