Melissa Hackman, Desire Work: Ex-Gay and Pentecostal Masculinity in South Africa. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018. xvi + 195 pages. Paperback, $23.95.

AuthorRitt-Coulter, Edith
PositionArticle 17

In post-apartheid South Africa, Cape Town became the perceived epicenter of sexual liberation. Like most African countries during the turn of the twenty-first century, South Africa experienced political and cultural pushback against the protection of members of the LGBTQ+ community. Melissa Hackman, a cultural anthropologist, examined the ex-gay movement in South Africa by working with the "Healing Revelation Ministries" from 2004 to 2013 and subsequently published her observation in Desire Work: Ex-Gay and Pentecostal Masculinity in South Africa. Hackman's fieldwork revealed a complex process of masculine identity formation within religious space that sought to suppress same-sex desire through spirituality and constant self-development. She argued that the political uncertainty that emerged in post-apartheid South Africa resulted in a crisis in the perception of masculinity that resulted in the desire to obtain sexual and gender identity aligned with traditional notions of heterosexuality. This cultural shift allowed religious organizations, particularly Pentecostal, to establish therapeutic spaces where men and women could participate in what Hackman calls "desire work."

Hackman's approachable narrative introduces readers to Brian, a white American man, who founded Healing Revelations Ministries to help save gay men and women in Cape Town. Each chapter details the processes of "desire work" and the ex-gay men's embodied experiences who attempted to reject their same-sex desires. Leaders of HRM adopted the practices of twelve-step programs to promote self-work amongst ex-gay members of their program. The process of self-making in HRM was laced with religious rhetoric that shaped the experiences of ex-gay participants. Hackman's contextualization of the self-making process revealed that "desire work" involved performing gendered acts under church leaders' surveillance. These acts included changes in demeanor from feminine to masculine and shifting sexual thoughts from men to women. The most intriguing aspect of Hackman's recollection of her time with HRM was the constant need for confessing sexual "falls." Her work uncovered how HRM, and broader society, used shame and surveillance to push ex-gay men into heterosexuality. At the end of the book, Hackman revealed that only four ex-gay men maintained heterosexual lifestyles, which showed that the practices of "desire work" within HRM were inherently ineffective in changing these men's true...

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