Tuesday, November 27, 2007
by Wayne Besen
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. Another curveball to this absurd psychobabble is that that gay men, such as former professional baseball player Billy Bean, can hit a 100 mph fastball with a sliver of timber. I have yet to see any sports-promoting ex-gay therapists duplicate such athletic prowess.
It is also worth mentioning that no respected mental health association supports such ideas and the overwhelming majority of people who subscribe to these beliefs are devoutly religious, even as they disingenuously claim their "scientific" theories are secular.
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. For years, ex-gay organizations have included lipstick seminars for lesbians and touch football games for men. However, they routinely butchered the butching process, producing surprisingly effete leaders such as Alan Chambers and Sy Rogers. Or, they featured clownish figures, such as Focus on the Family's Melissa Fryrear, who nearly tumbled off a stage in Orlando, while boasting how she mastered the art of walking in high heels.
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.
Ex-gay activist Chad Thompson is a prime example of the absurd measures some individuals will go through to feel "man enough." He once wrote of working at a summer wilderness camp in Colorado to "affirm his masculinity." This apparently included climbing a mountaintop in "a massive lightening storm."
Hopefully, these men will eventually realize that self-acceptance is the only way they can come down from the stormy mountain and out of the woods. Openly acknowledging their homosexuality is by far the most masculine thing they could do - and much less queer than attending oddball boot camps.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
by Wayne Besen
Vacationing in Montreal this weekend, I had a computer glitch that made it impossible to connect online. The experience made me think about how much the world has changed since the beginning of the technological revolution, particularly for the GLBT community.
I graduated high school in 1988, which made me one of the last classes to use old-fashioned typewriters. When I came out of the closet, that same year, I had to search the Yellow Pages, where I found a hotline with a recorded message that told me where I could find gay establishments. There was no Internet to offer me countless options and information on what gay life was about.
When I first started going to gay bars, the first questions people would ask were, "are you out?" And, "do your parents know?" I would often hear people say that while growing up they thought they were the "only gay people on earth".
The gay bar, at the time, was an oasis of friendship and a place where tight bonds were formed, as we were a besieged minority. Upon entering such places, people would hug, often accompanied by a kiss on the cheek. On rare occasions, an older gentleman would try to get fresh, so one became adept at positioning the face where the lips were inaccessible. In any case, gay bars, restaurants and social clubs were for networking and forming lifelong alliances.
These places were also infused with a livewire of sexuality that made its way into many conversations - excessively in some cases. People also cruised shamelessly and openly, as gay bars were hunting grounds for sexual partners or potential husbands - or wives for the lesbians.
There was always a hidden "game clock" that began when we paid our cover charge and ended at last call - where we were all then thrust into the harsh outside world where it was difficult to meet gay friends, sexual liaisons or romantic interests. In essence, our official gay life ended until the next time we went out to a specifically designated gay establishment the following week.
The advent of the Internet changed the world. First, it immediately ended our isolation - as no one - even on the prairie of North Dakota - could claim they felt as if they were the only gay person in the world. Second, it ended the monopoly gay bars and restaurants had on the community. With the Internet, there was unlimited, twenty-four hour potential to meet friends and partners.
Third, as technology fueled the gay rights movement and people came out in massive numbers, being gay hardly made one part of an exclusive underground club. Indeed, most of the greeting hugs and kisses disappeared (much to the chagrin of fondlers), as people did not necessarily feel connected to people solely based on sexual orientation.
Today, we have a generation that could not imagine life without the Internet and instant connectivity. They approach socialization and activism differently. Since gay people can meet anywhere, the gay bars have lost their sense of sexual urgency and cruising is more discrete. Bars are primarily a place for socializing politely with friends, while exchanging the occasional furtive glance. Even today's leather bars are relatively milquetoast, and feel like campy 1970's museums. Of course, growing up with the prevalence of HIV has also contributed to this reserved climate.
While things have improved on many fronts, there is a quaintness and familiarity that has been lost. The randomness and isolation of the online world is no substitute for healthy relationships, as pixels can't totally replace people. Early obituaries for exclusively gay establishments are premature, although their role as social hubs has greatly diminished.
Modern activism has also been transformed - for better or worse - into a series of electronic transactions - from sending money to organizations through PayPal, to firing off e-mails to state representatives or Congress.
We now have the most informed citizenry in our nation's history, but I question if we are able to turn this online passion into action. The Internet too often leads to quick fix activism, where like-minded people talk to each other on blogs and confuse this with genuine difference-making advocacy.
Furthermore, the Internet has afforded gay people the luxury of living in the exurbs. This has dispersed concentrated populations of GLBT communities, making it nearly impossible to hold effective mass demonstrations - thus limiting our political power. After all, you can't send angry mobs into the streets when they end in cul-de-sacs. Sometimes, I think the Internet is simultaneously the best and worst thing that has happened to the GLBT movement.
When I returned home to New York, I fired up my I-Phone and wired up my computer to check my e-mail. I quickly logged on to find out what I had missed - only to find what I truly missed were the simple pleasures of a world without e-mail.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
by Wayne Besen
Recently, a bizarre NARTH therapist, Dr. James E. Phelan, has been posting to this site. Ex-Gay Watch
has been following his strange actions, since he wrote a disquieting blog item about having “one-two drop kicked the hell out of” a man in the Columbus Marathon. It seems Phelan had heckled a gay group, one of many who had gathered alongside the road to cheer the runners on. The victim of his drop kick had protested this by allegedly shoving Phelan. No one Ex-Gay Watch contacted remembered such an event so they can’t confirm what happened. Phelan himself confided that the police had not been notified.
After this disturbing incident, Ex-Gay Watch discovered that Phelan’s name was no longer appearing on the Exodus International referral list of ex-gay ministries and therapists. He was listed there when this story broke last month, but not now. Exodus has not yet responded to Ex-Gay Watch's request for more information.
Phelan posted a series of strange and belligerent rants on the Ex-gay Watch site that are hardly befitting of a professional therapist. Based on his temperament, it appears that this man might be on the wrong side of the therapy couch. Here are a few excerpts of his quotes:
"I may joke and get heated and talk shit..."
"I resigned from that board because I felt she was pressuring me to make unnecessary apologies, and curve [sic] my language. I already have a mother and don’t need another one."
"Yup, Franc apparently it’s not just lesbians who don’t like “nasty little men”.
"David, as annoying as you can be...
Nice, a shit talking therapist who makes stereotypical jokes about lesbians, demeans mothers and is so outrageous, ex-gay groups demand that be curb his language. Of course, we are still waiting for Phelan to state his military fighting credentials so we can check with the Pentagon. Although he presents himself as the Religious Right's Rambo, he has so far refused to state his rank and Army Unit. Until he does so, he is permanently banned from this site. Is it just me, or are the ex-gay ministries getting more desperate and insane as they lose the culture war they launched?
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
by Wayne Besen
Now that the Employment Nondiscrimination Act has passed the House of Representatives, the religious right has launched an all-out offensive to ensure people can be fired because of their sexual orientation. The first obvious fib propagated by Focus on the Family and the Christian Business Association is that this bill is bad for business.
"Businesses should be up in arms over ENDA," said Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action. "This bill will increase their litigation and compliance costs, create conflict among employees and is simply bad for business."
Notice how they used the words "should be" up in arms instead of "is." What they fail to point out is 49 of the Fortune 50 have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as ninety-percent of the Fortune 500. With all due respect to the Christian Business Association - I trust the Fortune 500 more than the Faith 500.
Focus on the Family and the CBA aren't really concerned about the negligible affect on business - what drives them bonkers is that they might have to mind their own business. It isn't enough that in America they have the freedom to pray as they wish and practice their religion as they see fit. They aren't happy unless they can impose their values and bully people into adopting their beliefs.
Focus on the Family's true agenda reared its ugly head in a story on the group's website which said: "ENDA would prevent employers from taking sexual orientation into consideration when hiring, promoting or firing."
Well, this is absolutely true. Why should sexual orientation be taken into consideration for a job? If people work hard, pay taxes and play by the rules they shouldn't have their careers ruined and personal finances wrecked because of an employer's religious hang ups.
"ENDA also could silence religious speech in the workplace," the story goes on to say. Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for the Free Market Foundation, elaborated on this point in a debate against me on the Alan Colmes radio show, by complaining that ENDA might force him to take down a screen saver with a Bible verse condemning homosexuality.
First, the notion of "free speech" at work is patently absurd. If we could truly say whatever we wanted to our boss - few people would be employed. There is reasonable expectation that employees make the effort to create a harmonious workplace. Condemning anyone - for whatever reason - results in a hostile work environment that lowers morale and production. Any employee that can't make it through eight hours without hurling insults at co-workers - even if they are based on an interpretation of the Bible - should be fired. Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if people were given the green light to debase others based on their beliefs?
Of course, these fundamentalists don't want all people hurling nasty barbs at the water cooler - they want to reserve for themselves the special right to be nasty. If a co-worker insulted their faith - they'd be on the phone with a lawyer crying victim faster than one could say Leviticus. Finally, ENDA has a religious exemption - so no radical churches would be required to hire gay people. Therefore, the choir can remain closeted, as it has for centuries.
I want to end this column with a surreal thought. If the Senate passes ENDA - the bill would go to President Bush. There is no doubt in my mind that he will veto it - however, what if I am wrong? There are three remote - but real - reasons why Bush might sign ENDA.
- The Cheney family could lobby him and he might have difficulty defying his surrogate Daddy.
- Bush has few legislative accomplishments. Signing landmark civil rights legislation would boost his legacy.
- Like rats, the right wing has abandoned Bush's sinking ship. There is a small chance Bush will get vindictive and put a thumb in their eye.
If any of these scenarios occur, Bush instantly becomes the most pro-gay president in history. In the not too distant future, we might pay to see him as the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Campaign's national dinner. Now, that's enough to give anyone indigestion.