Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Stephán Amery McKenzie in regular writer Bryan Reeves’s column.
I don’t wanna write about how hard living on the streets at the age of sixteen was or the insurmountable mountains I’ve climbed from being homeless again in my late twenties to filing for bankruptcy in my earlier thirties in an effort to live some semblance of a normal life. It seems cliché and I couldn’t do ‘my story’ justice in a paragraph or two anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I’m neither embarrassed nor am I belittling where I’ve been. I’ve come to embrace my past but know I am not my past. It is a part of me but it doesn’t define me. So let me sum up my humble beginnings like this: it started under strife but it felt real nice. The middle was rough and then it really sucked. I felt alone. Then I was alone. I had nothing to remind me of me but some hazy memories I couldn’t distinguish from my own or from favorite family-oriented TV shows I repeated in my mind enough times to think maybe they were mine. And then it got worse. And worse some more. Yet somehow, I pulled myself out of that only to face-plant the cement several more times before finding my ‘sea-legs’ and learning how to stumble but not tumble. And if I tumbled to not mumble, “I don’t matter anyway.” It wasn’t until ‘The Change’ that I fully found my way, my purpose, the Me I was afraid might only be imaginary.
The Change? I turned 40. The Big 4-0. Life halfway done. For the average male, more than halfway. I was on the other side of the slide. Now what?
I spent the first 40 years being a fighter. Fighting my family. Fighting religion. Fighting the anger I denied. Fighting my sexuality. Fighting the limitations my past tried to tie to me. Fighting the realization I felt the system I lived by was a lie. Fighting my desire to be a part of something, for someone to tell me I was something. I fought just to fight. That’s all I knew. That’s all I thought I was. This state-of-mind had me defensive and aggressive. I felt like I was always under attack, so I was always ready to attack on whim. Let me be clear, I wasn’t inherently angry. I was a happy child. And as my humbling beginnings above depict …things changed, rather drastically.
I ‘woke up’ around turning 40 with the notion, what if I decide the world is out to help and support me instead of fight me and take everything from me. “Hmm. That’s an interesting proposition,” I thought to myself. “Alright. I’ll give that try.” Surprisingly, it was that easy. I figured if I was wrong and all hell broke loose, I spent the first 40 years fighting; I can do that in my sleep. No need to worry about getting rusty. I wouldn’t become a casualty of The Walking Dead.
So I put that out there—“Universe, support me because I’m trust falling into your arms. And dammit don’t drop me because you don’t want to be on my bad side!” I’ve always been on a journey for self-revelation, to break the cycles of my youth, my heritage, my family, and society. I wanted to be better. I wanted to own my life without the illusion of the program I’ve received since inception. Yet, I did it at arms length, trusting no one. No wonder I only got so far. So now, with my arms a bit more open, I attended workshops, took up yoga, mediated, and asked a lot of questions. I began to understand things that never quite made sense to me…like community. I always felt like an outsider even if I was on the inside. For example, I’ve lived in LA since the age of seven; it’s what I know. LA didn’t start feeling like home until my 38th birthday—that’s how my entire life has felt, whether it was family, organizations, or friends. Always feeling a bit on the outer perimeter. I also began volunteering, a lot. Volunteering reminds me there’s an abundance of good in the world; it takes one hand reaching out to another to begin healing a life consumed with pain. Volunteering also reminds me it isn’t all about me, and THANK GOODNESS there’s so much more to life than me. I began to open up more. I began to feel The Change on the inside. Then entered The Mankind Project (MKP).
I heard about this (MKP) men’s group a couple of years prior, about their New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA) but I wasn’t ready to actually do anything about it. I had other things to do. And I didn’t want to fork over the cash or take a break from my newfound active lifestyle. But now it felt time, so I did it. Once again, it was that easy. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I did know I was on a path of deeper awareness, a greater understanding of myself and how I could magnify my desire/impact to be a force for good.
I’m not going to try to tell you how great the weekend is/was. The NWTA is different for everyone. The lessons learned, the hurdles bounded, the connections achieved, internally and externally, depends on the participant. To try to sell you or scream from the rooftops what this can do for someone else seems a bit incongruent to me. What I can tell you is what has happened since my NWTA experience with the Mankind Project. I’ve grown leaps and bounds in the last 4 years. The NWTA was just a launch pad. I had no idea of the trajectory it would set me on. I’m stronger. I’m more in my skin. I have more clarity in my life and ownership of my behaviors. I have men in my life who not only tell me the TRUTH but also know how to do so with an open-mind, and a heart filled with appreciation of the person I am. I’ve learned to stand in my power, whether in the midst of swirling projections and vitriol being hurled at me or when I feel I’m being ignored or invisible. I’ve come to honor the Light I bring and to be humble about the shadow that accompanies it. I know in my core: where I stand, where I can lean and where I won’t budge. I have been able to be bold in my choices and stand on firm footing with my sexuality. My Pride stems not from who I sleep with or how I love but on the complete belief it is my birthright to be as happy as the next person; that my life is to be glorified for my existence alone like every other spirit that decides to come into Being. A kiss is just a kiss; and I will share mine freely with whom I like even if it doesn’t look like ‘you’ think it should.
I’m not going to lie. Everyone may not have this experience. This is an organization made of men, which means it’s flawed; I’m flawed. And if one wants a lot, there’s more than enough to sustain you. If one wants to come and grab from the buffet then scamper off to a different adventure, by all means that works too. There’s a support network in MKP like nothing I’ve seen. It spans the globe and it is ongoing. So what you get out of it is what you first have to give yourself permission to have. If I hadn’t gone through ‘The Change’ I may not be writing this now. My perception of my outside world may have prevented me from collecting my GOLD that has been waiting for me to claim. The gold of going through my fears and perceived shortcomings to come out on the other side (of the slide) fully connected and loved in a way I have only secretly dreamed. I now see a new world of connectivity. Where my fellow man isn’t my enemy, but a brother fighting his own internal demons leading him to only reflect the darkness he’s come to think is his truth, his self-worth. I know that’s not the truth for the next man or for myself. We are not the darkness that dwells deep within and yet, that darkness is a compass for what we can accomplish, good and bad. It is a power source that we can harness to bring about beneficial change with the right mentorship.
A piece of gold I’ve been able to claim is my pain, my sadness. I’m a griever. I need to grieve everything from the big things, like a death and not getting a huge promotion, to the small things, like not going a vacation I planned or a budding friendship that never blossomed. Accepting this part of me, being able to harness it, has allowed me to access a cornucopia of magnetism. For the two emotions, joy and sorrow, are irrevocably linked in my book. My willingness and depth to grieve has given me the ability and permission to feel limitless ecstasy that I’ve only felt on drugs. In a world where boys are still taught not to cry, to ‘man-up’, to ‘not let them see you sweat’, that any perceived weakness will make me a p***y … acknowledging my grief, that I’m a griever, or releasing a pool of tears wasn’t on my to-do list. Hell, it wasn’t even on my bucket list! Yet by doing what felt unnatural at first but intuitively, internally harmonious has opened my life to a newfound freedom that allows me to live a clearer, more aware, most grateful existence with no need for me to pack more baggage to lug around.
I’ve come to look at MKP as a gym. A new type of gym where I can come and work out— work on and work out my issues in a safe place. Like my limiting beliefs, fears of being great, malleability of sexuality and masculinity, and creating a world of healing through first recognizing The Change starts with me. MKP LA typically has 4 New Warrior Trainings a year. This October, 14th-16th, MKP LA will be having its 2nd NWTA Gateway specifically for GBTQ men. All weekends are inclusive, meaning ALL men are welcomed on any New Warrior Training Adventure (whether a Gateway or not). And occasionally MKP sponsors weekends, known as Gateways, for specific demographics: hearing-impaired/deaf, young warriors, Spanish speaking, low income/men of color, GBTQ, etc. These Gateways are to facilitate a supportive environment, which the specific demographic being targeted, in a good way in this respect, may never have experienced due to society’s missteps or abuse. So if any of this sounds promising, I invite you to consider giving yourself permission to collect the GOLD awaiting you.
If there’s only one thing you remember about this dialogue, I hope it’s this: YOU ARE GREAT. You ARE good. You are the gift that was promised to us, long before you understood. We, your brethren hold a place for you. When you are ready, the throne welcomes another King. For in a land of Kings can we guide this world to a unified kingdom of prosperity, longevity and Brotherhood.
Stephán Amery McKenzie
(Hummingbird of JOY!)
For more information about LA’s October GBTQ Gateway New Warrior Training Adventure please visit mankindpride.org or facebook.com/ManKindPrideLA. You can also call/text (213) 595-8582 or toll-free (888) 258-0205 or email email@example.com for more information or with any questions. For information about other ManKind Project weekends in LA please visit losangeles.mkpusa.org.
Stephán Amery McKenzie is a Los Angeles based Aspirer. He’s an aspiring writer. An aspiring filmmaker. An aspiring talk show host. An aspiring poet. An aspiring humanitarian. An aspiring activist. An aspiring Buddhist. And an Aspiring human being.