Desire Work

Ex-Gay and Pentecostal Masculinity in South Africa

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: Published: August 2018

Author: Melissa Hackman

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Religious Studies

In postapartheid Cape Town—Africa's gay capital—many Pentecostal men turned to "ex-gay" ministries in hopes of “curing” their homosexuality in order to conform to conservative Christian values and African social norms. In Desire Work Melissa Hackman traces the experiences of predominantly white ex-gay men as they attempt to forge a heterosexual masculinity and enter into heterosexual marriage through emotional, bodily, and religious work. These men subjected themselves to daily self-surveillance and followed prescribed behaviors such as changing how they talked and walked. Ex-gay men also saw themselves as participating in the redemption of the nation, because South African society was perceived as suffering from a crisis of masculinity in which the country lacked enough moral heterosexual men. By tying the experience of ex-gay men to the convergence of social movements and public debates surrounding race, violence, religion, and masculinity in South Africa, Hackman offers insights into the construction of personal identities in the context of sexuality and spirituality.


"Truly unique and fascinating ... Desire Work sheds new light on Africa. . . . Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, and professionals." — W. Arens, Choice

"Desire Work is a remarkably rich, detailed, and passionate ethnography. . . . As gender studies in Africa continues to grow as a field, this book provides a needed contribution to understanding homosexuality and masculinity among . . . men in the first country in the world whose constitution outlawed homophobic discrimination: South Africa." — Dianna Bell, Journal of Religion in Africa

"Hackman has written a rich book that is worth reading by anyone interested in the intersection of religions and masculinities." — Siphiwe Dube, Transformation

"Desire Work is a rich and fascinating ethnographic study worth reading by anyone with an academic interest in gender, sexuality, and self-making in evangelical and Pentecostal Christian circles." — Adriaan van Klinken, H-Africa, H-Net Reviews

"There is no doubt that Desire Work is an important book, o?ering the reader glimpses into the wider body of work on the subject. It is written in an accessible, engaging, and compassionate style, and makes a contribution to the ?eld of gender and sexuality studies as well as opening up new avenues for theological exploration." — Beverley Haddad, Anthropological Forum

Desire Work is not the quintessential ethnography gathered by a neutral participant-observer nor is it a work written for the disinterested reader. Desire Work emerges as a genuine and serious description of the challenges and struggles of South African men who must navigate the overlapping layers of societal, cultural, and religious demands as they seek a pathway that allows for faithful, authentic expression of masculinity and sexuality.” — Eddie L. Journey, Asian Journal of Social Science

"The book presents an honest and refreshing account of the methodological challenges of conducting such research. ... [It] will be useful speci?cally to those wanting to understand the ex-gay movement and Pentecostalism as well as to those interested in the intersection of sexuality, gender, and nationality." — Alex Toft, American Journal of Sociology

“A timely contribution to a growing literature on gay issues in Africa.…”

— Cal Biruk, Canadian Journal of African Studies

“This ethnography presents the reader with a detailed and passionate account of the lived experiences of Pentecostal ‘desire work’ participants…. Hackman's ability to articulate each ex gay person's experience's nuances is a significant strength of this work.” — Edith Ritt-Coulter, International Social Science Review

Desire Work emerges as a genuine and serious description of the challenges and struggles of South African men who must navigate the overlapping layers of societal, cultural, and religious demands as they seek a pathway that allows for faithful, authentic expression of masculinity and sexuality…. Desire Work is strongly recommended to mental health professionals, pastoral theologians, pastor caregivers and other ministry practitioners as a cautionary tale and guidepost, calling for careful consideration and reflection when engaging in the sacred task of transforming and changing lives.” — Eddie L. Journey, Pneuma

“Melissa Hackman makes an important contribution to existing literature on global Pentecostalism and gender and sexuality studies with this analysis of the technologies of gendered, sexual, religious, and racial self-making in postapartheid South Africa. Hackman astutely observes that postapartheid constitutional recognition of LGBT rights created an environment for this ministry of predominantly white men to come out and self-identify as ‘ex-gay,’ thus realigning themselves with a persistent apartheid social hierarchy that privileges white heterosexual males.” — Judith Casselberry, author of The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism

“One of Desire Work's great contributions is Melissa Hackman's ability to put a human face on the men who try but fail to convert to heterosexuality. I very much enjoy her personal touch in relating stories about her experiences and her subjects, and she has done an extraordinary job of eliciting extremely personal insights from her subjects, in some cases letting them hang themselves with their own words, and in others, allowing us to share their pain, confusion, and cruel optimism. I love this book.” — Marc Epprecht, author of Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance


Availability: In stock
Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Melissa Hackman is an independent scholar who has taught at Brown University and Emory University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix
Acknowledgments  xv
Introduction: Adrian's Desire Work  1
1. Cultural Convergences  39
2. Building Godly Emotional Intimacy  63
3. Becoming Spiritual Warriors: Learning How to Fight Demonic Sexual Desires  87
4. Mastering Romance and Sexual Feelings  115
5. "I Didn't Fall, I'm Free": Leaving Healing Revelation Ministries  139
Afterword  165
Notes  171
References  177
Index  197
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0082-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0064-8
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