Welcome to Discovering the Male Mysteries with Mel Mystery. This blog is a supplement to my podcast is for and about gay and bi pagan men. My podcasts are about what it is to be gay, what it is to be pagan, what it is to be men — sometimes as separate topics and sometimes all meshed together as one. I started this endeavor after seeing that there were few, if any, podcasts out there on this topic. The podcasts are informative, and present topics that challenge conventional thinking.

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Trick or Treat as a Rite of Passage

wolfmanOne of my favorite adult memories of Halloween was from a time I was living in Colonial Place in Norfolk.  The whole neighborhood got into the spirit of the holiday with decorations, haunted yards, adults dressed up in costumes ready to give candy to the trick or treaters. On Halloween, the whole neighborhood looked like a place out of a spooky movie.  I lived in a house with some artistic folks.  The landlady even made an authentic looking werewolf costume out of paper mache and fur.  She was already a tall, lanky woman, but she made herself even taller with wooden blocks on her shoes.  On Halloween night, unsuspecting tweens and young teens would round the corner onto our porch only to be confronted with a realistic looking seven foot tall werewolf standing over the bowl of candy.  Many would run away screaming and then their parents would reassure them, come up onto the porch, spy the werewolf, and run away screaming themselves.  My landlady believed that the children should “earn” their treat. She also didn’t give candy to those children who didn’t wear an actual costume.

I’ve told this story time and time again over the years, most folks sharing in the fun that the parents were scared too.  Last week I told the story to a co-worker and she suggested that this was terrible.  The children were probably traumatized.

As I handed out candy to trick or treaters last night, I reflected on this.  I’m no longer in a neighborhood that gets so much into Halloween, but my next door neighbors did and I watched as they handed out candy while in costume in their front yard. I watched as the reluctant kids backed away in droves from the woman in the pumpkin mask handing out candy.  I watched as some “earned” their candy by confronting their fears, while others avoided the house and their promised treats because their fear got the better of them. I watched as parents encouraged their children to face their fears, and then I realized… this has all the hallmarks of a rite of passage.

The whole scene reminded me of historical rites of passage and coming of age rites where the adults in a community or village conspire to help the youth gain confidence and independence by confronting their fears and proving they are ready to ascend to the next age grouping.  This can be done by sending the youth out into the woods to survive and to hunt on their own, by sending them out for a vision quest, through enacting a mythic ritual, or even by forcing them to face a monster or a wild beast (usually an adult in a mask).

Trick or treat has a number of elements associated with rites of passage and the hero’s journey.  There’s a call to adventure – the chance to dress up, roam the streets, and get candy.  There are gifts given to the child to help them on their quest – a costume so they can blend in, a bag to hold their bounty, maybe a flashlight or glow stick to light their way.  The child meets the guardian at the threshold – the mundane or masked adult handing out candy at the door, porch, or property boundary. If the adult is masked, the children have to face their fear if they want receive their boon. The adventure takes place at a liminal time – dusk on All Hallow’s Eve. The children’s parents act as guides encouraging them that there’s nothing to be afraid of – only a person in a mask.  Sometimes the person will take off the mask to show them there’s really nothing to fear. After trick or treat is over, the children bring their bounty back to their homes.  Their parents and siblings often share in their prize.

The next year the ritual begins anew.  The child is a little older and has more experience than they did the year before.  As they grow older, they may start to taunt the masked guardians.  “You’re just wearing a mask.”  They still may be reluctant to get too close.  The years go by and they master their fears (or they become dominated by them).  At some point they’re too old for trick or treat, so they start going to Halloween parties at school or hosted by friends.  This is another chance to prove their independence, though someone’s parents are probably close by.  For good or ill, some start using Halloween as an opportunity to pull pranks, while others go to haunted houses, watch scary movies, and so on.  These are yet more opportunities to assert their independence and to face their fears.

Eventually the children, tweens, and teens grow up.  They may enact this ritual yet again with their own kids.  They may act as parental guides or threshold guardians bearing candy. Or they might fall into the category of those who have become cynical and chose not to celebrate Halloween.  Even adults have to face their fears on this day — their fear of the worst in humanity.  They know that it’s only other humans under the masks, but that’s not necessarily reassuring.  What else might the mask hide – serial killers, rapists, sex offenders, folks who might poison or put razor blades in the candy, human traffickers, body part snatchers, and all our other unconscious fears brought to life?  Most folks are normal, everyday people under the masks, but it only takes one or a few bad apples to spoil the celebration.  Adults too have to decide whether to face their fears or to be owned and dominated by their worst nightmares.

With all rites of passage there’s always the opportunity to grow by facing fear and asserting confidence and independence, but there’s also always the risk of trauma.  Not everyone can face their fears, and those who don’t pass their test often become traumatized by the test and owned by their fears. Trick or treat can be an adventure or a trauma.  It all depends on how you approach it and whether or not you let your fears haunt you.

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In Defense of Men’s Groups and Spaces — Part 3

virtruvianmanThere are bigger questions involved with creating and honoring men’s spaces, and I don’t know all the answers.

How does one go about creating men’s groups, events, and spaces without being exclusive or discriminatory? Or is that just the nature of these types of things in the same way that forming groups of any kind creates a smaller segmentation of society?

What about transgender folks?  Is being male a matter of having the right biological parts or is it psychological?  On a similar note, if it’s about a mindset, does that mean that masculine oriented women are a better fit than feminine oriented men?

If we start making exceptions to whatever we consider male, does that risk opening the floodgates and turning a men’s group into something that discourages men from opening up or that changes the energy and the dynamic of the group into something it was never intended to be. Given the example from Part 1 of this posting, at what point does the bowling league become a basketball team if it starts trying to be inclusive and representative of basketball players too?

One of the former men’s groups I was part of, restricted membership to biological males.  The jest was “you had to have a member to be a member.”  When one member’s wife was pregnant with a boy, she poked a loophole in the “rule” claiming she actually had a “member” until such a time as he would be born. At a men’s retreat run by another group, we had a woman show up to our event not so cleverly disguised with a fake mustache. We let her stay, but she only stayed about an hour.  In some instances, we specified certain events (like specific workshops, rituals, and men’s retreats) as just for the guys, but public events and social events were welcome to all. Sometimes we’d go out to eat after an event, and some of the guys would bring their girlfriends / wives. If we had parties, we’d invite men and women.

The stance we’ve taken with most of the men’s groups and events I’m currently involved in is that, we won’t turn anyone away who sincerely and respectfully feels they have something to gain from being there.  At the same time, we continue to define our groups and events as men’s groups and events. This stance is the most inclusive, but how it will affect the future of these men’s spaces is yet to be seen.

In Defense of Men’s Groups and Spaces – Part 2

cernunnos

“Today, more men seem to be interested in men’s covens, ritual circles, or similar groups stemming from other traditions… Such groups can be a source of support and of exploration of the particular energy men can generate together.  They also give men somewhere to go while the women are at their women’s groups.”

– Starhawk, The Spiral Dance

There are many misconceptions about men’s groups.  As I said in my last post, gay men often fear these groups are made of hyper masculine homophobes, and straight men frequently fear these are gay men’s hookup groups.  Women have their own preconceptions about men’s spiritual groups — associating these groups with exclusive “good ole boy” clubs of the past that actually did go out of their way to oppress women, rather than as spiritual or self-help groups where men are trying to understand themselves and find their place in the universe. They often believe these groups are there to put down and complain about women, though in actuality the groups meet for male bonding and to discover what it is to be men in our society or in a self-help or spiritual context. The men’s groups I’ve been involved in usually have been made up of men with at least moderately liberal and enlightened viewpoints who try to be sensitive and aware of women’s issues, even if they don’t always do a good job at it.

When I was involved in groups specific to gay and bi men, I’d often get challenged by Lesbians about why there needed to be men’s specific groups.  Many never seemed to notice just how many women’s groups and Lesbian groups there were in our local community, or to realize that gay men might have things to discuss in an environment made up of other gay men.  Perhaps we had issues that other gay men would understand, but that many Lesbians wouldn’t understand or would be turned off by.

In the Pagan community, I often staff tables at events where I’m promoting a Pagan men’s group I’m involved in, as well as an annual Pagan men’s retreat I help plan.  Almost always, there’s at least one outraged woman who feels it’s her obligation to point out how men’s groups are sexist. They never seem to notice how many all-female groups and covens there are or to realize that our men’s groups are about self-discovery and not about oppressing women.

Very recently at one such table, a woman seemed very upset and asked me “why aren’t there any Pagan women’s groups or events?”  I would have been just as surprised by her question if she had come up to me at a Druid table in the middle of a Pagan event and asked me why there aren’t any Wiccan groups in the Pagan community.  The thing is women’s groups, women’s events, and non-Druid Wiccan groups are all around. If you don’t see them, you aren’t looking.  There are priestess retreats, women’s covens, Goddess events, and I remember a recent announcement for a womb ritual. In a balanced world and in a balanced religion, there should also be men’s retreats and men’s groups, and the exploration of Pagan gods.  It’s not about putting other people down, but about exploring the divine within and without from the perspective that makes the most sense to you – whether it be gender, a particular spiritual path, a specific mythology, or whatever.  As I mentioned in my previous post, a pluralistic society allows for all types of niches and combinations of groups. If one isn’t for you, move onto the next one or create your own.

There was something I found ironic about this woman’s question too (and I’ve also noticed this a number of times with Lesbians interacting with gay men’s groups).  There was an underlying tone in the message that seemed to be asking why I (a man) wasn’t out there creating women’s groups and women’s events, as if I even have the background, life experiences, or body parts to do so. While it is my responsibility to treat women respectfully and take their needs seriously, I yield the responsibility to create women’s groups and events (or to be aware of existing groups and events) to women themselves.

Besides my men’s groups, I also write articles about events I attend for the greater communities I’m a part of. Not terribly long ago, I reported on a Pagan event and was publically reprimanded when I shared the article on Facebook.  The reader took offense because all the rituals and most of the workshops were run by men and because women led the entertainment, belly dancing, children’s activities, and even a workshop on hair braiding. I was not at all involved with the planning of this event; I only reported on it.  Somehow because I reported on the event as it actually happened and because the woman knew I was involved in men’s groups, I was apparently involved in a conspiracy to enforce gender roles on an event I didn’t even help plan. The irony in this case was that the woman who complained about the gender divide at this event was actually involved in the event in a role that perpetuated the actual gender divide she seemed to be blaming me for and the event was planned mostly by a group of women. In reality, there was no conspiracy, the men and women involved with the event gravitated organically toward certain roles – whether from socialization into these roles, whether because these roles meshed with their hobbies and interests, or whether from some combination of these factors. I do concede that my original article could have been more inclusive than it was and that I focused on aspects of the event that I’ve been socialized to consider important, but there was no conspiracy on my part as a writer or on the part of the event’s organizers to enforce traditional gender roles.

I share these incidents, not to oppress women somehow, but to show a need for greater understanding and acceptance about what men’s groups are all about. I also feel it important to show the inconsistencies and ironies associated with negative attitudes towards men’s groups. I personally feel there is room in this world for men’s spaces, women’s spaces, coed spaces, and even spaces for folks who feel they fit somewhere in between traditional genders.

To be continued…

In Defense of Men’s Groups and Spaces – Part 1

mensymbolOver the years, I’ve been involved in a number of groups – some of them coed and others catering to a single gender, in my case “men’s groups.” I’ve also been aware of many women’s groups – whether Lesbian groups or Pagan women’s circles, among others. In college, I was part of the gay and lesbian student group (later we added more letters like “b” and “t”) and a gay youth group made of young gay men, women, and a few folks in-between.  After college, I belonged to a few coed sci-fi clubs and also a gay men’s group and later a couple of Pagan men’s groups.   Living in a pluralistic society, I’ve always seen room for groups of all kinds and niches.  While I’ve heard the occasional cry of why can’t we have a club where everyone is “welcome” and everyone is represented, the very nature of clubs and groups is to segment around a particular topic or niche.  This can be a hobby, religion or spiritual path, cause, orientation, gender, or any additional topic area or combination thereof. You don’t often hear the bowling league suggesting they need more basketball players to be representative, but when groups start forming around a specific identity ideas of representation are more fluid and open-ended.

As a human being, I’m part of many tribes and groups.  There’s my tribe of birth made up of my family and extended family, my tribe of choice made up of my closest friends, the tribe of my profession made up of coworkers, the tribes associated with hobbies and various other groups I’m a part of.  Each of these tribes play a role in my life and I might go to each tribe for different things – emotional support, professional development, intellectual stimulation, or because we enjoy the same activities.

Most of my adult life, I’ve been a part of one men’s group or another and sometimes a few.  My reasons for being interested in an all-male environment might be different from someone else’s.  As a gay man, my heart and soul long for a closer connections and bonding with men, and not just sexually.  For me personally, I feel the need to actively seek out men’s groups and men’s spaces.  Left to the natural order of things, I’d be surrounded completely be women.

In college, most of my very close friends were Lesbians.  I love my Lesbian friends.  I actually felt more of a connection to my Lesbian friends than I did to my gay male brothers.  While most of the gay men around me seemed to be interested in only clubbing and the current fads.  My Lesbian sisters were out there being activists and trying to make the world a better place.  At least, that was the dichotomy I saw in the gay and lesbian community in that particular time and place in my life. Besides that, there was none of that sexual tension between me and my Lesbian friends.  We weren’t sexually attracted to each other.  We weren’t threatened by each other or too shy to communicate.  We weren’t competing for the affections of the same gender. Life was generally uncomplicated, and if I had to sit in the back seat in the name of feminist equality, well that was just the way things were.

As a Pagan, most any Pagan circle or group (other than male specific groups) I might want to join are something like 80% women and 20% men, if not more women.  Paganism is largely a feminine, Goddess oriented religion, though at its best it recognizes a need to balance the masculine and feminine energies.  At its best, despite discussions of polarity, it also recognizes gender as a spectrum and not a binary.

I also work in a library, which is largely a female dominated field. Out of a staff of 70 or so people, there are about a dozen men in my workplace.  This is actually more than it was even a few years ago.

As I said earlier, without a conscious effort on my part, I’d be completely surrounded by women.  As a gay man, that just won’t do. I love women as family and friends, but the company of men completes me in a deep and profound way.

For gay men, men’s groups can provide a great deal of room for growth.  In one of my podcasts, I mentioned how a number of gay men have ambivalent feelings about other men (I believe this might have been in Episode 5 related to my review of the book “Gay Warrior”).  We’ve been taught to distrust other men.  They’re our competitors, the people we fear most will judge us, and the people we’ve likely been damaged most by – whether it was a homophobic straight guy, an ex-lover, the catty queen at the bar, or even our own fathers. For many, it’s much easier to hang with our non-threatening female friends than to risk opening up and exposing ourselves to other men who have more potential to hurt us.

Both gay men and straight men have ambivalent feelings about “men’s groups.”  Gay men are often concerned that men’s groups are full of macho super masculine homophobes.  Straight men often believe that men’s groups are full of gay men having orgies at every gathering.

For straight men, men’s groups can also be an opportunity for growth. They can provide opportunities to share experiences, concerns, and even dare I say feelings in a safe environment among other men who might better understand where they’re coming from.  It’s been said that “women are from Venus, and men are from Mars.” While that may not be the literal truth, men and women have been socialized differently and often have different concerns or may come at their concerns from different directions or with different perspectives about the world and their place in it. Men’s groups can also help men to become better.  When men come together for spiritual or self-reflective purposes they can begin to disassociate negative, patriarchal ideas of masculinity and manhood like control, aggression, competitiveness, and domination, and replace these with more enlightened masculine ideal such as assertiveness, confidence, cooperation, and nurturing.

 

To be continued…

Episode 13: Fifty Shades of Gay – Part 2 is now available

In case anyone missed it, my latest podcast is now available.  I uploaded it a few weeks ago, but I’ve been very busy so I’m just now getting around to announcing it.  If you subscribe to my podcast on Podbean or iTunes, you probably already saw the new episode show up earlier this month.

In this episode, I continue where I left off in Fifty Shades of Gay – Part 1.  Besides sharing some personal news and announcements, I talk about all kinds of alternatives to traditional heteronormative relationships for gay and bi men including living together, civil unions, serial monogamy, casual monogamy, casual non-monogamy, open relationships, open marriages, triads, polyamory, swinging, platonic relationships, Bromances, Boston marriages, BDSM liifestyles, intergenerational relationships, long-distance and Living Apart Together relationships, hiring escorts, and being happily single.

You can find the Discovering the Male Mysteries podcast on Podbean, iTunes, or by visiting my website at: http://www.melmystery.com/

Enjoy!!!

Co-Dependent God?

Not too long ago I was in a conversation with a Christian co-worker about life challenges and struggles.  She’s a very genuine person and often has well thought things to say about life from a Christian perspective.  In this particular instance, she said something both interesting and disturbing.  She suggested that God gives us challenges and struggles because if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t need “Him.”

The idea stuck with me, not because I agree with it, but because I found the mindset disturbing.  If we’d been talking about a relationship with another person – say a boyfriend, spouse, friend, or even a relative – the reaction would be “This person keeps you down so he can feel better about himself and to keep you hanging on and ‘needing’ him?  You need to get away from that relationship or at the very least go through counseling together if the relationship is important.”  Since this is God, the omnipotent ruler of the universe, of course this is different. It’s okay. I don’t actually buy that, but many Christians are willing to accept behaviors and conditions from their God that aren’t acceptable from people in their closest relationships, let alone from a mortal ruler.  If someone ruled by keeping their people down, there’d certainly be a rebellion and in Christian mythology there supposedly was. If one is to accept Christian mythology as fact (as many Christians do), it makes one wonder about the other side’s version of things, since history is usually written by the victor and demonizes the opponent – in this case, literally.  I’m not going to go down that line of reasoning, but I will leave it as food for thought.

Of course, being a co-dependent ruler who needs human worship and approval is not the only image of the Christian God.  In fact, this idea of God is very medieval and feudal, coming from a time where feudal lords ruled, protected, and likely exploited the common people, and the people were happy to give up some freedom and perhaps even dignity because the system was still better than going it alone. Modern conceptions of God are more that of a loving parent, though often a strict disciplinarian.  God wants what’s best for us, though we don’t always know what’s best for ourselves and we often have to accept His judgment.  We are children, after all, or perhaps sheep.  The loving shepherd is also a Christian God archetype.  Still a parent who loves us, but keeps us down for his (or her) aggrandizement or to keep us needing them, doesn’t mesh with the concept of unconditional love, and again, I think we’d question that love if it was all about the other person and left us wanting.

For the Christians out there reading this, you’re welcome to justify your life challenges and struggles in a context that makes sense to you, and I know there are other ideas on this matter.  As a Pagan and a polytheist, I feel free to pick and choose Gods, Goddesses, and even other spirits that resonate with me and with my conception of the world.  I wouldn’t willingly choose a deity who kept me down, abused my trust, or exploited my struggles.  For you monotheists out there, Christians and others, you only have one choice.  You have to accept or to justify, your One deity’s actions and commands.  If you don’t like it or it doesn’t mesh with your beliefs or your view of the world, you’re the one who has to adjust, adapt, and accept, or else risk going to Hell.  I don’t believe in Hell.  I actually believe in reincarnation.  For me, struggles and challenges are part of a learning process.  My struggles and challenges weren’t put there by “the devil” to trip me up nor were they put there by any god or goddess to keep me needy.  If they were put in my path, it is so I can grow and so I can learn to fish for myself as the saying goes, rather than relying on handouts from the fisherman. Teach a man to fish… and all of that.  In the grand scheme of things, struggles and challenges teach us and test us. I’m learning to be the best soul I can be, though it may take me several lifetimes to get there.

Tops, Bottoms, and Normativity

It’s pretty much expected that gay men like and are interested in anal sex, right?  But not all gay men are into anal.  The assumption that gay sex is exclusively anal sex affects everything from straight notions that gay sex is “disgusting” to the FDA blood ban on men who’ve had sex with other men.  In the gay community, one of the first things asked when hooking up is “are you a top or a bottom.”  What if you’re neither?

There are some threads online about gay men who aren’t into anal sex. The conversation usually goes something like this: “I’m not into anal sex,”  “Anal sex doesn’t do anything for me,” or “It seems kind of gross.”  Followed by: “You must be a prude,” “Get over your internalized homophobia,” or “If you’ve tried it and didn’t like it, you must not be doing it right.” Gay men who admit they aren’t into anal are met with the same kind of enforcement of social norms that vegetarians experience when they have dinner with a room full of meat eaters and the same kind of judgment that a gay man gets from his family who suggest he just hasn’t “met the right woman yet.”  Those who enforce the social norms feel and react like you’re trying to take something away from them – whether meat, heterosexuality, or anal sex.  Can’t we live in a world where folks can do their own thing without social pressure or stigma?

I’ve been reading a lot lately about homonormativity and I can’t help but feel that the gay male obsession with anal sex is a mirror of heteronormativity.  For straight folks, the missionary position with the man on top and the woman underneath is the expected default for sex.  Anal sex is the gay missionary position.  You have a top and a bottom.  In heterosexual terms, you have to either be the “man” or the “woman” in the relationship.  I don’t buy that and I don’t think that gay sex and gay norms have to mirror straight sex and straight norms either.  I like cock and I’ve never had much of an attraction to assholes, so is it any wonder my own interests are cock centric and not anal centric.  I’ve had anal sex from both roles; I’ve played with anal toys; and sure maybe I just haven’t had the “right” experiences.  But honestly, I like oral and hand jobs, both giving and receiving – not to mention kissing, cuddling, and some kinky stuff too.  I believe in a pluralistic world and I’m not trying to take anal sex away from those who like it.  I am trying to expand what is considered normative, and not restrict views of “normal” gay sex to a single act.

For those who postulate that not liking anal sex is somehow homophobic, what about the egalitarian issues related to anal sex?  Anal sex as a gay norm comes with heterosexist and sexist baggage.  It’s heterosexist because making it the default gay male sex act assumes that mirroring straight sex by sticking a dick in a hole is the “right” way to do sex.  It’s sexist because one person takes the role of dominant male and the other a submissive female. Just because we don’t state our gendered assumptions, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Bottom shaming is something that’s been with us since the dawn of civilization.  In ancient cultures and even today, being the “top” in anal sex meant you were more of a man and being the “bottom” meant you were submissive or conquered.  It might have been okay between men of different ages, ranks, or social positions, but not among equals.  Today many men who are into anal sex, don’t bottom or at least don’t admit to being bottoms because there’s a still stigma that it makes them less than a man.

Those who argue that guys not into anal sex should give it a chance should take their own advice.  If you claim to be a top you should try bottoming, and vice-versa.  If you don’t like it, you should probably keep trying because you probably just haven’t had the right experience.  You should also probably try expanding your general sexual repertoire too.  By assuming both top and bottom roles, you’d be making anal sex more egalitarian. By trying other things, you’d be expanding the definition of gay male sex beyond a single type of sex act.

I applaud those of you out there who are “versatile,” who take pride in their kinks, or who simply state they like oral in their personal and hook up profiles. Please keep the conversation moving forward.