Thursday, April 30, 2009


So, kinda random, but I just finished am assignment for my English class. We had to evaluate two articles or essays of the same genre based on criteria we had selected ourselves. Most of the class decided to pick two stories from our book. I chose two articles written for men with SSA. Both have their strong points. One just has a lot fewer weak points.

What Works and What Doesn't: An Evaluation Based on Four Criteria

Few things shape character and personality like the difficulties people experience. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges people experience is being attracted to members of the same gender. This is especially true when those attractions conflict with a person's personal or religious convictions. While the literature available to those individuals is still limited, two essays on the subject are often recommended. David Matheson's article "Four Principles of Growth" speaks directly to men who experience unwanted same-gender attractions. "Homosexuality: What Works and What Doesn't" by Jeff Robinson is a more general work for anyone trying to understand same-sex attraction and possible solutions. Among essays written to help men trying to overcome same-gender attraction, Matheson's "Four Principles of Growth" is more helpful than Robinson's "Homosexuality: What Works and What Doesn't" when judged on readability, accuracy, applicability, and credibility.
"Four Principles of Growth" addresses four concepts that Matheson states "are intended as a guide to help [men] understand this complex process of changing [their] life" (Matheson 12). He uses the acronym M.A.N.S. for these principles. After a discussion of the problems associated with each principle, he suggests some solutions to those problems. Matheson first addresses the principle of masculinity. He says that most men who experience same-sex attraction do not feel masculine. He separates true masculinity from society's portrayal of a stereotypical expectations. Matheson then discusses the ways that authenticity, or more correctly a lack of authenticity, can contribute to the development of homosexual attractions. From authenticity Matheson moves to unmet needs. Matheson defines a need as anything an individual must have in order to experience joy. He claims that by meeting the unmet needs at the root of same-gender attractions, a person can greatly diminish the intensity of those attractions. Matheson concludes with the principle of surrender. Matheson asserts that ultimately a man has to surrender to a higher power those things which are out his control. Matheson clearly explains his belief in his conclusion by saying, "To me, 'change' means that growth toward mature masculinity and heterosexuality is resumed and completed" (12).
Robinson takes a very religious approach to overcoming same-sex attraction. His theories are deeply rooted in his religious beliefs. This is clear from the first page of his essay when he says of men who felt that they could not change their sexual orientation, "If the gospel is not true for these men, then it cannot be true for me" (Robinson 1). The first area of focus in this essay is on the characteristics that Robinson claims are common to all men who experience same-sex attraction. He lists three: sensitive, introspective, and determined to be right. Robinson then asserts that same-sex attractions are simply a learned behavior. He defends this by explaining what he states are the universal experiences shared by men with same-sex attractions and the interpretations of those experiences. Robinson concludes with his recommended method for reducing same-sex attractions. He says the way to get rid of homosexual attractions is simply to walk away from them, to stop thinking about them. In his own words, "What works is to leave it alone" (13).
Both essays read quite well. Robinson's essay is written in a narrative style. There is a good flow from one idea to the next. He begins with underlying personality traits, moves into experiences that contribute to the development of the attractions, and closes with his solution. He uses transitional words and signposts frequently. He tends to organize ideas into groups of three and clearly states the first, second, and third concepts. Matheson on the other hand organizes his article according to his acronym. He states that the principles are overlapping and no one is more important than the others. Even though he discusses one principle and then moves to the next, he still finds ways to tie the principles together. Both authors organize their ideas so that they are easy to understand.
While both essays are well organized, Robinson's essay contains many grammatical errors. It seems almost that he wrote he article on a typewriter and then didn't go back an edit it. One of many examples is when Robinson writes, "it's a pretty good bet that these men have been, had some sort of . . . experience" (Robinson 3). Errors like this abound in Robinson's essay. This makes reading his writing difficult. Matheson writes with a very different style. His tone is professional; his writing is polished. He uses a number of stylistic devices. One example of this can be found in his use of a simile: "Splitting these principles out is somewhat like shining white light through a prism" (Matheson 1).
Factual accuracy is very important when judging the helpfulness of an essay. Matheson makes every effort to talk about his principles in general terms. He resists the human tendency to make broad, sweeping generalizations. He uses phrases like, "Many men . . . " and "I have noticed that men with SSA tend . . . " (Matheson 6-9) This helps the reader feel that his experiences and feelings are being respected even when they don't match Matheson's descriptions exactly. By creating an feeling of inclusion, Matheson contributes to the overall accuracy of his paper.
Another way in which Matheson ensures that his writing will accurately describe as many individuals' situations as possible is focusing on broad ideas. He talks about concepts like masculinity and authenticity. These are very general principles that can be understood on many levels. By not making specific, inflexible applications of the principles, Matheson leaves room for each reader to apply those principles to his life in whichever way fits best. Matheson's own disclaimer explains this clearly: "You may not identify with all of these. Try to focus on the areas where you do see similarities" (Matheson 2). However, Matheson does not leave the reader completely on his own to find the similarities. He gives a variety of examples of how a principle like authenticity, or need fulfillment can be lived. Matheson writes: "Many SSA men talk about how “normal” (i.e., heterosexual) men seem to have some mysterious masculinizing quality that they lack" (Matheson 4). Here Matheson presents a specific example of how a man might feel less than masculine. However, he doesn't try to explain this "mysterious quality" in depth. Matheson's examples are still general enough that they fit a wide range of individuals.
Robinson, however, seems to enjoy making statements that he claims apply to all men who experience same-sex attractions. Time and time again he uses phrases like: "These traits are universal," "Men who are successful . . . do . . .," and "They need to get on with their life." When an author makes a statement that asserts something is always true, the accuracy of that claim is vulnerable. It only takes one exception to make the statement false. This happens frequently in Robinson's essay.
Robinson does accurately describe the personality traits and molding experiences that contribute to same-gender attraction in many men. While Robinson does not allow for exceptions to his observations, he makes an even more grievous error. Robinson's understanding of same-sex attraction comes from a number of interviews performed during his doctoral dissertation and in his private counseling practice. This means that these observations do fairly accurately represent the experiences of most men. However, Robinson then draws conclusions from these experiences that don't actually hold true. He claims that same-sex attraction is very similar to alcoholism. He says that homosexual attractions are a learned behavior (Robinson 7). This theory is proven invalid by many scientific studies. Very few men feel that this idea correctly describes their experiences.
Perhaps the discrepancies in factual accuracy can be explained by the next criterion. The credibility of each author can be measured with two different scales. The first relates to the author's qualifications to write about a particular topic. Both David Matheson and Jeff Robinson have doctoral degrees in counseling. Both are Licensed Professional Counselors. However, Robinson's expertise on the topic of homosexual attractions comes primarily from his interactions with clients. Matheson, on the other hand, has worked for seven years with Joseph Nicolosi, the founder of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality. Perhaps most importantly, Matheson has personal experience with same-sex attractions. He has experienced them and successfully dealt with them to the point that he is no longer affected by them.
The second scale on which credibility can be measured is the extent to which the author's ideas have actually helped people. While numbers are not available regarding Robinson's work, his efforts relating to same-sex attraction have been limited to his private practice. Matheson has, in addition to his private practice, created the Journey into Manhood weekend. This weekend has been attended by over one thousand men. In 2007, a survey was conducted regarding the effects of Matheson's principles as experienced on the JiM weekend. Seventy-nine percent of men surveyed reported that their same-sex attractions had diminished since the weekend. Ninety-three percent said that the JiM experience had a positive impact on their lives (Survey 2-4). That is a remarkable success rate.
The final criterion on which the helpfulness of the essays is judged is the applicability of the solutions they offer. Matheson provides very clear steps on how to implement the changes he recommends. His ideas are feasible and easy to understand. For example, he writes, "Creating friendships with so-called “normal” men is the only way I’ve found to contradict this lie. Very often, the first step is to make deep and real friendships with other men who are also in the process of change" (Matheson 5) Matheson makes no claim that his solutions are going to be easy, but he assets that they are within reach, "As difficult as the processes of learning about your needs may be, it is possible" (9).
Robinson doesn't make his solution nearly as easy to understand or incorporate into everyday living. He suggests that the only way to overcome homosexual feelings is to "walk away from the dragon" (Robinson 12). He explains that this means that if a man will just not think about it, it will go away. Yet with his analogy to alcoholism, would he tell an alcoholic that all he needs to do is not drink and the alcoholism will go away? If homosexual feelings are nothing more than a learned behavior, why do many men find it difficult to simply not do the behavior? Robinson admits that this "is "very, very difficult to do." But men who want to overcome homosexual attractions just need to do it again. It seems that Robinson's understanding of same-sex attractions is flawed. This makes his subsequent solutions less than feasible.
Many men have benefited from both of these essays. Robinson's article does provide some valid points and can help a person make sense of their attractions. However, if taken too literally this work can foster discouragement and frustration. Matheson's essay provides both hope for change and real results in the lives of those men who apply it's principles.

Works Cited
Matheson, David. "Four Principles of Change." Center for Gender Wholeness. Mar. 3, 2009.

Robinson, Jeff. "Homosexuality: What Works and What Doesn't." The Guardrail Foundation. Mar. 3, 2009.

"Survey of Journey into Manhood Participants." People Can Change. Mar. 12, 2009.

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