The straight jacket
|By Brandon Kirby|
Undercover with Lansing’s ex-gay counseling center, Corduroy StoneTucked away in a corner of the second floor of the John Bean warehouse off south Cedar Street in Lansing is Corduroy Stone, a nonprofit that offers “a biblical response to the subject of homosexuality and heterosexuality.”
Corduroy Stone is run by Mike Jones, a graying, middle-aged man with degrees in landscape horticulture and counseling. Jones, who is not a licensed counselor in Michigan, gives therapy to men and women looking to reconcile their feeling of same-sex attraction.
Its website explains that the name means “heart of the king rock” and adds: “ … and you thought it had something to do with those slacks that go swoosh as you walk. :)”
Its website also says the purpose of Corduroy Stone is: “To reach out to individuals with the hope of being made new in Christ; both those who personally experience same gender sexual and emotional attractions and those who know of family members or friends who do.”
The American Psychology Association has spoken out against ex-gay therapy as bunk. Corduroy Stone is notorious for its alleged use of “holding therapy,” a contentious practice sometimes used by therapists on children and the autistic.
Last August, Patrick McAlvey, a local man who is the son of a prominent conservative political spokesman, and who ran Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s mayoral campaign, released a video accusing Jones of harmful “ex-gay” therapy practices. (To watch McAlvey's video, click here)
In a video made for the website Truth Wins Out, which fights ex-gay therapy, McAlvey describes sessions in which Jones employed holding therapy. McAlvey, who is 24, saw Jones when he was 19.
“He suggested we go over to a friend’s house so that we could do holding therapy,” McAlvey said. “So we drove together up to his friend’s house and had an hour where I was instructed to lay in his arms, chest to chest, and not talk. It was an hour of silent holding, and he told me to feel the strength of another man.
““He asked how large my penis was and if I shaved my pubic hair,” McAlvey said. “He asked about the type of underwear that I wore. One occasion, he asked me to take off my shirt and show him how many push-ups I could do, which I did not do. He wanted me to describe my sexual fantasies to him and the type of men I am attracted to. One time he asked me to rate my own attractiveness from one to 10.”
The release of the video resulted in Corduroy Stone losing its affiliation with Exodus Ministries, which is the nation’s largest ex-gay ministry, its board of directors being dissolved, its donations drying up, and its only other employee, Kisoon Kim, resigning for “personal reasons.” Jones claims he ended the affiliation due to conflicting views, but an Exodus spokesman claimed that it had ended the affiliation.
To better understand Jones’ practices, and to find out whether he is still engaged in “holding therapy,” I went undercover for therapy at Corduroy Stone. I engaged in four sessions with Jones. Jones charges $250 a month, although he waived a $50 initial fee for me.
Though I am openly gay, I disguised my intentions by telling Jones that I was feeling confused and alone, and wanted his help. By the end, I discovered that, though he never tried to touch me, his brand of therapy is frightening and was emotionally trying for me.
Jones told me that he has same-sex attractions but has chosen not to pursue those feelings. He encouraged me to become more masculine and to — like him — reject my samesex attractions.
In my last session with Jones, I revealed my intentions to write a story about his operation. He agreed to an interview then, but later refused to talk to me. From my own experiences and from talking to professionals — both psychotherapists and ex-gay counselors — and ex-patients of Jones’, it is apparent that he is just a guy in a warehouse, unlicensed as a counselor, and unprofessional in his manner.
Mike Jones is about 6 feet tall, thin and has a receding head of salt and pepper. He entered our sessions wearing dirty clothes because, he explained, he had just been doing landscaping work. He has a garden space near the John Bean warehouse with a sign in front that indicates it is maintained by Corduroy Stone.
In speaking, he pauses before every statement and then stares into you. He speaks very slowly, almost condescendingly, and keeps a calm tone, which is strained when he is irritated. He always crosses one leg over the other and places two hands on his knee. He scoots around in his seat a lot, fidgeting.
Jones graduated from Michigan State University in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape horticulture. He graduated from Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle, Wash., in 2004 with a master’s degree in clinical counseling, a degree now called “master of arts in counseling psychology.” Mars Hill is nationally accredited with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges (TRACS), which is approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Jones acquired half the credits toward a master of divinity degree and has never been a minister or pastor for any congregation. Jones is not a licensed counselor in Michigan, according to the state Department of Community Health. This was verified by a check of the state database.
I began my correspondence with Mike Jones through a short e-mail:
“Mike Jones, My name is Brandon Kirby, and I’m a student at Michigan State. I found Corduroy Stone in Lansing and was wondering if you’d be able to help me. I’m feeling confused and alone, and I was hoping you’d be able to help with my situation.”
Jones responded later that same day:
“Brandon, We can definitely talk together to let you determine if I could be of help to you. Our office is located just off of I-496 in Lansing, a short way south of Cedar St./Pennsylvania Ave. exit. If you do not have a vehicle, the CATA bus system has a bus stop very close to our location at 1305 S. Cedar St. We are located in the large John Bean warehouse building on the east side of Cedar St. What time works for your schedule? Sincerely yours, Mike Jones”
We set up a time to meet, and thus kicked off our therapy sessions.
The Bean building is a brick monster that houses everything from a publishing to various construction companies. The door to the Corduroy Stone office is unmarked, except for a few magnets that say “Mike Jones” and “Kisoon Kim.” Behind the door is a hall leading to Jones’ office. Inside is a large room divided in half: one side is Jones’ library, filled with religious books on fighting same-sex attractions; the other side is a sitting area furnished with three black leather chairs separated by footrests, and a few tables, plants and paintings.
Upon greeting me, Jones instructed me to take a seat. We sat across from each other and Jones said nothing. Feeling uncomfortable, I spoke up. I asked Jones whether he would be able to help rid me of what I called “inappropriate same-sex attractions.”
Jones chose his words carefully. He made sure to clarify that my same-sex attractions were not inappropriate. He wanted me to announce them openly. Jones said that my ultimate goal with him would be for me to have the confidence to state, “I’m attracted to the same gender, but I’ve chosen to not walk that path.” How we spent our time together, he told me, would be up to me. This meant that if I did not have anything to say, we would sit in silence. Jones called this “white space.”
Under Jones’ guidance, I would not be an affirmed gay man but someone with same-sex attractions — an identity Jones claims to have adopted years ago.
“I did a careful investigation theologically and a careful investigation relationally between myself and Jesus, and I made the decision that to not pursue same-sex relationships is what honored my understanding of who Jesus is,” he said. “But to lie about the same-sex attraction that I have would also be dishonoring my relationship with Jesus. I’m very comfortable with the tension I still feel of unfulfilled sexual energy because I don’t hide that from anyone. And in that, other than intimate sexual expression, I have relationships that are closer than probably some marriages.”
Back when McAlvey was attending Corduroy Stone, he would meet Jones at a house located on Climax Street in Lansing. At their first meeting, McAlvey said that Jones was very excited to see him and made it clear that he had been thinking of him. McAlvey had previously only been in contact with Jones over the phone and through e-mail.
“He said he knew all along that I’d come back to him,” McAlvey said. “He said he’d been journeying with me.”
In my second meeting with Jones, he stated that he wanted to learn about me. He asked me to describe a time when I felt unable to stand up for myself. I told him that in fifth grade I accused a classmate of plagiarizing a drawing I had done, but later recanted under questioning from the school principal. To me, the story was inconsequential, but Jones used it to analyze me.
He called me a “wimp,” and a “people pleaser.” He told me that could lead to sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.
“When a young man is sensitive, not having been made strong to defend themselves, it can easily open up the possibility for same-sex sexual attraction structure,” he said.
But then he backed down.
“On the flipside,” he said. “It could’ve been there the day you were born.”
I then asked to tell me which point of view he believed.
“I believe that the beginning of the influence happened the day you were conceived, nine months in the womb and the day you were born to age 3,” he said. “The most influence you will have in your life already happened by then. I believe that the input of influence comes from culture, from society, parental and peer framework, it’s responded to based in a certain personality that you have, a certain framework of people that trigger or discourage that personality. So, in the end, my answer is, I think it’s a vastly complex subject that nobody will have the ability to know for sure. We can give our best guesses and hold them somewhat loosely.
“Our time together is for me to help you find what kind of man you are and why you’re being such a wimp,” he said. “That’s the value of our time together.”
My third session with Jones was in a group. Only one of Jones’ other clients was willing to engage in this type of session.
Jones asked if my friend had said anything about being gay that changed what my faith was telling me.
The other client, Ben (not his real name), described his experience coming out to a friend. Jones asked him to define “gay.”
I asked Ben why, then, he told his friend he was gay.
Ben began therapy with Jones one year ago.
“Most sexual expression in this culture today, heterosexual and homosexual, is not with just one person at a time,” he said.
I challenged him.
“Not everyone’s like that,” I said. “’Most.’ What’s the definition of most? More than 50 percent and less than 100,” he said.
“Is it that many people not being faithful? Is that a statistic?” I asked.
He ignored my question and launched into a strange example of infidelity using the archetype of Hollywood.
“Are you telling me that the guy I’m interested in is going to cheat on me?” I asked.
“I’ll answer this way: if you’re a Hollywood actor, will your marriage last your whole life?” he said.
“Maybe,” I said.
“The likelihood is vastly less than 1 percent. So,
“But I’m not in Hollywood,” I said.
“But I reference the homosexual community,” he said.
“So, the homosexual community is Hollywood?”
“It’s closer to Hollywood than the heterosexual community.”
“That’s not just a stereotype, is it?”
“But again, hear what I said. In general and more than, and that is not a stereotype at all. Those are hard facts.”
After my sessions with Jones concluded, I discussed some of what Jones told me with a psychologist and another ex-gay counselor: Judith Kovach, the executive director of the Michigan Psychological Association, and Rich Wyler, director of the nonprofit People Can Change.
I asked Kovach her thoughts on Jones’ explanation of how he “chose not to pursue same-sex relationships.”
“It’s a good statement, I just don’t believe it,” she said. “If you know you’re gay and you have certain religious beliefs that you truly believe, then you have something that we psychologists call cognitive dissonance: Two things don’t fit together. If your relationship with Jesus is that strong, you have no alternative but to suppress your sexual attraction.”
As far as being called a “wimp,” Kovach said a trained mental health professional would never talk to a client that way.
“I would never say that,” she said. “I wouldn’t call you a name. If a real counselor did that, it’s not in the prevailing spirit of good psychotherapy. I may say to you at some point that ‘you call yourself a wimp,’ and what about yourself makes you feel that way? Our goal is to raise people’s self-esteem, not to lower it.”
Wyler, who does phone counseling, said that he would have to have a strong relationship with a client before using that type of language. However, he does agree that passive men are more susceptible to same-sex relationships.
“My experience is that among men with same-sex attraction there is a high percentage of more passive men, and one of the things I’m working with men to do is to feel their need to be more empowered,” he said.
Kovach also took issue with Jones’ method of billing (in 35 years in mental health, she said she’s never heard of anyone charging a monthly fee), and the fact that Jones placed himself under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
“He’s absolutely not allowed to put himself under HIPAA,” Kovach said. “HIPAA requires we keep notes of our sessions. If he doesn’t bill electronically, he’s not subject to HIPAA.”
Presenting an unfair and stereotyped image of gay life is not limited to Jones. Wyler agreed with his generality about gays, Hollywood and infidelity.
“As far as a characterization of a significant segment of the gay world, I think they’re being honest when they say it’s more sexually free and not an assumption of fidelity to partners quite comparable to the typical heterosexual marriages,” he said. “There are, of course, exceptions. But that is a generality. I think among people in a large segment in gay life and gay community, they value sexual experiment and having multiple partners.”
After my fourth session with Jones, I asked for one more. I planned to tell him about the article about him and Corduroy Stone and ask for an interview. He was not angry, but his smugness overflowed, as if trying to take control.
“I was wondering if there was a very specific way we could use our time today,” I began.
“Let’s do,” Jones said.
“I’m an intern at City Pulse newspaper, and I’ve decided to write a story about Corduroy Stone and you, so I was wondering if I could do an interview with you.”
“Let me think about that a moment. You probably have to give acknowledgement that that is what you’re doing in this time in the article.”
“So, you’re willing?”
“Yeah, as long as you say that, because it wouldn’t be appropriate that you would just simply do an interview when you came for a counseling session. Say in your article that you asked and received permission to use your session today to do an interview.”
Kovach said that by just agreeing to an interview, Jones engaged in an improper relationship with me as his client.
I asked Jones where he gets all of his facts and theories.
“I’m very well read,” he said. “I’m well read in terms of what’s available on the Internet. I’m well experienced in terms of more than a dozen different philosophical approaches to counseling and counseling with sexuality and homosexuality specifically. What’s more important is I show people the range of research that there is on any given point I make, so instead of picking a particular piece of research to prove my position I would rather show the range of different research that has been done on a given position, and then out of all of that, (present) my personal understanding on that particular subject.
“From all the research I’ve seen, we’ve used the word fragility. And it seems as though someone who hasn’t yet found their voice, felt comfortable letting whatever key people in their life know about their same-sex sexual attractions that in itself creates a sense of fragility in someone. The coming-out process can either be deciding to pursue same-sex behavior and relationships or it can be in not wanting to pursue that. Either of those is a result of first being able to be strong enough to be able to be honest with their same-sex sexual attractions that they’re experiencing.”
I then asked Jones how he would respond to the American Psychology Association’s report, “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation,” which noted ex-gay therapy as a potentially harmful practice.
“What the APA never says is that it will cause harm, but that it might,” he said. “They can say that about every single topic any counselor, social worker or medical doctor ever addresses. I wish they would write similar reports about every other topic as well, because while it’s good they’re writing about it, I would then ask from a counselor standpoint, why are they only writing reports about that topic?”
I then asked him about McAlvey, but Jones would not talk about his experiences with him. He said that while he can acknowledge the existence of the video, he could not reveal information about McAlvey as a client because of HIPAA. During the interview, Jones said McAlvey could sign a release form, but that it would be ultimately up to him to decide what he revealed.
(McAlvey would not sign a release, saying he did not want to acknowledge Jones as having the legitimacy to demand such an action.)
At the end of the interview, I thanked Jones and stood up to leave. But he was not done.
“Is the reason you set today for the interview when you called me? You didn’t say that on the phone. So in your article, I think it’s appropriate that you say you set up a regular counseling session and then asked for the interview.”
Then, he brought up money. I had paid him half of the $250.
“And the other part of the payment?” he said. “You paid part of your payment for the month, and you’d make the other part about the middle of the time, and this is about middle of the time. I just wanted to make you aware that our agreement was that you pay $250 at the beginning. I made a compromise for you, and you said you’d make the second half of the payment halfway through, and I think that’s now.”
I told him that I would get the money to him the next time I saw him. Later when I called for follow-up questions from my interview, he continued to bring up the money. I told him he could take that up with City Pulse. He told me to clarify everything in an e-mail:
Kovach said that Jones’ reaction was wrong. Agreeing to an interview, she said, was improper.
“He engaged in a dual relationship with you,” she said. “If he thought you were his client or patient, it is improper then for him to let you interview him. Let us say you write the article and he doesn’t like it, and you really were his patient, and he gets mad. That’s inappropriate. He keeps making foolish mistakes that no professional would make.”
Kovach rebutted Jones’ claim that the APA is only writing reports about one topic.
“They’re not only reports about that topic,” Kovach said in response to this quote from Jones. “They’re writing about a lot of things, and mostly they write about topics that are controversial. The report says that since 1978, homosexuality has not been considered a mental or emotional disorder, and so why would you cure something that is not a disorder?” (Actually, the American Psychological Association declassified it as a disorder in 1975.) “People may find that homosexuality is offensive to their religious or moral beliefs, and they have a right to believe that. But that doesn’t make it a disorder. And so, if it’s not a disorder it doesn’t need treatment. There is no science to refute what’s in the report.”
When I asked Wyler where he gets his research, his answer was similar to Jones’.
“It’s pretty consistent with the writings and experience a lot of people working in this field have experienced,” he said. “It’s pretty consistent with a lot of the thinking in the field over the past couple of decades.”
Like Jones, Wyler defends the legitimacy of his ex-gay therapy and counseling.
“People opposed to what we do often think that people who are seeking change are only responding to external pressure from a conservative point,” he said. “They have to realize there is equal pressure to live a gay life. To the friends who are telling them just to go be gay, what they really want is acceptance of their own decision and not try to push them one way or the other. The pressure builds both ways, especially today. The pressure to live a gay life can be huge.”
“It is true that there are some activists who out others, and that is extremely stressful, but that is not the norm in the LGBT community,” Kovach said. “If you want a partner, have a partner. And it’s the same in the heterosexual community. If you don’t want a partner, you don’t have one. There is no scientific evidence that simply being gay causes any sort of emotional stress. There is plenty of science-based evidence that being told what you are is bad, wrong or unacceptable is very stressful.”
Though we discovered no evidence that Mike Jones is engaging in “holding therapy,” McAlvey is not the only one ex-Corduroy Stone member who claims to have experienced it.
Aaron Miller was an MSU student when he saw Jones from 2000 to 2002.
“The things I remember were the holding therapy,” Miller, 28, of Minneapolis, said. “I remember that. I also remember rating myself and the other people in the group in terms of appearance. There were six or seven people in the group, and he made us line up and rank each other from most attractive to least attractive. I found it strange at the time, but that was a few months after I started talking to (Jones). I was used to things being strange, so it didn’t seem any stranger than the other things.”
One summer, Jones asked the men of the group (there was only one woman) to build a deck for his friend, Miller said. Jones said it would be an opportunity to teach them to act like men and do man-like things.
“When I look back on it, I’m a little embarrassed that I put myself through that all because I was afraid of being gay,” Miller said. “I’m ashamed I did that to myself. I’m not exactly sure why I did it other than I thought it was right and I was afraid. It did have a benefit of sorts in an ironic way; it helped me come out of the closet.”
It was not, however, Jones’ bizarre therapeutic techniques that helped Miller, but being exposed to other people like him.
“I met other gay people who were going through the same thing,” he said. “Everyone in that group is now openly gay.
“I’m worried for people who do go to him,” Miller said. “I hope that people know they can talk honestly about what they’re going through and not be pressured to go to somebody like Mike. He can be very reassuring and comforting and make you feel accepted, but at the same time he’s not accepting you. My hope is that he wouldn’t have any clients come to him at all because they wouldn’t need to. My bigger hope is that, as a society, there wouldn’t be any need for someone to go to him.”
McAlvey, on the other hand, said that it is people like Jones who make society the way it is.
“My concern is that (Jones) is just smart enough to not cross the line that would make what he’s doing illegal,” Kovach said. “I think the way he lists himself on the website might. Would a reasonable person believe he has credentials as a counselor? I would say yes.”
Jones puts his educational background on his website.
“I think it misleads the public, and that’s why we have licensing laws: to protect the public,” Kovach said. “I think what (Jones) is doing is not protecting the public. People like him not only hurt people but hurt the professionals actually trying to help people.”
Kovach said counseling is a protected term, a term that Jones used to refer to himself during my time with him as a client.
“If he holds himself out as a counselor, he would have to be licensed,” she said.
McAlvey is now pursuing action against Jones with the Michigan Department of Community Health.
As a gay person going through therapy with Jones, I was saddened not because I felt any different, but because I opened myself up to Jones’ world of ex-gay “therapy.” Just knowing that people like Jones, and even Wyler, really exist is sad — they view being gay as changeable.
I am just as gay now as I was when I stepped into the Corduroy Stone office.
Jones attempted to talk me out of wanting to pursue my same-sex relationship without ever telling me he thought it was wrong. Jones protects himself in this way by stating he can never judge someone.
“I have the privilege (of) being the defense and the prosecution while always knowing that I’m only the lawyer and never the judge,” he said.
“So I can’t come out and say I think it’s wrong for you to have a same-sex relation because that would then make me a judge. Theologically, I don’t have the freedom to do that, so I can’t.”