After the Third Way…

… there’s a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh…

A rather remarkable video has been making the rounds lately. “The Third Way“, produced by Blackstone Films, features the voices of gay Christians who have accepted their sexuality and have sought to live according to traditional Christian teachings. The video navigates between two poles often presented for gay Christians: either repress sexuality for Christianity, or give up Christianity for sexuality. A “third way” is presented, in which the speakers come to love and accept both parts of themselves, seeking to live chaste lives of integration, rather than a fragmented choice.

I’m hesitant to criticize the video or its producers. I found it to be a rare piece, in which the teachings of the Church are presented in their full integrity, while at the same time allowing for honest narratives about how real people relate to these teachings. I suppose I don’t particularly want to offer criticism at all, perhaps just a further elaboration, and my own (very limited) contribution to the narrative of what it means to be a gay Christian.

I had shared with some friends concerns that The Third Way tends towards a narrative of homosexuality in which its roots are found in childhood neglect or abuse. I’m not at all denying that such roots can be found in such experiences. I’d only like to point out that, for many of us, this narrative can be confusing, for ourselves and for our families.

One gay man has written how this narrative encouraged him to defy his parents, making this particular “gay narrative” into a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy for unhealthy behavior. In blaming an unhealthy relationship with his parents for his sexuality, he began to use his sexuality as a justification for defying his parents:

My parents were surprised at how the [reparative] therapy blamed them for my condition… [but] I was happy to defy my parents. Whether the grievance was that my curfew wasn’t late enough or that my parents didn’t give me enough money, I had a trusted authority figure validating every perceived injustice. Any complaint became evidence of how my parents had failed me.

I fear that, because of  this “distant parent” narrative, some gay men and women, resentful of their sexuality, will also come to resent their parents, whom they perceive to be the source of their struggles. I also fear parents resenting themselves because of this. And I also fear children and parents taking this paradigm too seriously, retrospectively interpreting past experiences as abuse or neglect, experiences which wouldn’t be considered so except for the child’s sexuality.

One of my own fears in coming out to my parents was that they might blame themselves for my sexuality. Of course, I discovered that they are much wiser than I considered them (a constant discovery as I have become older), and the concern was never raised. The truth is, I have wonderful parents. They’ve always given me their unconditional love, more than I have either deserved or asked for.

I’ve also never been abused. I actually had a very trauma-free upbringing, and I look on my past with fondness. I do recognize that many gay men and women were abused as children, and I’m open to the possibility that this abuse had lasting affects on their sexualities. I’d just like to point out that this isn’t my narrative, and people shouldn’t assume it to be so for others, simply because of their sexuality.

Of course, for more narratives to be known, they have to be talked about. Here, Melinda Selmys places a challenge for many of us:

The producers of the The Third Way actually weren’t going out of their way to present that narrative – it’s much more that they found it hard to find people who were willing to be interviewed for the project, and most of the people who were willing were either reparative therapists, or were folks for whom the standard narrative fit. Fair enough. People who honestly had bad experiences with their families of origin should have the right to tell those stories, and if they’re the only ones who stand up, they’re the only ones who stand up.

But even if we don’t hear every story, it’s important to understand that the history and experiences of gay people are just as diverse as anyone else’s. The “gay lifestyle” is just as diverse as the “straight lifestyle”, and the Christian “third way” for gay and straight Christians seeking chastity is really comprised of many ways and histories.

I’m reminded of an exchange between journalist Peter Seewald and the future Pope Benedict XVI:

Seewald: How many ways are there to God?

Cardinal Ratzinger: As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. . . .

Chris DamianChris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. He can be found on Twitter @UniversityIdeas.

16 thoughts on “After the Third Way…

  1. From time to time I hear this lament, that Reparative Therapy is about blaming parents. I have extensive experience with the Therapy and that is not actually the message of Reparative Therapy. A careful therapist would make it clear that what Reparative Therapy is healing is part of the human experience not a unique characteristic of gay men. Instead it should be understood as a message that all parents are imperfect and as such all parents will wound their children. Those wounds result in some belief about myself, others or God which I may or not be consciously aware of. These beliefs may be held in the subconscious or in Shadow as Jung put it. But they still impact my behavior and are the sources of neurotic drives. The particular beliefs and the particular manifestation of neurotic drives differs with different men and women but the faulty beliefs and the neurotic drives are universal. In particular the gay impulse is not a sexual drive but neurotic drive that has been sexualized. Shame as an emotion lays at the root of this experience. Most people don’t have neurotic drives that are quite so inconsistent with following their Christian faith which is what creates a relatively unique issue for men and women with homosexual drives.

    • [In particular the gay impulse is not a sexual drive but neurotic drive that has been sexualized. Shame as an emotion lays at the root of this experience.]

      For some, perhaps, but homosexuality isn’t the same for everyone, as the author points out. It is my suspicion that when it is accompanied by this neurosis that it isn’t the orientation to the same sex itself that is the problem but rather a sexualized neurosis that can be treated, independently, of the romantic orientation. There are too many mentally healthy homosexuals to make any broad blanket treatments or diagnoses of them as a collective ethical..

    • “The gay impulse is not a sexual drive but [a] neurotic drive that has been sexualized.” This is classic mid-twentieth century psychoanalytic theory concocted on a biased sample of homosexuals who were psychiatric patients. Even there it appeared that cause and effect may have been reversed; in cases of paternal alienation it is not unlikely that father became alienated by [his subliminal realization of] his son’s gayness rather than the alienation causing the gayness. Ditto with peer rejection. The neurosis theory has not been borne out in the vast majority of homosexual people, many of whom had happy, unremarkable childhoods. I have practiced psychiatry for 33 years and watched the field evolve from one-case-based generalizations to more empirical studies. While by no means perfect, these studies are summarized in “Gay, Straight and the Reason Why”, by LeVay. If ddaunis2014 believes he’s gay because of sexualizing neurotic needs, that may be true in his case. It is in no way generalizeable to most others. I’m glad to hear he found psychotherapy so helpful. As he points out, conflicts are universal in humans and good therapy can help. But it almost never changes sexual orientation. He doesn’t even appear to claim it changed his–and least not in this stream. And just as “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” so sometimes a sexual drive is a sexual drive, not a neurotic sexualization of something else.

      • Hypathia,
        By the way I love your chosen name. I would just say that in working with men who deal with ssa, the techniques I am discussing work. I mean they actually work. My ssa is not entirely gone but as I have described elsewhere, as my childhood wounds have healed and I have gotten childhood needs met, my experience of ssa has changed dramatically. Any behaviorist looking at the ways I have reinforced the drive for 40 years would not be surprised that some aspects linger, and would be quite surprised to see them actually change.

        It is not just my experience but that of hundreds of men I know through the organizations I am a part of and several dozen that I am in intimate fellowship with. As they do this work the universal realization is that their draw to other men is not about sex. Although I claim no understanding of this process for women, I do have some understanding of how it works for men and some history is instructive.

        Men are not particularly sexually selective. Almost any man can have sex with either men or women if they are in a culture where there is absolutely no social stigma or sense of aversion as a learned response to it. The experience of classical culture shows this to be the case. The concept of as separate group of men who were homosexual was unknown in the whole of human history before the late 19th century. No language in any culture before the 1860’s had a word for it. Without a word for a concept is it surprisingly difficult to conceptualize it. What every language had was a word for the penetrative actor and the penetrated actor in a sexual encounter. Before this time men carried no concept of the homosexal and as such experienced deep emotional connection without the barriers he presently experiences.

        As historian E. Anthony Rotundo has commented, the lack of cultural categories for sexual orientation (in the 19th century) directly affected same-sex friendships.

        “To the extent that they did have ideas—and a language—about homosexuality, they thought of particular sexual acts, not of a personal disposition or social identity that produced such acts. . . . In a society that had no clear concept of homosexuality, young men did not need to draw a line between right and wrong forms of [physical] contact, except perhaps at genital play.
        . . . Middle-class culture [in nineteenth-century America] drew no clear line of division between homosexual and heterosexual. As a result young men (and women, too) could express their affection for each other physically without risking social censure or feelings of guilt.12″

        Rotundo, “Romantic Friendship: Male Intimacy and Middle-Class Youth in the Northern United States, 1800-1900,”

        A capacity for sexual arousal and enjoyment of another male as a sexual partner including sexual attraction toward one is not something that exists in the human experience in anything like a steady state. Cultures experience that phenomenon in wildly varying degrees. This is an indication just in epidemiological terms of something that is environmentally based not based in genetics or in something immutable.

        As Naomi Way has observed the modern adult male in the West does not experience healthy physical affection from other males and this is a function of the presence in the psyche of an additional developmental task unique to modern males, the need to prove to their peer group that they are not gay.

        As I have discovered and many men like me have discovered, when properly applied these techniques I have already discussed do experience changes in sexual orientation. Orientation is highly plastic in all men despite their intuition that their own current heterosexual orientation is indeed immutable. A male who grows up in a culture devoid of moral or social constraints against it will enjoy sexual relationships with both sexes.

        So what the therapy addresses is a wound that inhibits relating sexualy to women and that causes a compulsivity toward sex with men. Both are impacted although the sexual compulsivity to other men does seem to be the most readily amenable to the techniques. Some men experience an increase in opposite sex attraction as the work is done. Some do not. Effective reparative therapy is in its infancy and it proceeds at a relative snail’s pace in part due to the prejudices of the profession.

        What I also discovered is that few therapist are actually any good at it. Someone else mentioned Throckmorton. He was once a therapist doing this work and altered his opinion after years without success. He was much like the two therapists I went to for a total of ten years before my current one. They simply weren’t very good at dealing with a problem that requires some very specific knowledge and approaches. I am not surprised at all that many therapists fail to help men change orientation and that the empirical data would indicate therapeutic methods over all are not helpful. That would have been my conclusion after the first ten years of my own work. That is because most methods of therapeutic intervention don’t work very well. Only after working with a therapist who had a much better grasp of what strategies worked and how to implement them did I experience dramatic change. I wouldn’t say that this is an easy path. It is a problem that needs a holistic approach dealing with both spiritual, physical and emotional dimensions, but it is achievable with the right help. Unfortunately the psychological community with only a few exceptions has abandoned men like me because they have accepted the paradigm you espouse.

  2. First I hope you understand how problematic an interview edited by CNN is. I also worked in media much of my life and any news report from any of the major media outlets about gay issues will be agenda driven. I am concerned when reparative therapy is allowed to be characterized and defined by something like a CNN interview in media claiming a Christian viewpoint. Particularly when Richard and his views are easily accessable directly. He speaks publicly about this on a regular basis and a balanced view could easily be attained by viewing one of these presentations.

    Secondly blame is a value word. Blame is not always the right word. There is a difference between identifying causation and assessing blame. Part of my own pathology was characterized by a belief that causation and blame were the same thing but as I learned more about my own wounds I began to understand the interplay both of my parents actions, my own response, the efficacy of that response and the role of peers and my own personality. In many, probably most cases blame is not a word that fairly describes what has happened and causation does not seek to assess blame.

    Lastly there is something truly spiritually cathartic when I allow myself to fully understand and grieve those things that my parents did regardless of how well meaning they were. In my own case my parents failures were well understood long before any exposure to reparative ideas. But at the urging of the church and the community of men and women in it that I looked to for leadership and direction I had engaged in a premature and shallow form of forgiveness with my parents. I had done what is typically done. I fled my emotions and feelings of being failed by them because they were painful to feel. I made excuses for what they did minimizing it. So my forgiveness was not as Christ commanded, “from the heart” because my heart had not been allowed to fully feel the nature and reality of the offense. Once I finally did allow myself to feel it, experience the anger and sadness needed to grieve all that I had lost, then and only then could I fully forgive from my heart. Most of the men I have worked with, gay and straight, who claim great relationships with great parents have covered the shame inducing behaviors of their parents with a religious sense of filial piety. Once they have the courage to go to that place what they find is not blame but tremendous healing and forgiveness.

    • CNN may have edited the interview, but Richard cuddled a patient and he beat a pillow with a tennis racket while screaming about his mother. He also did the same thing with a tennis racket and pillow on the Jimmy Kimmel after he’d done it on CNN. So it wasn’t just a case of being edited in a dishonest way. If that had been the case, he wouldn’t have gone back to do it again on other programs.

      I’m not saying that all reparative therapists are as bad as Cohen, but the producers of The Third Way chose to highlight Cohen.

      If you want to see a Christian viewpoint on Cohen, see this response by Alan Chambers of Exodus International.

      I’m fine with you presenting your view of reparative therapy, and explaining that as it was practiced by your therapist, it did not involve blaming parents. But I’ve been around the conservative Christian responses to same-sex attraction long enough to know that proponents of reparative therapy really do say things that any normal English language user would describe as “blaming” parents for a child’s same-sex attraction.

      • I think you may have just proved my point. I know Alan and he has gone off the deep end in every way imaginable. Alan condemned reparative therapy while never himself experiencing it. He made a typical failure of Christians. He had his own orthodoxy which said essentially praying away the gay is the only biblical approach to ssa while therapy and the use of psychology was not dependence on Christ. It is the folly of many so called Christian groups which though well meaning cause a lot of pain for men seeking help.

        When praying away the gay didn’t work he had two choices. Realize his narrow interpretation of a scriptural approach to healing was wrong, or decide there was nothing to heal. He chose the latter. You cannot repent of a wound and that is essentially the position of these groups. You need healing from them and to achieve healing from them the full weight of the experience must be brought to God. Most men will flee from that prospect and never offer their core anger and sadness to God. Most therapy is ineffective because trauma is preserved in the brain in the amygdala and the right brain in parts that literally are not easily accessible to the frontal cortex. Most forms of psychotherapy and traditional counseling have little effect on ssa or other forms of trauma because the frontal cortex has difficulty accessing these parts of the brain.

        It is also important that the man at some point in the psychodynamic process understand it isn’t his mother he is attacking with the tennis racket, It is the internalized messages he took on in his interaction with his mother. In the psychodynamic work we do in both secular and religiously based programs there is a person that represents mom or dad or peers in the room but it is the messages that are the object of the attack. Men often carry these messages around with them and anger is an effective tool for setting a boundary between themselves and the messages. Afterward using my anger to set such a boundary I can separate mom or dad from the messages I received from them.

        I have difficulty explaining how but when I allowed myself to really experience my anger in the safe controlled environment of psychodynamic therapies, something fundamental shifted. For years I had experienced anger and sadness around my childhood, but that had been shame based anger and shame based sadness. Feeling those emotions had never brought relief only more pain. After my psychodynamic work something shifted and I began true “Grief Work.” I would see something that triggered me and begin feel the emotions well up. Typically in my workplace I would excuse myself to the restroom and let the tears flow. But there was a big difference in this grief and my past experience. In the past I would grieve my way into a self destructive spiral of downward self pity. But now I would allow myself to grieve, give myself permission to feel the authentic feelings and afterward I would always feel a deep sense of relief and wholeness.

        Ron I am sorry that you have this judgment of a form of therapy that you have not experienced with the help of a good therapist. It is unfortunate that not having experienced it you can’t know the power it has to release a man from deeply repressed anger and sadness. It has changed my life, saved my life, taken ssa from a life debilitating compulsive drive to a manageable annoyance. There is a third way, it is healing the wounds and fully integrating the truth about myself others and God that those wounds distorted. With that comes real change. Will ssa disappear for all men or even most men? Probably not but that is not the point. Nothing in my reading of the bible indicates that with freedom comes no longer being tempted. The point is healing and self knowledge and from than your ssa and your relationship to it will change.

      • First, regarding my need for therapy, I looked into reparative therapy fairly closely when I was younger, reading most of the books by the pioneers of reparative therapy like Elizabeth Moberly, Joseph Nicolosi, and Gerard van den Aardweg.

        Their theories did not match my own experience, and were based on Freudian psychological assumptions which are neither scientifically supported nor embraced by Christians in any context other than ex-gay ministry.

        Regarding your attack on Alan as a messenger, I heard about the incident Alan relates the same day it occurred from a different Exodus member who was present in Cohen’s session.

        Regarding your arguments, I’m actually really puzzled here. Chris mentioned a person who had had the experience of a reparative therapist blaming their parents. You tried to explain that that was not what reparative therapy was about.

        I’m not saying that Cohen is representative of other reparative therapists. I am saying that he is a reparative therapist, and that the egregious stuff he’s done is part of the reparative therapy universe. It’s particularly relevant when we’re talking about the Third Way, because the producers chose to feature Cohen in the video, and listed him in the credits. People who see him in the video may easily look him up and listen to his ideas.

        I would have expected your response to be: yes, Cohen is crazy, but your experience with reparative is different. As you may be aware, the leading reparative therapy organization, NARTH, has distanced itself from Cohen. As I said in an earlier response, I’m fine with you sharing your experience and defending the value of the therapy you received.

        What is striking to me, however, is that you actually seem to be embracing Cohen’s methods and defending them.

        Given that you seem to be doing this, I would be interested in your answers to some specific questions:

        1. Are you denying that Cohen did what Alan Chambers alleged he did at the Exodus Conference in 2000? If so, what is the evidence of your denial? As Warren Throckmorton notes in that link, Alan was giving his version of a story that was widely discussed in Exodus. As I noted earlier, I heard it the same day it occurred from someone else (not Alan) who was at the conference. Note that Exodus is not the only organization that distanced itself from Cohen. NARTH, the main reparative therapy organization, has done so, as well.

        2. Are you defending Cohen-style touch therapy as a part of reparative therapy? NARTH does not endorse this therapy, but your unwillingness to criticize Cohen suggests that you may support it.

        3. Do you believe that things like Cohen’s “bioenergetics,” in which a client acts out anger at his or her parents through actions like beating a pillow with a tennis racket, are legitimate forms of therapy? Again, some of your comments about healthy expression of anger suggest that you may support this type of expression.

  3. Nitpicking aside, I do appreciate the effort. I had a conversation with a gentleman who linked me this video (though in vain as I am too far schismed from the faith of my old life to ever probably return to it at this point). Still, I can come back to it as an outsider looking in and appreciate it compared to the more Evangelical approach which still seems to be a nicer version of the Phelps family stuff.

    LGBT is a big grouping – bigger than most ever realize without really inundating yourself in the whole of the movement/group. Bisexual, homosexual, homosexual heteroromantic, heterosexual homoromantic, asexual biromantic, transgender (and that doesn’t even address the trans persons sexual and romantic orientation), and so on and so on. I would cut the filmmakers some slack on not getting a good collection of differing stories.

    What I am less apt to forgive is the touting the charlatanism of reparative therapy as a treatment for homosexuality (or any gender or orientation issues). Peer reviewed science has cast this sort of thing aside for a reason and it isn’t the “gay agenda”. The idea that 3 to 5% of the population that is LGBT somehow took control of all of medicine and science on earth and is somehow “hiding the truth” is a conspiracy about as plausible as shapeshifting lizard men secretly running Walmart.

    Much of the ill associated with homosexuality is correlated without establishing causality. That is why it has been thrown out. The shame of it is, some have been helped to be less sexually compulsive and less unhealthy by such things as these twelve step programs and therapies, believing their problems to lie with their orientation and not outside of it. If we could do away with the charlatanism we might be able to do real good in addressing the problems in the LGBT community by focusing on their problems rather than throwing it all under the gay umbrella and treating that which is intrinsic.

    If the Church is smart it will focus on the morality of homosexuality and avoid leaning to heavily on NARTH, AFA, or any of the rest of their ilk. Give unto Caesar what is Caesar. Leave science to the scientists.

    • Ron, I will attempt to answer your questions as best I can. You said;
      1. Are you denying that Cohen did what Alan Chambers alleged he did at the Exodus Conference in 2000? If so, what is the evidence of your denial? As Warren Throckmorton notes in that link, Alan was giving his version of a story that was widely discussed in Exodus. As I noted earlier, I heard it the same day it occurred from someone else (not Alan) who was at the conference. Note that Exodus is not the only organization that distanced itself from Cohen. NARTH, the main reparative therapy organization, has done so, as well.
      I know little of Cohen. I simply have answered your questions regarding what Reparative therapy is and your objections to specific processes.
      2. Are you defending Cohen-style touch therapy as a part of reparative therapy? NARTH does not endorse this therapy, but your unwillingness to criticize Cohen suggests that you may support it.
      I will relate my own experience with touch therapy, what it consisted of and its impact on my ssa and my life in general. I am unfamiliar with “Cohen-Style” touch therapy but I can relate my own experience with it. The first time I ever experienced this process was on a men’s weekend. I was given the opportunity to experience what they referred to as father-son holding. My own father did not hold hug or touch me except in anger and I had little experience touching or being touched by another man except in a sexual context. I sat facing a staff member of the weekend and allowed myself to be held close to his breast, my weight supported by his arms and my chest pressed against his. I was being cradled much as I had cradled my own son many times. The emotion began to come up in me and it was so difficult that I shut down, I felt disconnected from my body and gripped with fear. The only experience I had had with such physical intimacy had been sexualized. Then the staffer began to talk me back into my body, telling me to be aware of the feeling in my hands, the temperature in the room the pace of my breathing. Then the tears began to flow. I was experiencing something that was one of the most important cathartic events of my life. I realized that I deserved to be held. That I deserved to experience physical touch from another man and that I didn’t have to offer up my body to be used to get it. The lie of sex as the only way to get the physical affection of another man was dispelled. My two year long journey into grief began that evening. I grieved the loss of that intimacy with my father and my peers and the healthy men in my life. For the next two years in the safe place of a community of supportive men I engaged in father son holding on a weekly basis.
      What it did was nothing short of miraculous. I had a healthy God given need for masculine affection that had not been met in childhood. Now that vase bucket of need began to be filled up. For most of the first two years I always cried when I was held. I allow a very young part of me, an inner child, to be held and to experience what he had never experienced. Slowly something began to shift. I was able to disentangle my need for healthy touch from men from my desire for sexual contact. Gradually those two needs separated. As I did the other work of reparative therapy touching on the wounds of my past and experiencing healing from those I began to see attractive men differently.
      Finally on a spring day in March 2012 just two and a half years after I had first been held by a man I was driving down my residential street and in front of me was a young man jogging. His body was something carved from Greek marble. Every muscle and tenden perfectly formed and visible under the tightly drawn skin. I looked and asked myself a question. What do I really want from him? And the answer came back from a deep place of healing in my heart, I want his friendship. I want men who I see to have enviable characteristics to notice and value me. I don’t want to have sex with him. Then I asked a second question. Is there anything gay about that? And the answer was no. Then I asked why being physically attractive mattered? And I realized that my response was not gay but it was immature. I was like a 7th grader walking into the school cafeteria for the first time and scanning the room for the “cool” guys. Physical appearance is an indispensible component of coolness in the 7th grade. So I asked myself the question again, is being drawn to connect to the more attractive person, the more beautiful person, the perceived more popular person, is that gay? And I realized it was not. After less that three years of doing this work I no longer was attracted to any man regardless of appearance if I didn’t want to be. I learned I could ask myself a few questions and any sexual charge if it existed was gone. This mental process, made possible by the work I had done and the filling up that deeply felt need allowed me not only to asks and honestly answer those questions but to do that mental processing more and more quickly until the response became automatic. I began to allow myself to act upon the need for young attractive men as friends but without the need to sexualize them or eroticize the need

      3. Do you believe that things like Cohen’s “bioenergetics,” in which a client acts out anger at his or her parents through actions like beating a pillow with a tennis racket, are legitimate forms of therapy? Again, some of your comments about healthy expression of anger suggest that you may support this type of expression.
      I do wish you had some experience with the plethora of Men’s ministries and men’s movement groups blooming around the country. Some of have been doing powerful work for men of all sexual orientations using this kind of technique for over 30 years with no intended connection with reparative therapy. Their record of accomplishment in changing the lives of men profoundly for the better in a very short time using psychodrama and other well-established psychological techniques like this is testament to their usefulness.
      These techniques allow men to gain access to suppressed anger and sadness surrounding past trauma and more importantly to discover false beliefs they adopted at the time of the trauma that they unconsciously brought into adulthood. Thousands of gay and straight men who are a part of organizations as varied as the secular and gay affirming, “Mankind Project”, the secular “Discovery Institute.” and the Christian groups “The Crucible Project”, “Men at the Cross”, “Marked Men for Christ”, as well as the organization specifically designed for men with unwanted ssa, “Journey into Manhood” all have benefited from these techniques.
      Most of my experience using these kinds of techniques have been with osa men. The experience that these men and men with ssa have had is fairly universal. There is a reason for that. Two statements by C. S. Lewis and another by Morgan Snyder are instructive. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” And “God will raise up fatherlessness in us so that he can heal it.” What I have seen and that men’s work has demonstrated is that the father wound is universal. Every man experiences it and every man is impacted by it. Few men realize what that impact is on their own. When gay men say they had a great relationship with their father and have had no ill effects from it my reply is that every single straight man I have ever met who had the courage to delve into their true relationship with their father has discovered otherwise, and that they must be a truly uniquely blessed individual. My father, perhaps unlike theirs, was a human being and as such failed me in some way shape or form.

      In fact the psychological research is replete with the truth. All parents MUST shame their children. Otherwise they would grow to be egomaniacal. But the “good enough” parent will manage to affirm the individual child sufficiently to allow him to enter childhood with some level of personal ego intact. What must be admitted and is admitted by the profession is that we all carry shame from childhood and that it is impacting us in ways that we may or may not see. The only difference between osa men and ssa men is that in osa men that parent induced shame has manifested in some other personal dysfunction other than sexual attraction to men.
      All the men I have seen go through one of these psychodrama processes, and I have observed this dozens of times and heard the testimony of hundreds of men, have experienced a powerful change, a shift, in how they experience their lives. I myself have been “on the carpet” experiencing this kind of work around specific past trauma six or seven times and each time the onion of self discovery is pealed back and a “new birth” of some sort ensues with a new realization of who I truly am. The unconscious impact of the past shaming event is made conscious and men wake up as if from a long slumber to the unfelt forces directing their internal lives.
      One of the ironies is the similarity of the wound regardless of the objective level of offense. It doesn’t seem to matter much if they had a father who missed a few baseball games or if they had a father that repeatedly sexually assaulted them. They took in a belief that they were defective, deficient, broken, unworthy, or unlovable. The inherently narcissistic character of childhood means the child whether confronted with minor and major assaults internalizes the only message he can, “it must be me”. Otherwise the child must reject the message from the parent and at an early age the emotional cost of intentional separation from the parent who is after all the only source of the child’s necessities for life is too great a separation to make. The choice for the child is between an existential fear of annihilation that comes from separation from the parent or the internalization of the shame messages.
      Men who are guided through these kinds of processes where they can attack the messages from mom or dad as if by attacking an effigy can use anger to set up a boundary against those messages in the future or use their genuinely felt sadness to connect with and love that inner child who believed those messages, and accept and love all of themselves including their former self, that until now they condemned and rejected.
      I cannot testify to the efficacy or the skill with which Cohen or any particular therapist uses these techniques but as Dr. Drew Pinsky has said in an interview on “Anderson Cooper 360”, reparative therapy consists of “standard trauma therapy techniques.” This celebrity doctor sees no need for therapy for a condition no longer listed in the DSM but he recognized that the body work, EMDR and psychodrama engaged in by reparative therapists is not unusual in either content or context.

      • Perhaps the techniques are effective for both gay and straight men because the techniques treat the drives that lead us into compulsive activity? In other words, what we have here is not a “treatment” for SSA, but a treatment for anger and lust issues — which create unique problems for many of those with SSA, but create problems for most non-SSA men too.

        In essence, I believe most of what you’re saying, but I don’t see why it involves any etiological claims about homosexuality — it just involves etiological claims about compulsive sexual behavior.

  4. Good points Daniel, and there may be some truth to this for some men. The changing of ssa from a life gripping uncontrollable issue to a manageable annoyance similar to any healthy straight man’s difficulties in staying true to his wife is definitely more common than men experiencing significant orientation change.

    Also the process apparently demonstrated by Cohen has apparently given the wrong impression of what this psychodynamic work is about. In psychodrama or “guts work” the purpose is to get out in the open the actual psychological process going on in the man’s mind. To make the internal process of his mind which are often at a subconscious level visible to him by putting the messages and the players in his own internal drama in a defined place such as a 10 by 12 rug in front of him people standing in for the personalities and messages of childhood that are still rattling around in his mind influencing his behavior and beliefs. The typical players in the drama are a young version of the man himself, a person from the past representing the shaming message, and someone to represent a golden part of him that the message prevents him from experiencing. Grief is anger and sadness and typically anger is used to silence the shaming message and the golden self is used to love and reintegrate the young wounded part of himself and see it as a valued part of who he is.

    Beating an effigy of mom is not the only process possible as the man uses anger to create a boundary between himself and the messages from childhood. Often what is done is completely novel and developed on the fly by the facilitator to touch the man in the place and the way he feel it. Sometimes men feel “bound up” by the messages and so we may roll him up in a blanket and he has to fight his way out. Similarly he may describe the feeling as being in prison or a claustrophobic feeling and we will set up mattresses as four walls around him and he must fight his way out. He may be very in touch with the shame he feels from the messages and will drop to the floor under their weight or he may describe them as a weight on him. So we will put men literally on his back as he kneels that represent the messages and he must push his way to his feet and shed the messages weighing him down. He may have multiple messages and he has to push through a gauntlet of men yelling those messages at him until he reaches a man who represents his golden self. As he physically overpowers and pushes past each man he emotionally overpowers and rejects the message that man is conveying. He may be acting out of guilt and obligation to a parent’s view of them and out of their love for the parent they have placed the messages in a holy place confusing the shaming messages from a parent for how they are viewed by God. In that case we may do a process called a God split where the man is able to see that the messages are not from God and he is able to take on the role of God and comfort someone who represents this young vulnerable part of himself. One of the most common things asked by a facilitator once the message is identified and it is clear that his primary emotion is anger but the words don’t give a clue as to how to overcome the message is to say, “we have several ways for you to kill that MESSAGE” not mom but the message.

    As crazy or even ridiculous as this kind of process sounds, the event is almost always cathartic and the man is able to step into a profound new sense of identity.

    One other thing I think is really important for each of the people reading these post to understand is that in dealing with ssa no one thing works. What I mean by that is that most men in my experience attempt to deal with their ssa through a single strategy or at the very most one strategy at a time. I am convinced that if you pursue spiritual help alone, or therapy alone, or experiential men’s weekends alone or “guts work” alone or deepening osa friendships alone or attempting to develop masculine competencies alone, you will fail.

    What works is a holistic approach. A friend who has also experienced dramatic ssa change after living in the lifestyle for over a decade told me throughout his time in the gay community every man he talked to had tried to overcome his ssa. What he consistently heard were men saying they had “tried everything” and when he pursued them further he found out “everything” was one or two things for a relatively short time. Some of the noted public failures like John Paulk, Warren Throckmorton, and Alan Chambers are examples of men who essentially tried one approach, experienced some success then eschewed and even criticized other approaches only to find that their efforts failed and ssa overwhelmed them or the men they were trying to help. I do not find any of these failures surprising or to have any bearing on my own journey or the journey of other men who are finding success. Multiple modalities are essential if you are going to experience lasting change and most men have never approached ssa in this way. The men who do and who I have the privilege of working alongside have experienced dramatic ssa change. For myself the beginning of permanent ssa change (change that didn’t fade between doing work) happened roughly 3 or 4 years into the work, but the good thing is that despite taking a long time for ssa to be impacted, other things changed during this journey that have made a tremendous difference in my life.

    As a result, although I continue to work toward greater ssa change, particularly an increase in osa, ssa change is no longer the focus of my work. It is becoming emotionally whole, and as I have done this work there are other helpful benefits that have eclipsed the issue of ssa. I will just share a bit of what I have observed for myself and others as the benefit of the holistic approach.
    First, as I began to get generally healthier my way of relating to friends changed. Before I always seemed to want a particular friend to meet my emotional needs. Eldredge and Snyder who are dealing with osa men and their father wounds talk about “this young place inside of me” that wants to get this from one man. I think that is totally logical since much of the foundation for getting these needs met is supposed to happen through my father – one man. That this impulse is almost universal tells me it is more a guy thing than a gay thing, but every one of the men I have worked with has admitted this impulse is not only there but quite strong. I believe that this impulse in its highly intense form is at the core of ssa. Men tend to act out compulsively and they report frequently the experience of intense out of control attraction to a man and then after having sex with him having no attraction at all. When this one man does not turn out to meet my needs my compulsion pushes me onward to find the next man who will. One of the things I had to do was “Grieve the Homosexual Condition” which for me was to give up on the hidden belief that the next encounter would be “the one” who would make me whole.

    Most of nonsexual friendships were characterized by an inability to set healthy boundaries. Either I was completely enmeshed which meant I lost a sense of my own identity apart from the other men, or I had high walls that protected me from significant emotional connection. As I got healthier I began to enjoy deep emotional connection without a “filter” or a defensive wall with not one but many men and without emotional dependency. I was able to attach and detach, that is to deeply connect to one man in my presence and then detach and connect to a different friend when in his presence but with the confidence that I was throughout my own man with my own needs desires, values, and goals. That was a definite cognitive shift. It allowed me to do something I had never been able to do, get really close to a man without becoming emotionally dependent on him.

    Second I discovered as I did the work and in particular I think did work around releasing shame I was able to experience emotional object permanence. That is my sense of myself as loved and valued by specific men lingered and I didn’t need them to repeatedly lift me up or encourage me by showing me that. I felt a sense of being loved pretty much all the time.

    Third, my locus of identity became internal rather than external. I had tended to only see myself as valuable as long as men outside of me were affirming that. As I let go of shame I began to see my value as independent of any other man’s opinions which meant I could handle criticism or disapproval without shaming myself.

    Lastly, and I try to say this to everyone I meet regarding reparative therapy and I apologize for not saying it sooner, is that the most important change for me has not been around my intergender sexuality but my intragender sexuality. That is I now relate to other men as a straight man has been more important that being able to relate to a woman as a straight man. My friendships, aren’t just much closer and more intimate, but I also relate to men in general and to men I am close to in a nonsexual way. I have no adequate language to describe this shift. I could not have conceptualized it before. But the difference is profound. My sense of myself as a man among men, like other men, and with a male identity at a core level seeing myself as like other men is profound. I thought that to lose my gay way of relating would mean a reduction in intimacy but instead I began to experience the principle that with healthy boundaries giving me a sense of where I stopped and another man began made it possible to dive in deeper and sustain that without drowning in another man.

    These changes in the way I relate to other men is the single biggest factor in improving my quality of life.

    Immediate SSA changes
    What I mean by this is I observed and experienced dramatic and immediate reductions in ssa simply by doing certain things. I am a member of support group of men who have been to Journey into Manhood, an experiential weekend for men with ssa. I am also a member of a support group of men who have attended an osa men’s weekend called “The Crucible Project.” I have staffed these weekends as well. I find that after spending time with these men who I have deep emotional connections to as a result of shared experiences, that my SSA completely disappears. I feel and respond much more like a straight man in my reactions to male or female beauty. This response tends to fade with time like the Glory on Moses’ face but it is unmistakable and something I have felt dozens of times.

    This seems consistent with a model of homosexuality that says it is not merely a flip side of heterosexuality but instead is a normal nonsexual need for masculine attention affection and affirmation that was sexualized in early adolescence because of it not being sufficiently met in childhood. Heterosexual men who are experience emotionally intense connection with a group of women do not expierence a loss of libedo. SSA men in these environments almost always do.

    That doesn’t mean men won’t have felt “different” before adolescence. It just means that the earlier feeling of difference is about a sense of identity (masculinity as a club I was never invited to join) or about an intense need for masculine attention and affection and the sexualization of the need is a projected affective memory not an actual memory of the emotions present during those earliest years.

    The loss of sexual charge that occurs when I and others are a part of this kind of emotionally close intimate weekend experience is so universal among the ssa men I work with that I don’t think it is an aberration but is fundamental to the question of where ssa comes from.

    Reparative strategies work
    Lastly I want to talk a little about strategies that reparative therapists teach and if as has been stated on this thread the causality of ssa was different than that proposed by reparative therapists I have no idea why they would work. I have already talked about a questioning technique I use to discharge a sexual charge toward a man, but I have been taught others by a reparative therapist and this technique has worked for me and other men report back an almost magical experience with the technique. Like with the questioning technique I developed on my own, the thinking process gradually compresses to a few seconds until the response to an attractive man becomes automatic. It is absolutely dependent though on being able to recognize something – that sexual attraction to another man is about shame around feelings of “less than” or some other form of inadequacy or feeling that the self is broken, damaged, inferior, unlovable. The questioning techniques developed by reparative therapists are remarkably effective and based upon a theory of causation regarding ssa. The fact that they work and work rather miraculously has me convinced that reparative therapists have their finger on something that needs further research and investigation.

  5. For more in depth background on this film and makers click here. False compassion is worse I feel than no compassion at all. I am in the UK where there is perhaps less public awareness of so called ex-gay therapy or even the Catholic Church’s group, Courage. I don’t think there is a Chapter here. However, something smelt wrong to me about this film and then I found out what it was. I am living in some hope that the Catholic community over here don’t start trying to use this in schools- but I doubt they will get very far without, at the very least, causing themselves embarrassment in the British Press. Anyway, it’s their choice. Sad, I know that a great many Catholics here would be appalled by this film- I’m related to most of them ; )

  6. I respect and appreciate the perspectives in this video but I would please take caution in how we interpret the church in context of this video–I would say heed wisdom and discern.

    The Catholic church is not our saving Grace nor does it represent the whole of the body of Christ. The Catholic church represents a greater margin of the church at large, for sure. It just seems like a lot of propaganda in this video.

    What is the difference between being a Catholic–putting my identity in being a Catholic– verses being a Christian? Though, the Catholic church communicates their are no borders it seems to distinct among the other churches where Christ is also glorified.

    It just is not necessary. We are Christians.

  7. Pingback: Gay Boys and Their Evangelical Parents | Spiritual Friendship

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