Category Archives: Diversity

My Journey With MKP As A Gay Man

I signed up to do the NWTA weekend in July 2007 in Perth, Western Australia, after a friend of mine had participated and came back raving about it.

I wasn’t convinced by his sales talk, but more by how he changed over the next 6 months. He seemed to grow taller, he was more assured, he was less fearful and more loving, his king and warrior were evident. I wanted some of that.

The weekend was powerful for me. I was challenged, frightened and initially resistant. Like the other participants, it required me to summon a lot of courage.

Was I the only gay man amongst 32 straight men?

group of diverse men
Diversity Awareness and Mutual Acceptance is a cornerstone of MKP’s work

Although I was “out”, was it safe to disclose my sexuality to a room full of male strangers? Being a gay man I had been selective about whom I disclosed this to – I felt somewhat marginalised (and carried some residual shame from my childhood about this).

I would often check out that I was going to be safe to disclose my sexuality, my otherness.

By the Saturday afternoon of my the weekend, after witnessing others explore their issues, I was ready to look at some of mine. It was principally about my father’s difficulty with my sexuality and hence my own difficulty with it.

The 20 minute exercise was very personal and very powerful. It did not fix my father’s attitude but helped me to a new level of acceptance for myself.  

During another process on Sunday we all had the opportunity to talk about our sexuality. Again this was difficult in a room full of straight men (with hindsight I’m sure I wasn’t the only man who’d had sex with another man).

sexuality acceptance poster
Be proud of who you are!

However the process was well led and I felt safe to talk and felt accepted and not judged – by the leaders at least!

It was a relief to come out so quickly with this group of newfound brothers, to feel safe, accepted and not have to hide a large part of myself. Interestingly another participant approached me later and apologized for his behavior to other gay men in the past.

He acknowledged his homophobia and abusive treatment of gay men. He realized that I was just another normal man like him. 

Later on the weekend, one of the leaders, when he heard that I was gay, approached me and welcomed me and told me that he was glad I was participating and encouraged me to be more present with who I really am.

It was a very powerful moment – an older straight man in a position of power, accepting and welcoming me for being gay!  

My journey with MKP has continued since then.

As I said earlier, it can be difficult to have to come out again and again (in new work settings, new social settings and meeting new people) while straight people don’t have to declare their otherness on an ongoing basis.

However I have found MKP to be one of the safer organisations in which to be able to drop my guard about my sexuality.

While MKP draws men from all sections of the community, it is often those who are open to learning and growth who join. MKP also encourages men to embrace diversity and acceptance and men are encouraged to challenge themselves around their prejudices.

Participating in MKP has helped me on my journey as I can do my “work” without my sexuality being too much of an issue (for me or others).

Since my weekend in 2007 I have staffed the weekend for others on several occasions. I’m glad to report that more and more gay and bi men are participating and MKP is adjusting its work to incorporate and welcome these men. 

MKP strives to “walk the walk” around diversity and this is a relief. While it has further work to do (like all of us), it is a safer place to stand, be seen and grow. 

Rob

The ManKind Project and Diversity

Stepping Up To Diversity

I wrote in the last edition of Spearhead (Autumn 2013) about diversity and my journey into it. I talked how on my Adventure weekend, the ManKind Project had accepted me and my differences. The ManKind Project “walked the talk” for me. It was incredibly healing.

I know that many men come to the weekend feeling different or outside the mainstream. For me, The ManKind Project (MKP) does a good job at accepting and integrating all men, but as we say, “the journey continues”, and there is more to do.

There is an increasing awareness in the UK about being “politically correct”, sensitive to diversity and inclusive of minorities.

Last year the MKP UK & Ireland Council acknowledged that we live in an increasingly diverse country but our MKP community does not reflect this. We are pretty middle class, middle age and white. We could go on like this, but is this how we really want to be? The answer for us was “no”.

We are also aware that diversity gets a high profile in other MKP communities and the UK wants to be in step with this.

So in order to do something about this, the Council took the decision to facilitate regular diversity training so that all men who staff 10 or more weekends have completed a recognised diversity training. The aim is to get even better at accepting and integrating men who are further outside of the mainstream who come to Adventure weekends, NWTAs (or the New Warrior Training Adventure, as it used to be known…).

NCBI (the National Coalition Building Institute) was asked to provide the training. It has a solid track record in the provision of diversity training and has received national awards for its work. In addition to this, several MKP men have attended NCBI training and highly recommend it.

Video on Diversity by the National Coalition Building Institute in the USA


MKP UK & Ireland has put on its own diversity training in the past (September 2011) so the decision was taken to keep the momentum going.

In January this year NCBI delivered a Diversity Awareness Training day for MKP UK & Ireland (and others). More about this later.

But what’s in it for me – or you? Why should I – or you – sign up for the diversity training?

Personally I can feel pretty politically correct and holier than many – but if I’m honest, I too have difficulties accepting some differences. For me diversity work is ongoing work (like the rest of the work I do in MKP).

027  diversity in action- photo -iStock_000018175122SmallFor me diversity work is about stretching my capacity to understand and tolerate difference and in this regard it helps me in my day-to-day relationships. I want to learn more about sitting with the discomfort of difference and not shutting down when I experience it.

I am aware that my unconscious prejudices can trip me up. So diversity work is about helping me expose and deal with my shadows about these issues. As a respected MKP brother of mine says “we all have them”. I didn’t realise how much I needed to respect diversity until I was challenged on it.

Raising awareness about diversity and helping men sit with difference is one part of the strategy to increase the diversity within our MKP community. There is more work to do to increase the diversity of our community. This is just the start.

ncbilogoOn 25 January NCBI ran a Diversity Awareness Training Day for MKP UK. We had 18 participants comprising 7 women and 11 men with two presenters from NCBI: Royston (a black man) and Wendy (a white woman). Nine participants were booked through MKP. Royston brought another nine. Of the 18 participants there were three black men, four gay men, one lesbian, four people over 60, two under 25, two mixed race. This was truly a diverse mix and an experiential way to learn about diversity.

Some of the feedback received:

“Understanding others’ differences but also similarities.”

“Making interventions – how to question, hear more and let the hurt unravel.”

“Not giving an opinion/judgment and stepping back.”

“The importance of identifying my own first thoughts, hidden prejudices.”

“To spend time asking people to tell me their story.”

“To focus on the person and not the comment they are making.”

“To listen and not fix. Make more ‘mistakes’.”

“Ask ‘why do we say things like that?'”

“Silence is still consent.”

MKP UK & Ireland will be working with NCBI to deliver more training later in the year. We invite you to step up to diversity.

Rob

MKP & Minorities – Gay & Bi Men

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.

Background

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.

The future?

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 bennie@deepliving.com or post something on “chat”; meet you there.

Bennie N

P.S. Ever wondered what it’s like to be bisexual? Read about it here http://tinyurl.com/2dnl9nu