ABC Nightline Profiles Journey Into Manhood:
“It’s Been Life-Changing”
November 10, 2010
ABC Nightline aired an almost 15-minute nationwide broadcast on Nov. 8, 2010, profiling People Can Change and its Journey Into Manhood weekend program- what the show called “a highly controversial retreat that claims it can help men get rid of their feelings of sexual attraction for other men” (view it on YouTube).
The show was based on more than a dozen hours of filming at a reunion weekend for past Journey Into Manhood participants in Texas last July. People Can Change granted Nightline access to the reunion based on the show’s reputation for fairness, and propelled by the non-profit organization’s mission:
“To support and guide men who seek to transition away from unwanted homosexuality, by courageously and compassionately sharing our own first-hand experience with change.”
“Overall, Nightline treated us as professionally and respectfully as we could expect,” said Rich Wyler, founder and executive director of People Can Change. “I would describe the tone of the show as respectfully skeptical. The program told the story through the eyes of a Journey Into Manhood participant named Preston, and I was especially appreciative that they treated Preston and his wife with respect while still asking some very pointed and personal questions. Preston came across as sincere, motivated and making progress but still on the journey.
“Of course, Nightline also interviewed some critics, but the show’s credibility and journalistic integrity required that,” Wyler acknowledged. “For the most part, the criticisms were predictable and, in my view, didn’t detract from Preston’s sincerity and his personal witness of change, and newfound joy.”
The resulting broadcast carried some important messages to an audience of somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million people in the U.S.:
“The purpose of the weekend is to help men overcome what they call unwanted same-sex attraction… It’s an intensive 48 hours of what Wyler calls deep emotional work… [It’s] part summer-camp bonding, part peer counseling” (reporter Ryan Owens).
“Activities are used to teach metaphorical lessons… [Many of the exercises are] meant to build up a sense of masculine self confidence” (reporter).
“[Exercises hinge] upon their basic theory of what causes same-sex attraction: at some point in childhood, a man suffers a trauma that pulls him away from male figures. Because of this loss, he yearns for male love, and starts to seek it out sexually… Rich claims the key to changing is fulfilling these needs for male attention in nonsexual ways. Close relationships, platonic male bonding” (reporter).
“It’s not about suppressing my same-sex attraction. It’s about fulfilling it in nonsexual, gender-affirming ways” (soundbite from Wyler interview).
“For some people, ‘gay’ is never going to work. That kind of life, that way of living, is just not going to gel — ever – with their value system” (soundbite).
“Journey into Manhood changed my life. I learned that I really could change” (soundbite from promotional video on PCC website).
“It’s been life-changing. It’s been a whole new take on life. It’s been absolutely miraculous for me personally… I feel a significant diminishment in [same-sex] attraction. It is without a doubt much more of an emotional attraction than it is a sexual one now” (soundbite from Preston).
“Preston says the ‘therapy’ has helped a lot with his marriage” (reporter)
Reporter: “Are you sexually attracted to your wife?” Preston: “Now? Yes, There was a spark of attraction before. But now, absolutely.” Reporter: “But you had to work on that?” Preston: “Not specifically on that. I had to work on my own sense of masculinity.”
Critics interviewed were the American Psychiatric Association’s Dr. Jack Drescher – an openly gay man and long-time critic of all forms of sexual-orientation change efforts — and two past Journey Into Manhood participants who are now living as openly gay men.
One critic, identified as Ben Unger, said on camera, “At some points I was suicidal. I felt that it was my fault I wasn’t changing.”
“My heart goes out to any man who feels suicidal due to internal turmoil over same-sex attractions,” Wyler said. “I know what that’s like. I’ve been there. But I have to question Ben Unger’s statement, and whether his hopelessness had anything at all to do with Journey Into Manhood, because for the vast majority of participants, Journey Into Manhood is one of the most affirming experiences of their lives. Many times I’ve heard men say how much that contrasted with the depression and hopelessness they once felt when they thought their only option was to live a gay life, with no hope of change.”