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Charlene: From gay club to other 'Club'

by Jeremy Hooper

 Good As You Images  Artandactivism Index Files CothranIf you follow gay rights, you likely have heard the story of Charlene Cothran, the lesbian publisher of the African-American, GLBT-centric Venus magazine, who announced earlier this year that she was changing both her self and her publication into an "ex-gay" work. Or, more accurately, if you follow ANTI-gay rights your likely to know the story, as ever since Charlene made the announcement, the "pro-family" movement has been using her story as yet another example of how gays can change.

The latest outlet to give Cothran's story attention: That good ol' bastion of gay-friendliness, "The 700 Club," who are set to air an interview with Cothran on tomorrow's episode (check local listings). And while we've yet to see the broadcast interview, the print arm of the show, CBN, has released a written piece detailing what we can expect to see in the videotaped piece. That being the case, we would like to take the opportunity to highlight a few key points, and tell why we think they are flawed, short-sighted, unfair, or a combination of all three.

Excerpt 1:

Cothran says she longed for peace, but even in the midst of a long-term relationship, she felt intense loneliness. She'd grown up in a Christian home, and had come into the lesbian lifestyle at 19, after several bad relationships with boys.

"I didn't want anything to do with men anymore," she said. "I was away at college and that was a whole new world, and in that world there were many, many women who were attracted to me, and, of course, I was attracted to them. And these women were nurturing, wanted to get to know me intellectually -- they were organizers whom I found a lot of comfort in. It felt good, it felt right."

Alright, so this is the sort of idea that we really hate. When referring to their first gay experiences, those who have "left" homosexuality ALWAYS paint the picture of a world wherein they were somehow preyed upon or pressured. In their remembrances, they are never aggressors or even willing participants, but rather victims of some sort of confusing or predatory situation. While Charlene doesn't fully play the victim card, she does present the idea that if it were not for certain women who happened to have been in her midst and not for bad relationships with men, she never would have had the idea to have lesbian sex.

For those of us who know what it's like to be queer, we know that gay thoughts are rarely to never dormant ideas just waiting for a trigger. If Ms. Cothran explored her sexual orientation in college -- which is quote common, as it is the first chance that many are given to truly know and express themselves -- then all she needs to say is, "I realized in college that I wanted to sleep with girls." No matter how lovely, nurturing, or intellectual the women, it wouldn't have "felt good" or "felt right" unless she actually had these feelings!

Excerpt 2:

"When the Lord saved me, I knew everything would change," she said. "All of the ads, the editorials, the mission of the magazine had changed. We're going to be calling people out of homosexuality."

Most of the response from the gay and lesbian community has been fierce and negative. But she says she knows that many of them are just as conflicted as she was.

Cothran said, "In order to fill up this empty space, they pretend to put on this wonderful face, 'how gay and happy I am,' when in fact -- there's a lot of loneliness in the gay community that's not talked about, and it's real."

Putting gays on the defensive about their mental state and happiness: Another page right out of the "ex-gay"/"pro-family" playbook. And then if we protest and say, "No, you can't sum up such a large community of people in such unfair, simplistic terms," then we are accused of just putting up a fake front. If we laugh, smile, and grab our partner's hands out of nothing but sheer love, we are accused of putting up a facade. It's truly enraging!

The fact is that there is loneliness and depression in the world. Just watch television commercials for a period of two hours, and count the amount of ads you see for depression medicines. No one community can fairly be credited with upping the numbers of America's lonely. But that being said, if there were a slightly larger number of gay people dealing with anxiety or depression, we actually wouldn't be all that surprised. After all, parental abandonment, societal shunning, having to fight for basic protections, and bias-motivated violence are concepts that can weigh heavily on the human psyche. Couple that with the sort of persecution that calls gays sinners and demands that they "change," and it's actually a little shocking that any of us can smile anymore. Though smile we truly do, as we are not the sad shells of humans that our opposition wishes we were!

Excerpt 3:

CBN News asked Cothran, "I know people probably ask you, do you still have feelings for women, and are you dating a man?"

Cothran replied, "I'm living a celibate life. I'm so focused on the spirit right now, that I have no urges for anyone -- man or woman."

Okay, if you are living a celibate life, you can't even begin to claim that you are no longer gay. You also can't claim that you are straight. You are simply celibate! It's fine to say that you have chosen celibacy, as you feel that your faith will not allow you to continue having same-sex relations. However, it's duplicitous to bring the idea of "change" or "redemption" into the picture until you have some actual physiological reason to believe that you have changed your actual physiological truth.

Excerpt 4:

"Our mission now," she said, "is to educate and to turn people away from the homosexual lifestyle simply by presenting the truth. We simply want people to question what they've learned through the pages of Venus magazine over the past 13 years."

Prior to Cothran's conversion, Venus circulated about 35,000 copies per issue which ran four times a year. But after the issue featuring her testimony, the gay political machine pressured advertisers to drop the magazine. And gay pride events and college campuses no longer subscribe.

If you have a gay magazine that suddenly becomes as "ex-gay" magazine, you can't really blame "the gay political machine" for pressuring anyone into dropping support. We're in a time when magazines in general are suffering, gay media in general is suffering, and the "ex-gay" idea is rejected by the vast majority of LGBT individuals. From a purely business standpoint, why in the world would anyone think that advertisers who had placements in a pro-gay magazine would, by and large, be totally fine with such a drastic, radical overhaul? It's just silly to expect that the same companies would want to support "turning people away" from the community to whom they initially set out yo market.

Excerpt 5:

She said, "There is a joy and a peace that you can't find in a club, I don't care how good the music is. You can't find it in the middle of a gay pride parade, I don't care if you have the biggest, prettiest float. I have a joy and a peace that I wouldn't trade for anything."

Now, this actually makes us think that more than anything, perhaps it was her social behavior that Ms. Cothran needed to change. Because honestly, talking about true sexual feelings in terms of pride floats and bars, is just a ridiculous line of thought. Of course you can't find peace with who you are inside a bar or club. Of course you can't find peace with who you are on a pride float. You can only find peace with who you are by shutting off outside noise and listening to WHO YOU TRULY ARE!!!! If you are truly seeking human validation via a club or pride float (and not merely looking for fun, good times), then you are always going to come up short.

Of all of the above excerpts, this last one is in many ways the most telling. That's because it further muddies the idea of what sexual orientation is truly all about, by introducing superficial community elements into the mix. It overlooks what we're truly talking about, which is the nature of desire and biological attraction. Gay bars and pride floats are nothing more than modern inventions, ones in which some LGBT folks choose to participate while others abstain. But well before either existed, there is recorded evidence showing that homosexuality was around. If Ms. Cothran was lacking peace due to her gay activism or gay social life, then by all means, she should have taken up knitting and fought for socially conservative, anti-gay political ideals. But if she wants to prove that she's changed her orientation (which seems to be her new wont in life), then she's going to have to do more than simply denounce her past community involvement!

A Lesbian's Deliverance [CBN/700 Club]

**RELATED: We much prefer this Charlene's ideas on changing one's life:

**UPDATE: Ms. Cothran is REALLY putting herself out there now. This from a press release she issued to promote her 'Club' appearance:

"June is a month of celebration for the gay community all over the world. I am honored that BN has chosen this week to broadcast my story on The 700 Club! I pray that my testimony will fall on the ears and into the spirits of those struggling to leave the gay lifestyle. There IS a way out!"

"I pray that God will use my story of transformation to help set others free from the lies they've been told that there is no hope for change!" states Ms. Cothran.
"I just want to reach out to those who have come to believe that there is no change available to them. I have had that heart changeā€¦ and He continues to change me daily into His image. Today, I am walking in freedom because of my relationship with the Creator of the Universe!" exclaims Ms. Cothran.

**UPDATE, 6/21: The video from the "700 Club" appearance can be viewed here. As suspected, the text we addressed above is essentially the print version of the televised interview.

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Your thoughts

"Okay, if you are living a celibate life, you can't even begin to claim that you are no longer gay. You also can't claim that you are straight. You are simply celibate!"

Not entirely true - she isn't claiming to be straight, but rather, asexual. Asexuality is rare, but not unheard of - and is a legitimate orientation. After all, if you can find both attractive, why can you not find neither attractive?

Now, I agree with you that it is far more likely that this woman is still gay but just celibate - but her words suggest asexuality.

I have only met one person in my life who I actually believe is asexual. The very idea of 'romantic love' is confusing to her.

But yes, I think you're probably right...

Posted by: anon | Jun 20, 2007 5:45:12 PM

No, you're absolutely right -- one can be asexual. One can also choose to be celibate. However, Ms. Cothran is now aligning herself with the "ex-gay," "former homosexual" movement.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jun 20, 2007 5:55:57 PM

Girl please! If all it took was a bad relationship with a guy to turn one to woman, I would be the straightest man alive. Charlene got all down and dirty with those women because she wanted to.

What I find maddening about the whole is that she is peddling her ex-gay crap and talking bad about the very community she built her business. Its a great way to stab us in the back.

Despite what she now says she enjoyed her time as a lesbian. I have been with Charlene at enough Pride events and watched her oogle enough women to know that she was seriously into her lesbianism.

Posted by: Bloggernista | Jun 20, 2007 7:40:12 PM

An excellent analysis of her nonsense! I couldn't agree more.

It amazes me to hear the number of "ex-gays" who seem to always talk about that sense of loneliness and incompleteness and never once consider that their problems didn't actully stem from being gay, but from other issues.

Posted by: Jarred | Jun 22, 2007 1:50:10 AM

Don't know the woman. Once upon a time, Charlene was.....Charlene. Let's take away the labels--her self-labels--and the labels of others. Let's allow her to have the universal human reality of mixed motives and mixed emotions. Let's allow her to speak with imprecision and contradiction--as we most all do. And Charlene, let's grant the same generosity to others as well.
I've tried to follow the arguments of the "Gays are Sinners" crowd, and the "Gay Pride" crowd, and the ex-gay crowd, and the ex-ex gay crowd. My head spins.
I feel like the great philosopher, Rodney King: "Can't we all just get along?"
And many would say to Rodney, "You could have had that thought before you acted crazy." Ok. OK. OK.

Posted by: letjusticerolldown | Jun 22, 2007 2:44:24 AM

Ms. Cothran simply has made a choice at this point in her life; for whatever reason, she has made a choice and as much as it pains us - that is her right as a human.

My suggestion, turn all that negative animosity and anger that we might be feeling and turn it into a positive force for change.

Spend more time educating people.
Spend more time communicating.
Spend more time affirming and loving.

Think about what she said about the community.
We have extreme shame?
Truth be told, some gay people do.
(Sidebar: Straight people feel shame as well)
Let's look at why and do what we can to empower.

Yes some gay people are lonely.
(Sidebar: Straight people feel shame as well)
As a community let's look at why we feel lonely.

I could go on for pages and pages about this but I will not.
I still find it interesting that Pat Robertson publicly condoned assassination and had said "IF HE WERE GOD. . . who all would be dead."

When will we collectively call forth the change from the government and the church to accept us as we are - as we are created, as we born, and as we live and love?

Enough is enough

Charlene had a choice and her choice was to "become un-gay"
Let it be. . .

The more important thing is to consider what do "I" choose today?
What do "YOU" choose today?

To be affirming?
To be loving?
To be empowered and empowering?
To be spiritual?
To be or not to be... that is the question?

Posted by: Rev. Dr. Anderson | Aug 19, 2007 9:57:06 AM

Rev. Anderson: You are 100% right in theory. And the thing is, virtually no gay activist is opposed to one's right to self determination (despite what "ex-gay" proponents like to claim). So few of us have any problem with Charlene's right to become an "ex-gay." Few of us feel that we have the right to define one's sexual orientation. The problem we have is with the political "ex-gay" movement, for which Ms. Cothran has quite willingly signed up (even rebranding her entire magazine to support the movement). If you understand and follow the ins and out of the anti-gay industry, you understand how the "pro-family" groups use the "former homosexual" groups to support their ideas. It helps them create the illusion that they are "hating the sin, not the sinner," and therefore helps them to wash their hands clean of the mean-spirited discrimination that their actions encourage.

At G-A-Y, we don't operate from a place of "negative animosity" or "anger," but rather one that seeks positive change and peace. Unfortunately, we must spend time educating people on this movement if we are to see such change. They (as a collective) are a very big cog in the religious right machine, and they are very much working to keep LGBT equality at bay.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Aug 19, 2007 11:57:19 AM

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