Gay men and their relationship to masculinity could be a model for men of all types.
About 20 minutes before I began facilitating Celebrating Gay Manhood at Easton Mountain on November 13, we got news about the terror attacks in Paris. Word was still pouring in, and with Easton’s slow Internet service, I couldn’t get many firm details.
The news devastated and stunned me. I faced a decision: should I continue as planned, or put the evening program on hold so we could process what had happened? After reflection, I decided that the work was too important to derail. I had promised to take this group of men on a journey that would help them create a new relationship with manhood. So as we opened, I announced the events to the group, shared that the work we were about to engage in provided the antidote to the consciousness that led to the attacks, and paused for a moment of silent meditation.
I continued with the program, fully expecting that it would change how the participants see themselves. I didn’t expect that it would change my relationship with my own manhood.
At one point during the weekend, I had asked the men in the group to identify the authentic masculine—what it means to be a good man, and those positive roles men have played throughout the ages. We took notes on large flip-chart sheets and hung them around the room. As I gazed at the pages, it hit me: I saw myself reflected in nearly every trait. In that moment I recognized something I had never quite seen in this way: that I am a good, solid, strong man.
I have always valued the feminine within me. This has come naturally and easily to me as a gay man. But here, as I led this group of gay men to help them recognize their own masculine, I saw the power and impact of my own.
So what does it mean, according to men in the program, to be a good man? What positive traits do men play in the world? Here’s what we identified:
- Live by their principles
- Are caring
- Take responsibility for themselves
- Lead, and lead by example
- Are genuine
- Are authentic
- Are providers and protectors
- Are loving
- Share wisdom
- Serve as teachers
- Are selfless and sacrifice for others’ good
Men play positive roles including being:
- Keepers of truth
I’ve known many, many gay men who demonstrate these qualities and express these roles. They include friends, partners, acquaintances, mentors, and my heroes. I wonder, how many of them have felt less than other men? How many other gay men have felt that the presence of the feminine within them makes them less of a man? I know I have certainly wrestled with this.
But as I have done this work, a paradox has revealed itself: when we embrace and honor our feminine, we open ourselves more to our masculine. Claiming our feminine is an inherently and authentically masculine endeavor. In a world that devalues the feminine, and which pressures men to suppress it in themselves and others, it takes courage and resolve—masculine traits—to express our feminine.* And when we consider the authentic masculine—not the violent, dominating, subjugating, shadow form so many gay men have experienced at the hands of other men—we see how it has lived in us all along. We change.
The attacks in Paris were driven by an extreme version of manhood—patriarchy at its worst. The group responsible utilizes violence to spread fear and enforce subjugation, domination, and repression. Women who join the group come under immediate control of men. Gays are hurled off roofs. The feminine is suppressed. While most of the world agrees that the group’s tactics are dangerous and unacceptable, the version of manhood that drives it differs only in degree from the dominant version on the planet. In a patriarchy, the shadow masculine maintains a strong sway over manhood.
That weekend at Easton Mountain, the contrast between gay men’s version of manhood and the dominant paradigm could not have been more stark. Gay men have, largely, the peaceable natures that the world desperately needs in its men. We are leaders of, and have wisdom for, all men. When we honor ourselves for who we are, we can become a much more formidable force for good in this warring world.
*Women are just as capable of expressing masculine traits as are men. John Gerzema’s Athena Doctrine study asked thousands of people in 13 countries to identify traits as masculine or feminine. Among the traits the respondents agreed were masculine included “brave, daring, decisive, and ambitious”—close synonyms for “courage and resolve.” Respondents agreed that leaders need to be able to express both masculine and feminine traits to succeed in the 21st Century.
Photo from the cover of “Gay Men and the New Way Forward” by Raymond Rigoglioso.