A while ago, when I was having a binge on all the lesbian fiction I could find in my local bookshop, I bought a little book titled The Miseducation of Cameron Post. It had good reviews and given that my choices were pretty slim I decided to buy it. I read it a while back, enjoyed it, and this past week it came out as a film and so I decided I wanted to go see it.
Maybe saying that I enjoyed the book may be the wrong way to phrase it, it was well written, beautiful and poignant. It made me feel, a lot. But it was also heavy going and quite hard to get through at points. I still have so many questions about what actually ended up happening to the characters after the book ended.
The film was just as good, it managed to capture the feelings of the main character’s in a way that was subtle and powerful at the same time. Just like the book did, the movie made me feel so many different emotions that I came out of the cinema not sure exactly how to process everything that had happened.
The story is set in ’93, about a teenage girl that gets caught kissing another girl so gets sent to a Christian Conversion Camp to try rid her of her “SSA”, or Same Sex Attraction. The main focus of the story is about her journey within the camp and how it affects her. For a lot of the film we don’t know if she’s going to succumb to the idea that SSA is temptation from Satan and that if you just try hard enough you can ‘pray the gay away’ or if she’ll reject their ideologies. I think a lot of this is because the character herself doesn’t know which path she’s going to go down and that’s the perspective we see the story from.
The story gives a lot of insight into how these places operate, how they rely on groupthink behaviour, and how they impose their beliefs on the young people there. You see the teenagers at the camp who believe in the teachings, who believe that if they just try hard enough they can become a ‘reformed’ gay, just like the camps leader.
You also see the cracks in their belief and just how much harm is being done. You see how these kids hate themselves, because no matter how hard they try they still can’t “cure” themselves. You see some of the psychological damage these kinds of camps do to young people, and the lengths their self-hatred can drive them to.
The film does however have a hopeful ending, even if it’s not one that I’d class as truly happy, and just like the book I was left asking what happened next. The film is thought provoking, poignant, and one that hit fairly close to home.
You could be forgiven for thinking that a film set 25 years ago is one that details an outdated practice, one that no longer exists, and I wish that was the case. The truth is that the UK are only just proposing to ban it as a practice and therefore this film is still incredibly relevant. In fact, I’ve known people who have been put through a similar sort of thing, under a slightly different name.
This kind of stuff leaves its mark, often a pretty big one, and sometimes in the subtlest of ways. Even in my own life, even though I’m not sure where it came from, I internalised the idea that being gay was wrong. I never really thought anything of kissing other girls, even if I did try to hide it, until I started getting picked on it from a girl in my class who had figured it out. I was so terrified of being found out that I repressed it, tried to hide it, I remember wanting a boyfriend so bad so that I could prove that I was ‘normal’. I became that homophobic asshole at war with themselves.
Even now, despite the fact I’ve accepted my sexuality, that I own it with a plethora of gay jokes, I still have moments where I feel that tiny twinge of residual shame. Usually moments where I buy something obviously gay, like a book or a magazine. My win of today was that I bought the Diva mag and for the first time didn’t feel slightly ashamed for making myself so obviously gay.
From talking to others, I know I’m definitely not the only person to struggle with this, and there’s a strange sort of comfort in that. It’s comforting to have other people who understand, who have been through it, and that know that it does get better, it does get easier.
So, the film, whilst heavy and hard going, is so relevant and relatable for so many people out there. And despite it all, there’s a reminder that sometimes, even in the worst of places there are people who will see you, accept you, and love you, exactly as you are.