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What Happened When I Went Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp

My weekend was filled with crying, singing, and wrestling, as 30 men struggled to overcome their attraction to other men. It was also the first time I felt another man's erection.

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When each man has been held, we adjourn to our cabins.

Just a few hours left. I want to go home.

My carpool piles into our vehicle and we cruise away down the road that, thanks to the rain, is slowly turning into slop. I turn on my cellphone, and as soon as I can get a signal, text friends and family that I am alive, safe, and headed for the airport.

“How was it?” they ask. The medium limits me to 140-character messages. I really don’t know how to respond.

I should be asking the guys in my carpool what they thought of the weekend. I should be asking them what they experienced, and how it affected them. But I’m too tired to think about that. I haven’t slept in two days.

What am I supposed to do with this experience? I signed a confidentiality agreement before participating, but how can anyone keep quiet about something this intense? How can I not tell my friends or family members what I saw or did? And what about the married men? How could they not tell their wives what they were doing all weekend?

I turn around to ask Tony, the guy who had attended “Journey into Manhood” years earlier, how the weekend was different this time around. He says that it was “pretty much” the same as he remembered, just a couple of minor differences.

Is the confidentiality agreement really about making the weekend more effective for Journeyers? I doubt it. Included in the information packet is a page urging us to return for a second or third weekend. “Sometimes a price discount is available for men who are going through the JiM weekend a second time,” reads the flier.

We stop for dinner at the In-N-Out. Dave notices that I’ve become withdrawn from the conversation as I try to answer the barrage of text messages from my friends.

“I’m just tired, you know?” I respond.

“Yeah, man, me too.” He smiles and puts an arm around me as we walk back out the car for the final leg toward the airport.

And then there’s Dave. We have become friends during the weekend. I’m feeling guilty for lying to him, for betraying his trust.

At the curb of the terminal, I grab my bags and hug the guys. I worry about them and what will happen when they return home. If they’re hoping they’ll end up straight, I can’t help but think they’re in for a major disappointment.

Finally back in Sacramento, my friend Pauline, the self-described fag hag, picks me up from the airport and drives me to her favorite bar.

I spill my guts over a much-needed beer. “Oh my God,” she says, over and over again between drags on her cigarette.

My phone buzzes. Looking at the caller ID, I sigh, tell my friend it’s the call I’m expecting, and walk outside the coffee shop.

It’s Dave. I’m not looking forward to this.

A week has passed since returning home from JiM. Several Journeyers have tried contacting me in the days since. Before leaving the retreat, staffers handed out thick packets of information, which besides promoting two more of JiM co-founder Rich Wyler’s retreats and his telephone coaching service, urged us Journeyers to keep in touch with each other. There was also a check-in conference call, and an invitation to join a Yahoo! group. I decided not to participate in either of those. I felt like I had intruded enough into their lives.

 
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