I Joined a Bunch of Gay Conversion Groups
The last few months have not been kind to the gay conversion industry. The loudest mouthpiece for the trade, Exodus International, disbanded after the ex-gay ex-president of the organization, Alan Chambers, issued a letter of apology for the “shame,” “false hope,” and “trauma” Exodus caused, which admitted that "reparative therapy" didn’t work. On top of that, the State of California banned the practice for minors and the federal government started recognizing same-sex marriages with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
To get a better look at the state of the industry before it takes its final bow, I decided to join several gay conversion groups. I am a straight male, however, for the sake of this piece, I presented myself as a malleable young man with a history of homosexual behavior, looking to acquire a taste for female genitalia.
Conversion groups differ in their methods and supposed "causes for homosexuality," but the one thing they can all agree on is that two dudes doin’ it is totally gross.
SETTING CAPTIVES FREE
The first group I joined was an online one called Setting Captives Free.
It was about 2 AM when I created my account. I was tired, buzzed, and ready to be ungayed.
Setting Captives Free is a 60-day Christian course of reading scripture and answering both personal and religious questions. To help you along the process, members are assigned an email mentor, whose job it is to send daily inspiring emails of salvations and are there 24/7 to answer any questions or concerns.
Day one started with a nice introduction by founder Mike Cleveland and author Shon Bruellman. They informed me, despite what I have been told, I don’t have a "homosexual gene." In fact, I can be set free "by the way of Jesus Christ and the cross." I was encouraged to discuss my sexual history with my mentor, but to eschew the graphic because “Satan has received enough glory and attention in our lives.”
Then we moved on to what was expected of me during these 60 days. First and foremost, I was to abstain from homosexual activity. Secondly, I was to immediately stop frequenting places where "homosexual activity takes place," and also to stop using “porn and chat rooms," and to totally stop calling "phone hotlines," which apparently still exist.
To prove I wasn’t being tempted I had to install software on my computer that would send my mentor daily copies of the websites I visited. I got around this Orwellian requirement by claiming I was on a public computer. Lastly, and much to my horror, I had to abstain from all masturbation (they were apparently too busy writing bullshit therapy courses to watch Seinfeld).
Within a few hours I received my first email from Jim Houser, my mentor. Jim emailed me daily for the next month, with testimonials and scripture to help me through the course. He would read my answers as I went through the program and give me his input. Throughout the process we got to know each other fairly well. He was a "former" gay man who had been through Setting Captives Free, as well as a 150-day mentorship program. He was now married with four kids. As I got to know Jim throughout our month of emailing back and forth, he admitted to me “I still struggle with temptation at times but I no longer choice [sic] to live a life of sin.”
The next two weeks of the course were increasingly bizarre, consisting of scripture readings and my interpretations of them. One of my favorite lessons was Genesis 19, where I was taught that God believed a man raping and impregnating his own daughter was less of a sin than Adam getting a BJ from Steve.
Jim would send me tips on how to stay pure. When the Superman movie came out he sent me an email, “We went to go see [Man of Steel] this weekend and for those of you who are visually triggered I want you to know that there are several scenes that he is shirtless and he shows his physical physique very well along with an unshaven chest.” He also recommended I stay away from places where my lust could be triggered including “Swimming pools, beaches, theme parks, malls, high school, or college campuses.”
Jim's wife, like most wives of people taking the course, knew about his “homosexual struggles.” One of Jim's former students wrote a testimonial that Jim sent along to me. “In restaurants, my wife makes sure that what is in my field of vision is OK. She still will take the seat that has "the view" and let me look at non-tempting people.” Another man wrote that he stays pure because “My wife knows everything that I do” and “I never go anywhere alone.”
Dr. Gerald Schoenewolf's offices. Image via Google.
The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality or NARTH is an irreligious group devoted to the promotion of gay conversion treatments. NARTH consists of psychologists and religious figures alike that reject scientific consensus (and common sense) in believing homosexuality can be cured with therapy. They believe homosexuality comes from some combination of the lack of a father figure, molestation, or a rejection from a male peer group. Apparently, once you get over these repressed problems, you will become straight.
Dr. Gerald Schoenewolf is NARTH’s most prominent and loudest member. He published an essay entitled "Gay Rights and Political Correctness: A Brief History" that, needless to say, was not too kind to the gay community. Further, he claimed, despite being a member of the American Psychological Association, that it "has been taken over by extremist gays." Anti-gay wise it wasn’t getting better then this, so I gave him a call. After a brief chat it turned out I was in luck. Not only would he be happy to see me, but my insurance would cover me becoming straight. And my mom said I wasn’t smart with my money.
I was immediately impressed by the coziness of his office. Artwork adorned the walls and a parrot (or some kind of bird) climbed around the room. I made small talk with Dr. Schoenewolf about the parrot, and he put it in its cage because I "seemed distracted by it.”
With the parrot away it was time to get down to business. We discussed my familial history, and the fact that a single mother raised me the first 12 years of my life (which is true). We got to the good stuff once we moved on to my sexual history and I gave a pre-rehearsed answer about my previous steamy man-on-man experiences. “Have you ever had a relationship with a woman?” he interrupted. When I told him I hadn’t, he responded with “Can you see yourself having sex with a woman?” I scratched my head, “Well, eventually. That’s the goal.”
I got re-distracted by the parrot for a few more minutes before I was informed homosexuality is not something you're born with. According to them, it is developmental and brought on by experiences like being raised by a single mother. Terrific, we have prognosed the problem, but how to cure it? He told me I would have to come in once a week for that. During our weekly secessions I would get take-home assignments to help me become heterosexual. They started out easy. At first, all I had to do was “make eye contact with at least three women,” and then, “When you make eye contact and one of them looks back and smiles, approach that woman, and say ‘how are you?’” After all that effort, I was sure to have my P in some Vs.
Before Exodus shut down I called and asked if they could recommend a pastor in the NY-metro area who would make me appreciate rock concerts, football, and labia. They recommended Robert Ramirez in Farmingdale, NY.
I spoke to a woman who answered the number Exodus provided me with. She told me Pastor Ramirez was not present but he would be in the following morning until noon.
I woke up at some ungodly hour to take the train to Farmingdale, only to discover there was no church at the address provided. Instead I found an empty office front with a "for lease" sign in the window. I rang the number I had for Pastor Ramirez and the person on the other end of the line only knew a handful of English words. “No… no Ramirez is not here.” It took me all of my strength to not yell “What the fuck?!” into the phone. It turns out Pastor Ramirez is a pastor for some Spanish radio station, and the address, even the town Exodus provided, was wrong. Fuck me (as long as you are a woman, of course).
I called the number for the next few weeks trying to find Pastor Ramirez, talking to multiple different people, but to no avail. Everyone seemed to know the elusive Ramirez, but they couldn’t get me in touch with him. Much to my excitement I was provided an email for him at one point. After taking care to send him a nice message, it bounced back.
And then Exodus disbanded. The website is now nothing more then a letter by former CEO Alan Chambers apologizing for hurting people over the years. So, in a last ditch effort to be cured of homosexuality by Exodus, I purchased one of the speeches they'd previously published.
Because it was the cheapest publication offered, I downloaded a speech entitled Enjoying the Gift of Being Single by Jonathan Barry for $5. I opened up the MP3 and, much to my surprise, I was told I can’t become straight, so I should just be celibate for the rest of my life. As it turns out, Jonathan Barry is part of an Exodus International splinter group called True Freedom Trust that believes reparative therapy doesn’t work, but since someone with a penis kissing someone else with a penis is an abomination to the Lord, they just teach you how to not have sex. Why Exodus would endorse (or used to) something that flies (or used to) in the face of their own beliefs is beyond me.
Exodus International was by far the worst conversion therapy group I joined. Moral 180 aside, I am not surprised that they ended up shutting down.
JEWS OFFERING NEW ALTERNATIVES FOR HEALING
Jews Offering New Alternatives For Healing (or JONAH) is a group founded by a guy called Arthur Goldberg. Arthur is a former Wall Street executive and attorney who was convicted of three counts of mail fraud, and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States government before being disbarred as an attorney. He is now full-time in the boobie-appreciation business.
Arthur is also mentioned multiple times in a Southern Poverty Center lawsuit. JONAH is being sued for violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act because “gay conversion therapy has been rejected by all major mental health professions.”
Considering JONAH encourages members to inflict pain on themselves every time they have a homosexual thought, I don’t see how they're going to make it through the year before being run out of the state, so it was now-or-never in terms of joining.
After exchanging a few emails, I talked with Arthur on the phone. Surprisingly, he was pretty open about the lawsuit, bringing up the topic himself. “They claim by telling people they can change, we are committing consumer fraud, so obviously everybody knows nobody can change! You know, bullshit bullshit.” He used his own conversion as proof that conversion works and to refute “conventional thought.”
I got fed the typical line that my homosexuality was my mother's fault, however with a new twist. Now I had “sexualized envy.” I was attracted to men that had a “physical characteristic … or a personality characteristic that I envy.” Unfortunately, as I'm not Jewish, Arthur told me I couldn't be a part of his program.
He did, however, send me an email later that day saying, "If by any chance you become aware of some benefactor types who would help us financially, please let us know. We can certainly use financial assistance.”
PEOPLE CAN CHANGE
I am absolutely enamored with the concept of "Journey into Manhood." The idea is a bunch of gay men go into the woods for a weekend and somehow become straight. The videos are the creepiest things in the entire world.
Unfortunately for me, the next few months’ retreats were on the West Coast. However, People Can Change, who organize the retreats, has an office in Jersey City, in the same building as JONAH's office, staffed by a "life coach" named Alan Downing.
Alan is also being sued by the Southern Povery Law Center, on behalf of two of his former students who claim that he made them strip down and touch themselves in front of a mirror. They seem to be on the verge of getting litigated out of existence.
I went to visit Alan in his spacious office and he immediately gave me a bunch of papers to sign. After a few futile excuses about "next time," I reluctantly gave him my signature. This is something I've been freaking out about ever since. Hopefully it was nothing that means he can sue me for writing this.
As I grew up in Jersey City, we had a nice conversation about the gentrification of the area. The conversation wandered to my other experiences with groups like NARTH and Setting Captives Free, and Alan held up a sign with the word "shame" circled with a line through it. This was a No Shame Zone.
Alan Downing, a Mormon, like most people in this industry, has had his struggles with homosexuality in the past. Luckily for him, he went on the inaugural People Can Change retreat and he is now married with kids. There is just something about a bunch of dudes hanging out together in the woods that can do that for you.
Anyway, I was once again the same line about how being raised with a single mother made me gay and sex is for making babies not orgasms. I had confidence issues, I saw myself as more of a "boy than a man." He was enamored with the idea of "becoming a man" and one's "journey into manhood." Somehow this journey would occur in his office.
Just when I was mentally throwing him under the bus, out of the blue he comes out with “If having sex with other men is a fit for you that’s fine, you have choices.” I couldn’t believe it. This flies in the face of everything I have ever learned while becoming straight. I sat up from the overstuffed chair, “Really, so homosexuality is right for some people?” “That’s not for me to judge, if someone finds happiness in expressing themselves as a gay man, I am not going to try and change them.” What great news! I don’t have to be straight after all. He even told me masturbation wasn’t a sin!
Maybe it was because I met and talked with so many crazies in this process, but I found him to be quite refreshing and down-to-earth. Does he occasionally get naked with his counselees? Sure. But at least he didn't think I was heading to Hell. People Can Change was definitely my favorite gay conversion group that I joined (so seriously, guys, please don’t sue me.)
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