25 November 2007

Skepticism on JIM Dandiness

For those not familiar with the acronym "JIM", it refers to the Journey Into Manhood weekend, an experiential weekend designed, as I understand it, to help men work through emotional scars and developmental roadblocks to clear the way for the development of the whole, masculine man they have always been, consequently clearing the way for an increase in "natural" attraction towards women. I affectionately refer to those who have gone on JIM weekends as JIM-dandies.

Now, to be fair, I really want to make it clear that I have never been to JIM, do not know specifically what happens there, and have not extensively researched reparative therapy in all its nuance and clinical theory. I can only speak from the bit of reading I've done and the conversations I've had with some close friends about their experiences with JIM in a broad, general sense, as they sign a contract not to divulge certain details about the weekend.

A good friend of mine recently went for the first time. A couple of other friends did, too, actually, but I haven't seen them as much to see the effects. This friend who went obviously took away some valuable tools, and I was excited for him to go and am happy for the experience he had. I think it was a huge help and well worth what he spent on it.

Still, I'm not interested in JIM even after seeing how much of a difference it has made in a friend of mine. I guess the skeptic in me never rests, and I believe individuals are so very unique that one experience that is amazingly beneficial to one may not be so to another individual with a different set of perspectives and circumstances. Not better or worse, just different. And yet, even though I don't wish to go, myself, I have recommended, on occasion, that some friends look into going for themselves.

I mean, I did enjoy the sort of sneak-peek activities one of the JIM directors did with us at the last Evergreen conference. I realize that was a very tiny, shallow sampling of what goes on at the weekend, but I like activities that make you leave your comfort zone enough to learn something about yourself or see something from a refreshed perspective, to shift paradigms where necessary and clarify others. I don't doubt I'd take away something from a JIM weekend, but I'm extremely doubtful it would be worth the investment and airfare. When I read testimonials or listen to a description of what it's supposed to do, there's nothing ringing inside of me that says, "That's ME! That's what I need. That's my issue, too!"

And when my friends get together and talk cryptically about JIM things and principles, it really grates on my nerves after a while because of the culture-specific lingo they use and the things they can't say. Maybe this is what it feels like to be a member of another faith in Utah? Or one of my straight friends hanging out with my moho friends? Poor saps.

With one friend who had just been to JIM recently, I noticed he started verbally qualifying every attraction with traits and/or qualities. It sort of went under my radar at first, but after a couple of days, I realized that this was his way of defusing the attractions and possibly convincing himself they aren't really the attractions he thought, unless I'm overinterpreting. It seemed like every time he saw an attractive male, he tried, in a sense, to "explain" the attraction by some trait he admired and wanted for himself. And I understand some of the ideas behind that line of thinking, but I have to ask some questions about it.

Honestly, any man or woman could deconstruct their attractions in many ways. They could name traits and characteristics that draw them to a person. Emotional, spiritual, character, social qualities that are attractive. I see traits that draw me to people around me. Sometimes, I'm not physically attracted to someone until I get to know them. Many other times, I'm very physically attracted before I know them.

Some people look at that and have learned to analyze those initial attractions, determining what qualities they are ascribing to the person just because they have always assumed people who look like that are a certain way or have certain qualities the admirer has only dreamed of having. But...that's not unique to same-sex attraction either. Statistics indicate that good-looking people get hired more. Isn't this because all human beings, whether for sexual reasons or not, ascribe qualities to them? They're more confident, more socially adept, more capable, more trustworthy. Those are false notions, but everyone does that, sexualized or not. And again, how is it different for opposite-sex attracted people? Do we not all, to some extent, wishfully ascribe qualities we desire in a companion to those whom we find attractive?

Sometimes we look at such and think that what we "really" are doing is seeing qualities we would like to emulate or which we desire for ourselves, and so we sexualize them or turn them into romantic qualities. But in reality, what quality would you find attractive if you DIDN'T admire it or have some desire to possess it yourself? Truly. How could you be attracted to a trait you don't admire? So this approach makes sense on one hand but seems moot on the other.

I guess it's the attitude behind certain "techniques" or ways of looking at things that I take issue with. Maybe my perspective is a strange one that just doesn't work for most people. I just don't think I see a need to redefine my same-sex attractions, or convince myself they aren't really the kind of attraction straight people experience, to honestly approach the possibility of a relationship with a woman.

I mean, if I were to apply the analytical "reparative"-style line of thinking, as I understand it, to my attraction to women, I'm pretty sure it would have similar results as doing it towards men. So I see all these men reframing their attractions to members of the same gender while unquestioningly embracing any attraction to women, and I think, "Is that REALLY honest? Is that really fair?" Nevertheless, I will not deny it may be a very useful tool. And I will also say this entire exposition may be moot if I'm missing certain nuances or subtleties to the therapeutic approaches I'm discussing because I've only learned of them secondhand.

Another problem. I beg pardon, in advance, from my many friends who have participated in and swear by JIM weekends. In fact, of my closer moho friends, most have been to a JIM weekend, and some have staffed them. Among those friends with whom our perspectives generally agree, almost all of them are JIM-dandies, as I like to call them. So there's probably something to all of it that is greatly beneficial and positive and correct. I really like the subtle changes I've seen in my aforementioned friend. He seems to have more of a sense of ownership of his life, a grip on his emotions, and added perspective on interpersonal relationships, as well as additional coping and processing tools he may have lacked previously. That's awesome.

My problem: I don't like being reprogrammed by other human beings. I like input. I like learning from varied perspectives. I absolutely bristle and refuse to let someone use cultish tactics on me. I don't care how much I could learn quickly, it amounts to giving someone far too much influence on my thought processes, and I won't have it. One might say, "Well, you'll never heal, then, because you'll never allow anyone in enough to help you." OK, I can appreciate that. But I do let people, or ideas, in. I just don't give over my skeptical reasoning unless I've been inspired to do so. So, barring a revelation or inspiration to do so, I will not participate in secretive faternal organizations.

So yeah, I'm a skeptic, but I'm a fair-minded skeptic, I think. I see the good effects these JIM weekends have had on my friends, and I acknowledge that and support, I think, a great deal of what is done, despite my own reservations and concerns about what is done to the thought processes of the participants. I just don't think it's for me, and I have to shrug it off when guys come back from these weekends insisting I should go. Sorry, but I guess we'll just have to let that be one tiny rift in our friendships.

I've heard some say, "Maybe it wouldn't be good for you simply because you wouldn't get out of it what you could. Not now, anyway." The implication is that I would just remain so reserved and not "open up" enough to my "process" that I would only get out of it what I put in. I've heard this used to explain one friend's luke-warm experience. I can fully appreciate that you only get out of an experience what you put in, but what bothers me so thoroughly about that knee-jerk reaction I've heard from a few people when I question JIM the way I do is that many of them seem to be coming from a very specific perspective: homosexuality is ALWAYS merely a symptom of deeper issues that can be addressed and resolved, thereby diminishing the homosexual in you and magnifying the heterosexual. And SINCE homosexuality is ALWAYS a SYMPTOM of altered development, and not a result of natural development, EVERY homosexual man has ISSUES to resolve. So, in that mindset, if you're at one of these weekends, and the other men have just born their deepest secrets and sobbed uncontrollably in front of the group or screamed at the top of their lungs about their deeply guarded anger and bitterness and frustration, if, when your turn comes, you share some dilemas or conflicts you've had but do not release a torrent of vulnerability and break down in front of the others, you MUST be holding back because you SURELY have deep wounds you are not putting forth the energy to access. You are being lazy, holding back, not trusting enough, not reaching deeply enough. Because, in the mind of a man at a JIM weekend, a homosexual cannot possibly be SO emotionally healthy and at-peace as to not have deep-seated issues to bring out. I really can't speak for the mind of a man at a JIM weekend, but this is my personal perception.

Sorry, but I don't buy into that. But I can understand how the group would feel betrayed and not trusted by someone not showing the same degree of vulnerability they all did. I can picture them then closing off to that person who was supposedly not giving enough. These kinds of weekends are a prime breeding ground for groupthink, but hopefully most of the men rise above that tendency, although I'm inclined to think that's discouraged simply by the fraternal nature of the experience and the need for total trust and vulnerability.

To be fair, I want to say that almost every person I've known who has gone to a JIM weekend has come away saying it was, undoubtedly, well worth it, they would at least consider doing it again, and they feel like better men for having done it. Many of them (not all) have called it a life-changing experience. A couple have said it was good in many ways but probably not meant for everyone.

I tend to think of this: an experiential weekend like this, which is so focused on brotherhood or fraternity and gaining a sense of masculine belonging, is going to attract a certain crowd, so OF COURSE it's going to be greatly beneficial to the vast majority of people who go. It ATTRACTED them for a reason: the issues addressed are the ones drawing them to it in the first place. Those who choose not to go MAY not need the same kind of healing. Is that so hard to comprehend?

That said, I actually, honestly have NO DOUBT I would take a great deal from going to a JIM weekend. From what I've heard and read, it would be a definitely growing, learning experience in some ways, probably in some significant ways. And I may have a revelation one day that I need to put an inordinate (for me) amount of trust in some carefully selected strangers to speed up my healing journey and maybe even try to "change" or "diminish" my homosexual attractions, but for now, at least, I'm not interested. I like to learn from friends and study and my own experiences. I like to learn from real life situations, at my own pace.

15 comments:

Darrin said...

But you know, I am REALLY curious about the JIM weekends. I am hoping someone will make a "God-Makers"-like movie so I can see what happens. Maybe I'm too irreverant.

To relate, the few guys I have known that have gone all swear by it, but I don't see how it has helped them. If it was free (or a LOT cheaper), I would go, just out of curiousity. I am on a quest for knowledge and further understanding of Moho-ness. I am totally on board with your sleptisism, until I know more.

Neal said...

I have mixed emotions about that kind of approach as well, but I'm sure for many there is good that comes from it.

I think there's a huge cultural component to sexuality, attraction, and as you mentioned, to the definitions of beauty. We largely ignore these cultural factors when we talk about sexual attraction. Other cultures have hugely different concepts of beauty than we do. The ancient Greeks thought young boys were "beautiful", and put them on a par with their most beautiful women. Our Western culture has taught us to think people who are thin are more attractive than those who are heavy set; yet in other cultures being "plump" is considered the pinnacle of beauty and health. Some remote native tribes perform disfiguring piercings, stretchings (like the lower lip), tattoos, or other body modifications that we may find completely unattractive. Yet in their culture these are marks of beauty and status.

Like it or not, to a large degree we're all "programmed" by the society we live in. Maybe a little positive re-programming from time to time isn't such a bad idea?

Take care,

Neal

iwonder said...

Yeah... the whole thing smacks of reparativness - which I hate.

I too have talked to people/friends about it who have "JIMed" - if it works for them, then that's great, but I seriously get creeped out by the weird lingo, the absolute conviction with which some of them say that all their sexual feelings towards men are because of their own insecurities about themselves, or the fact that they now feel more manly because they have played a game of touch football (or whatever).

Like you, I shy away from anything that hints of brainwashing or "reprogramming" as you put it.

Yes, Neal, I agree we are programmed by our society to a great extent, but in my opinion this programme (JIM) is nought but yet another realisation of our society's view on the brokness of homosexuals and how they aren't really manly enough and how becoming more stereotypically heterosexual (which for so many = masculinity) makes me a better person.

Like O. Mohomie, I just don't buy it.

socal said...

From someone who has gone, if you're not interested, don't go. It's not for everyone. I gained a lot from it and I have absolutely no regrets that I went. It was the right thing from me. It may not be the right thing for others, including yourself, and I respect that. Each of us is on our own journey and we each have to determine what are the rath paths for ourselves (there are no value statements associated with different paths - what may right for you me may not be for you and vice versa).

Just one thing I am a little sensitive about, and this sensitivity also comes from being a member of the Church, I'd be a little more careful in throwing out terms like "cultish" tactics or "reprogramming." I certainly wasn't reprogrammed or had "cultish" techniques used on me. In addition, I know a lot of people who use those terms when talking about the Church. In all fairness, you haven't been on the weekend. Just like people who haven't been members of the Church who refer to the Church as a cult, it's not fair for them to speak that way of something they haven't experienced and in the same way, I don't think it's fair to speak of JiM in the same way when you haven't experienced it. (Please don't think that I am placing JiM on the same comparison level as the Church, it's just an easy example).

I don't believe that the JiM experience is something that is necessarily for everyone with SSA or it is something that is for every man with SSA when they are "ready." I just know it has been a valuable tool for me and that it has been a valuable tool for many of my friends who have experienced it. From my perspective, nothing more. Nothing less.

Anyway, I appreciate your input. I hope that you continue find things in your life that add happiness, value, and joy and that you continue being the person that you are.

Danish Boy said...

That was great! I am glad that you posted this. It actually reminded me of some things that I had forgotten. Thanks. I understand where you are coming from. I also am very interested in your ideas. It seems that this whole community has a very different idea about Sexual attractions. Your perspective always gets me to really think. It's more abstract. Maybe abstract isn't the word. It's fresh. I guess I tend to follow the "norm". Whatever that is? I'm just glad that there's someone who doesn't accept that there is just ONE answer. Hope this made sense.

Original Mohomie said...

Thanks for your thoughts, all.

Socal, I should have been more careful of my use of "cultish". I merely meant that some of what I have heard goes on there does sound cultish to me: isolation, socially required vulnerability to the group, having a lingo, breaking participants down emotionally to build them back up in a programmed (read "structured" or "dictated by a set of theories and practices" if you prefer) way, etc. I meant it in a fairly objective way, I think, but wanted to get across the connotation that I'm also wary of what situations I allow that kind of thing to be done. I can't deny that to SOME extent, the MTC, or the temple, or other church culture practices, have elements of "cultish" tactics, and some of those tactics are obviously beneficial in certain applications. The military does it too. Maybe I'll find a way to re-word my post when I have some more time. Thanks for the input.

playasinmar said...

Does anyone know any Jim-Dandies who came back straight? All the ones I know are still gay.

Neal said...

"yet another realisation of our society's view on the brokness of homosexuals and how they aren't really manly enough and how becoming more stereotypically heterosexual (which for so many = masculinity) makes me a better person."

Ok, if its one of those "Make-Ya-Macho" boot-camp kind of things that really turns me off. And why can't people talk about what goes on there? I don't get.

Socal, can you enlighten?

Thanks,

Neal

Original Mohomie said...

Playa, to be fair, while most of the guys I know would still be defined as "gay", I actually do have friends who experienced some significant changes. Some were less compulsive in their thoughts about men and gained a huge amount of self control. Some approached male friendship with less fear and/or sense of rejection. Some experienced increased interest and confidence in dating women. Some just felt unconditionally accepted by themselves and by others for the first time ever. Some located points in their life which have damaged their sense of self-worth and confronted those for the first time, allowing them to begin a healing process.

Did they turn "straight"? Nah, not that I know of, but they did have a renewed perspective and a healthier view of relationships in general, I think, which I fully support. *shrug*

Original Mohomie said...

Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think there are, indeed, some "Make Ya Macho" boot-camp kinds of things that go on, but I don't think making the guys macho is actually the goal but rather giving them confidence and ownership of their reactions and feelings in the face of what would otherwise be debilitatingly intimidating "macho" situations. Learning to stand up for yourself and be "your own man", in a way. Yes? Maybe? Kind of?

Ron Schow said...

Mohomie

Thanks for a thoughtful post on a relevant topic.

**********
Some were less compulsive in their thoughts about men and gained a huge amount of self control. Some approached male friendship with less fear and/or sense of rejection. Some experienced increased interest and confidence in dating women. Some just felt unconditionally accepted by themselves and by others for the first time ever. Some located points in their life which have damaged their sense of self-worth and confronted those for the first time, allowing them to begin a healing process....Did they turn "straight"? Nah,
********

I believe most of these same benefits can be found in various forms in a huge variety of self help or counseling environments. These days we have books, workbooks, CDs, workshops, weekend retreats, web sites, etc. Most of us are overwhelmed with offers and invitations to help us improve our lives. In most cases, we don't have to take vows of secrecy to be involved.

The really troubling thing to me is to think of the young person out there who feels he must drop $1000 (which he doesn't have) for this weekend or he will miss his (There are no JIWs, right?) one opportunity to really make a difference in his life.

Fortunately, as you note, most of the ideas of the JIM are already on the internet (see PeopleCanChange.com or have been heard (sampled) at Evergreen) and if you have reviewed or heard those (as I have) there are no magic bullets out there. This is the same old stuff, but in this case packaged in a nice attractive weekend with other MOHOs. For those who can afford $1000 on one weekend fine. For those who are hearing you can't judge it until you go, I can produce five more offers of places you can spend $1000 and they too have wonderful outcomes and reminders that you can't judge it until you've been there.

socal said...

Okay... a few clarifications about JiM. Never once was I told that if I went on the weekend, I would leave "straight". This isn't a weekend about becoming "straight". In fact, I don't subscribe to any label - "gay" or "straight." So, let's just get past labels. My personal belief is that labeling oneself based on sexual orientation is not beneficial. I don't like being told that I must conform to some prescibed mold or box based on one's stated sexual preference. I just think it is stupid and therefore, I don't do it.

For those who are not familiar with the People Can Change website or the Journey Into Manhood weekend that is put on by the organization, there are four values that the weekend and the organization focuses on and it is found in the acronym MANS - Masculinity, Authenticity, Needs Fulfillment, and Surrender. This is not a macho ya up weekend. It is not a weekend where you are taught how to act straight or be straight. It is a weekend where you learn about needs that every man (gay or straight - for lack of a better term) has (see the acroynm) and learning how to identify those needs and meet them. Never once are you told that in order to be masculine you must play basketball. The whole premise of the weekend is to evaluate your perceptions of men and women, masuclinity and femininity and then live an authentic life based on your values. It is not a religious weekend. People of all faiths or no faith are welcome. Most people who attend the weekend, however, have a value system that does not promote living a homosexual lifestyle.

Throughout the weekend, a participant engages in processes that helps him evaluate his perceptions on men and women, analyze his feelings, and help him make constructive choices that fall into every mans journey of Masculinity, Authenticity, Needs Fulfillment, and Surrender. Yes, there is a hope that he will be able to diminish his same-sex attractions but potentially identifying the source of those attractions but there is no value judgments stating that he is bad because a man has same-sex attractions. In fact, throughout the weekend a man is reinforced with the idea that he is okay the way he is. He is only given tools to help him on his journey in living a more authentic life in a community of men. The diminishing of SSA is more of a by-product of that. It is not the focus.

As for not being able to talk about the weekend. What I am not able to talk about are the specific processes that you go through. Everything I have just mentioned can be found on their website and is pretty much an overview of the weekend, so I don't know why everyone gets so caught up in this supposed "secrecy." It's not really that secret. I just told you what goes on during the weekend. As I said, look at the website for more info. www.peoplecanchange.com If you want more information, look there. The reason I can't tell you about the specific processes is that they will mean more to you if you go into it without preconceived ideas. There are no secret rituals or signs. It's just that each man who goes into the weekend with as few proconceived ideas or expectations as possible will gain the most benefit from the weekend.

I hope this clears up any misconceptions or concerns. I know some of you might have issues with the name "People Can Change." I'll only say this, as human beings we are changing all the time. Change is what you make of it and what you want it to be. Change is not necessarily changing from a homosexual to a heterosexual being. I would submit that the change proposed here is one of becoming a more self-assured, authentic man being accepted into a new community of men. If this is something that you feel would be beneficial to you, I would highly recommend the weekend. If you feel that you already have this and this weekend isn't for you, I would recommend that you don't go. This is a weekend for men who are interested in men's needs and joining a community of men who meet those needs in a non-sexual way.

I hope that this answers any questions that you may have. This is quite long. I am sorry for that but I wanted to be clear of what the weekend is and is not. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.

socal said...

As for concerns about the cost, if you are in need of financial help, there are usually 2-3 "scholarships" available for those who are in financial need. I was a recipient of such a scholarship when I went in 2006, so they do try to work with you if money is an issue.

Original Mohomie said...

Ron, I agree with the bulk of what you're saying. That's why I, personally, choose not to drop the $650 fee plus whatever travel expenses to attend. I believe the same lessons can be learned from other sources.

Nevertheless, what I have often heard from those who went is that the principles are delivered with such clarity and power that it was worth the investment for them. I don't doubt you'd probably get the same story from a lot of similar weekends. Some friends said they'd gotten more from their JIM weekend than they had in a year of counseling, which probably cost them more than the cost of JIM. So maybe for many, it's truly worth it.

Another possibly small point: more than mohos attend. It may be heavily LDS in Utah, but in other locations, there are many from other backgrounds (e.g. out east, I understand many attendees are Jewish). But most of them do experience homosexual attraction.

SoCal, thanks for piping in. There's only so much I can credibly expound upon on either side of a debate about JIM, having never been involved.

I'm glad you expounded on "change" and that the weekend is not necessarily intended to get rid of same-sex attraction. I think one friend told me that one of the things he took away from the weekend was the ability to love and embrace himself fully as-is, homoness or not, so that he could then more purposefully begin to heal.

I think there is almost always an underlying motivation or hope for the dissolution of homosexual feelings (replacing them with "healthy", masculine belonging), and I hope it is made clear that if the homosexual feelings don't go away, the participant has not failed.

In fact, I was not even going to mention changing to a more heterosexual orientation as a goal of the weekend because I didn't think it really was. Then I read the description on the People Can Change web site (by the way, I understand their concept of "change", but if they want people to stop interpreting it as "doing a 180", they might consider changing their logo):

----------------
Journey Into Manhood is...specifically for men who are self-motivated and serious about resolving unwanted homosexual attractions.
[...]
All of the exercises are designed to help you identify and process the underlying issues that may be alienating you from your authentic heterosexual masculinity – and, ideally, to help you experience a deep emotional breakthrough.
[...]
It is only for men who already are sincerely self-motivated to resolve unwanted same-sex attractions, in accordance with their intrinsic values, beliefs and personal life goals.
[...]
All [participants] are men at least 18 years old who are actively working to overcome unwanted same sex attraction.

----------------

What does it mean to "resolve" or "overcome" unwanted same-sex attractions? And more than that, regardless of what they mean by that, do they really expect people to not read "get rid of homosexual attraction"? Especially when they say that if you fit the description, you have "underlying issues that may be alienating you from your authentic heterosexual masculinity". OK, so they carefully threw a "may" in there. But "your authentic heterosexual masculinity"??? Masculinity is owned by heterosexual men?

So I'll give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they are really just speaking the language prospective participants speak. Maybe they understand that most of the men who will attend do, in fact, see masculinity that way, and they want to appeal to them, and once they're at the weekend, they can then break down their false conceptions.

But it doesn't appear that way, and hearing the founders speak on it didn't sound that way. It sounded like they genuinely believe masculinity and heterosexuality are inextricable. Perhaps they're right, but I have my doubts.

I also take issue with the fact that they say participants want to resolve their unwanted attractions "in accordance with their intrinsic values, beliefs and personal life goals." I suppose I understand this, but it just seems to reinforce the idea that until you get rid of your attraction to members or the same sex, you are not "in accordance" with your "intrinsic"(core, essential characteristic) values. You are at odds with yourself until your "unwanted" attractions are "overcome", and they can "help" you.

Still, I don't ascribe malicious misuse or money-grubbing motives to the organizers. I think they fully believe in what they're doing and that it has helped many men greatly, and I do believe much of it has great merit.

But hey, I question.

Oh yeah, the secrecy. I have heard that often as well: that it simply wouldn't have the impact it does if you knew, ahead of time, what goes on. I don't think there is anything hugely scandalous about it or strangely ritualistic (although I think there is SOME ritual, is there not?). But some of it just would be easily misconstrued out of context, or might lose its impact if you already heard what happens and had preconceived ideas about what it means because you analyzed it without all of the perspective you have on the weekend, yes?

For those who have been through the temple, the temple ceremony, when you're there with the built-up knowledge and perspective, can be very meaningful, or for a person to walk in off the street, they would miss the meaning and only see the ritual, which would taint their perspective. Is it something like that, maybe? Of course, I had a surprisingly open, descriptive class about what does go on in the temple before I went, and I had the confidence it was something inspired of God for me to do.

Sir Jupiter said...

*Don't* go. I was supposed to go right up until the week before (sometimes, like in Provo, they hold weekly preparation sessions before you go on the weekend itself) and finally came to my senses, got up, "went to the bathroom" and didn't come back.

...And I still want my damn deposit back.