I was looking for something a bit different from my usual reading pattern that tends to be mainly a variety of lesbian fiction sub-genres – romance, crime, dystopian, fantasy, sci-fi. So when I read about a film that’s just been released based on a book about a teenager growing up in Montana who ends up being put in a Christian camp to ‘cure’ her lesbian tendencies, I bought it…The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth (styling her name after e.e. cummings, I guess).
The first person narrative of the story feels authentic and is maintained all the way through. I don’t know if this is because it’s based on the author’s own experiences. I suspect it might be.
My teenage years were spent in a small town in Canada so I could see, smell, taste, the atmosphere of Miles City, Montana. The high school, the landscape, the people…all terribly familiar. I was fortunate not to have to endure an oppressive fundamentalist regime as described in the book when Cameron is sent to a Christian School and Center for Healing, God’s Promise, to have her sinful desires corrected.
I explored different religions when I was in high school. Late sixties and early seventies: reading Kahlil Gibran, The Way of the Tao, Confucius, Siddhartha, Gurdjieff, The Bhagavad Gita…soaring above the clouds with Jonathan Livingston Seagull…and trying to make sense of the hexagrams in the I Ching. The Beatles were dabbling in Indian mysticism, spending time with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
“Nine in the fourth place means:
No fish in the tank.
This leads to misfortune.”
I Ching, Book of Changes
“Forget not the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
When I discussed some of the ideas I was investigating with a teacher friend, he would shake his head and say, “All religions are cults.” It took some time for this message to sink in while my path in life led me to take part in a spiritual journey. I lived in a community for ten years, trying to match my ideals with the reality. It didn’t work.
Where would I be now if I hadn’t left when I did? Still cooking, cleaning, and ironing in the ‘service of the Lord’ – which translated into serving the men in the community.
Although my experiences were very different to those emily danforth describes in her book, the feelings evoked were similar.
In an entirely different way to her story, I attempted to give expression to that time in my life in my most recently published novel, Calling Home. Two of the characters grow up in a strict religious community. They are helped to escape as teenagers and lead different, separate lives, before meeting up again twenty-odd years later. In my case, though, I was an adult when I joined the community of my own accord.
Authors are often asked how much of themselves go into their stories. The answer is usually that it’s a synthesis of experiences…what we see, read, and hear in everyday life. In Calling Home, though, I can confess that the character, Ray Fisher, bears some semblance to my former self – particularly as she questions why she stayed in the community for so long.
(However, it is a work of fiction and the usual disclaimer applies in that any resemblance to persons, places or events are entirely coincidental.)
After all the years of searching for the meaning of life, I think it really boils down to the words of the old Beatles song, “All You Need is Love.” I’ve been fortunate to have the love of a good woman for the past 31 years. My life with her has been enriched in ways I couldn’t have imagined while peeling potatoes in the service of the Lord.
For Cameron Post and her friends, at the end of the novel, there is hope that they too will succeed in breaking free from the toxic confines of God’s Promise.