Nightline Probes Gay Conversion Camp, Provides Balanced Commentary on Deranged Concept

“Question: can sexual orientation be changed through conscious decision-making or therapy? The question itself is highly charged with its seeming implication that one sexual orientation may be preferable for another. But some men and women do want to change. And tonight our cameras are allowed for the first time into a retreat for men that claims it can help. It costs $650 a weekend, and it’s all part of the latest wave of “gay reparative therapy.”
-Intro to Nightline’s “Journey Into Manhood”

Last night Nightline aired its SPECIAL EXPOSE on gay conversion camp. From QueerSighted:

I imagine we’re all on the same page here – there’s nothing wrong with being gay, and “ex-gay” groups are total poppycock, right? Well, ABC’s Nightline isn’t. They still thinks this is a debatable, “hot button” issue, as they demonstrated with their recent profile of the ex-gay sleep-away camp Journey into Manhood.

Yup, Nightline visited one of those splendorous retreats for men who are trying to get the gay out of their system by crying, slapping “FAG” labels on their stomachs, envisioning themselves as warriors on horseback and other such activities designed to get the homogays excited about banging their wives again.

Gay Conversion Camps are ripe journalistic fodder because they are so utterly ridiculous their very existence makes people laugh. In April, writer Ted Cox went undercover to write What Happened When I Went Undercover at a Gay-to-Straight Christian Camp. Cox, who is not gay, attended a Journey into Manhood retreat and ultimately concluded that, “How anyone could believe that a JiM weekend could turn a man straight still baffles me.”

Here’s the Nightline bit:

In addition to leading into its segment with “can sexual orientation be changed?” as if that’s still an actual question that reasonably employed human beings could ask, Nightline provides equal time and journalistic weight to people on both sides of the debate. Yes — that’s good journalism. Unbiased, balanced, fair. But in many regards, these retreats are scamming their customers (there’s no scientific proof that sexual orientation can be changed) and also promoting hate-group philosophies. For money. “Are these camps dangerous” isn’t a question anymore. We all know the answer.

What if this segment had provided balanced commentary about taking black kids out of their urban environment to teach them how to let go of Ebonics and “act white”?  It wouldn’t, because when you’re dealing with bigots, the “fair” thing to do is to call them out for their bigotry. Because this segment is presented like it’s a piece on how St. John’s Wort might help with depression better than doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals, like it all comes down to a disagreement about medical processes.

Back to Ted Cox’s Alternet article. Cox went undercover in the “ex-gay” movement for a year, prompted by his Mormon upbringing and consequential problems with the Mormon Church’s involvement in the fight against marriage equality, as well as by his belief that these programs DON’T work and should be dismantled as well as this:

…these programs are dangerous. Ex-gay watchdog groups document the stories of men who, after years of failed attempts to become straight, resort to suicide. Later I’ll introduce you to Eric, a fellow JiM attendee who would hook up with men on Craigslist and then go home to his unsuspecting wife. For many men in ex-gay programs, often their wives, friends, family, and church members have no idea they struggle with SSA.

In the account that follows, however, Cox doesn’t need to impose his perspective onto the actions because his experiences really do speak for themselves. He’s greeted at the weekend by a series of men in black cloaks asking him WHAT IS A MAN. Staff members re-enact Jack in the Beanstalk, framed as follows: “Fatherless Jack has lived in the safe, feminine world under his mother’s care; the old man in the village represents ancient tribal elders who help boys transition into manhood; the seeds given to Jack represent both his sperm and the masculine potential for creation.”

Here he describes the three different ‘healing touch’ techniques as described to him by retreat staff members:

First: Side-by-side, where two men sit shoulder-to-shoulder, facing the same direction, their legs outstretched in front of them. The man giving the Healing Touch puts one arm around the receiver.

Second: The Cohen Hold, named after “certified sexual re-orientation coach” and Healing Touch pioneer Richard Cohen*. For this position, the receiver sits between the legs of the giver, their chests perpendicular, the receiver’s head resting on the giver’s shoulder. The giver encircles his arms around the receiver.

Third: The Motorcycle. The receiver again sits between the legs of the giver; this time, the receiver leans his back up against the chest of the giver. Again, the giver wraps his arms around the receiver.

The idea behind Healing Touch is to recreate the father-son bond that apparently we missed as children. In this twisted, neo-Freudian theory on the cause of homosexuality, men who didn’t get appropriate touch from their fathers sexualize their need for a “healthy” non-sexual masculine connection. Healing Touch techniques recreate a loving, father-son bond, and are completely non-sexual.

Well, that’s what they tell us.

*Richard Cohen is the guy you might remember from when he got schooled by Rachel Maddow.

Nightline didn’t get clearance to film an actual Journey Into Manhood retreat, however. It attended a “reunion weekend” which was free of many of the camp’s traditional activities, like the aforementioned Healing Touch. Nightline interviews a former JiM attendee who recalls, much like the Alternet article reported, activities which involved nudity and touching, but they hone in on the sensationalized idea that sexual activities are happening in a camp which attempts to “cure” its patrons of unwanted same-sex-attraction, rather than the more obvious angle (though less juicy) that regardless of the degree of physical contact, the exercises themselves are completely absurd.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Riese

Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3177 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. I watched the first two and a half minutes of the first video and then I had to stop because it was depressing the shit out of me.

  2. “What if this segment had provided balanced commentary about taking black kids out of their urban environment to teach them how to let go of Ebonics and “act white”?”

    Actually, there are programs like this in lots of metro areas in the U. S., and little is said about it. Kids from mostly black neighborhoods are “saved” – sent to school in suburban white neighborhoods. The suggestion is usually that the kid should be grateful, and that the whites are wonderful people for allowing blacks into their schools. The black kids spend hours getting to and from school, therefore seeing little of their family and community.

    Not related to the ex-gay camp topic, but that thought just popped to mind.

      • Yeah it went on in my high school, a program called a better chance. girls with high grades in middle school in new york and new jersey were brought up to suburban Massachusetts and they lived in a house together and had host families and went to school and played sports and did all sorts of normal high school things. My school had a good reputation for getting kids into good colleges so thats why they picked us for this apparently.

        • i don’t think busing kids in to better schools is the same thing as the hyperbolic sentiment of the question — nobody would say that they want those kids to ‘act white’, and that element of the analogy — one where one race is preferred over another and one should actively and openly pursue leaving their race — is imperative to the author’s point. Also you’re talking about socioeconomic integration, not racial, basically. You can’t assume … anyhow, that’s why the author’s example used the language that it did.

    • My city is/was known for is racial division (which was how socioeconomic lines fell as well) East/West/North/South and the school system is the biggest tell. So in the 90’s I believe, they started bussing kids up to 2 hours across town so that the schools were evened out racially/socioeconomically.

      There are so many things wrong with this, but I think that they were trying to even out the resources, and opportunities present at each school, not make a judgement on a way to “act.”

      I really hope that doesn’t happen. :(

  3. This is incredibly depressing. The participants are willing to pay a great amount of money because they truly believe they will be cured and become “normal” straight individuals. It’s a sham and the people who run these types of businesses should be accountable for their actions.

    This is similar to a book I read, called “Anything but straight”. It’s a very interesting exposé about so-called “reparative therapies” and is definitely worth the read. One of the poster childs for the whole ex-gay movement gets caught in a gay bar. And that pretty much sums it up.

    On another note, as a journalism student we were often thought that being a fair and balanced reporter was presenting both sides of an issue, even though one camp was obviously totally nuts. But by showing and giving voice to the two opposing sides, we would then be seen as “objective”. That’s fine in many cases, but in instances like this, it makes me cringe.

    • Could you imagine if you were insane (they believe being a homosexual is a mental condition) and you were hearing voices and stuff, wouldn’t you want to fix it? I mean don’t we fight every day to be who we are, and to love who we want to love, why can’t they try and be who they want to be? They arnt asking you to change, they just want to change. Pursonally I pitty them, they have to live the rest of their lives trying to be something they arnt, I also feel sorry for their spouses, but that doesnt mean that I am going to infringe upon their rights to do what they want.

  4. Why do christians always have to use music when they are trying to inspire people? If I was a christian and I was trying to inspire people I would totally use Requiem For A Dream.

  5. Wait. So, the all male weekend in the bunkhouse in the middle of nowhere with lots of man-cuddles is meant to make them straight? My friend has a lot of questionable movies that start like that….

    In all seriousness, that just made me deeply sad. Those poor guys.

  6. When I lived in Boston, I thought I would see what an ex-gay ministry had to offer. If they were convincing enough, I would join it and start working on myself. But after meeting with one of the leaders, I was not convinced.

    They blamed all their life’s hardships on being gay – not being a complete idiot who made poor life choices. Needless to say, I walked out of that meeting and decided I was coming out to everyone.

    A lot of Christians believe you can work at ridding yourself of “the gay”. But those people that believe that have never tried to rid themselves of “the straight”.

    And by the way…Happy Veterans Day to all those gays that served while in the closet and to those who continue to fight the good fight for those to come. My thoughts are with you guys.

  7. To be honest, I don’t think this report needed to add any further commentary, as the utter ridiculousness of these camps and their so-called ‘therapy’ is there for all to see… Still angry-making though.

  8. if only these camps were more like But I’m a Cheerleader, cause after I saw that I wanted to sign up.

    i heart clea.

    • I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go to a “become straight” camp…figured it would be an awesome place to pick up.

      ..and it would feel so naughty.
      …maybe I could convert one of the nuns.

      mouahahaa

Comments are closed.