My Journey Into Manhood V

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

Some details have been altered to protect the identities of participants.

My carpool piles into our vehicle and we cruise away down the road that, thanks to the rain, is slowly turning into slop. I turn on my cellphone, and as soon as I can get a signal, text friends and family that I am alive, safe, and headed for the airport.

“How was it?” they ask. The medium limits me to 140-character messages. I really don’t know how to respond.

I should be asking the guys in my carpool what they thought of the weekend. I should be asking them what they experienced, and how it affected them. But I’m too tired to think about that. I haven’t slept in two days.

What am I supposed to do with this experience? I signed a confidentiality agreement before participating, but how can anyone keep quiet about something this intense? How can I not tell my friends or family members what I saw or did? And what about the married men? How could they not tell their wives what they were doing all weekend?

I turn around to ask Tony, the guy who had attended “Journey into Manhood” years earlier, how the weekend was different this time around. He says that it was “pretty much” the same as he remembered, just a couple of minor differences.

Is the confidentiality agreement really about making the weekend more effective for Journeyers? I doubt it. Included in the information packet is a page urging us to return for a second or third weekend. “Sometimes a price discount is available for men who are going through the JiM weekend a second time,” reads the flier.

We stop for dinner at the In-N-Out. Dave notices that I’ve become withdrawn from the conversation as I try to answer the barrage of text messages from my friends.

“I’m just tired, you know?” I respond.

“Yeah, man, me too.” He smiles and puts an arm around me as we walk back out the car for the final leg toward the airport.

And then there’s Dave. We have become friends during the weekend. I’m feeling guilty for lying to him, for betraying his trust.

At the curb of the terminal, I grab my bags and hug the guys. I worry about them and what will happen when they return home. If they’re hoping they’ll end up straight, I can’t help but think they’re in for a major disappointment.

Finally back in Sacramento, my friend Pauline, the self-described fag hag, picks me up from the airport and drives me to her favorite bar.

I spill my guts over a much-needed beer. “Oh my God,” she says, over and over again between drags on her cigarette.

My phone buzzes. Looking at the caller ID, I sigh, tell my friend it’s the call I’m expecting, and walk outside the coffee shop.

It’s Dave. I’m not looking forward to this.

A week has passed since returning home from JiM. Several Journeyers have tried contacting me in the days since. Before leaving the retreat, staffers handed out thick packets of information, which besides promoting two more of JiM co-founder Rich Wyler’s retreats and his telephone coaching service, urged us Journeyers to keep in touch with each other. There was also a check-in conference call, and an invitation to join a Yahoo! group. I decided not to participate in either of those. I felt like I had intruded enough into their lives.

I had also ignored all the calls and emails from the other Journeyers. Most of the men stopped after the first few tries. Dave, however, didn’t give up.

He eventually emailed me: “Dude, I miss you… I hope you’re doing well. I called you a couple of times. If I’m harassing you just let me know.”

I wrote back: “I’m ok. I miss you, too. The thing is, I have something to tell you, and you’re probably not going to like it. We should talk over the phone.”

So now Dave was calling me, and this time I answered.

While pacing back and forth on the shop sidewalk, I tell Dave everything: how I’m a straight writer, how I was at JiM undercover.

“I knew it!” he says. “I knew something was off!” Apparently my explanation at JiM about my faith proved less than convincing. It seems, though, that Dave was suspicious of my religion, not my sexual orientation.

But that doesn’t matter now: Dave is upset. He has every right to be.

“This is why I have this issue!” he groans. “I’ve had trouble trusting men. Now here we go again!”

I may have lied about my involvement, but I wasn’t about to let him pin his issues on me. I go on the attack.

“C’mon, do you really think straight men go off into the woods and hold each other?” I demand. “What about that all-night holding session you told me about? Does that sound like something straight guys do?”

Surely he would see the absurdity of it all.

Silence on his end for a moment. Then, quietly: “I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”

We end the call, and I walk back inside. I’m worried about how this will affect Dave. Dave is a stable guy, but what if word spreads among the Journeyers? How will they take it?

Dave calls back after a couple of hours. He is more composed, but he wants to know more about my motivation, about my stance on homosexuality.

I tell him that I think he’s normal, and that professional, reputable psychological organizations agree. I tell him that biologists have observed homosexual behavior in hundreds of species. I doubt I get through to him. How much does science really matter when God has spoken?

And there’s more to consider than just Dave’s feelings. “What do you want me to do?” he asks. “Leave my wife? Leave my kids? Just go live with some guy?”

There’s no easy choice for Dave. Either way, he loses something. Leaving a religious philosophy like Mormonism isn’t as simple as changing underwear brands. Often your friends stop calling, and your family members stop inviting you to dinner. Sure, Dave could finally live out and proud, but at what cost?

“I don’t know, man,” was all I could say. “I don’t know.”

My Journey Into Manhood [Stinque@Scribd]

Excerpts: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V

13 comments:

9:41 am • Friday • April 16, 2010

We stop for dinner at the In-N-Out.
chuckle

9:45 am • Friday • April 16, 2010

on a more serious note:

“Leave my wife? Leave my kids? Just go live with some guy?”

thats it in a nutshell. thats what they all face eventually.
its easy to pity them.

9:48 am • Friday • April 16, 2010

@Capt Howdy: Maybe I need to read the entire article, but this was no Jon Krakauer Into Thin Hair piece. Srsly, this last installment is totally flat, and leaves me as sorry for the writer as I am for the subjects.

9:54 am • Friday • April 16, 2010

@Nabisco:

its really sad. many of them, my ex for one, did what they did because they honestly want to do the “right thing”. to do that means living a lie everyday of your life. thats quite an oxymoron to resolve for those that are serious about doing the “right thing”.

10:00 am • Friday • April 16, 2010

@Capt Howdy: I know two guys who did exactly that in their 40s. They are doing OK, but their ex-wives are angry and bitter.

10:12 am • Friday • April 16, 2010

@Dodgerblue:

how well do you know them? I am willing to bet they are a bit angry and bitter as well. and guilt ridden.

and really, who can blame their wives?

11:10 am • Friday • April 16, 2010

@Capt Howdy: One pretty well, the other so-so. Each seems more relieved than angry to me.

1:52 pm • Friday • April 16, 2010

After over a decade of this ex-gay insanity, it’s almost surprising that they’re all not undercover reporters attending these events. I mean, David Schmader’s humorous ex-gay exposé Straight came out in like 2001.

It’s striking that the so-called therapy and the mens’ motivations for being there seem to have very little to do with sex and a helluva lot to do with intimacy, real intimacy, knowing the mind of another person and experiencing unconditional trust, acceptance and love, caring about someone more than you care about yourself. Living without intimacy feels like your soul is slowly drowning.

I once took a class and became totally smitten with the instructor, an MBA/JD who was my age and whom I’ll call Professor S. In class, we really connected: insight, humor, I was wowed by his intellect. And the craziest thing was that it wasn’t sexual at all. It’s like when you meet someone and you feel right away that you’ve known them for a long time. On the surface we didn’t seem to have a whole lot in common, him being straight, married and Catholic. But as I mentioned it wasn’t sexual, it was simply an intense yearning to know another person. I’d never felt anything like it.

I realized that I was looking forward to going to class so that I could spend time with S, and when the class concluded, it hit me that I’d never see him again. There simply was no socially acceptable way for us to bridge the previous student-teacher relationship. That night, after the last class, I had this overwhelming feeling that there was an enormous emptiness in my soul, so of course I filled it the only way that I could think of at the time–with gallons of booze. The video for Live With Me by Massive Attack, the saddest, most beautiful and truly haunting song ever created, could’ve been filmed at my house.

So, I imagine that desperation for intimacy, being filled with that sadness, that grief, not once but every day, must be what drives these men to try to change their natural orientation in the face of society’s disapproval and rejection. Perhaps I never really understood that until after reading this.

2:49 pm • Friday • April 16, 2010

A few years back Boston Legal did an episode on the Christian deprogramming efforts for the gays who have been so troubled by guilt that they will attempt anything to feel “normal”. It reminds me of the conceit that if we speak English to any foreigner slowly and loudly enough that eventually they will magically understand.

@Original Andrew: I think you’re exactly correct. Once you discover that feeling of connection with another person losing it becomes worse than losing a limb. That’s why I feel pity for Gov. Sanford for turning his back on the woman from Argentina if they had that bond. Remaining married and wealthy, remaining governor or even becoming president couldn’t compare with a life with the person who appreciates you precisely the way you are.

If we ever decide to give up our guilt and always do what FEELS right the sales of antidepressants and blood pressure medicines are going to nosedive.

5:17 pm • Friday • April 16, 2010

@Nabisco: Blame the editor, not the writer. The five excerpts include only half of the entire article, so if they’re flat, that’s my fault for bad choosing.

5:32 pm • Friday • April 16, 2010

@Nabisco: I should add that the event itself is a lot “flatter” than you would think, which the article does well to describe.

Hearing about it, you expect Clockwork Orange as they play straight porn all weekend. Reading about it, you realize that Robert Bly haunts the event — it’s a redressed “Iron John” weekend from the Eighties.

There’s really no room for Krakauer dramatics in the subject — these are men struggling with their own denial, abetted by charlatans, and in a positiion where accepting who they are is not without real consequences.

Ted approaches it with compassion and empathy, which I think is wholly appropriate. The article itself is a journey — his — which I wanted to capture with the excerpts, the arc of his weekend. Again, whether it played or not in blog format is my responsibility, but I knew that was going to be a challenge going in, and changed my mind a half-dozen times about the presentation.

But that’s also why I posted the entire PDF from the start, so the success wouldn’t rest on my mangling. And since the PDF has 9,400 views so far, I’m satisfied that I’ve done what I can.

9:32 pm • Friday • April 16, 2010

@nojo: The article itself is a journey — his — which I wanted to capture with the excerpts, the arc of his weekend. I get that now, thanks.

9:22 am • Saturday • April 17, 2010

@Original Andrew:
very moving OA. i feel you.
wish i could do more than understand.

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