Friday, November 30, 2007

Mankind Project's New Warrior Adventure: The Best Program for all Men!


Lately the New Warrior Adventure--sponsored by the Mankind Project (MKP)--has been getting some negative press. The false belief that is being written is that it promotes reparative therapy and helps gay men turn straight. This is the promise given by some reparative therapy groups and therapists. However, this is completely untrue. The MKP teaches men how to be and live as better men--whatever their sexual and romantic orientation is.

I should know. I was initiated through the MKP in 1999 and am proud of it. I have referred hundreds of men through my book, 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do To Find Real Love, in which I talk throughout the book of my experiences in MKP and how it helped me and healed me. I have recommended to my male clients that they go and they have returned with nothing more than positive results.
The New Warrior Training Adventure provided me with a group of men, mostly straight, whose mission in life is to help men become better and more mature. Still, I went to this workshop not knowing what to expect—and I’m glad I didn’t. That is exactly what made it so powerful for me. This workshop changed my life, liberated me as a man among men, and opened up new possibilities for me.

Here I was, able to have straight men love me, hold me, and help me feel part of the male culture. It is what I’d wanted and waited for all my life. It helped me heal some work I needed to bond and attach reciprocally with other men.

I can hear a reparative therapist right now saying, “See, it was too late. If Joe had had this experience earlier in life, he wouldn’t have turned out gay.” The truth is that as children, the other men attending also had suffered at the hands of male peers, and most were straight.

To believe that mistreatment makes you gay, you would have to go back and look for the reasons why—first assuming that there’s something wrong with being gay. When heterosexual males suffer mistreatment, no one bothers trying to establish through research that it made them straight.

When I was ten, I went on a camping trip with my uncle and his two sons on a sort of Boy Scout trip with boys and their fathers. I recall dreading it, since I knew this uncle didn’t like me and disapproved of my “sissy” behavior. I remember him talking to my mother and the other adults about me, and most of them in fact agreeing with him!

My own family referred to me as a “mama’s boy.” So to please my mother and those trying to “make a man out of me,” I went on this trip, which turned out to be one of the worst experiences of my life. For the canoeing part of the trip, everyone was paired up except me.

Somehow I was separated from my uncle’s boys and got partnered with Uncle Alvin himself.
I recall both of us in life jackets, and feeling the boat tip one way and then the other as my uncle shifted in his seat behind me as he paddled. Being that I was a skinny ten year old and he weighed at least 300 pounds, my uncle’s weight rocked the canoe. I became frightened. Most of the time, I couldn’t see the bottom of the lake. We were alone, with no other canoes in sight.
Sure enough, he leaned too far to one side and we tipped over.

I went under. When I surfaced with the help of the life jacket, I saw the canoe overturned and my uncle trying to right it. I knew we were in deep water, since I couldn’t touch the lake bottom, and I was afraid I would drown. My uncle looked afraid and not in control, which only scared me more. The next thing I recall is both of us back in the canoe, and my uncle yelling at me because I was crying from being scared. For what seemed like hours, he said cutting things such as, “You will never amount to anything. You are a sissy! All you like to do is play house and play with dolls! You are a crybaby, a mama’s boy!” He shouted these patronizing, contemptuous epithets at me, over and over.

As a child you believe what adults say. To a child, adults are always right; so the child makes himself wrong.If the child is right, then the adults in charge must be wrong—and to a preadolescent, that is too overwhelming. So the child unconsciously agrees to be wrong in order to get along with the adults. When we arrived back on land, I was too humiliated to tell a soul about Alvin’s barrage of verbal and emotional abuse. It was as if he’d said aloud what I knew others thought about me—and, in fact—what I felt and believed about myself. I had been crying hard, and my cousin, Alvin’s son, still tells me how shaken I looked when we returned. All I wanted was to get away from him and everyone else.

For years afterward, this incident was the topic of much of my own therapy. Initially, therapists thought this had contributed to my homosexuality—that Alvin’s verbal abuse contributed to and cemented the homosexual identity taking place during my early years.


Today, reparative therapists (and even some other professionals) would say that all of this trauma made me gay; but this would mean that you can shape sexual and romantic orientation. But it doesn’t, because this type of mistreatment happens to any male who doesn’t fit the image of how men should look and act; it doesn’t shape his sexual and romantic orientation.

The fact is, gays and lesbians who raise their own (or adopted) children almost invariably have sons and daughters who grow up straight. Growing up in gay or straight families doesn’t impact children’s sexual orientation either way—but mistreating a gay or effeminate little boy certainly creates low self-esteem, which makes him feel less than a man. Again, this is separate from one’s sexual interests. What makes things worse for gay men is the covert cultural sexual abuse that allows men to be violent to gay males as if we were less than human.

Trying to heal that abuse from my uncle and male peers in therapy did not make me straight. But it did help me understand how those incidents traumatized my masculinity, not my sexual orientation; these are two related but separate entities.

I highly recommend all men who feel they want to improve their lives to attend the New Warrior Adventure and see for themselves the hope, the help and the love that these men who--other than the leaders--volunteer their time and efforts to make these workshops happen--

2 comments:

Mike Airhart said...

I greatly respect some of the goals of the MKP.

I think it's important for men to escape society's numerous ways of oppressing men -- through labels, conformism, the suppression of emotion and feeling, narrow rules of behavior, and contradictory gender-role expectations that leave men trapped in double-binds.

I applaud efforts to help men communicate one-to-one and in groups through emotion and expression as well as intellect.

Given the revelations of certain incidents at New Warrior events, I think some reforms might be needed to avoid any possibility of physical or emotional abuse or neglect, to protect the emotionally or mentally fragile from exposure to challenges for which they are unprepared, and to direct victims of family or sexual abuse to professional care.

Clearly, like many programs, the MKP is not equipped nor intended to substitute for the professional care that many people need.

Joe Kort said...

Mike,

We are in agreement. The MKP is not for everyone but I can assure you there is no abuse and everything is done with intentionality and respect for each man who comes through the New Warrior Program.