Manhood men's gathering

Manhood men’s gathering

Manhood men’s gathering – a live event review from November 2018.

What does manhood mean for you?

It could be considered our birthright as men, yet we often lack the education or support to embody the men we want to be. Without rites of passage in to adulthood many of us aren’t taught how to be ‘good’ men – whatever that means.

It’s surprisingly common for men to have a career, marry and raise a family but still feel like they have not found their real selves nor realised their full potential. Seeking to explore masculinity for myself, I discovered Manhood, a men’s wellbeing weekend held deep in the bush on the NSW/QLD border. I wanted to see for myself how men were tackling the issue of masculinity, particularly in the face of #metoo and the mental health crisis currently facing Australian men, amongst others#1.

Hearing the call of the bush and needing an escape from the city, I soaked up the Manhood gathering web site with very little actual forethought. Truth be told I was hesitant to join a group of unknown men, particularly in Queensland which has … ah.. less of a reputation for radical support of diversity than my home town of Sydney. Of which more later. Anyway I booked.

I arrived late as it happened, because my flight from Sydney was cancelled so I missed the Friday night welcome activities. Instead I drove in through beautiful cane flats and hill country to catch the second workshop on Saturday morning. I couldn’t find an organiser so a followed a couple of guys in to a hall where a workshop was starting. Introducing myself to the leader, who was kind enough to explain what was happening and invite me to join them, I received such a warm welcome from the smiling and relaxed group that I dropped my bags, sloped in and sat down. The workshop turned out to be titled ‘De-Armouring’. How apposite for me – I have carried so much armour in my life and felt a keen desire to lay down this burden that separates me so painfully from my fellows.

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Men’s Wellbeing Organisation

Manhood is one of a series of events run by Men’s Wellbeing, a not-for-profit Australian organisation that has been managed for 20 years by a team of elected volunteers. It’s a member organisation of the Australian Men’s Health Forum and it stages events along Australia’s east coast supporting men to connect with their hearts, each other and their aspiration to be better men. Watch their ‘Message for Men’ Facebook video.

mens wellbeing video

What IS a better man?

At Manhood there’s no prescription – each man gets to define what ‘a better man’ is for himself. Everything about this movement allows men to just be. Be themselves as they are and as they aspire to be. Men are invited to connect with their brothers in an open-hearted, open-minded, non-judgmental way. It startled me to witness and experience this first hand – these are men unafraid to drop their armour, be their entire selves, open their lives, their triumphs and their difficulties for sharing and support. I have not previously enjoyed such a sense of ease around a big group of men.

A weekend of Manhood

Each man arriving at the event is issued a wooden name tag – a pleasant change from a paper one in a plastic wallet – and the coloured bandana of his tribe for the weekend. We ate and bunked together, and could choose from a diverse line-up of workshops, generally about opening to new possibilities to connect with your inner gent, caveman, teacher, guru… etc. I flourished in all the workshops I rather randomly attended. All participatory- not about being lectured but invited to engage and grow.

Tribal gatherings held each day invited each man to share his experience of the weekend and insights or issues he was carrying. At no time when any man speaks can he be interrupted, ‘fixed’ or opinions shared about his story. He is left open space to speak and be heard. It felt luxurious to me to listen, speak and share support without pressure or expectation. These men listened to me running through self-doubt about my masculinity without reaction.

Rite of Passage

Some of you may know that although I was always male in my mind I was born in to a female body and raised as such, in the face of all my protests and desires to the contrary. I was a tom-boy crammed in to a dress. It was traumatic and confusing, so I was angry and withdrawn, living in an imaginary world in my head, the only place I was allowed to be male. I had 3 sisters, no brother and my father struggled to role model masculinity to me. Sadly it took me until age 47 to have my body hormonally and surgically corrected. To have this experience so late in life was exhilarating, but awkward and bittersweet. It left me questioning how to fit in, in a world where I was at last seen as male but had no experience of how that worked. It was paradoxically isolating and I still felt like an imposter in the world of men.

At Manhood I found myself blurting out to the whole group that I wasn’t sure I was entitled to attend a men’s event and had been nervous to turn up to the gathering in case I was rejected, attacked or vilified. Quite funny in retrospect. Even as I stood there before the group, sweating, I realised that the only gap between where I stood and being a ‘real’ man was giving myself permission to be a real man. So simple. Job done. In my heart, in my mind, in my body I am as real a man as I will ever need to be.  It’s about heart, connection, service and the values I try to live by – nothing external. That’s the man I want to be – there for others, with others, strong, vulnerable and free to be authentic.

Every man gets to be who he is and who he wants to be

For any man, whoever he may be, who feels frustrated, unable to express himself fully, lonely, misunderstood, under-performing, inadequate, ashamed, wounded or unfulfilled I say GO! The faces of the men around me showed that they too were feeling the acceptance, brotherhood and safety that Manhood created. Faces beamed. Men hugged, listened, relaxed in to themselves. Suddenly it was OK to be the men they were. It lit a fire inside of them and created a bond between them.

The organisers later asked me had I felt welcome – was their policy and practice inclusive enough – could they do more? My answer is that even arriving late, I felt warmly invited from the first moment. By the end of the first morning I’d spent time talking to at least half of the men as if I’d known them for years. We had somehow let the cynical, analytical, judgmental and scared parts of ourselves go. I felt supported and that I completely belonged. This surely is what community is meant to be?

Incidentally I discovered at the end of the weekend that the team of young men who had been catering the event were graduates of an associated youth initiation in to manhood program and felt instinctively that these were good men in the making.

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Opportunity to serve

The event team is replaced each year, and despite the fact that I live far away, when they asked for next year’s team of volunteers I found myself walking up to join them. I believe wholeheartedly in this work and am delighted to be involved. I wish I’d joined 10 years ago when my outer man was created.

If you feel any interest for yourself or someone you know, I strongly encourage you to look for the next meeting or event on your area here: Men’s Wellbeing

Resources

For partner organisations see:

Women’s wellbeing organisation
Parents and boys Powerhouse Programs
Youth rites of passage Pathways Foundation

References
#1 https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/suicide-self-harm/facts-about-suicide-in-australia

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