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 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.