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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Artikels | Features

Masculinity, uncertainty and obscure rites of passage

Cobus Fourie - 2010-10-12

Someone I know quite well alerted me to a (gay) medical doctor and his fascination with all things esoteric, including the sickening concept of male rites of passage.

Granted, Mister Medical Doctor is on the wrong side of 40, I am on the wrong side of 25, and I suspect there is also a generation gap between our worldviews. Aside from the generation gap, one also needs to be mindful of my supposed extreme libertarianism in the anarcho-centre-leftist range.

Maybe I am viewing all of this through the eyes of my intense disdain for the Patriarchy, which would also explain the anarchist tendencies. I see all rites of passage as incongruous to our Zeitgeist. Moreover, I see attempts to grasp the unattainable through mass hysteria and trance-inducing rituals as inappropriate and scary – which is why I avoid certain charismatic congregations and any 12-step programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous.

I’ve exposed the proliferation of the men’s movement in The patriarchy, the religious right and the threats to human rights
in August 2009 in which Amelia Jones, author of Feminism, Incorporated. Reading “postfeminism” in an antifeminism age dissects the methodology and hysteria of the men’s movement:

The other side of the postfeminist coin is the so-called “men’s movement”. Inspired by Robert Bly’s book Iron John (1990) the men’s movement appropriates and perverts the rhetoric of feminism to urge the contemporary American male to “find a voice of [his] own” as a “Wild Man”. Bly laments the feminization of the American male at the hands of his female caretakers, and calls for the extirpation of this spineless femininity through primitivist histrionics and rituals of male bonding. The “Wild Man” immerses himself in mother nature and beats the appropriated drums of his “primitive” brothers with big sticks to prove to himself that, while he may be a “minority” his ability to dominate is intact.

Now I know rad-fems can be strident, as exposed in the Mail & Guardian article “Lady, tramp, feminist icon”. Lady Gaga or Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (as she is known off-stage) must be one of the foremost Pink rights activists of our time. Lady Gaga doesn’t fool around, she asserts herself, and she carries a formidable presence on 15 cm heels. However, feminist stalwart Camille Paglia is less impressed and calls Gaga a “ruthless recycler of other people’s work” and proclaims that there is an "essential depressiveness and spiritual paralysis" to her. Paglia might be too “old school”. I also wonder what spirituality has to do with equality. It seems both Mister Doctor and Ms Paglia have a penchant for the esoteric.

Via Mister Doctor’s nauseatingly esoteric blog I came to see a phenomenon called The Mankind Project and it seemingly has a worldwide footprint. I also came across testimony on Facebook of other random gay guys who went on these man camps only to extol the virtues of The Mankind Project, much to my amusement.

My question: Why do you feel so insecure and uncomfortable in your own skin that you have to discover your “inner wild animal” in between primitivist histrionics? Darlings, we do not live in the Stone Age anymore. We do not have to stave off wild beasts for our survival and we need no longer hunt or forage for our food. We have a modern service economy with division of labour and we have transgressed the need for strict characterisation between male and female in terms of behaviour and build.

Imagine if women also laagered around their sole common denominator – their sex/gender. I am horrified by the thought of it. Oh dear, the return of Jong Dames Dinamiek! All the shock, horror, shoulder pads, and big hair of the ‘80s now conjured up in my mind's eye scares me to death.

Men-only events are just plain misogyny in disguise. Men and women are equal – thus no separate events for one sex. Why do men, gay included, seemingly have this existential crisis of late?

We are well aware of circumcision as a type of male rite of passage ceremony, but there is also a growing trend towards the reversal of the physical effects of circumcision. One of the organisations helping men undo what was in many instances not their legal choice is called NORM – National Organization for the Restoration of Men. Many websites provide practical advice on restoration procedures and many lament the fact that socially sanctioned childhood genital mutilation was carried out in the first place. How can any person allow the mutilation/abuse of a baby? It is an outdated “religious” practice and serves no purpose today (the supposed study postulating that it lessens the risk of contracting HIV is extremely dangerous as it could lead to riskier behaviour).

Back to less serious subject matter ... What was refreshing about The Mankind Project is their view on sexual orientation:

• We affirm that all men are welcome on our trainings and in our communities.
• We create trainings and circles in which all men are welcome to discover their deepest truths. We welcome men of all sexual orientations: gay, straight, and bisexual, including those who identify as having unwanted same sex attraction, to do their own work as they define it, to respect the identity and value of others, and to take responsibility for the impact their words and behaviors have on others.
• We support each man in pursuing his path to deeper authenticity. We do not provide therapy nor endorse any particular therapy, including reparative therapy. Any group or organization that states or implies otherwise does so without our permission.
• We do not, and will not, attempt to change a man’s sexual orientation.
• We stand firm in support of gay and bisexual men. We support men who believe that homosexuality is a normal part of the spectrum of human sexuality and of mature masculinity.
• We will not tolerate proselytizing for any religion or belief, organizing training staff into groups that exclude others, guiding men’s processes in a predetermined direction, or grooming men for the training.
• We will not tolerate discrimination on our trainings or in our communities. We support our training and community leaders in identifying and challenging discriminatory language and behavior.

I would, based solely on the above, condone and even praise The Mankind Project for their inclusivity and lack of discrimination. If there is any kudos to dish out, The Mankind Project certainly deserves it in this instance.

The Mankind Project goes further to explain the so-called “New Macho” :

The New Macho


He cleans up after himself.
He cleans up the planet.
He is a role model for young men.
He is rigorously honest and fiercely optimistic
He holds himself accountable.
He knows what he feels.
He knows how to cry and he lets it go.
He knows how to rage without hurting others.
He knows how to fear and how to keep moving.
He seeks self-mastery.
He's let go of childish shame.
He feels guilty when he's done something wrong.
He is kind to men, kind to women, kind to children.
He teaches others how to be kind.
He says he's sorry.
He stopped blaming women or his parents or men for his pain years ago.
He stopped letting his defenses ruin his relationships.
He stopped letting his penis run his life.
He has enough self respect to tell the truth.
He creates intimacy and trust with his actions.
He has men that he trusts and that he turns to for support.
He knows how to roll with it.
He knows how to make it happen.
He knows how to listen from the core of his being.
He's not afraid to get dirty.
He's ready to confront his own limitations.
He has high expectations for himself and for those he connects with.
He looks for ways to serve others.
He knows he is an individual.
He knows that we are all one.
He knows he is an animal and a part of nature.
He knows his spirit and his connection to something greater.
He knows that the future generations are watching his actions.
He builds communities where people are respected and valued.
He takes responsibility for himself and is willing to be his brother's keeper.
He knows his higher purpose.
He loves with fierceness.
He laughs with abandon, because he gets the joke.
On the surface, all of the above seem very noble and my stridency completely unsubstantiated. However, something keeps bugging me. Something I can’t quite explain. I have a finely tuned sense of intuition. It might sound contradictory coming from me that I do not believe in the esoteric. I believe intuition is just astute perceptive skill.

Now my astute perceptiveness tells me there is something more to The Mankind Project than meets the eye and I have thought of joining a camp to experience it for myself. Then again, I am not quite fond of men in general and the “bush” is not really my cup of tea. No, I decided. I shall sit in the comfort of my suburban life, sip on organic vanilla tea and honey bush chai, and contemplate such sociological constructs.

I feel no need for a “transition” or rite of passage, but why do so many others have this dire need?