Mankind Project – Calling all spirits

I have started a page devoted to the Mankind Project on the blog. The initial topic is the practice of calling in spirits which opens weekly the Integration Groups (I-Groups). This practice is an aspect of creating sacred ritual space for the various processes (Guts Work, etc.) that take place in these meetings. Like many pagan and earth spirituality rituals, the I-Groups begin with casting a circle of sacred ritual space. Then an invocation is given to call in the spirits of the directions (Calling in the 7 Directions – east, west, north, south, up, down and within) and any other spirits that may be important (grandfathers, etc.).
I suspect for some of the initiates, this is regarded as a formality with no thought that any real spirits are being or even could be summoned. However, in reading stories and accounts written by MKP writers and leaders, it seems to me that some of them take this more literally. In any event, given that Christian ex-gay groups continue to recommend MKP and NWTA, and given that MKP are secretive about these practices, I want to provide this information for people in order to make an informed decision about participation. A work in progress, I will add to the page as I get new information.

Houston Press: A new retreat for the Mankind Project

Chris Vogel has an article in the Houston Press which follows up the settlement of the Scinto wrongful death lawsuit. Near the end of the article, Mr. Vogel quotes my blog post where I provide details of the settlement. I continue to believe the remedies are minimal and much more disclosure should be made to potential participants. Vogel refers to the informed consent issue and additional concerns while recognizing that many men believe the MKP has been helpful to them.

Thousands of passionately loyal members claim the group provides life-altering training and vehemently dismiss detractors. However, there is a contingent of critics who say the organization practices therapy without a license; targets vulnerable members of 12-step recovery groups; purposefully withholds the details of the program, thus keeping potential participants from making a fully informed decision whether or not to attend; and does not screen applicants who may be too emotionally frail for the rigors of the ­program.
It is these criticisms and concerns that Kathy and Ralph Scinto tried to address through the terms of their settlement.

I wish the Scinto family well and pray they are able to find peace and healing. I also hope this prompts the MKP to disclose the details of the processes and methods used. If these methods have any inherent potency, then disclosure should not diminish the effect.

More Evangelicals for Obama chatter

I have talked about Kirbyjohn Caldwell here before. He endorsed Obama and then it was learned he has an ex-gay ministry in his church. He promptly threw them under the bus. He is now launching a website called, Jamesdobsondoesntspeakforme.com to rebut yesterday’s statements from Dr. Dobson.
Obama supporters may believe Dobson is taking on Obama to help McCain but that is the confusing part of this for me. Dobson has said he will not vote for McCain. So a pox on both your houses?
Problem, one house will win and there will be consequences.
One thing is for sure, Obama’s Evangelical supporters are not coy about their support.

Could Obama win over Evangelicals?

As I typed the title, I reflected on several posts here months ago focusing on Hillary Clinton. I wondered who pro-life voters should prefer: Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton. Seems silly now, eh?
Lots of Dems preferred Hillary over Barack but not enough. However, on social issues, Obama is not much different than Hillary. And so, given that Evangelicals are overwhelmingly pro-life, it seems incredible that they could move toward Obama. However, Obama is reaching out to Evangelicals, suggesting a meeting with Focus on the Family. Today, the FOTF daily broadcast devotes some time to criticize Obama’s use of the Bible in his speeches.
Apparently, Dobson and company believe Evangelicals could be persuaded by Obama’s references to the Bible and believes some attention is needed to keep them from jumping on the Obandwagon. While sticking up for a traditional exegesis of the Bible seems reasonable for a Christian radio show, this is moving into political waters — which as the AP article points out is permitted in this case. However, if pro-life, Evangelical leaders want to really impact things, my advice would be build public bridges to McCain. Don’t wait for McCain to do it on your terms, just do it. Having trouble with the idea? Just think about Obama’s support for the Freedom of Choice Act and the Supreme Court appointments a President Obama might select.

Study examines brain differences related to sexual orientation

This post summarizes a new study by Ivanka Savic and Per Lindstrom, titled “PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects” and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. This is being reported widely in the press.
The abstract reads

Cerebral responses to putative pheromones and objects of sexual attraction were recently found to differ between homo- and heterosexual subjects. Although this observation may merely mirror perceptional differences, it raises the intriguing question as to whether certain sexually dimorphic features in the brain may differ between individuals of the same sex but different sexual orientation. We addressed this issue by studying hemispheric asymmetry and functional connectivity, two parameters that in previous publications have shown specific sex differences. Ninety subjects [25 heterosexual men (HeM) and women (HeW), and 20 homosexual men (HoM) and women (HoW)] were investigated with magnetic resonance volumetry of cerebral and cerebellar hemispheres. Fifty of them also participated in PET measurements of cerebral blood flow, used for analyses of functional connections from the right and left amygdalae. HeM and HoW showed a rightward cerebral asymmetry, whereas volumes of the cerebral hemispheres were symmetrical in HoM and HeW. No cerebellar asymmetries were found. Homosexual subjects also showed sex-atypical amygdale connections. In HoM, as in HeW, the connections were more widespread from the left amygdala; in HoW and HeM, on the other hand, from the right amygdala. Furthermore, in HoM and HeW the connections were primarily displayed with the contralateral amygdale and the anterior cingulate, in HeM and HoW with the caudate, putamen, and the prefrontal cortex. The present study shows sex-atypical cerebral asymmetry and functional connections in homosexual subjects. The results cannot be primarily ascribed to learned effects, and they suggest a linkage to neurobiological entities.

Past research has found that male and female brains are different, on average. This research finds that two brain measures differ based on sexual orientation: cerebral symmetry and how the amygdala functions. First, they confirm a previously reported sex differences in cerebral size asymmetry. In straight men, the right hemisphere is greater than the left and in women, they are the same size. Savic and Lindstrom find in contrast that gays are sex-atypical: the hemispheres are the same size in gay men and for lesbians, the right hemisphere is larger than the left. This is not unexpected given the previous differences in verbal skills (favoring gay males over straights) and visuospatial tasks (favoring straight males).
The amygdala is often researched in relation to the role it plays in emotion and anxiety. Recent research indicates that the right amygdala activates in men and the left in women during the processing of emotion. From these locations in the amygdala then connections are made to other regions in brain which again are different in men and women. In women, the connections may be more likely to activate emotion, whereas in men action may be the more likely result. Again, Savic and Lindstrom found sex atypical function for gays and lesbians. Gay men looked like straight women and lesbians looked like straight men, albeit the similarity was less for the lesbians.
What does this mean? The authors are cautious in their discussion and make some points which could support multiple theoretical perspectives. The authors examined aspects of brain functioning not known to be related to sexual behavior or attraction in order to reduce the possibility that sexual experience contributed to the development of the differences. In other words, it is unlikely that being homo or heterosexual caused these differences. The differences likely precede awareness of sexual orientation, according to the authors. I would agree that it seems unlikely that there is anything about sexual fantasy or behavior that could rewire the amygdala or change the size of the right hemisphere.
On the other hand, Savic and Lindstrom are not proposing that these differences cause the sexual orientation differences. Those familiar with Daryl Bem’s exotic becomes erotic theory will see how these brain differences could support his theory. It is plausible that these brain differences are involved in the gender atypical behavior so commonly and strongly associated with the development of adult homosexual orientation. Gender atypical behavior could be an associated feature of a same-sex orientation, a kind of sign of homosexual orientation or in the EBE account, gender atypical behavior and interest could predispose people to sexual regard the same sex as the other sex during pubescence.
Savic and Lindstrom propose three potential mechanisms for these differences. They note:

The mechanisms behind the present observations are unknown. In accordance with discussions about the sexual dimorphism of the brain, three factors have to be taken into account: environmental effects, genetics, and sex hormonal influences.

These are the usual suspects, genes, environment and hormones. Savic and Lindstrom dismiss genetic factors for reasons I cannot quite figure out. They say,

As to the genetic factors, the current view is that they may play a role in male homosexuality, but they seem to be insignificant for female homosexuality. Genetic factors, therefore, appear less probable as the major common denominator for all group differences observed here.

About environment, they observe that sex-based brain differences have been observed at birth and in children. However, cerebral maturation continues through puberty, especially in boys. Thus, social and environmental factors could play a role in how these differences or other differences not assessed here develop in individuals. They are not certain however and note:

However, to attribute such effects to the present results would require a detailed comprehension of how specific environmental factors relate to the four groups investigated, and how they affect various cerebral circuits. In the light of currently available information this can only be speculative.

In other words, we do not know what environmental factors could be influential on brain differentiation for male and female with sex typical and atypical brain structure and function. The authors are either unaware of Bem’s EBE theory or do not see it as relevant to their findings. Clearly, the researchers wanted to rule out the role of sexual behavior and preference as being the driver for the differences between gays and straight that they found in their pheromone studies. Here they believe they have found clear neurological differences which in some manner relate to the differences in sexual preferences.
The authors seem more disposed to hormonal mechanisms. They discuss hormonal factors in animals, but correctly note that the relevance to humans “remains to be clarified.” They conclude:

The present study does not allow narrowing of potential explanations, which are probably multifactorial, including interplay between pre- and postnatal testosterone and estrogen, the androgen and estrogen receptors, and the testosterone-degrading enzyme aromatase. It nevertheless contributes to the ongoing discussion about sexual orientation by showing that homosexual men and women differed from the same-sex controls and showed features of the opposite sex in two mutually independent cerebral variables, which, in contrast to those studied previously, were not related to sexual attraction. The observations cannot be easily attributed to perception or behavior. Whether they may relate to processes laid down during the fetal or postnatal development is an open question.

In a post to come, I want to bring together the Langstrom et al study of Swedish twins and the Savic & Lindstrom study. We have many coming to the conclusion that brain differences confirm innate sexual orientation. However, studies of twins seems to demonstrate a role for a variety of environmental factors which operate differently for different people.
UPDATE: In the paragraph above, where I mention “environmental factors,” I am not referring to parenting and childhood trauma. I believe the research on these topics rule those factors out as general causes of homosexual development. For some very small number of people, particular women, those factors may lead to a kind of homosexual adaptation but I do not believe they lead to same sex attraction which occurs prior to any homosexual behavior.
The studies showing brain differences are compelling and indicate a lack of choice in sexual feelings and a spontaneous emergence of those feelings.

Multiple factors involved in sexual orientation: New study

A new study released online with Archives of Sexual Behavior and via press release today propose a relatively small role for family attitudes in the direction of sexual attraction, with more of the explanation being factors not shared by siblings.

Society’s attitudes have little impact on choice of sexual partner
[PRESS RELEASE 16 June 2008] A unique new study from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute (KI) suggests that the attitude of families and the public have little impact on if adults decide to have sex with persons of the same or the opposite sex. Instead, hereditary factors and the individual’s unique experiences have the strongest influence on our choice of sexual partners.
The study is the largest in the world so far and was performed in collaboration with the Queen Mary University of London. More than 7,600 Swedish twins (men and women) aged 20-47 years responded to a 2005 – 2006 survey of health, behaviour, and sexuality. Seven percent of the twins had ever had a same-sex sexual partner.
“The results show, that familial and public attitudes might be less important for our sexual behaviour than previously suggested”, says Associate Professor Niklas Långström, one of the involved researchers. “Instead, genetic factors and the individual’s unique biological and social environments play the biggest role. Studies like this are needed to improve our basic understanding of sexuality and to inform the public debate.”
The conclusions apply equally well to why people only have sex with persons of the opposite sex as to why we have sex with same-sex partners. However, the conclusions are more difficult to transfer to countries where non-heterosexual behaviour remains prohibited.
Overall, the environment shared by twins (including familial and societal attitudes) explained 0-17% of the choice of sexual partner, genetic factors 18-39% and the unique environment 61-66%. The individual’s unique environment includes, for example, circumstances during pregnancy and childbirth, physical and psychological trauma (e.g., accidents, violence, and disease), peer groups, and sexual experiences.
Publication:
Niklas Långström, Qazi Rahman, Eva Carlström, Paul Lichtenstein, “Genetic and Environmental Effects on Same-sex Sexual Behaviour: A Population Study of Twins in Sweden.” Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 7 June 2008, doi 10.1007/s10508-008-9386-1

This is more evidence that different factors operate differently for different people. In discussing sexual orientation, it may be that individual narratives have validity for the individual but cannot be generalized widely. Where have I heard that before?
Another news item is circulating today with what appears to be a mix of new and old research on brain structure and sexual orientation.
UPDATE – There is indeed new research from Ivanka Savic’s team in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. The study, titled “PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry
and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects” by Ivanka Savic and Per Lindstrom is not yet published but I have a copy and am reviewing it.

Abeo: Ex-gay in the UK?

The Irish Iris Robinson controversy appears to have quieted down somewhat. I noted last week that Northern Ireland’s “first lady” entered controversial waters by declaring homosexuality an abomination, with subsequent embellishments. Mrs. Robinson further recommended therapy for gays to change via a psychiatrist, Paul Miller, who advises Mrs. Robinson on health matters.
As noted in my initial post on this topic, I wrote to Paul Miller to ask him if he endorsed the bioenergetics techniques of Richard Cohen. This was a relevant question since Dr. Miller organized a training led by Mr. Cohen in November, 2007. Dr. Miller did not directly answer that question but instead referred me to the website of his organization – Abeo. What is Abeo?

ABEO is an umbrella organization, set up by Dr Paul Miller, of like-minded mental health professionals who want people to be all that they can be; so that they may experience deeper joy in their lives. Our tag-line, ‘joy through change’ captures the heart of this vision.
What does ABEO mean?
ABEO in Latin means, ‘to pass away’ or ‘to come to an end’, but in Nigerian it means ‘my arrival brings joy’. By taking this name we want to show that our mission is to show that all of us experience pain of different sorts, however, when faced with issues that bring pain into our lives we can be empowered to overcome them and experience joy through finding healthy adaptations to meet our core needs.

There is much emphasis on this site about meeting core needs, especially masculinity. There are pages on manhood and gender identity which look familiar to anyone conversant in reparative drive perspectives on same-sex attraction. On the Gender Identity page, links are provided to Jonah, NARTH, Mankind Project, New Warriors Training Adventure, Internation Healing Foundation (Richard Cohen), and People Can Change.
The approach to therapy is called “gender affirming therapy” and is designed to address same-sex attraction through enhanced masculinity. Abeo says:

Where a person experiences unwanted SSA we can provide expertise and therapy to help the person meet their core unmet needs in a way that allows them to resolve their SSA and so move towards a fuller expression of masculinity and a heterosexual expression of that gender identity.

Abeo also offers training to mental health professionals, which presumably included the Cohen visit to Northern Ireland. About the training, Abeo says:

ABEO also provides training to those professionals working in the area of unwanted SSA. Through links with NARTH, JONAH, the International Healing Foundation and a number of international experts we are seeking to spread evidence based skills that will help professionals working in this area.

Given the aspiration of teaching “evidence based skills,” the links provided are puzzling. Where is the evidence that the kinds of masculinity-building interventions promoted by these organizations “resolve” SSA toward a “heterosexual expression?” As we have noted, MKP in the US has been through all of that with many manly gay warriors happy to dispute these claims.
Another aspect of this story that is interesting to me is that I expected this site to be more Christian-based given Iris Robinson’s strong words of a referral. MKP and NWTA certainly do not point their participants to Christianity as a means of manly identity. The UK Scouting Association issued an advisory warning scouting groups not to rent camps to the MKP. In the US, the ex-gay organizations can be divided into those who seem to be faith-based and those that are based in the men’s movement. If that division is real in the UK, it seems clear from a review of Abeo that the men’s movement ex-gay wing got a major plug from the first lady.

Counsellorlicense.com – Just add another letter "l"

I noted recently that the counselorlicense.com site removed the links to get a pastoral counseling certificate. However, now I see that the folks from Phoenix State University have gone British and added an “l” to the old URL yielding counsellorlicense.com.
Same testimonials, same spare bedroom…