by Samuel Pear
Locked away in a conversion camp, Mel devises a plan to overcome corruption and hate.
| I refuse to let the brainwashing work… not that it would anyways. I watch pictures and videos of heterosexual couples project over one of the sickeningly pleasant white walls of my bedroom cell. Here’s a picture of a heterosexual couple holding hands. Here’s a picture of a heterosexual couple kissing. Now here is a short clip of a heterosexual couple making love. After my convincingly positive set of responses to the stimuli, new pictures are flashed on my wall. Here’s a picture of two women kissing. I focus on slowing my heart rate, breathing calmly in through my nose, and I try to act disgusted, but not obviously so. For a moment, I have that glimmer of hope that my reaction was perceived as genuine. I must have let that hope show through for just a millisecond, but that’s all it takes. Foolish. Every existing hair on my body stands up and my skin ripples slightly in anticipation. It’s like fire. There are little circles attached to my skin that I thought were heart monitors the first time I encountered them. I soon found that they weren’t. Electricity buzzes under my skin, burning every nerve and causing my muscles to spasm uncontrollably. My head whips back before I can stop it and I black out from the pain.
I used to have flashbacks every time I slept, but I black out so much I hardly ever get to slip into unconsciousness willingly anymore. I’m grateful for blacking out, because these flashbacks slowly give me back lost memories that are vital to my survival in the Conversion Camps. This time I dream of a United States before the Sexual Reformation that began in 2009.
I’m standing on a street corner not too far from the public high school I was attending at the time, gripping a “NO H8! NO ON PROP 8” poster. I’m waving it around decked out in a purple t-shirt and the metal buckle of my rainbow belt glints in the sun. Across the street are people from the local church yelling at us and holding up their own posters with slogans like “God hates fags!” and “Protect Marriage!” on them. I glance over at Dana with butterflies raging inside my stomach and see her smile back at me.
The memory flashes forward and Dana and I are holding each other and sobbing while a newscaster recounts in a falsely emotional voice the most recent events. His toupee shifts on his head and sweat beads over his forehead. His face is glowing orange from the thick and badly done make up as he says, “After Bush’s declaration of dictatorship and reconcilement with main advisor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, he has enacted Proposition 8 country-wide. With recent revisions to the Constitution, to protect the institution of marriage, and our children, the U.S. Government requests that you report any homosexual friends, neighbors, family members, or activities to Reformation board. These individuals will be taken to Conversion Camps where they will be treated for sexual deviance. The president wants you to remember that this is for the greater good and your safety. As always, we are One Nation under God. Good night, America.” The reporter fades out and is replaced with the phone number for the Reformation board and then the president’s seal flashes up as the audio buzzes into silence.
I wake up to blinding white walls in a comfortable white bed heavily sedated, but with no signs of having been electrocuted. The first time I woke up here I thought I was in Heaven and then I realized that they didn’t have I.D. bracelets and tracker anklets in Heaven. I also figured they might have windows in Heaven… probably better food and bigger rooms. We usually get three meals a day here. When our families come to visit us, the government wants them to leave knowing their sinful kin are being well fed. Unfortunately, when you fail a brainwashing session, the quality of the food changes. Today I get supplement pills that will keep me from losing weight, but they won’t satiate the hunger gnawing at my belly.
As I zone out and stare at the walls, I sift through the necessary memories to get me through what is to come. A few months ago, Dana and I were hiding in the basement of a heterosexual couple’s home that was a part of the new Underground Railroad. Just like the old Underground Railroad, it was a way to escape. At this point, the government was not only targeting known “sexual deviants,” but any women who weren’t feminine, men who weren’t masculine, anyone who could be deemed androgynous, or any perceived government threat - gay or not. The Underground Railroad was an intricately knit network of homes throughout the U.S. that aided escape for anyone in danger into Canada. We were in Havre, Montana at the time, and a 16 hour walk on the Wild Horse trail would have put us into safety just across the Canadian border. Somehow we had become the face of hope to anyone trying to survive the Sexual Reformation because we made it three years without being captured. People whispered about us everywhere. As a result, the government viewed Dana and me as a threat. We were posted on a wanted list and our faces were broadcast all over the news.
We were less than a day away from safety when we were captured and sent to Conversion Camp. I was stupid enough to believe the conversion therapists when they first told me that Dana was alive still and in treatment like me. I didn’t know at first that they were using her as bait in attempt to convert me faster. They kept saying that Dana would be set free if I cooperated. Every Sunday, they take all of the deviants in the Conversion Camps and have us sit and listen to pastors who try to preach the gay out of us. Sometimes actors who pretend to be ex-homosexuals give speeches about how great life is as a heterosexual. We generally utilize this time to communicate with one another and spread any news about loved ones or new brainwashing techniques to watch out for. We also would take this time to count who was left in our group because the government agents in charge of the camps, “Redmen,” had a tendency to ‘purge’ any individuals who resisted treatment. I saw Dana on the first Sunday in Conversion Camp and she was sobbing so hard that Redmen had to drag her from the room. I watched as she hung limply, her soft blue eyes clouded with tears. She glanced up to meet my eyes moments before the door shut in front of her, mouthed “I love you,” and then she was gone from my life forever.
I don’t feel anything anymore. Not feeling anything has its perks. In the absence of emotions I found clarity and strength. With these I developed a plan.
I have become better and better at passing the brainwashing test. Every once in a while they have a conversion therapist talk to me. His name is Dr. Frank Morris. I am his favorite patient. After our most recent session, he told me that he was proud of my progress and that I was in “remission.” Remission? Are you kidding me? A month ago I would have punched him in the mouth for using a term applied to cancer patients in reference to my sexuality. I can’t afford to ruin my plan though. He told me that the government was going to give me a chance to redeem my image. They want to present me as a successful conversion case to the citizens of the U.S., but more importantly, the rest of the world.
I remember the way his face flushed with excitement as he said, “We’re going to broadcast you on television and radios internationally! Fred Phelps even prepared a speech for you to give.” He regained his stereotypical therapist composure as he asked me, “How are you feeling about your upcoming debut as the poster girl for conversion?”
I gave him my best fake smile and responded, “I’m nervous to give a speech in front of so many people, but I can’t wait for the chance to make a difference.”
“That’s right Mel. This is a great opportunity for you to help other people to convert and be cured of their deviance.”
“I’m glad I can help save people from Hell. I couldn’t have asked for a greater calling.”
Sometimes I’m surprised he believes the bullshit I feed him, but it’s all worth it. Two weeks later, I am sitting in my cell after being groomed by a government issued make-up and hair team, waiting for my chance to really help people. They have me dressed in all white and my long, sinfully wavy brown hair is pulled back into an orderly pony tail. Dressed in this long white, flowing gown, I am the picture of purity. Everything about me screams, “I’m going to Heaven! I’m clean! I’m cured!” I only pretended to memorize the speech I’m supposed to give today. I can’t wait to see their faces when they realize just how badly their conversion failed.
Redmen escort me from my cell and through the Conversion Camp to the jet landing strip just outside the camp. It is the first time I’ve been outside since they brought me here. The air is crisp and the trees surrounding the camp look like they are on fire with all of their red and orange leaves rustling in the wind. In about an hour, I am transported from the camp to the White House. They have me positioned on the balcony, cameras focusing in on my face, teleprompter set up in case I forget something. I am nervous, but it is not for the reasons they assume. I am not nervous about giving a bullshit speech, but because this is the moment where my plan unfurls and I get to make a difference.
Right now, the U.S. people are afraid of the government. They do not realize how great their numbers are and how much they can accomplish when rallied together. As with every revolution, at first the suppressed group allows themselves to believe they are powerless. Then, something incredible happens. Someone stands up. Someone helps the suppressed to understand that they are strong. This individual rallies them together and they organize to overcome the suppressors. This person can take a few forms. One of them is a revolutionary leader, but the other form that is perhaps the most powerful is a martyr.
The cameraman signals for me to start and I gaze out into the green-tinged sky. I only have a few moments before they realize what I am saying and try to cut off the cameras. I start with the prepared introduction to buy myself some time.
“Good afternoon citizens of the United States. My name is Mel Amoree. Three months ago, I was taken into a Conversion Camp.” I pause for a breath and steady my gaze. Everything seems so perfectly clear in this moment.
“While in this camp I was submitted to seclusion, torture, and brainwashing. Regardless, the overwhelming amounts of pain I was subjected to didn’t ‘cure’ me from being gay. No matter what the government, the religious fanatics, the Redmen, or anyone says, there is no cure for homosexuality. Don’t let the government fool you. Being gay is not an illness. It is not a disease. It is not a sin. These people that say that we are deviants and sinners are afraid of us. They preach hate and bigotry because they are afraid of what they do not understand. If we stand together, we can overcome their ignorance. The very core of who we are as human beings is our capability to love. If a bullet should enter my heart for speaking out, let that bullet destroy, not only every closet door, but every ounce of ignorance and hate. Remember first Corinthians, chapter thirteen: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails… It NEVER fails.” My heart is racing so fast, my heartbeat becomes a buzz in my chest. I can’t seem to catch my breath, so I stop speaking and look at the camera team, wondering why they let me talk for so long with the live feed still going. I see the faint glow of hope in a few of their eyes, and then intent focus as the team listens to a message being delivered through their headsets. I close my eyes and picture Dana; the only woman I ever loved. Within seconds I collapse to the ground, a bullet through my chest, just as I prophesied.
I look up just in time to see the red recording light switch off. A ragged breath escapes my throat and everything is quiet. Don’t let me fail.