Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp

Ted Cox took on the identity of a closeted Mormon for a weekend of crying, singing, and wrestling. It was the first time he felt another man’s erection.

I don’t remember exactly when I felt his erection pressing into my back. It might have been while he whispered in my ear, “Long ago, you were the Golden Child. But somehow, that Golden Child was hurt, and you put up a wall to protect yourself.” Or it might have been when other men in the room broke out in song:

How could anyone ever tell you
That you’re anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
That you’re less than whole?

I sat on the floor between the outstretched legs of a camp guide, my head leaning back against his shoulder. The guide sat behind me, his arms wrapped around my chest. This hold was called the “Motorcycle.” Five men surrounded the two of us, their hands resting gently on my arms, legs, and chest.

There were about 10 other groups like this sitting on the floor in the darkened room. One guide gave “healing touch therapy” while the surrounding men rested their hands on the receiver. Some men were held in the Motorcycle position. Others were turned toward their guide, cradled the way a parent would hold a child who had just scraped her knee on the sidewalk.

In one corner of the room, a portable stereo played Shaina Noll’s song. At one point, the staff members all sang out in unison, their voices filling the high walls of the camp lodge. Somewhere in the room, a man sobbed over the sound of the music.

It was the first night of “Journey into Manhood,” or JiM, a 48-hour weekend retreat designed to help gay men become straight. In that room, about fifty men—some 30 “Journeyers” and 15 staff members—sat on the carpeted floor of a ranch lodge two hours outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Most of the men, except for a few of the staff members, struggled to overcome their attraction to other men.

Sometime during all that holding and touching and singing, while I was cradled in the Motorcycle position, I felt it: the unmistakable bulge pressing through his tight jeans. It was the first time in my life I had a felt another man’s erection.


What the staff members and other Journeyers didn’t know was that I was attending the weekend undercover. I’m straight. I’m also an atheist. By that February evening, I had been undercover in the so-called “ex-gay” movement for just over a year. Before signing up for the $650 JiM weekend, I had attended weekly support-group meetings and weekend conferences geared toward Christian men and women desperately trying to overcome their same-sex attractions. I am currently writing a book about my experiences posing as a same-sex-attracted Christian man—“SSA man,” in the lingo.

My motivation for undertaking this wild project stems from several factors. First, I was raised in the Mormon church, which has taken the lead against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. It’s been 10 years since I left Mormonism, and I feel a particular need to stand up against the church’s well-funded opposition to marriage equality. (I wonder what Mormonism’s polygamous founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., and his successor, Brigham Young, would say about the “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman” bumper stickers slapped on so many Mormon minivans.)

Second, while the ex-gay movement has publicly declared they can bring “freedom from homosexuality,” there’s no evidence that someone can change his or her orientation through these religiously motivated programs. Rather than turning straight, the men and women I met throughout this project dealt with a cycle of repression, backsliding into sin, then shame, guilt, and repentance. These programs collect hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on a promise they can’t deliver.

Third, 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.

What I saw and experienced at JiM both enraged and disturbed me. I had trouble staying in character as I watched one man, as part of his therapy, act out beating his father to death with a baseball bat—just one of several “Are you kidding?” moments. How anyone could believe that a JiM weekend could turn a man straight still baffles me.

To be fair, I had several positive experiences that weekend. I saw several men, some for the first time in their lives, lose the anxiety they felt about their sexual orientation. Up until that weekend, some of them had never told anyone about their struggle with SSA. In the course of the retreat, they would relax around other men who struggled the same way they did.


Journey into Manhood cofounder and “Certified Life Coach” Rich Wyler goes to great lengths to keep his techniques hidden from public scrutiny. Only after I had booked my non-refundable flight and paid the non-refundable retreat deposit was I informed that all Journeyers are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Last year, when I attempted to write an article for Salt Lake City Weekly to run the week that Journey into Manhood arrived in Salt Lake City, Wyler complained to the paper, citing the confidentiality agreement I signed.

While the article idea I pitched to SLC Weekly would discuss only publicly available information about Wyler and Journey into Manhood, SLC Weekly—citing insufficient time to run the piece past their legal department—pulled the article and interviewed me instead.

After that interview, I discussed the confidentiality agreement with attorneys, editors, journalists, and gay-rights activists. As a result of those discussions, I have decided to discuss in detail several aspects of the JiM weekend. The decision was not easy. But given what I experienced, the pain many of these men feel, and the money Wyler’s organization takes from them, I feel obligated to speak out.

The Friday morning of the retreat, I double-checked my bags to make sure I didn’t pack anything that might divulge my true identity or my secular tendencies. Stricken from the usual weekend-getaway packing list were my iPod (for the Rage Against the Machine and Immortal Technique albums), and my current reading list (Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography and Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).

Before flying out of my hometown of Sacramento, I sent the camp location and phone number to a handful of friends. I told them that if they didn’t hear from me by Sunday night, they should contact the authorities. I did fear a bit for my safety: I worried what would happen if I was, well, outed.

The flight stopped over at LAX, where a blinking cockpit light forced passengers to switch planes. So by the time I touched down in Phoenix, I was almost an hour late. I rushed through the baggage claim looking for Robert, my carpool driver.

In the days leading up to the retreat, PCC (“People Can Change,” the sponsor) arranged for men driving from close locations or arriving at the airport at close times to ride together to camp. Since I had paid almost $900 in camp fees and airfare, my wallet was happy to avoid renting a car for the weekend.


I’m riding with three other men. Two of them sit in those slouchy leather airport chairs. The third guy’s plane should touch down soon.

Robert is a quiet, pudgy, middle-aged man from California. He’s married with children, has attended ex-gay programs for several years, and signed up for JiM (“Journey into Manhood”) on the recommendation of one of his ministry leaders.

Dave is a young father from Texas. He’s a lifelong Mormon and works a corporate job. Before attending JiM, he took part in the controversial “New Warrior Training Adventure” weekend.

Tony finally de-planes. As we climb into Robert’s rental car, Tony shares his story: he’s single, in his 30s, and hails from Texas, where he works as a biologist. He tells us that this is his second time attending JiM. I’m surprised: doesn’t the effectiveness of the JiM weekend depend on our not knowing what happens beforehand? Isn’t that the reason we have to keep JiM techniques secret?

I prod Tony to divulge information about what to expect, but he won’t budge. Plus, he attended a few years ago, and he thinks the program may have changed since then.

As the city gives way to dry rolling desert hills, we talk about our lives.

Dave talks about life with his boys. Robert and his wife have been struggling financially, but they seem to be doing OK. Tony loves his work in the science field.

For the most part, I dodge the group’s questions. But when pressed, I try to answer their questions with as much truth as possible.

I use the same cover story since I began attending ex-gay programs: From a young age, I was attracted to other guys (false); I was raised in the Mormon church (true), and served a mission (true); I married in my early 20s (true), but the marriage fell apart (true) after I fell in love with my best friend, Brian (false). After my younger brother’s suicide in 2003 (true), I reevaluated my life (true) and had a religious reconversion (false). I recently joined ex-gay ministries in 2007 (true), even though I still haven’t found a new faith (false).

Yes, I’m lying to them. And I feel horrible for it. It doesn’t help that from our long conversation during the ride to camp, I learn that these guys are good men, the kind of people you hope to have as neighbors.


The mood in the car grows tense with anticipation as we travel the last few twisty miles to the white ranch gates. Outside the window, the desert stretches out in all directions. We’re in the middle of nowhere.

As Robert pulls the car into the dirt parking lot, I panic. What happens if my cover is blown? Or if I decide I want to leave the weekend early? The carpool saved me some cash, but on the other hand, I can’t really leave unless Robert drives me out. Or would I have to walk the dusty dirt road to the highway? And then what? Hitchhike back to the airport?

It feels like no matter what happens, I’m stuck here for the weekend.

Robert shuts off the engine. Per the instructions PCC emailed us before the weekend, I collect everyone’s cellphones and close them up in the glove compartment. There will be no contact with the outside world until Sunday afternoon.

The four of us step out of the car and pull our bags out of the trunk.

Then things get real weird, real fast.

Continued on page 2 …

Pages: 1 2 3

About Ted Cox

Ted Cox has never been to a Turkish prison. He hates bad beer and writing bios in the third-person. Follow his writing and speaking gigs on iheartcox.com.


  1. I really think that this article could have been posted and still very successful with having to beat up on other peoples’ beliefs. It’s a great article and very captivating structure. Again, both could still be accomplished just as easily without mocking others’ beliefs. Good Job!

  2. How in the world did you resist that urge to yell “Are you fucking kidding me?”

    You clearly have far more self control than I do.

  3. Everything is very open with a clear explanation
    of the issues. It was really informative. Your site is useful.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Dave Nelson says:

    Good work. I do take issue, though, with your categorizing The ManKind Project as “controversial.” If you haven’t been told yet, this crazy JiM event is heavily borrowing–and tragically, wrecklessly distorting and corrupting– from the MKP signature weekend workshop, the New Warrior Training Adventure. Reading your article was like imagining my awesome, empowering experience with my NWTA weekend through an LSD lense of hate, confusion, judgement, and carelessness.

    That’s probably a terrible segue into defending/promoting MKP. I do understand the NWTA weekend used to have a much more aggressive and macho style, and had some bad things happen on a few weekends, so maybe I’d agree it *used to* be controversial. I think it’s clearly evolved and matured since.

    I’ve been involved for 2 years now since my weekend, sitting in small men’s group circles, and have seen nothing but pragmatic, authentic, caring men helping other men become better men. Gay & straight, atheist & religious, young & old, and everyone in between. No BS, no sales pitch, just an organization trying to co-empower a world of healthy, accountable, loving, emotionally accessible, courageous men who step up to the challenges facing our families, our communities, and our planet.

    Nothing like the callous, self-serving dogmatists who created and perpetuate the ugliness you described here.

    • mike from MA says:

      Totally agree. Did my New Warrior Training Adventure almost 8 years ago. The care and integrity MKP showed in taking us through our work was a country mile from anything I’d describe as “controversial.”

  5. Chanelle (C.M.) says:

    Very intriguing article, but the title needs to change – he was not under cover at a Christian conversion camp, but a Mormon camp. Christian and Mormon are not the same.

    • Hahaha! Good one. -_- Do your research before you open your mouth dude. I the “Mormon” Church’s REAL name is ” The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints.” Don’t hurt yourself sparky.

  6. I may be missing something in this article…but is there anywhere here in this article where the Journeymen “leaders” tell these hurting men to FORGIVE their fathers? Genuine evangelical Christian leaders I’ve heard who discuss therapy that only includes trying to satiate your anger by venting it say such therapy never works. It’s almost like the principle of addiction…you can NEVER get enough booze, enough drugs, enough illicit sex, enough gambling. Likewise, you can NEVER get to the point where your anger will empty just by attempting to hurt something or somebody in response to it.

    It’s very noteworthy to contemplate that some of the relatives of the victims of Jeffrey Dahmer actually FORGAVE Mr. Dahmer, publicly, in court. Lest those born after 1990 be reading this, Mr. Dahmer did unspeakable things to gay men he encountered, yet also may be in Heaven with Jesus now. (And there’s no doubt in my mind that only the love of almighty Jesus could have influenced these relatives to have forgiven the man who killed their sons, brothers, etc. in vile ways. When you hear of Jesus being described as “meek”, that word does not mean “cowering”. Rather, the translation in scripture means “Power under control”, like the wind that powers a sailboat (that could in other circumstances collect to form an EF-5 twister) or an army under control of its commanders, or a “broken” (trained) horse.

    (Jesus, amazingly, died to save people even like Hitler, who, amazingly, is no worse than any of us, unrepentant…and Dahmer, who many would say was among the “worst” of us, apparently genuinely gave his life to Jesus in prison, knowing that jailhouse conversion or not he’d never be paroled out of the Wisconsin penal system)

    • I am a Christian woman eating up this story because I am very interested in the lives of all people and how their struggles affect them. I can’t specifically relate to gay / straight issues. But I can relate to having a parent who wounds you very deeply. And the very hard path that can put people on. It is a delicate matter in people’s lives. I have a mother and father who wounded me very deeply. My mother still yells at me and crushes my feelings. But after ten years of therapy and many attempts to reduce the pain I finally realized some of the pain will always be there. I had to accept the wounds and work with them. It was really hard. But once I accepted my mom will never change it helped. I forgave her for her weaknesses. I did not dismiss what happened. I don’t have to. I simply found a narrow way to communicate with her that makes her happy and stuck with it for a long time. I forgave her and let go of the expectation she could and should be more for me. I must have become more kind. And she must have sensed a change because over time she has come to trust me more. She is softening and changing anyhow after losing two sons. One only a few days ago.

      There actually was a time I used to break things in anger at her. Throw things. Stomp and cry. I see that as a passage into this much better time. But it had to be in my own time. And this article does concern me a little with such things as breaking the father in effigy. You can’t force that. It has a time for some people. Not for others. So, yes. That too bothers me. I can’t speak for the rest. I can’t relate to it. But I do know forgiveness is a process. Not an event. Maybe someone else will relate to my experience.

  7. John Lace says:

    I am a member of the ManKind Project an gave grat respect for that organization. I am appalled that this organization is perverting the useful tools of the New Warrior Training Adventure in such a way. The key difference is that the NWTA has the goal of helping men to self actualize, not to be indoctrinated. Even if you think the role playing is BS, at the NWTA, the leaders are trained and conscious about keeping their agendas and biases out of a trainees individual growth work. And yes as a straight man I am comfortable being emotionally intimate with other men, be they GLBT or straight. It boils down to loving people as they are.

  8. David May says:

    It’s also amusing to note that Mr. Cohen, author of the Healing Touch, pretty much made an idiot of himself on The Daily Show some years ago. As the commenter put: it: “He’s not a doctor but at least he used to be Jewish.”

    • Actually is last name “Cohen” indicates that somewhere along the road, he came from a family of high priest in Ancient Biblical times of Judaism. That really struck me while reading his name. Sigh.

  9. David May says:

    I asked a friend, a clinical psychologist, what the statistics were regarding the rate of suicide among participants in conversion therapy and, ex-gay ministries. He said that he had never seen hard numbers, but from anecdotal information, assumed it very high. One wonders how forthcoming JiM, Exodus, et cetera, would be with such statistics.

  10. Vyanni Krace says:

    Its reassuring to know that the gay community has this sort of support.

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  12. Stephen Starr says:

    Mr. Cox’s under cover, investigative story is compelling and I’m glad to expose such attempts at changing gay men’s sexual orientation. It’s obvious from his story that there are still many gay/bisexual men making the choice to marry and live as though they were straight. As a gay man, I am delighted to have allies like Mr. Cox. Ultimately, though, I think gay people will need to be the ones who speak the truth of their stories so that others can fully appreciate the experience of living in a primarily heterosexual culture. It’s not unlike the feminist movement that has become richer and more fully mature by courageous women who have spoken out to explain their pain and frustration in their quest to become full participants in our life together.

  13. There seem to be a lot of Mormons in the comments…

  14. I have so many friends who have gone through and who encourage JiM retreats, but what you describe here, Ted, sounds positively harmful.

    I mean, when do we stop and wonder, are we just CREATING issues with our parents, to try and blame someone for our orientation? when maybe we should just blame God and get on with it.

    I used to wish they had a JiM for women, but now I’m thanking God that if such a thing existed, I never found it. Plus I was too broke to go and submit myself to NARTH treatment, which I did seriously consider for a while.

    thank GOD that is all behind me 🙂

  15. Matt Casto says:

    That is a bomb and my opinion is that weapons don’t heal anything; they just hurt everyone. If this is true it qualifies as something best held to self. I did not get any value out of this banter. Sorry

  16. wow i cant believe this says:

    i cant believe you people you all think you are all better then gay people and think u can just “cure” them by sending them here. well your wrong u cant and its not a choice to be gay. they were born that way. all of u just GROW THE FRICK UP i cant belive u people think ur right well i got news for u guys… UR FRICKIN’ WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Dude, it’s the person who is going there’s choice. They can choose to leave of they want. No one is forcing them to be there except for them. They want to change their lives, not anyone’s choice but theirs.

  17. I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, I share Ted’s skepticism that a weekend of healing emotional wounds from childhood would convert a homosexual man into a heterosexual. But most homosexual men I know do seem very out of touch with their “masculine energy”, for want of a better term, and I can’t help but wonder what would happen if they got to experience the warrior inside themselves.

    But my biggest problem with this article is it’s lack of objectivity. Ted clearly set out to expose what he sees as an evil enterprise, and this seems to have colored his whole involvement in what could have been a powerful healing experience, leading to a much more interesting and authentic article. Touch exercises, re-writing of painful childhood narratives, authentic bonding with fellow men, and primal therapy are all powerful methods of emotional healing; yet they get ridiculed in this piece while the author completely avoids delving into his own father issues by retaining a cynical detachment. No wonder Dave was disappointed in Ted at the end; Ted’s biggest crime isn’t that he lied for the story or broke the confidentiality agreement, it’s that he remained detached and refused to make himself emotionally vulnerable to the other men there.

    I’m an atheist too, and like Ted I deplore efforts to “fix” homosexuals by people with a religious agenda that says homosexuality is somehow wrong or unnatural. But this isn’t great research or compelling writing in my book. Any journalist can cook up a hatchet-job report on something from an emotional distance. Try getting emotionally involved yourself and telling _that_ story next time Ted; it’s likely to be much more powerful for you and compelling for the reader.


  18. badleroybrown8 says:

    Very interesting article … these are crazy times that we are living in.

  19. Great Idea says:

    Wow, this camp thing sounds like an evangelical gold mine. It has a lot of the markings of good old-fashioned cult-building techniques, including “love bombing.” Men actually pay to try to stop being gay, they take part in activities that intimately join them with other gay men without curing them, and then the camp suggests they keep in touch and pay to do it all over again. In the meantime, the people you pay become surrogate brothers and fathers, which I believe is called “transference” in therapy circles. You play up men’s confusion and guilt and anger and desperation, attach it to the general social question of what exactly masculinity means, and bingo, you have a money-making church loyalty farm. And hey, if the men don’t get all the answers they need or they aren’t cured, well it’s their own fault, or else they need a refresher course for $_______ a pop. Flipping brilliant.

  20. Anonymous Male says:

    This camp program sounds like techniques developed for one kind of group therapy but repackaged for an entirely different kind of group work. The “confront the father” role play is something that many psychologists (of varying reputations) have used with men and women to deal with painful issues from childhood, especially abuse by parents or other family members. It seems a bit odd to use these techniques to try to “cure” a man of homosexuality. I bet these techniques could be very useful and very meaningful for dealing with some kinds of deep issues, but I can’t see how they would change someone’s sexual orientation.

    I just find it hard to believe that people become a particular sexual orientation primarily because of a particular childhood experience. If that’s the case I must have become a hetero male because I had a lousy mother and a wonderful father. My attraction to women is because deep down I just want a mommy’s love? My decades-long enjoyment of vaginal intercourse is a deep-seated need to return to the womb, maybe?

    I think it’s crazy and twisted and probably impossible to change someone’s sexual orientation, but assuming this is a perfectly valid use for group therapy, this camp seems totally counterproductive for reaching that goal. Getting gay men to become straight by having them look into each others’ eyes, wrestle, share their feelings, and hold each other? If I wanted to be converted away from being a heterosexual man, then sending me to a camp run by horny repressed women seems like a bad idea.

  21. Excellent article. I think the people leaving the negative articles fail to understand the reality of homosexuality. That it is normal and that there is nothing “wrong” with you. Great job very insightful.

  22. I wish this account had been published when I was sixteen, living in Texas and attending private high schools; it would’ve saved me a lot of grief. Fortunately, I’ve never had to experience a conversion camp. Even more fortunately, I moved to California my senior year.

    Well done.

  23. Holy shit.

    I don’t even know where to begin.

    In my line of work, I know more than anything this to be true: Creating emotional-laden experiences are POWERFUL. And effective. And beyond harmful in a situation like this, where re-enactments are being used to abuse instincts over which we have no control.

    The fascinating thing, Ted, is that you essentially set up a counter-experience. Your courageous and shocking undercover story can serve to awaken others to the existence of such feckless brutality. Of ignorance taken to drastic levels. Most importantly- for the men at the camp. Your recollection of your final encounters with Dave gave me chills. Yeah, we might not have an immediate solution. But you’re conveying a direct message here about clarity and not using ignorance as an excuse for a bad situation. If I were you, I would get back in touch with those men you met individually. Would use this as a platform for serious awareness and change. The religious and homosexual issues aren’t even the point here- but rather, the mishandling of human motivation.

    I’m open to discussing this at length, by the way. My contact info is here + on my site.

  24. I’ve never been to JiM. But I know that SSA ministries has helped me tremendously.

    Then again, no ministry has the answer. No group/therapist/counsellor has the perfect truth. JiM might work for some, might not work for others.

  25. YoPuedoCambiar says:

    “there’s no evidence that someone can change his or her orientation through these religiously motivated programs”
    There’s no evidence you can’t change it. And JiM weekend isn’t a religious program.

    “often their wives, friends, family, and church members have no idea they struggle with SSA.”
    Every person is free to tell who ever they want about their SSA. Although, nobody should deal with it alone.

    “the men and women that I met throughout this project dealt with a cycle of repression, backsliding into sin, then shame, guilt, and repentance.”
    Everything but repression, backsliding into sin, shame, guilt and repentance. Instead, acceptance, love, and change.

    “paid the non-refundable retreat deposit”
    You have time to ask for a refund after you get the information, come on!

    “The decision was not easy.”
    Don’t take the “hero” part of the story.

    “Have they never felt like men?”
    Have they ever felt like men? You said you are not dealing with SSA so why do you judge?

    “trying desperately to change their orientation.”
    Why do you assume that? Let me tell you something: not everybody goes only to change their sexual orientation, but to fulfill core needs

    “And yet, despite being raised by an abusive, spiritually castrated father, I have a strong preference for women.”
    Do you think SSA is like math? 2+2=4 no matter what! SSA is different, every situattion is different and unique.

    “I should be asking the guys in my carpool what they thought of the weekend”
    You should have asked them. I bet someone in your vehicle asked the others. And actually, I think you can ask them now. I bet it was a extraordinary weekend for almost everyone, like in mine.

    “But I’m too tired to think about that. I haven’t slept in two days”
    What kind of “undercover spy” are you? Don’t be a girl, a hero! If you didn’t sleep it was because you didn’t want to!

    “I turn around to ask Tony, the guy who had attended “Journey into Manhood” years earlier, how the weekend was different this time around”
    And you couldn’t ask them if they liked it or not? What they thought about it? Weren’t you so tired you couldn’t ask anything?

    “Sure, Dave could finally live out and proud”
    Proud of what? Of being like every man that finds he has SSA? I have SSA, I’m proud of my self, my beliefs, my religion, the way I live my life and I’m proud I will let people with unwanted SSA know there’s hope, no matter what pro-gay activists think or want.

    And you are wrong: JiM weekend and other kind of therapy or changing retreats aren’t like medicine. You don’t take it and that’s all. Change takes time, but PEOPLE CAN CHANGE and you have to respect those who want to change, those who don’t find a gay life like an option.

    twitter: @yopuedocambiar

    • No, you are wrong. You can not change your sexual orientation, hence why the suicide rate is so high and what i would bring into question is…..how sure can we be that those people who have apparently “changed” are not in some way bi sexual rather than flat out gay, hence why they can deal with being happy in a marriage after one of these sham courses. Religion plays too much of a negative role in the lives of many people these days and your general attitude towards this story and your half assed attempts to correct the original writer, go to show exactly what i am talking about. If you went to the JIM weekend because of SSA and feel cured, then i have a revelation to you. You are Bi Sexual, you have always been Bi Sexual and you are not “cured” because i promise you, that you still have thoughts about men, You will just never admit it because you fear being ostracised from your family, church and in general the only people you have ever felt accepted you. If you ever did grow the balls to admit who you really are to yourself, there would not be the pent up anger and frustration that is so evident in your reply. My advice, stop being an idiot, grow up a little and realise that life is short and if it is worth living it in any way, then that way is to be happy within yourself and within your life, which you are obviously not.

      • Enormous Brain says:

        Yes, you can change your sexual orientation. Plenty of people have done it. Repeating a lie over and over never makes it true.

        How sad that people will deny reality to confirm what they desperately want to believe.

        • No, Brian, you cannot change your sexual orientation. Most ‘ex-gay’ or ‘conversion’ programmes seek to change a person’s sexual conduct, not their sexual orientation, and many people see conduct and orientation as the same thing when they are not. A person cannot change their sexual orientation at all, whether through personal choice, therapeutic intervention, conscious decision or any other means – that’s what years and years of psychological and scientific research tells us. You can change your sexual conduct – a homosexual man can abstain from acting on his true sexuality and will choose to have sexual intercourse with women rather than men, thus giving the appearance to others and even himself that he is heterosexual, because he is only having sex with women. But repressing your sexuality is to repress who you inherently are and can cause harm. People who have chosen to repress their homosexuality often convince themselves that they are straight, and thus make the claim that they ‘changed’ or are ‘an ex-gay’ etc, but they are still homosexual. They are just choosing to repress their homosexuality. Bottom line, you are incorrect in saying that you can change your sexual orientation, because there is overwhelming evidence to disprove that statement, and very little evidence, practically none of which is credible, to support that statement.

  26. Shelley says:

    That was a very interesting read. You have a real sense of humour. I am mormon/latter day saint and I seriously doubt whether a weekend or program like that would officially be allowed or acceptable in this church. I would have to say it was unofficial. That is just not practiced within the church and shouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be approved of, I’m sure. Pretty violent with the effigy thing. I wouldn’t take a program like that seriously but I appreciated hearing your views on all angles. I am straight and single but would rather be married but marriage has eluded me for decades. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will probably be single for the rest of my mortal life and conclude that life has to be much better on the other side. There are many times that I do not like this life but I know it’s responsible and the right thing to do to keep on going despite the frequent obstacles in this life. You’re a very good writer – very friendly. I’m not that much of a reader but you had me going until the wee hours of the morning.

  27. Well, Ted, did the weekend help you heal from having grown up with an abusive father? I disagree with JiM’s intention to “heal” homosexuality, but it does sound like it could be a very healing experience. I know that being held and giving vent to my own repressed anger has opened a lot of things up for me.

  28. Someone may have already raised this point but I see this as a slower and less effective way to confirm for these men that they are in fact biologically normal but at odds with societal restrictions and mores. the very flammable mix of surrender to a god-structure (especially Jesus) and psychotherapeutic authenticity uncovers truth for each individual. in these conversion cases the truth is then denied or stigmatized which is damaging (possibly even life threatening) but does not negate that the truth is still, well, true. these men are gay. they will never not be gay. when that is revealed while they are attempting to remove the gayness there is yet another chance for them to accept themselves. Ted’s described cycle of “repression, backsliding into sin, then shame, guilt, and repentance” is just another hurdle on the journey.

    Committing suicide to escape the essential truth of who you are does not alter that truth. We do all have choices, as pointed out by someone above who states he is a successful conversion graduate. Your choices have no relation to the truth either. The truth is immutable and you have no control over it. Your choices are fluid and you are the only one controlling them FOR YOURSELF. Work on, human, work on!

    • “these men are gay. they will never not be gay.”

      They could be bisexual. Though apparently, the meme that bisexual men don’t exist, added to the one that once-gay-always-gay, makes it hard to live it down.

      A bisexual men could choose to only date women, as a practical matter. Not like we’re forced to date everyone we find attractive.

  29. great writing, but you lied to get a story. bottom line. and you raise concerns about suicide, yet still go ahead and out poor guys like “dave.” do you worry he’ll harm himself after reading such broad-sweeping condemnation?

    there’s the book and this column, but the amount of time you sacrificed vs. what you had to gained seems pathologically disproportionate to me…as if you have a personal axe to grind. i’m glad you admitted that you’ve asked yourself thousands of times why you’ve got such a beef with this…why it affects you so…certainly a fair question.

    i want to again say, however, that i thought this was very well written. and i don’t mean to beat you up in a mean spirited way. but this compelling and well written essay seemed struck me as disingenuous and as anything but unbiased journalism.

    • Susan B. says:

      It’s important to recognize that there is a legitimate sect of undercover journalism that works to uncover stories like this. Look at Nellie Bly, who fibbed to get into a mental institution and ended up bringing about reform for those who were mistreated in these places. Would you suggest we never investigate undercover because it’s “lying”? Or should we sometimes consider that if there is abuse or something inappropriate going on, that we might us undercover work as a means of seeing what’s going on.

      Also, as this is told first person, it’s a column or personal narrative, meaning the writer doesn’t need to be unbiased — he’s supposed to be upfront about his thoughts. Please read up and collect a thorough understanding of journalism before you decide that you’re an authority on it. If it were meant to be unbiased journalism, it would be called a “feature” and he wouldn’t have put his thoughts into it.

  30. A little over a decade ago when the evangelicals started this movement (a bit less organized I imagine than JIM), I met a psyche doctoral student doing his paper on this very issue. Though straight, I always was suspect of anyone trying this one sided sham. For instance, it is only common sense that if they TRULY wanted to help everyone, they would spend equally the same amount of time, energy and education in finding a solution for straight men and women, who felt they were actually gay. Surely, if they can wave their magic wand and help a gay person be straight, they can help a straight person be gay. It appears it would be against every single doctrine of psychology and psychiatry, to only help gays become straight, and totally ignore those suffering who were forced to live a straight life, but only needed the right counseling to live their true gay lives. What a joke these clowns are. One does not need to be an Einstein to figure out their money/power/evangel-fueled sham. Hellooooo Elmer Gantry.

  31. Wow. Excellent job humiliating a sincere group of people who are seeking to improve their lives, and who have obviously already been through enough oppressive forces their entire lives. Way to go.

  32. It’s easy to make people seem crazy when you set out to portray them that way from the outset. This is an example of hack-journalism, or pseudo-anthropology at its worst. If anyone here wants to read thoughtful and fair minded work, read Tanya Erzen’s _Straight to Jesus_ (U California Press). She’s an anthropologist who makes an attempt to understand the people she writes about, not just cast them as evil exploiters on the one hand, or pitiable dupes on the other. Also, to get another side to the supposed scientific consensus on these questions, you might read Jones and Yarhouse, _Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate_ (IVP Academic) It’s sad to read something that comes so explicitly out of someone’s self-righteous attempt to prove their views, rather than a real attempt to understand. I hope the readers of Good Man will see this as the opinion piece it is and not take too seriously the accounts of events portrayed here. I don’t know what these meetings are really like, or what the people who put them on really thing they’re doing, but after reading this, neither do you.

  33. This JiM thing is a…distressing treatment of gender. I feel the title of the article was misleading, though. What, precisely, was Christian about it?

  34. Adam Pendleton says:

    Ted, thank you for bringing this to light. I know that there may be ramifications for your actions, and certainly there are some very tough ethical issues at stake, but ultimately I feel your work here may help put a stop to these hurtful ministries. At best, they are run by well-meaning persons of faith who simply have not been educated enough on the issues at hand to know that these retreats are ultimately harmful to their attendees. At worst, they’re run by calloused hacks who are only looking to make a buck off of a misunderstood and suffering populace.

    I know it may not be well received by some readers, but you are doing the right thing.

  35. Well George, care to post any peer reviewed studies that show that Journey into Manhood and its techniques work?

    Surely you have scientific backing for your statement, “The fact is that Journey into Manhood works for many men to help them in their healing from abuse and gender identity confusion.” I mean, if it’s a fact then it must have been tested, rigorously so, just like the many, many studies that show homosexuality cannot be changed.

    So please. Link us all to these peer-reviewed studies to show us that JiM isn’t just throwing together Dr. Phil with half-remembered Psych 101 for their retreats. I for one eagerly await the proof.

    • I am living proof that the weekend works. I have dealt with painful issues of male molestation and abuse in my past, and yet am pursuing a heterosexual dating with plans to marry. I believe that these sexual behaviors are a choice and scoff at the lie that “we’re born this way” or other brainwashing “rainbow rhetoric.” We always have choices.

      • I’d like to say that should quiet them down, George. It won’t, though. When you’re agenda driven, the facts don’t matter.

        What a stupid piece to have on the Good Men Project.

      • Adam Pendleton says:

        George, did someone tell you that being molested or abused by another male makes you gay? I can assure you that it does not. I am so sorry that you had those bad experiences, and I’m glad you were able to move on from that into a (hopefully) healthy relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

        It is no wonder you feel the way you do, though, after being told that! You weren’t gay just because you were abused, so your straight dating and plans to marry don’t prove anything about those weekends. The good news is that you were helped in your own way by that weekend, and (hopefully) did not come to further harm. But, given the circumstances, can’t you see how someone who actually -is- gay might be harmed by these attempts to turn them straight? What weekends like that do is tell these gay people that their feelings are wrong and worthless. I’m reminded now of what those weekends suggest we do about people who make us feel worthless.

      • Homa Sapiens says:

        You were abused by a man– you were never homosexual. You’ve always been straight.

        I was abused by a man– I was never heterosexual. I’ve always been a lesbian.

      • “am pursuing a heterosexual dating with plans to marry.”

        Please be sure you tell the woman.

  36. The problem is you all believe in some invisible man in the sky who knows everything and controls everything and will punish you for all eternity if you don’t do what he says, like a big Mafia Don in the sky.

  37. Christine says:

    Ted, thanks for putting yourself out there and then writing this to expose some of the insanity that goes on at these camps.

    Daniel and others, I’m sorry that you feel like you’ve been betrayed by this article. I did not get that Ted ever believed that the men at JiM were anything but good and honest people. What I’m most sorry about is that there is any religion or faith out there that would tell you that you are less than worthy, less than normal, due to circumstances beyond your control. That said, you are free to choose to live in whatever way you would like including living as a Mormon who believes that homosexuality is a sin. I just wish that all those people born into faith, who also happen to be homosexual, knew that it’s okay to live out and proud. There is a whole world out there who supports you, just the way you are. And more than that, I believe that God loves you and that God doesn’t make mistakes.

  38. I’d like to say a lot of intellectual and political things, but I’m too emotional about it now. Even when I calm down I’ll still think you’re a hero for taking a stand against this kind of institutionalized insanity.

  39. Needless to say, this article does make me feel angry. The article is in violation of the non-disclosure agreement that the participant made. I know that I am not entirely innocent of acts of deception.

    That aside, the Journey Into Manhood weekend serves to let men get in touch with their true masculinity. It lets them feel things that have been deeply repressed. It lets them touch emotions that they have long since run away from. It lets them process events that they simply didn’t deal with in their pasts. In short, it lets them feel, heal, and move on.

    Personally, it was powerful for me to learn to connect with myself in more healthy ways and to connect with others in real, healthy ways, rather than in acts of deception. Granted, it didn’t change everything for me, but it was a definite step in the right direction.

    What color is the rubber band?

  40. Exposes like Ted Cox’s bore me. Ooh, they think they’ve cracked some secret cult to spill a dark trove of “secrets” onto the Internet. Evil is exposed and a Pulitzer Prize surely awaits you! (YAWN.)

    The fact is that Journey into Manhood works for many men to help them in their healing from abuse and gender identity confusion. We all have the right to make own determination how we behave sexually within the laws of the land.

    The weekend isn’t a panacea. It does help men on their journey if living a straight lifestyle is the road they’ve chosen. Cut out the sensationalism and move on, Ted.

  41. There are people in the world whose views differ from the mainstream. There ARE good, honest people who are faithful Mormons with faith in God who try their best to live according to what we believe (and have a constitutional right to believe) are God’s laws—including laws regarding sexual expression. This extends to those who may have homosexual feelings who CHOOSE to explore other possibilities than having a gay partner or having gay sex. I am one such man, and I am proud to be so. I am proud to believe in God as I do and I am happy that there are other alternatives (including JIM) for people like me. All the opinions of men in this world cannot change my faith. I am deeply offended by this disrespectful and satirical article. Does Ted Cox think himself a better man than the rest of us? Is he in a position to declare what I (or anyone else) should or shouldn’t believe about religion or homosexuality? He is a LIAR and an agreement-breaker—two things I certainly do not place high on my list of noble & “manly” attributes.

    • Adam Pendleton says:

      Daniel, you’re right regarding people’s right to believe what they want to, but actions are different from beliefs. People often act -based- on their beliefs, but when such actions fly in the face of facts, there are issues.

      I say this because it continues to be an accepted scientific fact that homosexuality is a perfectly normal form of sexual expression. Believing it goes against a religious code of conduct is one thing, but telling other people that they should try to change their sexuality based on that code isn’t acceptable.

      Furthermore, there are movements within various Christian-based faiths that argue that God doesn’t condemn homosexuality. One of the arguments, and one of the most compelling, is that all of the passages that supposedly speak against homosexuality use the word “arsenokoitai”, a word that has a VERY disputed meaning.

      So before you continue down the path you’re going, I’d encourage you to look more closely at the issue. Faith without reason is blind, after all.

  42. P.S. Ted, I don’t care for facebook but I still want a rubber band. Dale

  43. As an openly gay man who went through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood fighting my homosexual feelings, I appreciate what Ted did and wrote. Unless we start bringing the fear, disdain and prejudice that justifies the abuse and even killing of gay men (and gay boys), will we ever see homosexuality as one of the many beautiful ways Life or God or the Universe expresses Itself. Having come out in my 20’s, my family disowned me, my church disfellowshipped me. But through these things, I have developed strength and appreciation for who I am and what I have to offer. I tried for for many years to rid myself of my homo-erotic feelings; my last ditch effort being marrying a woman. Now in California’s Bay area, I still face prejudice and threats. I have had to move twice now due to threats, name-calling and vandalism—no, California is not as liberal as we think and I am less than an hour from San Francisco (gay Mecca). The only answer I see is the continuous publicity and exposure of homosexuality as something that has existed from the beginning of time, that it exists in nature, that the Bible says tons of other things we know do not apply to us (women should not wear red dresses and that we should not eat shrimp, etc). Thank you Ted! dp

  44. Amazing read and I cannot wait for the book. I commend Ted for taking on this assignment and sharing his experience.

  45. Recently became a licensed mental health counselor in my state. The article reminded me of why in grad school I steered clear of any counseling referred to as “Christian- or Faith-Based Counseling.” The psuedo-science, the smattering of Freud mixed with Jesus, the profoundly irresponsible handling of men entrusting their psyches and souls to these folks … what a sham and a shame! There is no legal recourse because they are protected as a “church.” This so-called retreat would never fall under the same appropriate and necessary scrutiny I must fall under to practice legitimate counseling. I know these guys sign off and go at their own risks, but I can’t help but think this should somehow be declared illegal, under the licensing laws of the states concerning mental health. Just wondering …

    • I think your point about ethical and licensed therapy practices is addressed when Ted writes that the printed materials and the disclaimer of the Guides at the start of the weekend underscored that none of the staff were there as counselors or therapists even if that is what they do in their day jobs. You can lose your license if you practice this type of therapy when all the professional and ethical guidelines prohibit it. It is even more clearly forbidden than some of the crazier child-therapy techniques. No scrutiny if it is done as a layperson.

  46. As a journalist and someone who is curious about the inner-workings of such organizations, I think this was eye-opening and extremely interesting. But I do have a few technical and ethical questions:

    Are you being sued for this? I know you signed the confidentiality agreement but went ahead and published this anyway. Are you being sued by JiM? By the other members for violating their privacy? Also, I don’t think it was ethical at all for you to quote people who didn’t know you were taking notes. Did you give JiM an opportunity to respond before you published? Did you ask the other men there for permission, or at least give them a heads up it was coming out? I know you’re not a journalist strictly speaking, but what you did was investigative journalism. It just seems a little unfair the way you went about this.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s out there. I think it’s an important topic. But, like you, I do feel bad for the other men who rightly feel violated. I’m guessing you didn’t use their real names, but still…

  47. Kim, while I think I understand your sensitivity, I disagree with your conclusion. There is a lot that goes on “in secret” that is far more exploitative than anything that appears in Ted’s article. There may be some, maybe many, maybe most, who go to retreats like that because they genuinely think that they can and should change their behavior. But there are some, maybe many, who go because they have been manipulated, or chastised, into thinking that they are bad people who need to choose differently “or else”. Empowerment is, in my view, best accomplished in the light of day, not in secret ceremonies and darkened rooms. I appreciate the look behind the curtain that Ted offers. If there is anyone who was at that retreat, or one like it, and reads Ted’s article and feels exploited, my question would be, “exploited by whom?”

  48. Yikes. This article does not sit right with me. I know it wasn’t your intention, but it definitely feels exploitative. You yourself even mention feeling you “had intruded enough into their lives” just by being there, let alone writing an expose. You’re not Mormon anymore and you’re not gay (as you make very clear in several areas of the article. Side note: was it necessary to include the part about you boning your ex-girlfriend?), so I don’t understand how you thought this experience would be effective. Regardless of your or anyone’s stance on Mormonism or sexual biology, this retreat was a deeply personal choice for all of the participants, something they feel they need. That’s really not for you or any reader to scrutinize.

  49. Well done, Ted. Though I am not familiar with the organization, and don’t know anyone associated with it, I would imagine that those involved with JiM are very earnest and decent people. They are just zealous, even “evangelical”, about something they believe in deeply. They are not different, in that way, from gays and lesbians who feel passionately compelled to fight for gay rights. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness as I read your piece. There seemed little room for genuine, caring honest interaction. It was all staged, as that genre of experience often is, but orchestrated in such a way to dictate an expected outcome, rather than offer a genuine forum for exploration and discovery. How real can a “conversion” be, when it is so obviously coerced? That’s assuming that a “conversion” of the sort that JiM is promoting is even possible – which I don’t believe in the first place.

  50. Chriss R. Miller says:

    Fantastic work! Much needed and I believe will do more good than any perceived harm!

  51. Fantastic read! I shared it on facebook. I hope this publication prompts the organizers of JiM to rethink their camps direction. It’s obviously a camp for gay men to socialize, why hide behind hypocrisy? Seriously, putting a room full of sexually repressed gay men together, in a secluded location, with a confidentiality agreement – what can you expect but a roomful of erections?

  52. Wow. Excellent. Riveting. Fascinating. I don’t mean to be glib, but what they all need is a weekend in San Francisco. Here in the Bay Area, it’s all good – even with a mega Mormon church just down the road. The oppression, the sense that they can “beat it out of you” is so sad. You’re right: Dave has no easy options. But repressing the already deeply repressed just makes the whole thing so much sadder.


  1. […] at a Christian gay-to-straight conversion […]

  2. […] know how I know those ridiculous Christian reparative (Gay-to-Straight) camps do not work, because if there was a camp that would make me a lesbian- I […]

  3. […] Also read Ted Cox’s exposé Under Cover in a Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp […]

  4. […] Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp […]

  5. […] Once I read his statement, everything before made sense! This camp (and even he speculated it) was conning money from these poor gents making them believe this could actually make them straight.  And one could only suspect that the leaders of the camp were even straight themselves.  So this brings me to another question, since money is clearly involved here, and (hypothetically speaking) the men running this camp are gay themselves, is this or even all conversions camps doing this because they really do not know? Or to just blatantly manipulate people into thinking they can change them for money? Or, if they are unsure on the science of humankind is it both? And the fact that it’s Christian (just like in Criminal Minds) is another story if that be the case, but shouldn’t there be more camps on helping men deal with this identity crisis as opposed to getting rid of it? Like “Camp OUTdoors”, which is more so for youth but helps all in the LGBT community develop skills and help them cope with being who they actually are, GAY.  But Ted’s story was an eye opener and you should check it out:  http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/undercover-at-a-christian-gay-to-straight-conversion-camp/3/ […]

  6. […] Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp /* Filed Under: Good Feed Blog Tagged With: apology, conversion therapy, cure, Dr. […]

  7. […] Now surround yourself with people who all make fun of you for the person that you are. Add in the factor of the media representation. You can flip through the television and certainly find some religious or conservative channel telling you it is an abomination or that you are choosing the very thing that is currently eating you alive. You are choosing to have these horrible feelings. I remember believing (for a short time after the realization that I was gay) that the gay-conversion camps might actually work. I remember thinking that I wanted to go. They don’t work. They never will. You are just lying to yourself. Take this extremely well written and detailed report of a man who entered the camp “undercover.”: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/undercover-at-a-christian-gay-to-straight-conversion-camp/ […]

  8. […] They're sending me to straight camp! Please help!!! 🙁 For your information, this is someone's experience at a Journey into Manhood camp. I'm glad you got out of going to the […]

  9. […] at a Christian Gay-to-Straight (JiM) Conversion Campe Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp Oh. My. God. I have so many friends who go to JiM retreats. I never had any idea what goes on at […]

  10. Online Article…

    […]very few websites that happen to be detailed below, from our point of view are undoubtedly well worth checking out[…]…

  11. […] to an undercover report, “ex-gay” camps restimulate homosexual feelings and basically only exist to make you […]

  12. […] Undercover at a Christian gay-to-straight conversion camp Posted By Hilath Ted Cox: … while the ex-gay movement has publicly declared they can bring “freedom from homosexuality,” there’s no evidence that someone can change his or her orientation through these religiously motivated programs. Rather than turning straight, the men and women I met throughout this project dealt with a cycle of repression, backsliding into sin, then shame, guilt, and repentance. These programs collect hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on a promise they can’t deliver… 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. Full investigative report […]

  13. […] out Ted’s story, “Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp,” one of the most popular GMPM articles of all time. AKPC_IDS += "20803,"; Filed Under: […]

  14. […] Canon Law, might not even stop the kind of insanity that apparently runs rampant in some of the “gay-to-straight” “therapies” run by American […]

  15. […] Take a scan of the online magazine at goodmenproject.com and you’ll find articles like Manhood in 4 Moments, The Science of Kissing, Dear Elmo, I Hate Your F#$%ing Guts, and Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp. […]

  16. […] serve purposes that people don’t realize. How else would you get the inside scoop from someone undercover at a Christian gay-to-straight conversion camp or why a man is expected to make the first move? Newspapers and news channels don’t have time to […]

  17. […] Cox goes undercover for Good Men’s Magazine at a Mormon gay-to-straight conversion camp.  And what could be a glib or condescending article (these types of undercover articles always […]

  18. […] Good Men Project has a fantastic piece of reporting by Ted Cox, who assumed the role of a closeted Mormon and attended a Christian weekend retreat of […]

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