August 26, 2015

One Woman's Experience of Manhood

It's such a rare opportunity to get a woman's view of man's world, so when my friend and subscriber, John Richards sent along this example, I thought there was good reason to share it. It's about how Norah Vincent, a lesbian feminist, spent a year and a half disguised as a man.

John said, "While I don't necessarily agree with her view of men, her piece is one of those that works against the common notions of men as perpetrators, women as victims, and seeing traditional forms of masculinity as dangerous or destructive. I also like it because argues for equality between genders – not an easy thing at all. I think this would be great discussion material for a young men's group."

In 2006, Norah Vincent disguised herself as a man. By going undercover, she got access to man's world. She was doing immersion journalism, and to do so, she went through an extensive makeover and appeared as the male "Ned." The disguise included taking acting lessons, clothing, fake facial hair, and some strategically placed padding in a jockstrap!

With her Ned identity, she joined a bowling team, took on a high pressure sales job, visited strip clubs, and even spent time in a men’s therapy group. In doing so, Vincent got a view of manhood that hardly women don't normally get to see. In the process, she went a little crazy, and learned that being a man isn't as easy as she thought.


As you'll hear her explain in the video clip, she discovered that whatever male privileges and natural camaraderie between men may exist, guys pay a big price in their own battle with male sexual stereotypes. She learned about how men are supposed to embody masculine strength, endure pain, be competitive, be athletic, and the importance of competency in typically masculine skills. In addition, she felt men had to deal with being socialized against vulnerability and compassion, and had to struggle with learned, limited emotional expression. One of her realizations which resonated for me is when she said, "There's a tremendous potential for more tenderness between men."

"There is a time in a boy’s life
when the sweetness is pounded out of him;
and tenderness, and the ability
to show what he feels,
is gone."

Norah Vincent.

For a more in-depth understanding of Norah Vincent's experience, you can read her book, Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man. In the book as well as in the video, she goes into more detail about the guilt she still feels about having deceived the men who so readily welcomed her into their circle of friendship. I'll be curious about what gets stirred up for you in this clip.


If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

What are our boys learning about masculinity,
femininity, and all the other gender options
showing up in today's world?

By way of disclaimer, let’s be very clear, this is only one woman's perspective on manhood. It is full of her judgments, misconceptions, and sweeping generalizations about men. You and I both know lots of men who do not fit her model of what constitutes manhood today. But her story is still an oddly informative experiment. In addition to her observations about men, for better and worse, her experiment invites us all to ask hard questions about what our boys are learning about being a "man," femininity, and all the other gender options showing up in today's world.



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August 17, 2015

Men Holding Space for Young Guys


In my work with young men, I often hear the term, “holding space.” It means a lot of things really. For me it’s primarily about keeping a place in my heart and mind for the multitude of sad, angry, brave, lonely, and under-male-supported young men I know who are out there and lost on their journey to manhood.

The most common use of the expression, “holding space,” refers to the creation of a safe, gentle, and non-judgmental environment for young guys on our events, outings and in our school and other group circles. We refer to it as creating a safe container that can hold the hard questions, expressions of deep wounds, joys, anger and anything else that's found behind the brave, “I’m Okay” boy mask. It's the space inside that container, where deep truths can be spoken, that we hold and protect.

“holding space” refers to
the creation of a safe, gentle, and
non-judgmental environment for young guys

One way of teaching men to hold space and to keep the container strong is by teaching them our basic group-mentor’s job description. While it may be slightly altered in different places in our network, basically it’s to LAMP and not to FRAP young males! LAMP means to Listen, Accept, Model, and Praise. These behaviors are gifts people can give each other in any relationship and which increase trust and connection. FRAP is what we try not to do. Fix, Rescue, Advise, and Project. FRAP-ing behavior quickly reduces and erodes the trust that is the glue in any container. You can read more about these skills in this past Man-Making Blog post on the topic.

Matt Zavadil, a true brother in mission and the program director for Boys to Men - Georgia, came across the term “holding space” in an article he was reading. He sent the following contribution for your consideration.



Earl, I recently read a great blog post from a woman who learned how to support her mother's dying process. It's full of tremendous insight and the wisdom she gained going through the experience. The term she uses is "holding space" and it perfectly describes what we do for the boys in our programs.

Holding space seems so passive on one hand, and yet, OMG, it is not! For me, to really hold safe space for a young guy, I need constant vigilance to corral my every impulse to look smart, anticipate a kid’s meaning, push for a specific outcome, feed my own ego, or somehow make it about me. After reading this post, I realize holding space, at its core, is one of the strongest acts of love there is.

Here are lessons the author learned from her experience of holding space for her mother in that most difficult time:
  • Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
  • Don’t take their power away.
  • Keep your own ego out of it.
  • Make them feel safe enough to fail.
  • Give guidance and help cautiously, with humility and thoughtfulness.
  • Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
  • Give people only as much information as they can handle.
  • Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
The author goes into more detail about each of these themes in her article. Let’s share these ideas with people who are working with young guys.



How would you feel if you were able to sit with a group of good men who were committed to holding space for you? What would it be like for you to be in a place where you felt safe because trust in each other was high, and where your real, unedited, truth-speaking self was welcomed and honored? It’s in that environment where real man-making takes place and where all the participants move along on their journey to manhood.



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July 24, 2015

Helping Potentially Lethal Young Men

I often speak about severely under-male-nourished young men who are lost, imprisoned, or even dying for lack of adult male blessing and guidance. Very often, these are young males who have nothing positive to say about a father or adult man. I'm talking ZERO positive connection to good men and often lots of damage from a bad dad or the other men who are in their lives. The result is an emotionally damaged kid full of anger and teen bravado. The mask of, "I'm fine and I don't need anybody" is hard set on these guys, and they can put the whole community in danger.

Because of their predictable deficits, these young men are at high risk for making very bad life choices. But IF a man or group of men can connect with them while being very patient and working gently, many young men can have their life's trajectory altered and many can be saved. It often takes a long time to connect with these guys and a lot of courage on the part of these young men to risk trusting men again.

So I was not surprised when one of you sent along this great article from Mother Jones describing how a combination of mentoring by good men and cash incentives are being combined to reduce violence and homicides in Richmond, California. The article states in 2007 Richmond, "had the dubious distinction of being the ninth most dangerous in America." They had 47 homicides that year which meant in some places, gunfire was almost a daily event. Research into those numbers in 2009 revealed a rather surprising fact: "An estimated 70 percent of shootings and homicides in Richmond in 2009 were caused by just a few individuals . . . between the ages of 16 and 25." With the city's "potentially most lethal young men" identified, in combinations with other interventions, they set up Operation Peacemaker Fellowship (OPF), now known nationally as "the Richmond Model.”

The most innovative aspect of Operation Peacemaker Fellowship was the bait. The deal was if the young men, called Fellows, maintained their program commitment for six months — attending meetings, staying out of trouble, and connecting with their mentors, they became eligible to earn up to $1,000 a month for a maximum of nine months and to go on big trips to see the world. With gun violence in the U.S. costing an estimated $229 billion dollars a year, the average cost to taxpayers of every gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000. With only about half the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship participants getting payments at all (usually in the $300 to $700 range) meant the cost of the initiative was a bargain given the results.

As a result of OPF and its other initiatives, by 2014 Richmond recorded a 76 percent reduction in homicides and a 69 percent reduction in firearm assaults from the 2007 data. That's the lowest number of firearm assaults and homicides in their community in more than four decades. Of the 68 OPF Fellows who participated over the past 43 month period: 65 are alive (95%); 64 have not been injured by firearm (94%); and 57 (84%) have not been involved in any gun activity. These are huge victories given the scope and scale of the challenge!

. . . the benefits of connecting with these young guys
are much bigger than just fewer shootings.

The OPF men doing the mentoring are called Neighborhood Change Agents, and together they now work with about 150 young guys a year. While saving lives and reducing gang activity is impressive, they've learned the benefits of connecting with these young guys are much bigger than just fewer shootings. Many of the "potentially most lethal" young men in the OFP program are now in school or in jobs. These young men are doing more parenting, less drug use, and causing less violence in general. They have moved on from predictable criminal dead ends to involvement in programs that have changed the trajectory of their lives and are improving their neighborhoods in the process.

Check out this video from Richmond TV station KCBS for more of the story!
"They have to be willing to get on a plane with someone who is trying to kill you!"

The good men of Operation Peacemaker Fellowship are my heroes working on the front lines of the struggle to reclaim our lost boys and our communities. We need to honor them and learn from their experience. But to be very clear, ALL young men, even those with great families and engaged fathers, can use the objectivity and support of solid adult men. If teen males of any background can find their way to a place where there is support from good men, they will gradually open up and let you see the truth behind the mask they wear (and they all do). In those circles you can actually witness the effect of the group support, good information, personal feedback, and the positive attention working on them. You can watch as they become more confident, smile more often, and, most importantly, make better life choices.

That is what's at the heart of man-making!



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July 9, 2015

Groups for men and young men . . . EVERYWHERE?

Some of you know about the gifts of transformation that occur when men gather in a circle to speak their personal truths. I've spent over thirty years in men's support groups of one kind or another and I can say from experience, when the bond of trust has been formed in a group, regardless of the group member's age, magic happens and better men are the result. It's one place where real man-making occurs.

I've seen this magic in countless men's circles, in school groups of young males, and even on weekend passage adventures. If you make a safe place for guys to show up un-masked, you will eventually hear profound honesty about the fears, joys, pain, hopes, anger, longings, and all the parts of males that otherwise lie hidden in confusion behind the face they show the world.

Because of the power of these circles to improve lives, I'm of the opinion that more groups should be available to men and young males. Sadly, in addition to the fears so many males carry about the risks of real intimacy and vulnerability, there are other real world barriers to group attendance. Finding a group at all, or one close enough geographically to be practical, is an issue for many. Then you have to find a group that meets at a time that fits into your busy life. For some, especially the young guys, finding transportation to get to a group can make regular attendance difficult or impossible. For these reasons (and many others), I really like the idea of digital, on-line support groups!

. . . for me, meeting on-line
is far better than not meeting at all.

While I'll admit I have a large bias in favor of being in a face-to-face circle of males as opposed to looking at them on a screen, there is no question for me that meeting on-line is far better than not meeting at all. I have been exploring different platforms for holding on-line, topic-focused meetings. In a conversation with my friend, Luis Oliveira, he mentioned he was a member of an on-line support group. His group was started by Graham Reid Phoenix, the author of the e-book, Journey to the Core of the Masculine. Graham launched the on-line support group two years ago, and it's now called, "The Virtual Men's Gathering." Graham lives in Spain, Luis is in Portugal, and the other men in the group are scattered across the globe. This group is proof that geography doesn't count for much anymore when it comes to man-making.

. . . geography doesn't count for much anymore
when it comes to man-making.


Because The Virtual Men's Gathering is such a good example of how an on-line group for men works, I interviewed Graham and Luis in a Google Hangout to see what we all can learn about this digital approach to man-making. In the video below you'll hear about the benefits of a digital support group, some nuts and bolts about how they work, how they differ from face-to-face groups, and there's even some help if you're thinking of starting an on-line group of your own.

Check out the video and then either contact Graham or send me a quick note and let's see how we can use these amazing digital tools to enhance the lives of men and young males . . . everywhere!


If this clip doesn't show up use this link.



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June 21, 2015

The Truth about Our Teen Boys

With the current news full of the story of yet another young man gone tragically wrong, it’s the perfect time for me to bring you a story about some really great young men. The guys that star in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl are good examples of what I've found to be true and deeply good about the teenage guys I've met, and I've met a lot of them. I think it's time we all hear more about what's right about our young men and less about the few lost and angry guys who get so much media attention.

At the start of the movie, we meet Greg (played by Thomas Mann), a high school senior, shy, and full of the pretty standard young male insecurities. He manages to stay socially hidden in background at high school as a way of coping with the complicated worlds of relationships. He subtly moves between all the cliques, like the jocks, stoners, goths, and theatre geeks, being a dabbler but not a member of any. Mostly, he remains a loner. Mostly.

Greg does have one main dude in his life named Earl (R.J. Cyler) who he’s known since childhood. Earl is from the (stereotypical) other side of town and is really Greg’s only true friend. Sadly, Greg is so afraid of what it means to have a real friend, he refers to Earl as his “co-worker.” In addition to their history, the two pals share a common interest in odd European art films. They work together making terrible but really funny amateur movies.


Friendships are a complicated business for young guys Greg and Earl's age. Sitting with teen males in groups, I’ve heard many of them talk about having what’s up friends. Those are the guys they hang out with between classes, at lunch, and sometimes after school. However, few of them say they have any got-your-back-no-matter-what, real friends.

. . . few of them say they have any
got-your-back-no-matter-what, real friends.


The movie really gets started when Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) insists that he check in on Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a distant acquaintance from school who has been diagnosed with leukemia. As his relationship with Rachel develops, a true friendship is born, and Greg begins to truly, but cautiously, care for her. You'll be able to pinpoint the moment in the film when Greg’s heart cracks open and he’s overwhelmed with the flood of feelings he has for Rachel he's been holding back.

As I've witnessed many times, when the I'm Okay Mask comes off, so many young men have amazing capacity to face the very hard parts of their lives, speak deep truths, and express big feelings. You’ll see a lot of that in this film. I’m here to tell you it’s not Hollywood, but a really honest depiction of what's alive behind teen male bravado.

There are tons of great laughs and sub-characters. Greg’s strange, sociology professor father (Nick Offerman), is a riot in weird clothing, odd behavior, and a love for exotic foods. In a non-funny way, it speaks to how so many young guys feel they come from embarrassing or sometimes shameful family situations.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so it has great credentials. But for me, so much of what I saw was just flat out true about my own adolescence, and true about the good young men who sit across from me in school circles.

This film is both very funny and sad at the same time, but the laughs outweigh the tears. The film is worth seeing if you want to touch the angst of your own teen history, increase your young male-literacy, and have your heart lightly squeezed.

Here’s a little taste:


If this clip doesn't show up use this link.



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