My Journey Into Manhood

Ted Cox is a Sacramento writer who follows the gay “conversion” movement: Organizations that claim to “cure” gays of their homosexuality. This week we’ll be running excerpts from his report of an undercover visit to a weekend retreat held near Phoenix last year. The entire article is available online.

I don’t remember exactly when I felt his erection pressing into my back. It might have been while he whispered in my ear, “Long ago, you were the Golden Child. But, somehow, that Golden Child was hurt, and you put up a wall to protect yourself.” Or it might have been when other men in the room broke out in song:

How could anyone ever tell you
That you’re anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
That you’re less than whole?

I sat on the floor between the outstretched legs of a camp guide, my head leaning back against his shoulder. The guide sat behind me, his arms wrapped around my chest. This hold was called “The Motorcycle.” Five men surrounded the two of us, their hands resting gently on my arms, legs and chest.

There were about ten other groups like this sitting on the floor in the darkened room: one guide giving “healing-touch therapy” while the surrounding men rested their hands on the receiver. Some men were held in the Motorcycle position. Others were turned towards their guide, cradled the way a parent would hold a sobbing child who had just scraped her knee on the sidewalk.

In one corner of the room, a portable stereo played Shaina Noll’s song. At one point, the staff members all sang out in unison, their voices filling the high walls of the camp lodge. Somewhere in the room, a man sobbed over the sound of the music.

It was the first night of “Journey into Manhood,” a 48-hour weekend retreat designed to help gay men become straight. In that room, about fifty men — some thirty “Journeyers” and fifteen staff members — sat on the carpeted floor of a ranch lodge two hours outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Most of the men, except for a few of the staff members, struggled to overcome their attraction to other men.

Sometime during all that holding and touching and singing, while I was cradled in the Motorcycle position, I felt it: the unmistakable bulge pressing through his tight jeans. It was the first time in my life I had a felt another man’s erection.

What the staff members and other Journeyers didn’t know was that I was attending the weekend undercover. I’m straight. I’m also an atheist. By that February evening, I had been undercover in the so-called “ex-gay” movement for just over a year. Before signing up for the $650 JiM weekend, I had attended weekly support-group meetings and weekend conferences geared towards Christian men and women desperately trying to overcome their same-sex attractions. I am currently writing a book about my experiences posing as a same-sex attracted Christian man — “SSA man,” in the lingo.

My motivation for undertaking this wild project stems from several factors. First, I was raised in the Mormon church, which has taken the lead against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. It’s been ten years since I left Mormonism, and I feel a particular need to stand up against the church’s well-funded opposition to marriage equality. (I wonder what Mormonism’s polygamous founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., and his successor, Brigham Young, would say about the “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman” bumper stickers slapped on so many Mormon minivans.)

Second, while the ex-gay movement has publicly declared that they can bring “freedom from homosexuality,” there’s no evidence that someone can change his or her orientation through these religiously motivated programs. Rather than turning straight, the men and women that I met throughout this project dealt with a cycle of repression, backsliding into sin, then shame, guilt, and repentance. These programs collect hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on a promise they can’t deliver.

Third, these programs are dangerous. Ex-gay watchdog groups document the stories of men who, after years of failed attempts to become straight, resort to suicide. Later I’ll introduce you to Eric, a fellow JiM attendee who would hook up with men on Craigslist and then go home to his unsuspecting wife. For many men in ex-gay programs, often their wives, friends, family, and church members have no idea they struggle with SSA.

What I saw and experienced at JiM both enraged and disturbed me. I had trouble staying in character as I watched one man, as part of his therapy, act out beating his father to death with a baseball bat — just one of several “Are you kidding?” moments. How anyone could believe that a JiM weekend could turn a man straight still baffles me.

To be fair, I had several positive experiences that weekend. I saw several men, some for the first time in their lives, lose the anxiety they feel about their sexual orientation. Up until that weekend, some of them had never told anyone about their struggle with SSA. In the course of the retreat, they would relax around other men who struggled the same way they did.

Journey into Manhood co-founder and “Certified Life Coach” Rich Wyler goes to great lengths to keep his techniques hidden from public scrutiny. Only after I had booked my non-refundable flight, and paid the non-refundable retreat deposit, was I informed that all Journeyers are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Last year, when I attempted to write an article for Salt Lake City Weekly to run the week that Journey into Manhood arrived in Salt Lake City, Wyler complained to the paper, citing the confidentiality agreement I signed. 

While the article idea I pitched to SLC Weekly would discuss only publicly available information about Wyler and Journey into Manhood, SLC Weekly — citing insufficient time to run the piece past their legal department — pulled the article and interviewed me instead.

After that interview, I discussed the confidentiality agreement with attorneys, editors, journalists, and gay-rights activists. As a result of those discussions, I have decided to discuss in detail several aspects of the JiM weekend. The decision was not easy. But given what I experienced, the pain that many of these men feel, and the money that Wyler’s organization takes from them, I feel obligated to speak out.

Tuesday: Arrival at camp.

My Journey Into Manhood [Stinque@Scribd]

Excerpts: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V

27 comments:

9:29 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

Later today I’ll track down the title and year of publication of a report on a longitudinal study of homosexuality conducted by the Kinsey Institute. One of its authors was Joshua Bell’s father, Alan, and it came out sometime in the middle of the 1970s. The report concluded, among other things, that homosexuals are born homosexual and that’s that, it’s part and parcel of their being and brain chemistry and cannot be changed. I am continually amazed that I never see this study cited in all the roiling controversy over same-sex marriage.

9:36 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

This is all far too depressing to be funny. Besides it smacks too much of high-minded, self-serving exploitation on the part of the writer. How could anyone not expect them to expect their victims to sign a confidentiality clause? And if you’re serious about outing them why would you honor it? You think they’d do the same for you? Who the hell cares that you bought a plane ticket? I say publish and be damned. I once got served an extremely aggressive cease-and-desist letter from an LA movie biz attorney. Just about the scariest kind of cease-and-desist you can get. I wrote back and told him to go fuck himself and to not ever, ever dare write to me in such terms again.

Was at a play yesterday about the pain of not being able to love one’s father. All I could think of was the time my own father had me up against a wall and I was saying to him “Hit me. Go on. That’s what you want to do. So hit me.” Happy ending: I haven’t spoken to him in more than 20 years.

So you’ll pardon me for not being able to be impressed. I can’t altogether get it up for the men who go to such a joint ‘seeking’. I might pity them for being Mormons but really, we have planes now and SLC can be left behind. This seems to have activated my harsh mode. I better go and shower.

9:38 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

@lynnlightfoot: Kinsey = Satan. His only competition being Darwin or Liberace.

9:43 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

@Benedick: My Dad knew and liked Liberace, whom everyone called “Lee.”

9:50 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

@lynnlightfoot:
Same reason folks cling to the flawed idea of a blank slate. They think that humans are born without instincts and can be manipulated into one’s personal agenda. Some things can be changed via education, but not basic stuff like sexuality.

10:02 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

Turns out my memory was sloppy. Either that or my searching skills are too primitive to find the study I had in mind. I did find two relevant titles (on the Kinsey Institute website), neither of them showing the institute as the publisher: Homosexualities: A study of diversity among men and women, A. Bell and M. Weinberg, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978. Sexual Preference: Its development among men and women, A. P. Bell, M. S. Weinberg, and S. K. Hammersmith, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.

10:20 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

I can vouch for Ted. His motives are pure, and I don’t think he found anything funny about his experience.

10:43 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

//TJ: Message for CB// Were you awoken by helicoptors early this morning too? I saw on the news that there was a fire on the 30-somethingth floor of that strange triangular building next door to you. Turns out it was in the unit of a single woman, 38, who lived in a tiny studio that was so cluttered she couldn’t make it to her own door and she died (personal nightmare scenario)!

Add: Oh wait, today is Cubbies’ home opener and CB may be indulging in the one annual opportunity their fans have for Hope before the grim realities of the season actually set in.

10:45 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

@ManchuCandidate: People cling to the flawed idea of free will and autonomy, too. Bah, I say, and wave my hand dismissively.

10:55 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

I always wonder how these people are so sure “urges” can be controlled.
are they speaking from experience?

11:01 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

@flippin — Funny you should mention it: I actually scored tickets for Opening Day. As for hope, I am well prepared… one week in, and we have a worse record than the Nats. (Remember: I also have Red Sox/Democratic-supporter fatalism in my DNA.)

No choppers by the villa that I heard. I sleep like a rock. There was a WGN newstruck, tho.

As for point of post: Ex-gay devotees have homoerotic tendencies. I’m *stunned*.

11:12 am • Monday • April 12, 2010

@chicago bureau:

As for point of post: Ex-gay devotees have homoerotic tendencies. I’m *stunned*.

But they’re supposed to be “cured.” That’s what these snakes snake oil salesmen are peddling — a fucking cure for a non-existent disease. The cherry on the top is the healthy dose of self-loathing. Fuckers!

12:12 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@JNOV: There is a reason why I believe in hell, and that reason is the people who are peddling this shit.

12:20 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

The Motorcycle sounds like fun. Is there leather involved?

But seriously, this is why I think religion does more harm than good in the world. The primary affliction that drives these men to “struggle with ssa” seems to be their fundie-flavored Christianity.

1:48 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@JNOV:

On the plus side, they haven’t yet gotten out the electrical torture equipment that the Mormons are fond of. The folks who think *that’s* a good idea are going to end up UNDER Hell.

1:52 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@al2o3cr: Ah, you mean this?

And this?

1:57 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@Benedick: Have patience. It’s a 13,000-word article, and we’re running 1200-word excerpts all week. It’s not at all point-and-snicker; some serious shit goes down as we get into it.

2:53 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@JNOV:

Exactly that. FFS, even the Taliban would probably treat their gay children better – at least stoning is over relatively quickly, versus extended torture followed by a fucked up life.

3:19 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@nojo: I’ll do my best.

3:23 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@al2o3cr: Hey, do I recall correctly that you’re in Columbus, OH? Looks like I’ll be spending a lot of time there in May and June on a trial.

4:52 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

What always amazes me is that no one ever asks the purveyors of this so-called “therapy” the corollary: “If sexuality is so malleable that your therapy can make someone straight, could it also make you gay?”

I’d love to see the expression on their faces, like someone just handed them a live snake.

4:57 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@Original Andrew: I did, I asked my mom (not a perveyor of said therapy, just a believer). Her reaction was pretty much exactly as you described.

5:14 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@Original Andrew: But surely that’s just what they do believe. Hence the panic about children being indoctrinated by Sammy Has Two Daddies.

5:17 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@Benedick: Exactly. Why else have a fake prom for the lesbian and “special needs” students, another prom for the “normal kids”? It’s catching, donchaknow.

5:22 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

Non-fashion-related Vagina-American TJ
From the AP via Daily Beast:

In an unprecedented move, lawmakers in Nebraska have passed a measure requiring women seeking abortions to be screened for possible mental and physical problems. The bill is expected to become law this summer, and it will require health professionals to investigate whether women seeking abortions were pressured into having the procedure, and whether they’re likely to experience mental or physical side-effects after the procedure. Doctors would be required to explain potential risks to patients, but could still perform the abortion.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled outrage. /TJ

5:36 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@Mistress Cynica: Is it too early for a martini?

Fucking morons.

5:40 pm • Monday • April 12, 2010

@SanFranLefty: No.

@Mistress Cynica: God help us.

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