To most people, Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a normal girl in high school. I say normal, because it’s the 1990s and closeted LGBTQ people are essentially living double lives. Not everyone was welcoming back then when a loved one came out to them, and this would especially run true for a teen whose aunt and uncle are evangelical. Given the circumstances, Cameron does what she can, with the hopes of not getting caught.
Anyone who comes from the LGBTQ community ought to be familiar with the concept of conversion therapy. For those less familiar, this is when people are sent away to retreats or camps to “fix” their “struggles” with same-sex attraction. These things never work and lead to psychological issues more often than anything else. LGBTQ members of the Orthodox Jewish community are all too familiar with the now-defunct JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives for Homosexuality). Another notable group is NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy).
An orphaned child living with her evangelical aunt and uncle, Cameron has spent her formative high school years coming to terms with her sexual orientation. She attends Bible study class, where she met her girlfriend, Coley Taylor (Quinn Shephard). Once her “boyfriend” discovers the pairing making out in his car on prom night, her aunt and uncle send her off to God’s Promise in hopes of “degaying” her. Cameron finds herself rooming with the Minnesota Vikings-obsessed Erin (Emily Skeggs), who walks Cameron through all the ins and outs of the facility.
The place is run by Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.). Rev. Rick is said to be cured of his struggles, which the program refers to as “recovery,” and is now in a healthy relationship with his girlfriend, Bethany (Marin Ireland). While on the premises, Cameron is quick to befriend two-spirit Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) and weed addict Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane). In short, the two of them become her best friends. While others focus on “getting better,” the trio appear to be contented with their identities.
For such an important topic as conversion therapy, it’s incredibly important for screenwriters Desiree Akhavan (who also directs) and Cecilia Frugiuele to hammer the point home. Because the book takes place over eight years, adapting only the first portion allows them to focus more on the conversion therapy in a condensed time period.
Rev. Rick and Dr. Lydia Marsh’s whole method of pushing for a “recovery” is hands-down emotional abuse. They have all their “disciples” write their struggles, etc. inside of an iceberg in order to get beneath the surface. Being LGBTQ is seen as a sin in their eyes. We get a glimpse at some of their therapeutic methods, which includes seeing them stomp on one of their “disciples” for acting out. After one resident unsuccessfully tries to kill himself because his dad doesn’t want him returning home, an investigator is seen interrogating Cameron on whether they’ve been harmed by the staff.
“What about emotional abuse?” Cameron asks the investigator. “How is programming people to hurt themselves not emotional abuse?” Even if the staff isn’t physically abusing them, the whole idea of emotional abuse happening on these grounds should be alarming. Take what happened to Mark, for example. The emotional abuse can lead to other psychological problems later on in life.
The 1993 setting also enables the filmmakers to go with what was barely known about gender identity at the time. There’s a whole conversation about how an interest in sports or lack thereof can lead to gender confusion. The whole concept of sexual orientation and gender identity being the same is wrong on so many levels. But we have to look at the events of this film through the era in which it was taking place, rather than what we know in 2018.
What happens throughout The Miseducation of Cameron Post shows exactly why conversion therapy needs to be banned. It’s emotionally abusive, and is harmful to the vulnerable LGBTQ youth population.