To all my MKP Brothers, Especially the Straight Ones
To All My MKP Brothers, Especially The Straight Ones
I had a tooth brush in my mouth and was contemplating sleep when my overnight guest, a straight man, said to me, “I have a real problem with gay men.”
As a gay man, hearing this statement from a guest in my own home was not exactly comforting. Was this the beginning of an ugly conflict? What hard words might come out next?
I should back up.
Eight years ago, Minnesota MKP produced the familiar BSDT (Basic Staff Development Training) weekend training. Locals and out-of-staters showed up to sit around the metaphorical campfire and discuss our New Warrior Training Adventure weekend and the raw guts of who we are as men. Those of us with spare rooms offered weekend housing. I agreed to host a fellow Minnesotan named Joe who lived outside the twin cities area.
Over multiple staffings, Joe and I gradually grew a guarded respect for each other. We liked each other well enough but he kept me at a distance and I respected it. (I love that I no longer have to be friends with every single man and fake pleasantries. We can respect each other’s manhood and simply not hang out.) Between assigned processes and wandering around camp, Joe and I would nod affably when our paths crossed.
But after a few staffings where we collaborated well, Joe and I decided to expand on our mutual trust by stepping out together on the carpet to help facilitate some emotional work.
You know what that means.
You don’t step out on the carpet with a man unless you trust that man has your back. Doesn’t matter if it’s his first staffing or thirtieth – it’s not always about experience. It’s about the man. You don’t step out unless can you look that man in the eyes and communicate, ‘Together, we can handle this. We can go there.’
It’s an unusual honor we initiated men are blessed to share during this lifetime, the ability to look a man in the eyes and silently agree, ‘Together, we can go there.’
After Friday night’s BSDT training, Joe volunteered to stay at my house. I set him up in his guest bedroom, gave him towels and offered up the contents of my fridge. Host stuff. We were tired and Saturday promised to be a long day. I was brushing my teeth and I think I was simultaneously watering plants because I never just brush my teeth. I multitask. As we said our goodnights, I still had my tooth brush dangling from my mouth.
Joe stood up from the living room couch and asked me to wait, please wait. He was quiet for a moment, uncomfortable.
Finally, he said, “I have a real problem with gay men.”
An older version of me would have already knifed an angry retort. But New Warriors frequently smash into each other at that amazing intersection of testosterone and vulnerability and we often come out better for the collision. So, I waited. Joe continued to speak.
He said, “I would like to understand more about this. I think you’re the man to help me.”
We looked each other in the eyes and silently communicated, ‘Together, we can go there.”
I won’t pretend it wasn’t awkward or tense. It was. It was hard for me to be the warrior he needed while he did his work; I tried not getting triggered by my own shit. We followed those basic but effective communication MKP guidelines regarding I-statements and owning shadowy statements as they emerged. Gently, we called bullshit on each other as needed. Gently.
Joe asked questions. He didn’t understand why gay men did certain things.
We talked cautiously and late into the night sharing our hearts, hearing each other’s story with the listening that is reserved for men you want to know better. Men you might love in your deepest heart of hearts if you first navigate some tricky terrain.
In the end, I wasn’t very good representative of Gaydom because in a mournful voice Joe concluded, “I still don’t get it. I don’t get gay dudes. How can you not want to have sex with a woman? I mean, how is that possible you aren’t totally turned on by women? I don’t understand.”
“That’s okay,” I said, “Who said you had to totally understand being gay? It’s enough that you tried. Joe, you may never understand being gay on that level. You’re into women. End of story. ”
He was shocked, relieved and delighted. While he contemplated my answer, I confessed I didn’t understand the attraction to women, the physical part. I’m all over the emotional attraction and I love the women in my life. But I simply do not get the sex part. It’s not me.
As we talked deeper, turns out that Joe, who is a handsome guy, was hit on multiple times over the years by aggressive gay men who saw him as a tasty treat and decided to go for it. Gay men had tried to seduce him with the upsetting logic that ‘if you really were open-minded about gays, you’d try the sex, just experiment with the sex to better understand gays…’
In short, gay men disrespected him. Repeatedly. They did not honor his sexuality by leaving him alone.
And he felt like shit for not trying harder to ‘understand gays’ but there was no way he wanted to try that. I had given him permission to not understand gay men and it was a revelation for him.
This late-night conversation is a perfect representation of MKP magic – we untangle shit together, the ugly marriage of hurt and negativity, of stereotyping and raging. We men untangle knots. Turns out, only a gay man could untangle that mess for Joe and quite frankly, he had had enough of the gays. Until his NWTA experience, Joe had little interest in befriending another gay man.
But MKP made him reconsider.
After that night, Joe and I staffed as close friends, loving each other in the way male friends can. One weekend, after one particularly grueling piece of carpet work involving a shitty, shitty father, Joe and I took each other outside and wept together. Another staffing, I told everyone Joe and I were biological brothers. Whenever someone called out his last name, we both stood and I said, “Which brother did you want – him or me?” Joe loved it. And for that weekend, we were truly brothers.
When Joe became a father, he beamed light from the inside out, showing off pictures of his newborn son. Whenever his love for his young family shone through him, Joe was the most handsome father and woman-loving man who ever walked the earth.
We’re mostly Facebook buddies these days, but every now and then we connect in a meaningful way and I suspect we will always be ‘go to’ men for each other – a man you can call for wisdom and support.
I am a better man for my friendship with Joe.
I don’t know what I would do without the straight men in my life.
It’s hard to believe I was once so afraid of straight men: the enemy. Enemy might be too strong, but let’s say potential adversary. Sure, I had met and befriended exceptions to the rule (rare exceptions, I believed), cool straight men who accepted me for who I was. I knew it was possible.
But as a gay man, I also endured some verbal abuse and witnessed the disgust in straight men’s eyes for seeing me as I am. Under the guise of new friendship one straight man invited me to one of those conversion weekends designed to overcome the ‘gay curse.’ So yeah, I owned some shit around straight men. I needed to do my own work.
I didn’t know that I would do my work with straight men, that they were the only ones to love and heal wounds inside me that years ago, I vowed I would never, ever let a straight man see. I could never expose that vulnerability.
But they saw me.
And they loved me.
I just published my second novel, titled King Mai. Takes place on a Midwestern farm. One theme is the friendships between gay and straight men.
I sometimes think I have written these two books exclusively for my MKP brothers. Beneath the plot, the outdoor sex, the kidnapping of baby ducks (not in a sexy way, just a normal two-men-kidnapping-water-fowl kind of way), beneath all that lies the familiar struggle of gold and shadow, and if there’s one story both straight and gay MKP brothers love to discuss, it’s the struggle of gold and shadow.
Get this: both novels invite the title character to experience a 40-hour warrior’s journey, during which his internal defenses are lovingly stripped and he delves deep into his grief, his anger, his fear –whatever–until he remembers something amazing – that he himself is amazing – and he rises to meet his golden, glowing kingship on Sunday morning, remembering the man he was always meant to be.
I thought it might.
Roughly ten years ago, on a New Warrior Training Adventure, I remembered that I am amazing and I also discovered I was missing half the love in the world by not loving my straight brothers.
On the day I finished writing a first draft of King Mai, my buddy Snake Bloomstrand happened to stop over at my house. At that moment, I was writing about the two main characters saying goodbye and as sad as they were, I felt worse. I had loved these characters for hundreds of pages and I had to say goodbye, too. I cried while sharing with Snake what this book meant to me.
Snake listened thoughtfully. Quietly. I described a final scene I was writing where Vin Vanbly and Mai Kearns explore the family farm, holding hands.
He said, “You should have them tour the machine barn and look at all the rusted equipment. They recognize those broken tills and old combines might be how farmers show love each to other. Through all those machines they intend to fix one day.”
“Yes,” I said, eager to reinforce a theme in the book. I was excited by this idea. “It’s how straight farmers say, ‘I love this guy.’”
“Maybe,” Snake said. “Maybe not just straight men. Might be that all men love each other through machines and equipment.”
I had assumed something –not particularly negative, but still, assumed –because of an old sore spot in me that used to be jagged and angry. Having deep friendships with straight men is no longer a novelty, but sometimes old programming surfaces. I will always need straight male friends to point out my basis and blind assumptions.
Vin Vanbly, the narrator of my stories, at one point thinks to himself:
We’re so busy defining ourselves as gay men and straight men, we forget we share a whole word in common. We are men. Despite one rather substantial difference, we should remain curious to see what we learn from each other. What’s it like over on your side of manhood? Oh yeah? We don’t do anything like that over here. But then again…maybe we do.
Snake earned the right to make plot suggestions because he read my first book, King Perry, and after finishing told me, “I loved it. I did. But it definitely confirms I am 100% straight. Holy shit did it confirm that.”
I would be a different man without Snake in my life.
My life would be less without Joe.
And Harry. And Matt. And Kyle, Chad, Ron, Eric, Kai, Kirt, Mike, Roger, Daniel, Hunter, Kevin, Tim, David, and let me tell you a story about the friendship between me and Brett. Wait, wait…there are too many fucking men to list.
That’s why I had to expand the circle to ensure I didn’t miss any names. If you flip to the dedication page in King Mai, it reads:
To all my MKP brothers, especially the straight ones.
– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.