Courage, the Catholic Church’s version of “ex-gay/eunuch/celibacy/shame” ministry is holding a sports camp at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania on May 26. The idea is presumably to help gay men turn straight, or at least bond with other men and become more comfortable with their masculinity — which will eventually lead to heterosexuality. This exercise in idiocy has long been a standard in the “ex-gay” world. Such groups hold the discredited and obsolete idea that a sensitive boy feels jilted by his father and in turn rejects his dad’s masculinity, and subsequently becomes one of the girls. By doing so, he plays with dolls and avoids sports — which leads to him getting picked last in gym class and made fun of by the more athletic boys. This public mocking leads to emotional wounds that reinforce that he is “the other.” The result is that he begins to see the boys as hot because the “exotic becomes the erotic.” (At least this is the idea put forth by Cornell University’s Daryl Bem. A theory which has no empirical or clinical supporting data)
The idea of this bizarre sports camp, is that it is viewed as the first step in reversing the alleged feminizing process in gay individuals. It is essentially pressing the rewind button and trying to undo perceived childhood mistakes that led to homosexuality. Those promoting such tomfoolery believe that through bonding with the guys through sports, a homosexual man can reclaim his lost or abandoned masculinity. Through success on the field and non-sexual locker room banter, the hope is that the same sex will not seem so exotic, since the man will finally become one of the guys. As the grip of men loses its effect, women suddenly become exotic which leads to the erotic and a newly minted “ex-gay” who can go on television and profess his heterosexuality.
This idea has been a part of Exodus International for decades and it is a staple of NARTH’s therapy. One therapist, NARTH’s David Pickup, takes this idea to clownish lengths and has produced a laughable video called “The Work Out Man.”
Now, there is a significant amount of scientific evidence that shows sexual orientation is biological and a part of a prenatal package of feminizing gender characteristics. This can include a boy walking more like a girl or a voice that is distinctly gay. Or, there may be no external differences, but a gay boy may be more like the average girl in possessing better verbal fluency and score similarly in mental rotation etc. In self reports offered in scientific studies, gay men on average rate themselves as more feminine than their straight counterparts. Similarly, lesbians report feeling more masculine than straight peers.
However, since these are largely biological differences, there is virtually no way that a sports camp would turn gay men into either good athletes — or straight. To be fair, it could potentially improve the on-field or on-court performance of gay men, because practice has a tendency to improve even the worst athletes. However, a passive and more effeminate man (whether gay or straight) will level off and never become as good a player as a naturally aggressive hyper-masculine person — whether heterosexual or homosexual.
Thus, a supportive sports camp may potentially increase confidence and reduce the shame of some who were humiliated and mocked in gym class — but it won’t influence sexual orientation. There is also the possibility that it will increase shame and further traumatize, because the man may still swing the bat like a girl and not perform well on the court. Furthermore, locker room talk may still feel awkward, forced, and unnatural to the camp participant, increasing feelings of failure and inferiority. While a few men may have a positive experience, others will likely need to seek professional help from qualified counselors after attending such programs that can rip open wounds and revive traumatic memories.
While gay men, on average, may be more effeminate — even if the difference is often slight or nearly imperceptible — there is the inconvenient fact that many gay men not only succeed in sports, the excel. The experience of superiority on the field or court, as well as strong relationships in the locker room appear to have no impact on diminishing a homosexual orientation. As I write this, ESPN is playing in the background with a story of openly gay soccer player Robbie Rogers signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy. A few weeks ago NBA player Jason Collins came out. Not only is Collins a professional basketball player, he is an enforcer whose job it is to knock other huge men on their butts. There have been gay NFL players from David Kopay to Esera Tuaolo who held their own in a world full of very large men.
In Major League Baseball we have had Billy Bean and Glenn Burke. In boxing, Orlando Cruz recently came out. In rugby, we have Gareth Thomas (pictured in red), who is about the most intimidating man on earth. He’s looks the kind of dude who rules cell blocks on MSNBC’s lockup. What exactly can the counselors at “ex-gay” sports camp teach ass-kicking studs like Thomas and Collins? If they think they are more masculine, I’d be happy to set up a charity boxing match to find out.
As for myself, I have participated in football, basketball, bowling, baseball, volleyball, and fishing. I began doing so at a very early age and both my mother and father came to every game. My senior year of high school I was Second-Team All-City and was the MVP of my high school’s basketball team. From the age of five until eighteen, I lived in fields, courts, and locker rooms. It did not make me straight. It simply made me a gay boy who excelled at sports. Thus, the idea that sports camps can lead to heterosexuality is laughable, and a peculiar fantasy from odd people who obviously don’t understand sexuality or sports.
Here are a couple of old photos from my own sports-filled childhood:
And after all those years playing sports and winning trophies and accolades…I grew up to become a gay rights activist. NARTH and Courage can suck on that lemon for a while.
P.S. Dr. Nicolosi and Christopher Doyle, the man in the fishing photo is my father. What do you think of that?