If so-called “ex-gay” therapists had a slogan it would be, “getting paid and getting laid.” This is a sick, exploitative industry run by diabolical and dysfunctional quacks that systematically sucker or seduce vulnerable clients.
Earlier this week, Truth Wins Out released a video featuring Ben Unger and Chaim Levin, two survivors of abusive “ex-gay” therapy. The young men grew up in Orthodox Jewish families in Brooklyn and were taught that they could not be gay and retain their faith. When Levin and Unger confronted this conflict, they were referred to the “ex-gay” organization Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH).
When they first arrived, the co-founder of JONAH, Arthur Abba Goldberg, guaranteed they could become heterosexual if they worked hard. Levin and Unger were sent to JONAH’s lead therapist, Alan Downing, who contradicted Goldberg’s rosy assessment – and told both men that he was still “struggling” with gay feelings.
So a few questions beg:
1) If ex-gay “reparative therapy” works so well, than why is JONAH’s primary “life coach” still gay?
2) Why should people pay Downing money to “change”, when he could not achieve this desired change in his own life?
3) Isn’t it risky to place a self-loathing, sexually repressed counselor in a position of power over confused young clients?
Well, of course it’s a bad idea, and the results of such unholy arrangements have consistently been disastrous. Not surprisingly, Unger and Levin claim that the “life coach” asked them to do what amounted to a “psychological striptease.”
“He was encouraging me, ‘it’s okay Ben, you can take your shirt off’…here was a man that was much older than me, and I was around 20,” said Ben Unger. “At that point, I was just staring at a mirror with my shirt off and he was right behind me staring at the mirror with me at my body. Then telling me to look at my body and feel my body. It was weird.”
“While I was standing there without my clothes on, he asked me to touch my genitals,” says Chaim Levin. “Once again, I communicated that I was not comfortable with it. And he was like, you know, ‘just feel yourself. Just feel it for a second. So, you can grasp your masculinity physically.'”
Group’s like JONAH might disingenuously claim such bad behavior is an anomaly. However, it’s not – and to understand just how pathological this enterprise truly is, one just has to examine the charlatans running programs such as JONAH and Journey into Manhood, which is a backwoods “ex-gay” retreat designed to make gay men more masculine.
The guru of these programs and the pioneer of their bizarre techniques is Richard Cohen, the outlandish therapist who was expelled for life from the American Counseling Association in 2002 after it accused him of six violations of its ethics code.
Cohen’s specialty is “touch therapy”, where he places a male client between his thighs and caresses him. He and his minions claim that such petting is “non-sexual touch”, but I’m not buying it. If a closeted gay therapist is pressing his groin up against a sexually frustrated gay client (who is also forbidden from masturbating), this is a form of sex. Indeed, it is a therapeutic lap dance and should be called re-perv-ative, not reparative therapy.
Interestingly, Cohen learned his creepy methods from the Wesleyan Community Christian Church, a cult that practiced nude therapy, including adult women breast-feeding men in a church sanctuary.
The main promoter and cheerleader of such wacky techniques is JONAH’s Arthur Abba Goldberg, a Wall Street criminal mastermind, who prior to co-founding the “ex-gay” organization, was convicted in 1987 and sent to prison for “fraud of spectacular scope.” So, basically you have a former convict selling the naked therapy of a disbarred former cult member, to desperate clients. And, this is what passes for science in “ex-gay” circles.
Predictably, the results have been disastrous. Cohen-style therapy has led to cases of sexual impropriety and abuse. For example, in 2007, Christopher Austin, an “ex-gay” counselor linked to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), was convicted in Irving, Texas of sexually assaulting a client. Last year, Truth Wins Out exposed Exodus therapist Mike Jones of Lansing, MI, who was sexually abusing a client under the auspices of touch therapy.
How ironic, therapists who claim to cure homosexuals keep ending up naked with their gay clients. Such lurid exploitation has moved from a disconcerting pattern to a full-blown trend. We need to look beyond the shocking individual scandals to see that reparative therapy at its corrosive core is, in fact, scandalous. Isn’t it time these “therapists” shut their doors and finally get the help they so desperately need?
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”