From the PQ Monthly – September 18, 2014

By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

The local chapter of an international men’s group aims to bring local men self-actualization through initiation into “mature masculinity” — and is planning a GBTQ-specific workshop in the area to facilitate more men finding their own self-actualization.

The ManKind Project was formed in 1984 by the rather unlikely trio of therapist Bill Kauth, university professor Ron Hering, and former Marine Corps officer Rich Tosi. Influenced by the mythopoetic men’s movement — an approach to considering the psychological and social health of men in the light of mythology and social justice articulated by authors such as Robert Bly — the trio sought to reinstitute what they felt to be a lost tradition of initiation amongst men. The tradition of male initiation is in no way alien to the West, nor to modern American life; as just one example, as recently as 1950 one out of every twelve American men participated in the initiatic tradition of Freemasonry. However, as the founders of the MKP saw it, the decline of clear rites of passage in modern society resulted in adult males who were still trapped in a state of perpetual boyhood.

To recreate this initiatory experience in a modern idiom, the ManKind Project developed the New Warrior Training Adventure, a weekend-long residential workshop structured as a period of self-reflection and initiation into mature masculinity. Closely following the monomyth or “hero’s journey” articulated by mythologist Joseph Campbell, the experiential weekend includes periods described by the MKP as “The Call, Separation, Descent, Ordeal, Initiation, Integration, and Celebration.” The content of these experiences is kept secret in order to protect the experiential nature of the processes; participants are required to sign confidentiality contracts barring them from speaking about what occurs on the New Warrior Training Adventure.

However, a huge percentage of the 51,000 men who have participated in the weekend training enthusiastically describe the NWTA — and the “integration groups” that form of workshop alumni — as a life-changing experience of self-actualization, healing, and integration.

“The experience was transformative for me, says Adam Cummings, a Vancouver-based consultant and NWTA participant. “I remember going into it with my brothers’ guidance to ‘trust the process,’ and I did just that. I discovered a sense of strength, learned how much power there was in my vulnerability and in speaking something that was true for me that I would have otherwise held inside.  I witnessed other men expressing emotion in an authentic and raw way that I’d never seen before in my life, and was deeply moved.”

The MKP is a consciously and intentionally diverse organization, with a huge number of gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender-identified men participating in and serving as leaders for the NWTA. In celebration of this — and to further open up participation for men who may feel uncomfortable doing a mixed workshop with both queer and non-queer men — the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Mankind Project will host their first training adventure aimed specifically at GBTQ men this October.

“The concept of the GBTQ Gateway Weekend originated about ten years ago,” explains Ken Bonnin, a local MKP leader. “The idea is that the men going through the weekend as well as the staff facilitating the weekend are primarily gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender-identified. It creates a safe container for men who just aren’t comfortable doing deep, personal work in a group that is often primarily straight, cisgender men.” Bonnin emphatically points out that queer-identified men are welcomed and valued at all NWTA weekends, and that beyond the demographic outreach, the GBTQ Gateway Weekend does not differ at all in programming from any other NWTA workshop. However, he sees this offering as an experience that benefits both the participants and the MKP organization. “What the Gateway does for this organization is to enrich and deepen it,” he states, “and also to also bring along a group of men who are often left behind in culture — namely gay, bi, and trans men.”

Many queer MKP participants feel that the skills they learned through the training are of critical importance to the queer community at large. “The gay community in our current culture has been influenced by the principles of deceit and shame — hiding out and expose your ‘true self’ only when it’s safe,” says Cummings. “As much as that is changing, it is still for many a core aspect of existence. I believe this work is important for the larger gay community because in its core this work teaches men to act and speak outside of the facade they usually wear,” explains Cummings. “This is very valuable in the hetero-normative community, certainly, but in my experience, there are a lot of facades in the gay community. Sometimes it’s like a double-whammy of having two men, who don’t usually do a whole lot of expressing emotions in our culture, in one relationship.”

“If you get even a small piece of the value I got out of this training, I believe your life will be improved dramatically,” says Cummings. “You don’t have to be broken or in crisis in your life to take a deeper look inside.  Still, though, this work isn’t for everyone. If you’re interested, trust your own intuition.”

An upcoming New Warrior Training Adventure weekends is planned for Washougal, WA on November 14-16; the GBTQ Gateway Weekend is planned for October 3-5 in Washougal. For more information, rates, and registration, visit ManKindProject.org.