Having just returned from the San Diego Gay/Bi Gateway NWTA I’d like to share my experience, some of the history of Gateways in our community, explain the context for these weekends, and peek into the future.
After a Gay/Bi Gateway NWTA in Atlanta in 2004 I returned to the UK all fired up to have our own “Gateway”. Over-enthusiastic and without the necessary communication or leadership skills to enrol others in my vision (and maybe, just maybe, our community wasn’t ready for a Gateway) the notion of anything but a “standard” NWTA was met with significant opposition, even from gay Warriors.
And so I threw in the towel with anger and resentment about “being misunderstood and unsupported” – one of many shadows recurring in my life based on the lie that “I don’t belong”.
That was more than 5 years ago. I imagine that a lot has changed in those 5 years; I know I have.
MKP officially supports Gateway NWTAs. There have been Gateways for gay/bi, African-American, Orthodox Jewish and Hispanic men, and men who are deaf or hard of hearing. Gateways are 100% Warrior weekends. They aren’t “black” or “gay” or “lover” weekends; they follow the same protocols and structure, involve the same energy, and they have the exact same intent: to initiate men into a new way of being.
The main differences are
• Approximately 75% of the staff and leader team are from the minority group (gay/bi, Hispanic, etc)
• The majority of initiate places are reserved for men from that group
• Men from the non-minority group who apply to attend the weekend are told about the structure of the weekend so they can choose to come or not. Some may very well decide that they’d rather do a “standard” weekend, while others have felt comfortable attending the Gateway.
Even after staffing two gay/bi weekends in 2004 and 2005 it took me a few years to “get” why these weekends are necessary and imj important.
For most men it takes a huge amount of courage to attend the NWTA. Maybe, if you think back to your weekend, the weeks and days leading up to it, filling out the forms, receiving that call, packing, driving down, arriving and being met at the gate (and of course the weekend itself) – you’ll know what I’m talking about.
So how about gay/bi men attending an NWTA where they know that the majority of staff will be straight?
Many gay/bi men grew up being bullied or “gay bashed” because of their sexual orientation or preferences. Many experience rejection from their families or friends for the same reason. Most countries in the world still discriminate against homosexual people through legislation, some countries imprison or kill gays; even in places where the law treats gay/bi people as equal, discrimination is commonplace in the workplace and in society; it happens!
Usually, those implementing laws which discriminate against gay/bi people, those doing the rejection, and the bullies, are men and women who profess to be straight. Given that this is the reality of many gay men I believe it’s unrealistic to expect them to trust they’ll be safe with straight men.
I believe that seeing this as “their stuff” and suggesting that they should just “get over it” is an attitude that comes from ignorance, the privilege and power of being straight, homophobia (a fear of homosexuals), and/or hetero-sexism (a belief that homosexuality is inferior to heterosexuality).
MKP’s response to this? Gateway weekends, where these men are explicitly told that they will be supported by men on staff who are either from “their tribe” or who are overtly and consciously their allies.
A number of gay/bi men (like me) do the “standard” NWTA. I regard myself as lucky because I’m not overtly gay (you’d probably not know if I didn’t choose to tell you); also, because I only came out in my late 20’s, I didn’t personally experience any gay-bashing while growing up. Now, in my early 40’s, I can pretend to be straight – convincingly – whenever it seems unsafe not to do so.
I had every intention of hiding my sexual preference on my NWTA; I just assumed that revealing it would NOT be OK – until the staff man leading a process on the Sunday morning opened up the circle with the words “As a gay man…” Instead of being rejected I was met with total acceptance. This was a profoundly healing experience for me that I believe set me up to eventually come out to my parents, family and friends and the world.
Not every gay/bi man has had the luxury of blending in with the (majority) crowd and some have experienced the reality of abuse that goes with heterosexism and homophobia (again, often from people who claim to be heterosexual: this is really important to “get”) for a long, long time before they even hear about the NWTA.
To then expect them to trust a circle of straight men on an NWTA is, as a Jewish friend said to me, like expecting a Jewish man to do his NWTA in Germany.
Or a black man to step into an all-white circle.
There is simply too much history to ignore. Yes, it would be easy to judge such a man’s fear and refusal to come as “all his stuff”. Easy and, imj, ignorant of the world we live in or, more to the point, ignorant of the world they live in.
The Gateway NWTAs offer an opportunity to consciously create a safe space for men from these minority groups to do their work. They still have to find the inner courage to step through the gate and onto the carpet; the Gateway concept simply creates the assurance that they will not be hurt yet again for their “minority” status.
San Diego Sept 2010 Gateway
The weekend was, like all weekends for me, the same – and different. I knew that about 75% of the staff were gay/bi but with few exceptions I did not know who was and who wasn’t. Similarly, all I knew about the men attending was that most (or potentially all) were gay/bi.
In the end it just wasn’t important to know who “was” and who “wasn’t”.
What was important was that the gay/bi initiates knew that they would be safe to be “out”, to be themselves. As with all NWTAs, the staff provided the structure and allowed the initiates to provide the content – their content. If a man wanted to take a deeper look at his sexuality then that’s what happened; if he came to the weekend for a different reason then we honoured that too.
We held them, challenged them and loved them just like we do on any NWTA. On Sunday we left, the world yet again imj a little safer.
Staffing a Gateway
This was my third gay/bi Gateway NWTA and it was the third time that I heard straight staff talk about their challenge and discomfort of being in the minority – some for the first time ever in their lives.
Staff were reminded not to assume that a man’s partner was a “her” or a “she” or a “wife”; non-gay staff were encouraged to ask gay/bi staff anything they were curious about or wanted to know about gay culture.
I know that I suppress more “gay” parts of me on “standard” weekends, telling myself that it either will not be welcome or understood. And so in my experience, the Gateways give conscious and unconscious permission to the minority group to allow parts of them out that they have learnt to suppress in a world that is predominantly “other”. I believe that that brings a quality of initiation to the initiates that is simply richer, truer and safer than non-Gateway NWTA’s.
Gateways are not better, or worse, or even that much different from “standard” NWTAs. And they are, of course, a world apart.
I would love to be part of and have a Gateway in the UK in 2011 and I’m wondering: could it be that our community is ready for our own Gateway?
I suppose what I’m really wondering about is – are you ready for our own Gateway?
I’d love to hear from you. Why not email me your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post something on “chat”; meet you there.
P.S. Ever wondered what it’s like to be bisexual? Read about it here http://tinyurl.com/2dnl9nu