13 April 2010

Writer Declaring War on the JIM-Dandies

Oh boy, here we go. Sacramento writer, Ted Cox, a self-proclaimed straight, LDS-turned-atheist man, has written an article entitled My Journey Into Manhood: Undercover at a Gay Conversion Camp about his undercover involvement in what he calls the ex-gay movement, primarily an expose of the Journey Into Manhood weekend he attended in Phoenix last year in February.

A few things he says reflect a bit of bias in his approach: for example, he claims the weekends are designed to make gay men straight, which wording I'm pretty sure Rich Wyler would take issue with, since he said so in an Evergreen Conference workshop I attended a couple of years ago. But to be fair to Cox, Wyler's whole presentation centered around leaving homosexuality and offering examples of men who had gone on to marry women, a mixed message when he just said it's not necessarily about changing to straight. As always, one must read with awareness of the author's bias, and the ideas in the "ex-gay movement" are sometimes so complex (some would say convoluted?) that I'm not sure even a year is enough for someone to really have a firm grasp on it, especially if they're staunchly opposed and not really "open" to the ideas, but it's certainly enough to be dangerous. In one example, according to my understanding, he oversimplifies the theory behind holding therapy by saying it's making up for one's father not holding them enough, but I think it's as much an emotional as physical deficit, and the holding is meant to represent that deficit and affirm one's connection with and sense of masculinity, rather than make up for a lack of holding in childhood. That said, I've never participated in holding therapy and don't buy the theory behind it as I've heard it, and a lot of what he says in the introductory material I've read (I have yet to read the whole article) addresses concerns I have with the whole phenomenon of these weekends.

Again, as I've said before, most of my "SSA" friends have been to JIM weekends, and despite just a few who privately say it wasn't worth the investment or they felt compelled to join groupthink or be ostracized, they've definitely mostly come away with predominantly really positive experiences. I have yet to meet a single JIM-dandy who no longer experiences significant same-sex attraction (at least none whose income and reputation doesn't depend on saying so), and only a very, very few have experienced any lasting increase in attraction to women (and even then, it's usually their wife or a girl they're dating, not women in general, but as they say, it only takes one!), but I do know guys who have learned to leave behind unhealthy or destructive behaviors and habits and gained self-confidence, comfort with themselves, coping skills, tools for healthier relationships, paradigm shifts, etc. I don't doubt the weekends do a lot of good for a lot of people, and I'm happy so many friends have learned valuable lessons and gained self acceptance at the weekends.

I'm sure I'd learn a thing or two about myself, as well, much as I have in other workshops or self-discovery activities of a less intense variety. I won't be shelling out the cash anytime soon, however, as I have other priorities and don't trust such an intense, reprogramming experience at the hands of men who are making money from them and whose reputations and careers depend on defending what goes on there. Some friends have condescendingly stated that it's true: I probably shouldn't go if I don't trust the experience because I wouldn't get out of it what I could if I weren't willing to "give it my all" and "trust the process". I understand that's true with just about anything--you get from it what you're willing to invest--but the slightly cultish sound of it just makes me shudder a little. Then I shrug it off and laugh and move on, letting others believe I'm just all walled up and too closed for the process to do me any good anyway. What we can agree on is that it could be a great experience, whether or not it affects homosexuality at all, but that you have to want it enough to invest in it for it to be worth it. I'm OK with that.

When I've addressed the secrecy around the weekends, my JIM-dandy friends usually become wide-eyed to show their enthusiasm and confidence as they say, "It really is important to not know exactly what's going to happen. You need to go into it not knowing what to expect for the process to have the greatest impact." I think the idea is that part of the weekend is a cathartic emotional release and vulnerability that is achieved partially by blindsiding participants with challenging activities or experiences they need to respond to in a raw, unrehearsed way. But I'm not convinced hearing about the activities really would dampen the necessary reactions...but what do I know? I've never been.

Which leads to just a bit of conflict around reading Cox's article: I usually think things learned or witnessed in confidence should be held in confidence. To publish details about something you swore not to talk about outside of the experience is obviously deceptive, righteous cause or not. He says he didn't even know about the confidentiality clause until after he'd made a deposit and bought airfare, which I think he is using to imply that the deception began with entrapment on the JIM organizers' part. I suppose he, understandably, has to find a way to justify his breach of contract. But I also suppose I give some exemptions for things of a non-sacred or non-religious nature, particularly where people sincerely believe the welfare of others is truly at stake, and there seems to be no other way of getting "inside", at least none which don't involve pressuring others to breach their contracts. It almost seems better for the reporter to be deceitful than to interview others who would breach their contracts and somehow washing their hands of any wrong-doing. I can't help but question the journalistic ethics around it, but I must admit I'm probably going to read the article regardless.

In a video interview with Ted Cox, he reminds me of people I've known who have an air of objective intelligence but who really are rather egomaniacal and closed to ideas opposing their own views. To be honest, I think most crusaders are that way. But I can't know what he's like, and he seems, at least, to be trying to treat the story fairly (errors such as misstating the name of NARTH do bring into question his attention to detail, but I'm a stickler for that sort of thing, and I make the same mistakes at times, but I'd hope people wouldn't entirely disregard my thoughts because of such an oversight). I'll just digest his story as I try to digest most: openly with skepticism.

Were any of you at the weekend he attended? I actually think a couple of friends may have been. Any firsthand experience with him? I'm interested in the reactions of people who were there and knew him with the understanding that he was a fellow "journeyer" and how it feels to know he was just an investigative writer infiltrating something so emotionally sensitive and raw for most participants.

I couldn't help but grin and chuckle a bit when I read this article by Warren Throckmorton about an article published in Salt Lake's City Weekly independent (typically very liberal-slanted) newspaper. And he links to a story from the Daily Show that TOTALLY cracked me up.


Aaron said...

I'm in agreement that I believe it is simply dishonest to enter a situation where you say you will keep something in confidence and then to go back on your word. It seems simply bad form. Weak character. It's just lying.

Of course many people in the homosexual community feel very passionately about the idea that gays can be changed and like you said, to constantly use examples of people that claim to, and hold up those examples seems too suggest that is the ultimate goal. I suppose they feel that the ends of exposing false hood, justify the means of getting their evidence.

I have never been to a JIM weekend but from what I can gather from what little I have heard from multiple people, it sounds like it would be a positive experience. And that is kind of where my problem with it lies. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't just full of the kinds of feel good, self assurance activities that would probably be good for anyone, regardless of sexual orientation? Feeling better and dealing with your self image and past seems like a pretty generally positive thing whether you were straight or gay.

So I don't understand why it is passed off as, or suggested to people as, a tool in the path of making someone straight. That seems a bit misleading to me, and that is as far as my disappointment or speculation goes.

Evan said...

I have always wondered what went on at JiM and have been invited to attend the ones here in Texas a couple of times. But honestly, I was in college at the time, and $650 for this get-together that wasn't even endorsed professionally just all sounded sketchy to me.

Yet I have always been curious as to what exactly went on, since NO ONE that attended would tell me any details. (Friends I know personally, and those on North Star) I couldn't help but read that document and I'll admit I laughed a couple of times.

I have heard mostly positive things, too... But really, the camp is for those who WANT to change, and when you go through an event like that, of course you are going to walk away with positive feelings because that is what you want to feel. I believe I have only talked with one individual who said it wasn't worth the money.

I feel like I could compare these guides to John Edwards from Crossing Over (the dude who talks to dead people), with the audience as the attendees to JiM. Although I don't doubt that many of these men had traumatic experiences growing up, the truth is a lot of us don't (aka Me)... but if we really scrutinize our relationships with our fathers after being asked such an open ended question by these guides, of course we are going to find something... much like the young man he mentioned who was ignored by his father for reading a newspaper. ANYONE could come up with an abusive past if they wanted to.

I had 9 siblings. I didn't get enough attention from my Dad, because most of it went to my older brother. Also, I felt like my Dad didn't love me that much when I was 12 because he wouldn't spend my first week of Scout summer camp with me. Thus, I deal with SSA.


I'm reposting this tomorrow.

Bravone said...

We've discussed this before. I even tried to talk you into going with me. I have verbally committed to going in September, but am having second thoughts for more than a few reasons.

I don't really have issues with my father. Sure he could have been a little more expressive of his love, but I don't think he contributed to my sexuality other than the Y chromosome.

I read the article, and while certain activities may be helpful in some ways, others make me nervous or seem a bit silly to me. I will readily admit, though, that taken out of context, many things could seem silly or strange.

Additionally, my goal in life is not to change my sexuality. I am fine with me just the way I am. At times, I want to make changes to my behavior, but it doesn't require change to my sexual orientation.

I also don't want to feel like I have to go to be fully accepted into a particular group. I have escaped that so far.

I went to an adult scout leader training camp that began much like JIM is purported to begin. I was very uncomfortable with the experience. I felt like I was walking naked into a concentration camp. The week overall, however, was a terrific experience.

I also joke that at my age, it should be called Journey into Geriatrics. If I'm not a man by now, I probably never will be. I'll think I'll check with my wife!

Come to think of it, I might have plans in September.

Original Mohomie said...

Ha, Bravone, as skeptical as I am, I'd hate to think my speculation and personal disinterest would keep you or others from having a really positive experience. :-) Though I don't know why, I almost want you to go, have a fabulous experience, and join the throngs of JIM-dandies. :-)