Gays and Men's Work
The greatest challenge in my Men's Work has been the acceptance of my sexuality. It took me two-and-a-half years in my men's support group to openly share this aspect of my struggle. This was because of the homophobia of some of the "leaders." The president. who was not present at the meeting when I spoke of my homosexuality. saw me a few days later. He congratulated me on my courage and gave me a hug. How did he learn about what I had talked about in the support group? The hug was a hug in name only. There was no feeling of genuineness. That lack of truthfulness and the breaking of the confidentiality rule causes fear in me. I experienced his behavior as homophobic.
I am thankful that my Men's Work has given me permission to hug other men. This has created a personal dilemma. If a man starts responding to a hug more intensely than the hug I am giving him, does he intend a sexual message in his hug? If mutual consent is given, is willing sexual expression appropriate at a men's event? But why should I even have to raise the questions, except for fear? What is my fear?
If it were an event for men and women and I was "caught" necking with one of the women, would I need to raise the appropriateness of the act or our conduct? Not in this society. If I were involved in a sexual act with a man at a men's event, would I have any fear? Yes! I would fear being "caught." I would fear rumors. I would fear exclusion. I would fear that my natural talents and gifts for healing men would be rejected. In my experience these are legitimate fears. I have actually had to deal with this situation. I have directly experienced these homophobic fears in myself and in others in Men's Work.
I would like to share several experiences of homophobia. First, for one particular men's event, I was contacted by one of the leaders because I had indicated I was gay. He asked why I wanted to attend the event, and he advised me that he had to be certain I wanted to attend for the "right" reasons. Would a "straight" man have even been asked the question? No! Would a closeted gay man have been asked that question? No! But I was.
At a national men's event in 1993, there was an opportunity to organize a panel presentation by gay men. After an opening introduction for the panels, I had the floor. I indicated that this was going to be an experiential presentation. I requested that everyone, to the extent they felt comfortable doing so, physically connect with the men on either side of them. There was a sigh of relaxation among most of the participants. I felt a wave of love and comfort It swept from the back of the room to the front. My sense had been totally correct. Many of the men were ready for the physical touch and intimacy, even though it was part of a gay panel presentation. The panel was a success. Several of the facilitators congratulated us, indicating that a gay panel could not have been possible two years before-it would not have been acceptable.
The panel represented progress, but also demonstrated the fear that still existed. Some men did not express support afterwards; a conflict arose the following day. There were still men who were fearful of the experience. If they have fear of male physical intimacy, then it is not totally safe for me to be a gay man.
Finally, during the closing ceremony at a weekend men's event, reference was made to "our female partners." I spoke up and said that if there was a real interest in wanting gay men to feel at home in Men's Work, talking about female partners only was unsatisfactory. The appropriate manner was to talk about a man's partner, absent explicit reference to males or females.
These incidents have caused me much concern. I fear some men in Men's Work will reject me. I fear that I will be abandoned when I am in need. In the wider community, it is a fear of discrimination and physical injury. In Men's Work, it is a fear of psychic injury. Will someone play with my head? Will I be bashed? Will men in my support group reject me? Will men, mythopoetic and others, reject me? Hate me? Abandon me?
If gay men are to feel accepted by the men's movement, it will be determined by the degree that straight men are sincere and sensitive in their welcome to gay men. Actions speak louder than words. Included in the welcome extended to gay men must be openness and acceptance of the rights of gay men to live and enjoy their lifestyle.
My own work is still very inner-directed. I still struggle dally with my issues, with my addictions, with my own personal brand of lack of self-love.
But one question still remains. Are the men in Men's Work really ready to end homophobia and ready to accept and embrace gay men as full brothers?
Editor's Note: The author has been involved in over 50 men's events in the last six years as a participant, initiate, staffer, planner, cofacilitator, or initiating eider. He wax involved in organizing a men's support group that has continued for six years, and actively participates in four other men's support groups.
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