Words to the Wise
Lately I dread reading the news or turning on social media. What will the candidate of the moment say now? How inflammatory, offensive, hateful, and arrogant will any of the bunch be?
I really want to blame the media. And yes, certain outlets bear a huge responsibility for dutifully and unquestioningly spreading hatred across the land. But this trend is bigger than that. It’s a crisis of consciousness. Hatred spreads because people allow it to spread. It infects hearts and minds like a virus.
We’re living amid the Great American Division. It’s a brilliant plan to distract us while the oligarchs steal our wealth, rights, and resources. It’s a tried-and-true strategy: divide and conquer.
This time around, the world has a new counterbalancing force: an emboldened, visible gay population. When we look at the larger trends, we can see how LGBT people are leading humanity, kicking and screaming, to choose love over hate. We are much more powerful than we realize.
In the context of the Great American Division, and the Division Consciousness that makes it possible, it becomes clear that gay men possess Unity Consciousness. Whenever I ask gay men to talk about what makes us different, this gift emerges. Just last week, as I looked through the notes from the first cycle of Powerful U, I noticed the clear evidence of Unity Consciousness:
- “We know what it’s like to be in other people’s shoes."
- Diversity does not mean negativity to us. “They” are not the enemy.
- We empathize with the “other.”
- The larger world operates on an ethic of punishment, harshness, judgment, lack of empathy, and lack of understanding of others. We provide the antidote to that way of thinking.
- Gay men raise the joy level.
- We allow humans to be human. This changes the energy of everyone around us.
- “I don’t see the right or wrong way. Rather, I see the middle ground.”
The more I do this work, the more I recognize just how influential our Masculine-Feminine Intelligence is. We embody and express duality—the entire range of human experience—within ourselves. As such, we embody and express the unification of humanity. It is as if humanity has birthed our consciousness to bring about its own healing.
Conservatives hate us because of our Unity Consciousness. We threaten the worldview that allows a political-media machine to convince otherwise good people to succumb to their fear of the “other.” Gay men foster understanding and collaboration, healing and empathy, and non-hierarchical ways of relating to others. Division Consciousness cannot survive in such an environment. We interrupt it without even realizing it.
Gay men are not the only ones to possess this gift, of course. And certainly, Division Consciousness can infect us too. The “isms” are alive and well in our tribe. Nothing is 100 percent.
But by and large, when we look at what we do in the world, we see that we bridge divides. We bring people together. We foster mutual understanding. Our tribe is spread among the globe, and so we see ourselves reflected in those whom other people might see as “other.” As such, we possess a unique window into Unity Consciousness.
The solution to the Great American Division looks nothing like the problem itself. We’ll change it by re-opening hearts and minds. That will happen individually, and on a community and global level.
So What Can We Do to Advance Unity Consciousness?
- First, recognize the issue as a problem of consciousness, not just of politics.
- Look at your own shadow: To what extent has Division Consciousness infected you? How has your heart hardened? By acknowledging your own shadow, you open yourself and others to greater compassion.
- Reclaim Your Personal Power. The media are designed to steal our power, to leave us feeling hopeless. When we recognize Division Consciousness as a crisis of the American soul—and even of our own—we can take personal responsibility and reclaim our power to create change. By courageously opening our hearts, we invite others to open theirs.
- Talk About It on the Personal Level. Don’t allow politicians and the media to own and frame this debate. Talk about Division Consciousness as a crisis of the American soul, as a closing of hearts and minds.
- Challenge People Who Have Closed Their Hearts. With compassion, talk about the human toll the Great Division costs us. Invite people to consider the humanity in those who they see as “other.”
- Honor Your Shamanic Role. Recognize the duality you possess, the bridge that you offer to others, the influence you have on those around you. Set a sacred intention to serve as a vessel for unity and understanding. Express this intention on your job, in your relationships, and in your daily interactions.
This week I have been putting the finishing touches on the curriculum for Celebrating Gay Manhood, the weekend program I'm offering at Easton Mountain November 13-15. As I have created this program, I have continually asked myself, "What does it mean to be a man? How is it that we are men, yet we so often feel outside of the world of men?"
Then last night, I went to the gym. Amid the testosterone-driven posturing of the muscle-bound (presumably) straight guys, and the grunts and groans, I felt that familiar mix of fear and otherness: I am a guy of medium stature and trim build. I'll never have their strength. And while I may not outwardly appear gay, it's just a veneer. Right below the surface lies a lived experience that profoundly differs from the majority of men.
This is the familiar intersection that Celebrating Gay Manhood explores: when gay men meet the world of straight men. And so I asked myself, "What power have I given away to straight men?" It became clear: I allow my fear of violence to perpetuate a belief that I took on as a child: I am less than them. And I know that's a lie.
The fact is, I do something different than these men. I fill a different purpose and social function. I have full access to my masculine, and I love being a man. I have a strength that most men will never need to summon. I have a close relationship with the feminine, which makes my life rich. I can't imagine being afraid of or not being able to express my feelings.
It takes courage to feel like a strong man around straight men. It's not something gay culture teaches us. And yet most of us encounter heterosexual men--and this familiar intersection--every day.
Celebrating Gay Manhood grows out of my own desire to claim my place in the world of men as much as it does my wish to help other gay men do the same. The teacher teaches what he needs to learn.
I can personally attest that the pathway to embracing manhood and masculinity lies not in avoiding or denying what makes us different, or trying to emulate a model of manhood that doesn't fit who we are. Rather, it comes when we acknowledge and honor what makes us different. Celebrating Gay Manhood will provide such a context, in a loving, supportive setting that challenges you to discover your own answers.
I hope you'll join us.
In Gay Men and The New Way Forward, I explore how gay men are reinventing manhood. Yet I am often struck by how much gay men--myself included--feel outside of manhood. We have no concept of "gay manhood." Even these words sound odd together.
This feeling of being outside runs deep for gay men. And there are good reasons for it: we are men who occupy an in-between place. As the men in Powerful U are exploring, this enables us to have a profoundly beneficial impact on the people around us. We create changes in our daily life because we can easily straddle the masculine and feminine.
Yet so many of us have also been victimized by men, to the point where "manhood" sounds like something we want no part of. Frankly, depending on the context and place I'm in, the word "manhood" either sounds unappealing or deeply validating. If it's straight men talking about manhood, I'm usually turned off. If it's gay men talking about honoring this part of ourselves, I'm intrigued.
One of the reasons I have always felt ambivalent about the men's movement or men's personal growth programs is the heterosexual model implicit in them. For these ideas or experiences to fit us, we must either work to see ourselves reflected, or we must modify the heterosexual men's model upon which they are based. That has always struck me as backwards.
I wanted to create a men's program that honors and reflects who we are from the ground up. Part of the motivation is to ensure the experience fully applies to gay men. But larger than that, I believe that the way we embody manhood holds wisdom for all men. Certainly, the prevailing model isn't working all that well.
When we stand tall in how we embody manhood, we can help all men discover what it means to be men. Just as we are leading humanity to choose love over hate, gay men may be the ones who rescue manhood for all men.
The Celebrating Gay Manhood weekend program, which I will give at Easton Mountain from November 13-15, will help you:
- Identify and claim manhood on your own terms
- See how your gift of Masculine-Feminine Intelligence enables you to have an effective, distinct impact in your personal and professional life
- Identify how the authentic masculine lives within you
- See your Gentle, Collaborative Social Orientation in action
We'll go deep in this exploration, with a ritual that helps you release the messages you've received about manhood, threats you've experienced, and fears you've developed of men as a result. Because personal responsibility is key to the authentic masculine, you'll explore how your wounding affects your relationships with other gay men.
We'll conclude with a session that helps you see how you embody Sustainable Manhood. And we'll identify how each of us can create more loving relationships with other gay men.
Celebrating Gay Manhood will challenge and reward you. It will help you claim and honor how you are a man, and how you serve as a model of manhood for all men.
To register, please visit the Easton Mountain website. I hope to see some of you there next month.
This week one of the Gay Spirit Visions brothers asked me to reveal more of myself, and to share why I created Powerful U and the other Gay Men of Wisdom programs. I’ll admit this feels foreign to me: I create because I’m inspired to do so. I listen to the muse and follow it. I do this work because I feel I absolutely must do so. Talking about myself seems irrelevant to this work, and revealing myself feels very uncomfortable.
Still, I consider his inquiry a challenge, a stretch. So I’ve taken him up on it. Here I’ll attempt to answer the question: why, personally, have I created Powerful U—and Gay Men of Wisdom itself?
When I published Gay Men and The New Way Forward, William Smith, who runs the website Gay Life After 40, sent me a questionnaire for a personal profile that would appear on the site. One question really struck me: “If I could meet my younger self, I would tell him…”
My answer: “Everything you’re experiencing now is preparing you for what’s to come later. You first have to experience powerlessness to come into authentic power. You are much more powerful than you give yourself credit for. You have to learn that.”
It astonished me to read what I wrote.
When I have heard stories about children who have been bullied, I have often felt envious of those who could retreat to a safe place, like home, to escape it. I had no such space. My mother died when I was age two, and my father remarried less than a year later. With this new marriage came a new mother and four step-brothers, most of whom were violent, unhappy, and abusive. Their favored phrase, when speaking about my brother, sister, and I was that, “We came from the streets. You are liberal and soft.” I lived with physical and emotional cruelty at their hands, and rage from an overwhelmed and unhappy new mother.
At school, the scenario repeated itself, only to a lesser degree. In some ways, the bullying in school seemed a relief: I could go for longer stretches of time without being physically assaulted or belittled. Places like band and chorus gave me relative reprieve. And yet, between school and home, I lived in constant fear of other boys, and of the unpredictable rages of my new mother.
To survive, I made myself as invisible and amenable as possible—anything to evade or defuse the torment. When I realized I was gay, I became devoutly religious, determined to change my sexual orientation. The energy I expended surviving childhood left little for me. I am certain I wore an energetic “Kick Me” sign. I had little sense of myself. I took up as little space as possible, and did what I could to escape notice. I hibernated. When I came out at age 19, it was about much more than just acknowledging my sexual orientation. It was about claiming the right to take up space as a human being.
Since then I’ve done a lot of very conscious work, including many years of therapy. I’ve lived through and overcome depression and panic attacks. I took a 17-year hiatus from my parents and step-family so I could learn who I was. I’ve made bold choices and lived according to my values. In my 40s, I chose to forgive my parents—to recognize that while the execution of their plan deeply wounded us, they had good intentions and made considerable sacrifices for us. My history no longer runs me, yet it indelibly shaped me.
At times in learning about myself as an adult, I have underestimated my own power. I’ve used it forcefully, yet still felt like I had no voice. I learned how destructive that could be. I liken the experience to a superhero who has to hone his laser beam without setting the town on fire. Sometimes it still surprises me to see others mirror my power back to me, and to learn of people’s expectations of me as an author and leader of this project.
So why did I create Gay Men of Wisdom, and Powerful U in particular? It must be the path of the wounded healer. I understand being disempowered, and I understand the process of developing and claiming personal power. And by this, I mean power arising from one’s deepest self, from the core of one’s being. Of standing tall in one’s self-knowledge, and in finding and expressing one’s voice.
To be truthful, this is still an ongoing inquiry for me. I personally struggle with the paradox of being a powerful gay man in world run by men who are not so different from the ones I was raised with. In some ways, the teacher teaches what he needs to learn. And if he’s any good at his job, he facilitates learning and learns from his students. I fully expect to learn and grow from, and be inspired by the men who take Powerful U and all of the Gay Men of Wisdom programs.
I didn’t set out to create Gay Men of Wisdom or any of its programs with the intention of being a wounded healer. I followed my muse and expressed it. And I have done so with conviction, passion, determination, and persistence. It seems clear to me that a project that invites gay men to claim their authentic power is right on my path.