North Star officially does not endorse People Can Change’s Journey Into Manhood weekend, but it is certainly an activity that many of our community participate in. It’s one of the most frequent and commonly commented upon posts to our Men’s group. It seems like very few weeks someone will post some variation of the question, “Should I go to the Journey into Manhood weekend?” Several people have asked their permission to forward my answer to this question to others, and it has occurred to me that it might be useful to post my answer in a more public place.
My answer hinges on rephrasing the original question. Since I usually don’t know the person at all who asks this question, how can I give him my informed opinion of whether he should go? Since I don’t know him at all, I can’t give him an answer to that. A question that I can try to answer is this one: “How can I decide if the weekend is right for me?”
Before I answer it, let me add again the disclaimer that North Star does not, as I said above, officially endorse the weekend, and therefore these opinions are my own personal opinions, and do not represent the official position of North Star. North Star’s official position, put pithily, is that it does not have a position, but that we want our community to be a place where people can talk about experiences that are helpful and supportive of their goals to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is in that spirit that I offer my personal thoughts on the matter.
My discussion here is confined to these four important points:
- what are some reasons I should go, or what things can I expect to learn or gain from the weekend,
- what red flags are there that could mean I’m not ready, or this won’t be a good experience for me?, or that I don’t need to go/won’t benefit from it, and
- what expectations should I have for the weekend and–even more importantly–the time following it? In other words, will the weekend really change me, and how? The secrecy thing can tend to get overblown. There is actually a lot about the weekend that can be discussed, as you will see in my post here.
- why is it called Journey into Manhood?
This post should not be read as an endorsement of the weekend, or a blanket recommendation that everyone should go. Because I don’t believe that. Some people have had similar experiences through various life circumstances and simply don’t need it. Some are in circumstances where they won’t benefit from it. Others might benefit someday, but right now isn’t the time.
This post should be read by those already interested or curious to gain greater insight if it might be for them, not as an attempt to “convince” anyone that they should or shouldn’t go. So if you’ve already made up your mind you’re not going, you can stop reading now, if you haven’t already. On the other hand, if you’re wondering if this weekend is right for you, here are some ideas I have to help you find your own answer to this question:
What can I gain from this weekend? What kinds of things can I expect to learn or be able to work on during the weekend?
(If you strongly identify with any one of these, it is probably reason enough to attend. If all of these leave you flat, you probably want to give the weekend a pass. If three or four of these really resonate with you, I think you’ll love the weekend.)
- If you frequently find yourself feeling isolated, alone or rejected by other men, you will discover your own part in creating this, or,
- If you want to gain a bunch of tools to change that or to feel even deeper and stronger connections to other men (and, to a lesser degree, women—it’s addressed on the weekend, but not at all as much), or,
- If the MANS discussion here resonates with you, or intrigues you, or if you think getting more details on this way of living and practical ideas on implementing them is interesting to you.
- If you want to gain much greater insight into how you see yourself as a man, how you see other men, and how you see masculinity in general, and if you’re interested in challenging and having an opportunity to modify these conceptions. There are several ways the weekend helps you look at them. For example, I learned that a lot of my beliefs were more deep-seated than I thought, and I learned where they came from, how they have actually benefited me, but how now might be the time to discard them and get new ones. There were also aspects that I liked and wanted to make sure I kept. No one will impose on you what your uniquely correct way of “being a man” should be.
- If you want to feel a greater connection to what we here call God, and work in partnership with Him, on your growth (not just as it relates to SSA, but any and all issues in your life). The weekend is non-denominational and not specifically LDS in its theology or outlook, so God is referred to as a “Higher Power” out of respect for the varying religions who attend.
- Despite that, most people say they feel a greater presence and spiritual connection to the Divine on the weekend. A side benefit to the weekend is you forge really deep connections and understanding of people of other faith and their spirituality. It can be really eye-opening, and my respect, understanding, and love for people of other faiths increased considerably.
- If you want to get a clear vision of how your life could be different. The weekend will show you what that can be like, but it won’t create it. It’s more like a clear view from the top of a mountain that you get dropped off at from a helicopter. After the weekend, you come down the mountain, and now it’s up to you to make the long, slow, and painful climb back. At its best, it shows you what your life could be like, but it doesn’t create it or change anything about your life at home, unless you actually make changes in your life at home.
- You do not need to be SSA to attend the weekend. I know several OSA (opposite sex attracted, colloquially known as “straight”) men who have attended the weekend and benefited. You don’t even have to pretend to be SSA to have them let you in. I believe the main lesson gained from the “reporter” who attended JiM, a straight guy who pretended to be gay, is “if you come on the weekend and aren’t honest about who you are or what you really want, then you won’t get much out of it.” And that is something with which I totally agree.
- That many OSA men benefitted from the weekend indicates to me that many of the issues the weekend addresses are not unique to SSA men, something I already appreciated and knew. But this also means it stands to reason that there might be gay or SSA men whose issues are not addressed by the weekend, so bear that in mind.
What are some reasons I shouldn’t go?
(Any one of these, if it fits you well at the present time, would mean it’s not time for you to go at this point, if ever.)
- If you have definite ideas about how your growth or healing will or won’t work, if you want to control the order, timing, and means of your growth. If you, like Naaman (2 Kings 5:13), think healing should come in certain ways and aren’t open to different means or methods of change. To benefit from the weekend, you need to be open to at least considering that certain things may be different from how you have long conceived of certain concepts and beliefs about yourself, men, masculinity, and the world. Some of the most powerful of these are unconscious and unexamined, and there are several opportunities you are given to help you become aware of these. But if you aren’t open to examining your beliefs, and aren’t willing to openly consider them, then this weekend is not for you.I hasten to add that all the processes are optional, and you are always welcome to “sit out” any of the specific pieces. At the same time, each of them is there for a reason, designed to benefit you. But no one is going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. You are also free to leave the weekend at any time, but if you do so, you will not be allowed to return later.On the other hand, several men have attended the weekend more than once, and the ones I know who have done this have told me they have found it even more beneficial the second time.
- If you have unresolved issues of sexual abuse and no current relationship with a therapist. Some people have found the weekend very helpful for dealing with sexual abuse issues, but it is not a substitute for a trained therapist, and I for one do not believe it is the first place these issues should be brought up. If you don’t have a therapist, it’s too risky to attend because it’s possible the things that are brought up become too painful or difficult to handle on your own once the weekend is over. That’s why the key is an existing, established relationship with a professional therapist or other mental health professional, so that if any issues are stirred up on the weekend, you can jump right into that with a therapist once you get back.
- If you have other serious mental illness and are not under the supervision of a trained therapist who understands the weekend. If you do have mental health issues and are seeing a therapist, I would strongly advise you to discuss it with him or her before attending, and schedule a follow-up session for a time shortly after returning from the weekend.
- If you have a track record of not being able to maintain sexual and physical boundaries. Wait until you have a significant period of sexual sobriety before you participate in order to benefit the most from it. Otherwise, much of the benefit will probably be lost shortly after the weekend.
- If the only, or primary, reason you are going is because of pressure from family, friends, or religious leaders to change your sexual orientation or resolve other issues.
- If you are hoping to become “straight”, eradicate your SSA feelings, or act more “butch” or manly. The weekend is about examining, perhaps modifying, and then choosing to conform to your own, unique version of what a man is, not anyone else’s, and certainly not modern American culture’s warped, toxic, and dysfunctional ideas about what is “manly” and what is not.
What change can I (and can’t I) expect in myself and my SSA after the weekend?
- The weekend by itself will not make you “straight” or eliminate SSA feelings. People Can Change has posted some post-weekend survey data here, and it reports that 79% of the weekend participants (at time periods 6 months to 6 years prior) report a reduction or elimination of SSA feelings. (The reduction in same sex sexual behaviors was almost as high.) I think this statistic should be carefully understood and expectations for after the weekend set accordingly. What nearly all the men who go through the weekend find (including myself) is that by Sunday afternoon on the weekend it is impossible to sexualize any of the men on the weekend. Their erotic attractions to men are drastically reduced, if not completely gone.Before this happens, however, everyone should understand that this reduction or elimination of feelings could be temporary. This is important to understand up front, because men may feel they have “failed” if (more likely when) these feelings come roaring back.
They come roaring back for some because building the kind of community and connection that is experienced on the weekend is a lot harder and takes a lot more time in the everyday world than it does on a three day weekend. The SSA erotic feelings coming back does not mean you’ve failed, or that the weekend didn’t work. It means only this: your real work has now begun!
I know a few men (13% of men report this in PCC’s 2007 survey, with no post-weekend timeframe given) who say their SSA erotic feelings left permanently on the weekend, and I believe them, so I do not believe this is impossible.
But I would not say that is typical, and if you feel that you must have that kind of change in your life right now, do not go on this weekend until your expectations can be managed more appropriately. Your growth, your happiness, your value as a person, your ability to live the life you desire, are not dictated by how “straight” or “homosexual” you feel at any given time.
- It will show you some new ways of thinking, some new ways of acting, some new ways of being. As you deliberately (and it’s always with difficulty… nothing worthwhile is easy) incorporate those in your life, I expect you will see changes in your life that will bear a lot of fruit. This isn’t a weekend you just go to and then things magically change. If you get home and don’t do anything differently, then you shouldn’t expect anything to change. This will just end up being a nice weekend that didn’t end up making much of a difference in your life.
What’s with the name? “Journey Into Manhood” sounds kind of funny.
Once you go through the weekend, the name will make more sense. I think “Journey of masculinity” would be a more descriptive title, but it also sounds a bit weak. The title is meant to evoke the initiatory experiences (“rites of passage”) that mark the transition from boy to man. Our modern culture doesn’t seem to have much of these anymore, even though they are universal in various cultures, including LDS culture. Where they are present in modern culture, they are dormant and have lost their force for the most part, functioning only as a sign without signifier. (Aaronic Priesthood ordinations are fairly automatic, as are Bar Mitzvahs, even though rites of passage, to be effective, must contain a risky and challenging ordeal.)
The Journey into Manhood weekend attempts, in an admittedly contrived and compressed way, to give men this initiatory experience of marking a definitive end to boyhood and being welcomed into the full fellowship of mature masculinity. It isn’t trying to say that once you’ve been through it, you are now a real man, and you weren’t before; the weekend isn’t promising to make you more manly. It isn’t trying to get you to a more manly place, but to bring your masculinity into a more mature place. This isn’t about acting less effeminate, doing “butch” things like playing basketball, and stopping with the limp wrists, lisps, etc. You will sometimes hear people doing sports or other things, because they may have specific wounds or desires around that. On the other hand, if, like me, you feel that modern masculine culture is becoming more and more immature, you might appreciate some of the principles on the weekend.
It is designed to make you feel like you belong among men by giving you an (admittedly) contrived simulacrum of the initiatory experience that you may have missed out on, or wasn’t powerful enough for you when it did happen.
If the idea of a modern “rite of passage” makes you giggle, strikes you as ridiculously outmoded, if it seems too quaint or silly or old-fashioned or superfluous for you, you shouldn’t go. If it makes your skin crawl, you definitely shouldn’t go. If it’s just the name that bothers you, that shouldn’t be a big deal. You can get over that.
UPDATE: In a prior version of this post, I incorrectly stated and described survey data from PCC’s post-weekend survey. I have updated this post accordingly.