In June 2013, one of the largest, original, international organizations for ex-gay ministry apologized to the gay community at large and closed down, Exodus International. In 2015, I wrote my book "Discoveries in the Closet: A Young Man's Struggle With Faith and Sexuality" about my life experiences with being closeted and working through ex-gay ministry and "reparative therapy" in attempts to reconcile my identity with my faith values. No one thought that would be the end of this type therapy and in truth other "ministries" popped up in place of the void--The Restored Hope Network and The Hope For Wholeness Network just to name two.
Recently, I went back to check in on a organization I was a part of called People Can Change; Journey Into Manhood. Their website is here http://www.brothersroad.org/about/videos-presentations/. They have rebranded themselves with the title "Brothers Road: Brothers on a Road Less Traveled". It is a road they take you on alright. One that starts full of promise and potential but leads to frustration and disappointment in the end—just as most ex-gay camps do for thousands of more people than those who claim transformation. I was surprised to see in their slew of testimonial videos about their $600.00 plus weekend that even Nightline did some investigative reporting on them. Oh, I had to watch!
To that end, I will post the link to the video below. I want to make some comments on my experience with them and some comments on the video.
Here is the Nightline video
Journey Into Manhood was created by two men Richard Wyler and Dave Mattheson. It was originally called People Can Change and now changed to Brothers Road. Rich claims to be a life coach and Dave is a licensed therapist and active Mormon both of whom were on the weekends I had been on and staffed. There is a bit of a Mormon influence here with Dave staff wise. But in reality it is a mix of Jewish, Christians, Mormons and a spattering of Catholics and even far less you would find an atheist or non religious person. What people won't know is that much of this weekend is taken from, ironically, a gay friendly, gay populated men's retreat through a male only organization called The Mankind Project. If you have ever heard the term "wild man" weekends, you get the picture. They are similar weekends except that the Mankind Weekend is gay affirming for any gay attendees. The Journey Into Manhood weekend is for men who see gay as being a problem. Both Rich Wyler and Paul were active members in the Mankind Project and if I'm not mistaken Paul may still be. But it is not just gay men on the Mankind Weekend. It is heavily populated even more by straight men. Tim Allen and Prison Break star Wentworth Miller are two famous people who have also taken The Mankind Project's weekend which is actually called "The New Warrior Training Adventure". A "new" warrior is about a man who fights the inward battle of self actualization, in case you are wondering. I have also additionally done these weekends and staffed them as well. The weekends of Journey Into Manhood and New Warrior greatly impacted my life for both good and bad. New Warriors much more positively impactful and yet I would have never gone if I had not taken Journey Into Manhood first. I was too steeped into my own fundamentalist view of God to go to something rumored as much more secular and gay positive.
Journey Into Manhood was exciting and scary for me. My first camp with other guys! We shared our stories, took risks and supported each other selflessly. For the first time ever, I was free to tell other men what I felt about them--"I'm attracted to you" or "I'm angry with you". I was practicing my voice. It was there I met the man who led me to New Warriors too. Interestingly enough, with all the cross-over of men between the two organizations, they eventually parted ways when The Mankind Project evaluated the Journey Into Manhood crossover and determined them to not line up with it's values. Following suit, Journey Into Manhood founder Rich Wyler sent all of us surveys to determine if they should continue to recommend New Warriors with their pro-gay stance. So the match made in heaven ended but not their influence on the Journey Into Manhood structure. A structure they borrowed from Mankind's "gay friendly" weekends.
These weekends are similar in that they are building trust and connection with men. It is about breaking that shell and all the things that keep the male psyche and soul fractured, suppressed and depressed. Of course, I must say the ways "they" (the organization's governing bodies) see as the root causes to the fracture of the male soul may or may not fit for all men. Some men come and leave day one. I've seen it at both camps. Indeed, the rotating door of men is at blurr speed that travel through both of these organizations and their retreats, but I must say, as far as Mankind in particular, I was a long time member because I truly got something out of it that lasted to this day. I fully support The Mankind Project 100%. Both weekends involve bonding activities and a lot of visualizations and what is termed "psycho drama" at their core. Psycho drama is acting out past traumatic scenes in order to create a more positive experience in place of the negative. It is a type of work seen on the show Iyana, Fix My Life and supported by the likes of Joy Behar of "The View".
In addition, there is accountability and structures given for more authentic communication with self and others at both of these retreats. That said, can you look at any of that and say "Well that's bad!" or "That's harmful"? Of course not with the exception that psycho drama work has at least the potential for harm if not handled right. Otherwise, these are very positive aspects to either retreats that could be seen on any type of "bonding through risk-taking" weekend. This is why, I imagine, that the Journey Into Manhood promotional videos focus on that part of their weekend--the masculine building and male bonding aspects. In this way, they present themselves as a totally harmless male bonding experience that will somehow exorcise the homosexuality out of men. Far different than what The New Warrior weekend promises, for sure, in that they are trying to help men know and embrace who they are rather than what they feel they ought to be.
As I say in my book, "Discoveries in the Closet: A Young Man's Struggle With Faith and Sexuality" , as far as Journey Into Manhood goes, I can't say everything I got out of my weekend was bad. You should be able to tell that from my description above. If anything, I learned about The Mankind Project through them which eventually helped me embrace myself for who I am. I also got clarity and temporary emotional catharsis on a few traumatic issues in my past too. Those are not bad things. Most closeted men are deeply isolated and fearful so to go somewhere where no one knows you and build a temporary team of men to support you is liberating. No one can point to that and say that in itself is harmful but what is dangerous and counterproductive are the overarching gay change elements in Journey Into Manhood. And, these aren't children. These are adults who attend and they are choosing to go. No one forces you, I can testify to that. So what then are the issues if there are any?
The most clever part of their camouflage in the Journey Into Manhood weekend is just what I described above to you--the aspects that common to any good male bonding retreat. First, let's talk about coercion because on the website Wyler and Mattheson are most adamant about there being no coercion on the weekend. More than anything else, they seem almost angry that it could be suggested. So as someone who has been there, does coercion exist? Well, that's not an easy answer. It is a yes and a little no. As I said, we were all adults and we chose to go. We were distressed about the struggle over our sexuality and this weekend was created and led by people who had felt the same and "claimed" to have their own peace with non-acceptance of a homosexual identity. So, in this sense, no, we weren't forced. The problem is that when you sign up to a weekend that you are unsure about what happens because the structure and activities are purposefully kept hidden from you until you pay and sign the dotted line and are thrown into the activities and prodded to participate in something you've never seen before and don't know what the result will be....there is a sense of intimidation. I don't think Wyler or Mattheson will face this reality because they are blinded by their passion because this works for them. It's so deep for the leaders themselves that they don't even see what they are doing, and I know because I was on staff as a volunteer at one point. The sheer peer pressure of walking in blind and being stood up in front of a group of men expected to participate when you are unsure, conflicted and confused is a covert bit of arm twisting. These aren't just men who need male bonding, these are anxious, often very stressed and emotionally weighted and confused individuals who don't have a clue about what they are getting themselves into. There is emotionally blindfolding going on that at times that involves literal blindfolds. You have literally handed your belongings, money, and trust to people in a secluded camp and are encouraged to make "magic happen" in order to release conflict over your sexuality. This is a form of subtle manipulation and intimidation via staff and peer pressure without ever having to say much of anything. It is the set up and the pitch combined that is coersive in my judgement. We want the struggle to end, to feel like whole men, to find acceptance and connection with other men and this weekend capitalizes on that in ways that are not completely healthy and are counterproductive in the end.
This is far less the case in Mankind Weekends because the emphasis is on you choosing your own path though some similar elements of manipulation exist too. Again, there is a similar set up where you don't have a clue what will happen around a set of peers after already having committed your time and money. This propels you forward into some things you might not otherwise do. Of course, for myself, there is nothing I regretted doing on my Mankind Weekend and little even on Journey Into Manhood but that is not the case for others. I actually felt okay standing out of one activity on the Mankind Weekend and was very supported by staff doing so. Journey Into Manhood has an added psycho-dynamic pressure going on because you are being persuaded that the exercises you are about to engage in will be the spark to changing you from gay to straight. If you are conflicted, unsure but conflicted, who isn't going to feel they should try it?
For example, I know for myself there were leaders on my weekend who gave no sense of any other energy than "I am going to fix you" and not "I care about you" not "I want to know you". But rather, I want to know your past so I can fix you. It was a god-awful encounter with those men. From the top down, the theme is about fixing your core gay wounds and though there are some truly healing exercises that are benign in nature (such as forgivness), it is largely generated by the fact that you in a communial setting are engaging in something that all of you hope will lift each other's sense of shame. It does lift because some of the structure of the routines really are emotionally opening if you allow it and there is an intoxicating nature of all these men accepting you. The problem is that it is intended in the end, to replace your gay sense of self. It is a covert shaming of perpetuating a gay identity as something that "isn't working for you" without exploring why it might not be "working" in a real legitament way. Instead, they assign it to a revamped Oedipus Complex. Therefore, instead, you are attempting to replace who you are with systems that don't work but only appear to work. Not only mind tricks but soul tricks. This is much in the same way many miracle healers on television do with hyped up results of those who submit to their instructions, as this too fades away for many of their "believers".
Yes, I did have a choice to not participate but I was also very vulnerable, spending a lot of money, and being taught this is how my struggle would be alleviated. Of course, I wanted to fit in to what society said I should be, what my faith deemed as the only path acceptable so of course it "wasn't working" for me to be gay. However, that doesn't mean I should continue on that path of nonacceptance fueled by organizations like this one.
I remember two men on two separate retreats of Journey Into Manhood who came and really didn't connect with the prescribed issues that were reported to be behind our sexual conflicts (absent/abusive father, suffocating mother, rejecting male peers). I fit right in, as did almost everyone there, to the “symptoms” and typical past issues but these two men did not. There were more than two but these two spoke up. Leaders psychologically came at the one man left and right in psychodrama work in pouncing fashion. The crowd watched and there was a great sense of this man failing by not agreeing with the prescription. The other man on another weekend was duct taped to a plastic chair that he was to carry around so that he would feel the weight of all things he wasn't willing to address in his conscious. Meanwhile, the rest of us worked in the group while he sat out taped up until he was ready to come up with something he clearly was "blocking".
Psychodrama and heightened visualizations of a boy becoming a man are key. Also, it appears they are emphasizing zip lines and camp activities more so than before. These are all things that any man who feels disconnected from other guys is, of course, going to bond with and find great joy that "I did it!". But as you see in the Nightline video it is also about things like this: let's tape the old label of "gay" to yourself, then peel it off, and replace that with a piece of tape labeled straight dad, Christian, man etc. Now, run through a gauntlet of men trying to stop you from living out your new identifiers, and that's going to help you on the road to hetrosexuality? Ummmm...not! At least not for long! It is definitely a form of deceptive catharsis by having attempted to put energy behind what you want around something and having the acceptance of other guys but that's about it. It felt great but did nothing to change me from gay to straight. You may get a runner's high that last a few weeks but it changes nothing. No worries though! There are follow-up weekends and phone conference calls...for a fee of course.
As People Can Change, they were once a non-religious organization but now as Brothers Road they say they are "interfaith" on their website. From my experiences attending and staffing, the number of religious participants greatly outweigh non-religious at all points. Now, ask yourself, what is out there much for men of faith? The once a month church men's breakfasts? Deacon meetings? Accountability groups? Yee-haw. Doesn't that sound invigorating? Not much that connects or feed the male soul, I think you will agree. Though our religious institutions are often led by males, it is really heavily populated and geered toward a more female spirit as our places of worship are more heavily populated by women who aren't allowed or encouraged to lead. The male spirit though is on a back burner in most faiths. Just appease them while they do their husbandly duty of coming in with the wife. Now add to that dilemma if you are married to a woman AND closeted. Here comes something, by the emphasis on their videos, that promises to end your bi-sexual like struggle that is greatly disturbing your wife. Just go to camp where boys can boys! What religious oppressed person isn't going to be overjoyed to go to such a camp? And quite possibly over testify to "healing" because the male bonding was great and it seemed to help? And with follow-up camps, call lines, therapists and groups you can keep it going too. Is that all bad? No but it is deceptive? You better believe it.
You will note that a large number of these men state they are married on these videos. I would find a number of the leaders I met at the camps to be what I would term as bi sexual, at best, as I would suggest many of these married men who are testifying in these videos. I knew many and they didn't have a past of being deeply involved in the LGBT community. In my judgement, this is the kind of man they cater to. Being a closeted bi sexual (and I'm guessing some are, I have no proof of this) gives them an added advantage and there is much more probablity that their "change" is more doable with already having some kind spark with females.
Also, note Rich Wyler in these videos and his demeanor and then imagine that worse by x 10 on these weekends because it can be. I would ask you, would you want to sit down with this person and tell him your problems expecting to get compassion or "fixed"? Does he or any of the other leaders presented in these videos give you a radiance of joy and happiness? I know it is a surface level judgment call but use your gut. I wished I had used mine. It would have saved me a lot of personal heartaches trying to work with these men. That is to say, there is on these weekends a lot of hyper masculine posturing and and awful amount of "fix you" energy. Compassion is staged in order to fix you. But, In the videos, who has the most joy? I say it is those who just finished their weekends or are on cycles of consecutive weekends. Why? Well, you are spending a weekend with men in a similar boat as you, doing risk taking activities in Boy Scout mode but also working on your emotions away from the eye of the real world. Who isn't going to feel joy when you can come and let this part of you out and then hide it away for good deep in the woods together. Get in some touch, hugging and then back to the real world. Take a new road. A "higher" road. You can, right out here in the woods.
I can tell you from watching these videos, no one I know who was on staff and leading during my time with them is still in their leadership. None except the two founders. What you also won't see in the number of videos is that they have cycled through numbers of men over the years who have sworn off the organization now. Nightline interviews two of such men but there are scores more. In addition, I've peeked in on their videos through the years and you no longer see those people anymore or their video testimonials. Recommended therapists have changed out--some who went into the profession after these weekends. Curious that they are no longer listed. Things that make you go hmmmmm.
Here is one prime, appalling example. You won't see him on the testimonial page because he is now in jail. Arthur Goldberg was on my weekend and pictured above. He was an intricate part of that organization for years. He led the Jewish contingent in the organization and ran JONAH which was the Jewish equivalent to Exodus in a way. This rather creepy guy created JONAH because he couldn't take the fact that his son was gay (who is now happily married to another man I believe). Because of his unorthodox practices that resulted in not reporting molestations of the male on male kind within his practice outside of Journey Into Manhood, he is in jail and totally absent from Brothers Road. Geeze, so much for being there for each other on the road less traveled. What of the Brothers? He has to be thinking "E tu', Rich Wyler?" There's no defense for that man and its part of the hidden nightmare you won't hear or see as this organization moves forward catching and releasing droves of men. Take a look at their recommended websites, resources and therapists. Ex-gay and Change therapy sprouts out new hybrids when the others die off. People just won't let this die because they have tapped into the gay rejection syndrome and feel they have something they can sell that they desperately want to believe works so they can continue their own self-hatred around homosexuality.
Overall, despite my fond memories of the men I did connect on my weekend with Journey Into Manhood, and some structures in the weekend that provided some insight, I feel sad they are still doing the same thing. I cringe at the thought of vulnerable men bringing their raw emotions before men who have no other intention then to fix their "gay self" because it "doesn't work" for you. It's America though and you have a right to believe and teach others willing to listen to those beliefs. If there was no such camp for guys, I may want to take elements that worked for me on this weekend and create something...BUT there are such weekends that aren't as dangerous emotionally! The New Warrior Training Adventure is one. Uh hello! I guess you could say they are the devil's equivalant of the Mankind Project's New Warrior Training Adventure.
Overall, I have to conclude that there is a sense of manipulation here that the leaders of Brothers Road/People Can Change will never be able to see by preying on the vulnerable and offering a cure (which they will deny it is offered as such) that a large number of men won't experience or will hyper-sensationalize to themselves and others--as I did too. And these innocent, seeking vulnerable men will encounter the same, unhappy, self subscribed gurus of changing your "same sex attraction" as I did. They will engage with hyper masculine posturing and a potentially dangerous use of psycho drama by severly unprofessional volunteers. At best, this organization should only offer to help bi-sexuals but I am not convinced it is good for them either especially with a Rich Wyler at the helm. God help us with Trump and men like this creating traps for gay men...as if coming out and coming to terms with yourself as gay wasn't hard enough already.