Via my friend Wayne Besen's weekly column (http://www.waynebesen.com/columns/index.html) I came across this story of yet another bizarre program used by some of the "ex-gay" reparative programs. The story about the program to which gays, among others are referred is detailed in the Houston Press (http://www.houstonpress.com/2007-10-04/news/weekend-warriors/full) and demonstrates both how strange this program (and others) can be and how dangerous it is for untrained, unlicensed individuals to try to undertake change therapy when they have no legitimate training or licensure to do so. Here are highlights from Wayne's column:
A central tenet to "ex-gay" theory is that a male turns gay because of a poor relationship with his father. Under this baseless hypothesis, a sensitive boy perceives paternal disapproval, and as a defensive measure, the child rejects his dad and all things masculine that remind him of the broken relationship. The mother supposedly reinforces the downward spiral by becoming the child's fierce protector.
The circle is complete when the spurned boy rebuffs sports and male peers in school and instead chooses female friends and leisure activities such as playing house.Of course, this quackery ignores that many gay men had terrific relationships with their fathers and have close heterosexual male friends. There are also countless men who had horrendous relationships with their dads and they turned out straight. If a guy wants to become heterosexual, according to ex-gay literature, he must reclaim his masculinity by playing sports and hanging out with heterosexual friends, while they partake in "manly" activities.
Realizing their forte was white-knuckling prayer, not bare-knuckled machismo - several ex-gay organizations began outsourcing to a paramilitary, pseudo-psychological outfit, The ManKind Project. Ex-gay programs, particularly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), have aggressively promoted The ManKind Project's New Warrior Training Adventure. This cult-like national program is a $650 weekend boot camp where participants - mostly straight - are greeted by large, intimidating men dressed in dark clothing and faces painted black. During their stay, the men are forced to take cold showers, survive on about four hours sleep, and subsist on very little food. In follow-up meetings, the activities include shaving another man's face, kidnapping a member of another camp group and changing clothes with other men. The idea is to help them get in-touch with their feelings and uncover and heal deep wounds that are barriers to successful lives.
The alternative publication, The Houston Press, uncovered a letter Michael Scinto wrote to the Madison County Texas sheriff's office, just prior to committing suicide allegedly as a result of the boot camp. The Scinto family has filed a lawsuit against The ManKind Project, while the deceased man's letter to the sheriff claims the New Warrior program practiced bizarre rituals that include:
*Blindfolded walking tours in the nude.
*People blowing sage smoke in his face while 50 or so naked men danced around candles.
*Men sitting in a circle discussing their sexual histories while passing a wooden dildo called "The Cock."
*Naked men beating cooked chickens with a hammer.
In the Houston Press article, the wife of one of the men who attended discussed why her husband eventually rejected the group."So, everyone was sitting Indian-style in a big circle in the lodge when the man leading the group said, 'if you wish, you may reach over and grab your brother's dick. If your brother doesn't want your hand there, he can remove it.' Well, my husband told me he just froze. And, from that point on, he just wanted out." The ManKind Project called the allegations false and "vindictive."
The bigger issue, however, is that these are unlicensed men practicing what appears to be a form of therapy. There is the potential to do great damage, particularly to repressed and vulnerable gay men who feel their homosexuality is a shameful sickness that can be cured through male bonding and risky outdoor activities.
As the Houston Press story indicates, in the case of Michael Scinto, he was apparently so damaged by his experience that he ultimately committed suicide, which is the basis for his family's lawsuit against The ManKind Project. Hopefully, Mr. Scinto's family will prevail. I believe only if and when these quack programs are hit with huge monetary judgments will they be forced out of business. Likewise, high profile lawsuits may push legislatures to enact stricter educational and licensing requirements so that programs such as The ManKind Project and assorted wacky "ex-gay" programs are shut down.