The weekend is designed with “a gay sensibility and cultural element, fairy dusted and queered up.”
by David Goldberg
On the weekend of November 7, the Mankind Project (MKP) is hosting a special life-coaching and group-training weekend geared toward gay, bisexual, trans, and questioning men. Like all of the international group’s “New Warrior Training Adventures,” the weekend focuses on fostering community among men, healing trauma, and encouraging productive and meaningful ways of thought and interaction. According to MKP training and operations coordinator Greg Gondron, the GBTQ “gateway” weekend is designed with “a gay sensibility and cultural element, fairy dusted and queered up.”
Over its nearly 30-year existence, the men-only self-help group has expanded to nine geographical regions and has trained over 50,000 men worldwide. The New Warrior Training Adventures, the main event of the mega-movement, runs approximately 100 times a year. But anyone involved in the group is quick to clarify that the Mankind Project is in no way affiliated with the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement,” which has accrued new levels of public humiliation in recent years. Boysen Hodgson, MKP’s communications and marketing director, makes the distinction:“It’s very problematic,” he says. “The language we use is focused on inclusivity and personal responsibility rather than on any kind of attribution or blame. [The easiest way] to distinguish us from them is to look at who we are talking about—we are focusing on ourselves and our responsibilities in our relationships. We’re focusing on our actions, our emotions, our impact.”
In 2003, based on a rising demand for inclusive space for queer men, the Mankind Project initiated the Gateway adventure program, which succeeded instantly. Hodgson tells OutSmart that the group’s percentage of GBTQ men is above the national average, at approximately 20 percent. The idea of the gateway weekend was to flip the percentage paradigm, making straight men the minority. Gondron says that the demographic shift made a huge impact. “The few straight men who staffed [the weekend] or who participated said the experience was so powerful and life-changing—they got a taste of what it felt like to be oppressed, or targeted, or to be in the minority in a group of majority-GBTQ men.” He insists that to fully describe the weekend to a prospective participant would be “like telling you about the plot of the movie before you go.”
Houston’s branch of the Mankind Project hosted its first gateway weekend in 2007, and the second is coming in September. Dr. Randy Mitchmore, who is an active member in the Houston area, says that the gateway weekend is an excellent entrance for newcomers into the organization. “For people that are putting themselves at risk by going to a retreat that has a little mystique and you’re not sure what you’re in for, there’s a camaraderie and a comfort that you can’t get anywhere else other than with other gay men,” he says. “We understand each other better.”
And for participants in a city like Houston, a New Warriors weekend is just the beginning, according to Mitchmore. “After the weekend there’s a lot of opportunity for leadership development, looking at eldership, community activity, mission work, groups of guys going out, Habitat for Humanity, and helping the homeless,” Gondron says. “There is a lot of work going on after the weekend, and a lot of opportunities for personal growth, along with support groups that take place weekly. It’s not a one-weekend-shopping deal. It’s ongoing.”
At press time, there were still spaces available for this month’s Gateway adventure weekend, and the Mankind Project offers scholarships. To learn more, visit mankindpride.org.
From Doubt to Pride
A personal experience with MKP
When I decided to do the New Warriors weekend, I was in a very difficult place. I was burned out in my job and struggling in my personal life. The biggest thing that I was struggling with was a true acceptance of my being gay. The old story that I played in my head is that I couldn’t be much of a man if I was gay. There was a part of me that knew this wasn’t true; however, my religious upbringing kept rearing its ugly head and was causing me to doubt myself. I lived a life of uncertainty and doubt—a very bleak existence. I isolated too much and had very little healthy social engagement.
What I got from my weekend was confidence in my masculinity, acceptance of who I was, and affirmation for all the struggles I had gone through. I had both gay and straight men affirm me throughout the weekend, showing me how to begin to love myself and be proud of who I was. To be honored and respected for what was at the core of my soul was very affirming. I walked into the weekend burdened by so much doubt and uncertainty, but I walked out with my head held high and proud of who I was. Thinking back now, it’s hard to believe that was accomplished in less than 48 hours, but it was.
Through my ongoing involvement, The Mankind Project has continued to shine a spotlight on issues that need to be worked on, while at the same time blessing me with smart, respectful, and accepting men who have helped me on my path. As I got better, I got the opportunity to return that same respect and acceptance to others around me.
In a nutshell, the weekend changed my life. I live a much fuller, much more satisfying existence than I ever had before the weekend. When I think back on my decision to take the risk and go on the New Warrior Training Adventure, I am grateful that I did, even though I never could have imagined the wonderful changes it would bring about in my life. I am a better worker, friend, and man—all thanks to those who are in my life today.—Tommy LaFon