Volleyball-et: From en pointe to point scorer, dancer Jonah Villegas enjoys being a DIVA diva

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

For Jonah Villegas, the most frustrating thing about being a dancer is convincing people that his talent has nothing to do with a pole.

“When I tell people I’m a dancer they always say, ‘Where? BJ’s? The Tin Room?’” says the classically trained terpsichorean, who has worked with the Texas Ballet Theater. Last year, when he put his dancing career on hold, he decided to look for something else athletic he could do to stay limber and active.

“That’s why I joined DIVA,” says Villegas, 22.

Other than summers spent hitting a ball over a net in the sand, Villegas has no experience at volleyball. But when he complained to the man he was dating that life in suburban McKinney, was stifling for a young gay man, his boyfriend recommended he join the Dallas Independent Volleyball Association.

“I’ve been out since my senior year in high school, but it’s hard to be proud and loud when you’re surrounded by nothing but restaurants and straight people,” Villegas jokes. “I think that DIVA and the gay sports of Dallas are overlooked — I have made some really great friends and feel more part of the gay community. After I heard about DIVA, I still didn’t join for more than a year — I regret that I didn’t join sooner. It’s a good way to meet quality gay people.”

Villegas’ first season with DIVA started last summer; right now, he’s gearing up for the spring season, which kicks off with new member orientation and clinics this week.

“There is a wide range of skill levels. When you do to the new member clinic, they figure what division you’re in: recreational, intermediate, competitive, advanced, power or open,” he says; intermediate is the largest, and the division he’s in. From then, captains conduct a draft to put you on teams.

So does his ballet training transfer to the volleyball court? Yes and no.

“They are very similar in the fact you need to be focused and there’s a specific way to do things. Your body tells you what come natural to you and you have to train yourself how to do it the right way. But there are differences in the way you move.”

There’s another way they’re alike, too.

“The dance world is very cutthroat — if you’re not practicing you’re already behind. I joined for friends but these people are competitive! There’s lots of slapping butts and laughing, but they don’t like to lose. Well, neither do I.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 11, 2001.

—  John Wright

This JONAH has one whale of a story to tell

Jewish ‘ex-gay’ group is just another attempt to get money from conflicted gay men for ‘therapies’ that do nothing but let closeted gays get their jollies through others’ fears

Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

JonahWith all the hubbub of the Fred Phelps Cult making a visit here and the oil spill continuing in the Gulf, one story seems to have dropped through the cracks. Luckily, Wayne Besen at the blog Truth Wins Out (TruthWinsOut.org)  has been on it like a dog on a bone. It involves a group called JONAH.

Aside from the biblical acronym, the group’s full name is Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, and it is part of the ex-gay industry.

Now before anyone corrects me and notes that it should be called the “ex-gay movement,” let me explain.

Not only has the whole “ex-gay” or “reparative therapy” thing been debunked by the scientific community, no major scientific group actually approves “treatment” to change sexual orientation. No one, from the American Psychiatric Association to the American Psychological Association, even considers homosexuality something to be cured.

So what you have with the ex-gay industry is a bogus cure in search of a disease, and more to the point, several organizations who have found that the whole useless endeavor can generate a lot of cash.

So, far from being a grassroots movement, the ex-gay scam is a business, albeit “non-profit.”

Meanwhile, back to JONAH.

The group was co-founded by a fellow named Arthur Abba Goldberg. Seems he was known 20 years ago in the financial community as “Abba Cadabra” for his apparent wizardry with money. That wizardry turned out to be a scam, and Goldberg was convicted of federal mail and wire fraud as well as a conspiracy to sell worthless bonds.

The guy is a real peach, and now he has reinvented himself as the leader of an “ex-gay” therapy group.

One of his “life coaches,” Alan Downing, recently has been implicated in something a bit more touchy-feely than you would expect from an ex-gay. According to men who went to Downing, part of his treatment involves having clients strip naked in front of a mirror while touching parts of their bodies, including their genitals.

The activity is observed by the “therapist” while he encourages the subject to “internalize his masculinity.” If this sounds like a voyeurs’ delight, you haven’t heard anything yet.

Downing and Goldberg are part of another bunch called “People Can Change.” A big part of their “therapy” is participating in a retreat near Phoenix, called “Journey into Manhood.” According to a writer, Ted Cox, who secretly attended one of the sessions, for $650 a pop you get to participate in a group grope for the weekend.

Now if this sounds homoerotic, what goes on there seems even less like therapy and more like just plain sex. Participants make the journey to manhood by hugging, touching and lying on each other in a “cuddle room.” Manly stuff!

If this were a Body Electric retreat I could understand it, but for something that is supposed to “cure” homosexuality, it seems to be far off the mark.

My whole point is that the “ex-gay” industry is rife with scandal. From George Rekers, the anti- gay activist who hired a “rent boy” for a European vacation, to John Paulk, former chairman of Exodus International who was photographed coming out of a gay bar in Washington D.C., the ex-gays just can’t seem to keep their gay from coming out.

I fully expect to hear about even more surprises from the reparative therapy scam in the future. But I shouldn’t be surprised.

It all stems from the greed of folks who see in gay men a vulnerability, especially if those gay men have not fully accepted their own sexuality. It is the worst kind of deceit, to prey on the psychologically vulnerable and manipulate them for cash.

It is unfortunate that they hide behind pseudo-religious organizations that protect their questionable programs as “free speech.” Maybe as more and more of these groups are exposed and debunked, their victims will see the futility of trying to change and embrace their sexuality.

That will also take society to change as well, but luckily it is already happening. Public opinion surveys show more and more Americans affirm the idea of equal rights including marriage for LGBT people.

It is my hope that some day those unhappy people who turned to groups like JONAH will emerge like the biblical Jonah from the whale into the sunlight. Then they can work on frying the bigger fish, accepting their sexuality and enjoying their lives.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens