What Happened When I Went Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp
Continued from previous page
“So what message did you internalize from your dad that day?” prods the “Guide,” a staff member.
Again, Jason struggles. “That he wanted to read the paper?” We chuckle.
The Guide fills in the blanks. “He was telling you that the newspaper was more important than his son.”
The Guide instructs Jason to reconstruct the scene. Jason picks men from our group to play his young self and his dad. Dad grabs a scrap of paper sitting in the sunny cabin, takes a seat in one of the folding metal chairs, and buries his face in the paper. Young Jason approaches Dad, trying to get him to play. Dad brushes him off: “I’m busy.”
Young Jason and Dad play out the scene over and over again, while the Guide and Jason stand off to the side.
“You were a boy who needed his father’s attention. And do you know what you got instead?” asks the Guide. “He told you you were worthless. He didn’t have time for you.”
Dad picks up on the Guide’s words and incorporates them into the dialogue. “I don’t have time for you. You’re worthless. Leave me alone.” For the fifteenth time, young Jason approaches Dad seated in his cold metal chair, and Dad rejects him. Young Jason skulks away.
Much like Jason had trouble coming up with a traumatic memory, he draws a blank when the Guide asks him what he can do to change the situation. Each Journeyer, after recreating his memory, must step into the role of his younger self and take control to change the memory.
This final step is vital to the process, and it varies based on the memory. When Charles, a young evangelical minister from Oregon, recreated the day his father beat his mother because she wanted to buy Charles designer jeans, the Guide told Charles that to take control of his memory he had to remove his abusive father. What ensued was a four-minute wrestling match, where Charles struggled to drag the Guide out the cabin and slam the door shut.
With few exceptions, most Journeyers took control of their memories the same way. Whether one of the three Guides played a father sneering about the “faggot” behind a fast-food counter or the high school locker-room bully, Journeyers dragged the offending character out of the cabin and slammed the door shut.
The Guides put up a good fight. When Charles the minister didn’t completely close the door to the cabin, the Guide pushed his way back in. “Are you kidding me?” panted Charles when he was told he had to start all over again.
My resolution was different. I recounted the time in fifth grade my father stormed into my bedroom when he heard me fighting with my little brother, punched us to the ground, then walked out. I played the part of my younger self. While I lay on the floor of the cabin, the Journeyer playing my brother lying two feet away, the Guide pulled out a blanket and draped it over me.
“You never got up from the bedroom floor, did you?” he asked. “You’ve been lying there all your life.”
He had the other men in the room kneel around me, their knees pinning the blanket so that I was wrapped tight like a taquito. Only my head poked out from an opening.
My resolution was to finally, for the first time in my life, get up from the floor where my father had left me physically and emotionally bruised all those years ago. On the Guide’s mark, I struggled to push myself up, but the weight of the men kept me pinned. Sweaty and exhausted after several futile minutes, I switched strategies: Wriggling like a worm out of an apple, I freed myself out of the topside of the blanket. My shoes were pulled off in the effort. I think my feet stank.