My Retreat to the 2014 Midwest Men’s Festival has ended and a new travel Adventure—a road trip to the Pacific Northwest—is about to begin on Monday. Deactivating my Facebook account while living more than eight days in a rural area that had no public Internet or cell phone service (at least from Sprint) was something I needed badly. Instead of virtual cyber stimulation, my days were filled with radical energy and interactions with more than a hundred (mostly) gay men.
It was an exhilarating time of renewal for me.
The extended week has been both a drain on my energy and a replenishing charge at the same time, if that makes sense. I’ve been carrying so much virtual shit and conflict around inside me, and Festival offered opportunities to re-ground and to eliminate much of that toxic and negative energy in a safe and healthy way.
As evidence of restoration, I came away with a nut-brown tan. Another example is the loss of more excess girth around my belly. I’ve now lost ten pounds the last four months, much of it from the place I needed and wanted to lose it most.
This was the 33rd Midwest Men’s Festival, of which I have attended at least five, and perhaps six since the 1980s. I am an MMF “leapfrogger”, attending sporadically, with long periods of time between gatherings. I recall meeting with two straight men in the living room of someone’s home in Hyde Park, Kansas City, probably in 1981 or so, discussing meal planning for such an affair, and perusing the cookbook borrowed from the well-established Midwest Women’s Festival.
There are many ways to describe MMF, and none of them can do justice to the experience. MMF is an intentional community of men, for example. MMF is committed to being a Safe Space for all men to explore, reexamine and experiment with what being male in this culture means, and more importantly what it could mean.
No one is “in charge” at MMF. Well, that’s the meme, anyway. From my point of view we are all leaders there, simply by virtue of our participation in the experience and the processes of consensus that take place every day… every hour. I welcome future discussions about such notions.
Do men wear drag at MMF? Sometimes, and those are the images that tend to get the most exposure, but that is not representative of the entire experience. Many men there are comfortable in their denim shorts and tank tops or t-shirts. Once the heat index hits 110, and the humidity rises, many MMF men discover the comfort of a natural fiber sarong and sandals. Others wear only the skin they were born with.
Is MMF a Radical Faerie Gathering? It does not define itself that way, but both radical and faerie energy are found there in abundance.
This post is not intended to define Festival, but rather to share where I’ve been and where I am going lately. I often told others that there are two primary things that brought me back to MMF and make me want to go to Festival every year from this point forward: the circles and the lake. Oh, and that it strives mightily to be a safe place. I have reached a point in my virtual life and world that I crave safety again in ways I haven’t needed since I was a teen.
The MMF community holds two circles each day, one in the morning before lunch, and another later in the afternoon, before dinner. No two circles are alike, but my favorites are the Heart Circles, where everyone has an opportunity to share from their heart in a safe environment where they know they will not be hurt… or at least not intentionally, let alone maliciously. While attendance at Circle is not mandatory, those who avoid them miss so much of the real significance of MMF. Still, I’m glad they are there, too. They contribute energies in ways they cannot do elsewhere.
For the first time I also joined some of the planning segments of Circle, which ensure that Festival occurs next year. These are much more process oriented and energy draining, but they abide by the same principles as all MMF circles: everyone can speak, and decisions are made by consensus of those who take the time to work through the issues at hand.
While there is so much more to MMF than Circle, it is the community’s heart.
MMF men offer workshops on subjects one isn’t likely to see in the local Communiversity catalog. Stimulation for the intellect. Art. Massage. Information about new ways of playing with sex. Discussions about health and AIDS.
MMF men create, facilitate and attend rituals that offer new ways to explore our spirituality; to connect with our past, as well as our future.
MMF men create art and entertainment. This year there were at least two “talent shows”. The Know Talent Show, performed on a stage complete with spotlights and sound system, and debuting this year, the Talent Show-Unplugged, a very fluid flow of talent that requires no electrical amplification or other technological enhancements. Both were delightful and entertaining.
MMF men create energy using combinations of these things and more. Bonfires. Guiding others on walks exploring the land to discover (or rediscover) The Dragon Tree, Hearne’s Hollow, or Venus Mound.
Walking across the earthen dam to the beach at Lake Onessa is a daily ritual for many of us on these hot July afternoons. The water is clean and clear, thanks to the springs that keep it filled. There is also a stream that feeds the lake, and that narrow end of the lake is covered bank-to-bank with water lilies and loti.
MMF men float on inflatable devices and visit. Some swim out to the floating dock, where their naked bodies can manufacture high dose vitamin D from the sun, develop beautiful tans sans tanlines, and yes, the occasional sunburn.
The land at Gaea Retreat Center, where MMF has been held for several years, is not flat, despite being in Kansas! There is an enormously long stairway from the central communal facilities—dining hall, bathhouse and SADO building—up to “the ridge”, where many attendees camp in tents. I forget how many steps are in the stairway. Sixty four, maybe?
The Pavillion—an open-sided roof for protection from rain, with a stage—is also on the ridge. In years before I was born, probably—as the story goes—the ridge was once a runway for those who could afford to fly in from across the country, just to enjoy a naturist space.
In Kansas?! Yes!
MMF men have a sense of humor, often sacrilegious, if not perverse. The SADO building’s name is an acronym for Sharp and Dangerous Objects, from the time it housed tattoo equipment and sewing machines. It is now the only air conditioned space large enough for dozens of men to Circle when the heat becomes too great. The special needs cabin—designated for men living with AIDS or other disabling conditions—is noted on the camp map as the Diseased Pariah Cabin.
More than once, someone told me that while at MMF, we live “between the worlds”.
Hissing is a sign of concurrence and support at MMF. You don’t need to understand that unless and until you attend..
When I received my HIV diagnosis in 1998, I withdrew from my community of gay men. I “went to ground”, thinking that isolation was the only safe place to avoid being criticized or ostracized for seroconverting at such a late date, when we were all supposed to know better about how to protect ourselves. Shortly after I quit all 24 prescriptions drugs I was taking in 2007, which I wrote about here, I was ready to resume my love of writing. I started this blog to tell my stories. By then we had the Internet and I didn’t need to venture out of my bedroom, let alone my home to connect with others.
For more than seven years I have built a virtual family and online community and I cherish and honor those people who are part of that. When I want to interact, I can Skype friends and kindred spirits in Germany, England, Canada, Peru, Australia and many states in the U.S. without leaving my home. Most of them I have never met in person.
This past week has been yet another bifurcation point in my life. I returned to a community I have known about, if not been a steady part of, for more than 30 years. A community of men whom I could touch and hug. Men whose tears might wet my face when we hug and whose body heat and life forces I could feel in ways that can only happen in person. It really did feel like coming home.
It’s time for me to give back to this incredible and amazing intentional community and to give what I can so it will continue to grow strong for others. By accepting a role of responsibility for some of the group’s needs in the future, I am committing to returning to the MMF Circle and community next year and beyond, as long as that feels right. Time will tell what impact that has on the other work I’ve been doing. All I can say is that it feels right for me.
I expect to continue to write about my process of learning how to live well as an “Affected”—a HIV-positive gay man with immune health issues—but somehow all of that feels distant and different to me right now. I am enjoying the energy I find myself surrounded by and I feel pretty darned good. The outer wrapping of my corporeal being is not very pretty. In fact, Michael took some pictures of the recalcitrant sores on my legs and back last night, before I immersed myself in a bath of ozone-charged water for the first time in at least seven years. The ability to do that again was just one of the aims of the new bathroom project that has consumed more than a year of my time. I’ve really missed this therapy that eradicated the MRSA years ago. I’ll let you know how that goes.
I don’t want to dwell on medical and health issues too much now. I’ve still got a Festival buzz working and in fact I want to take a nap!
On Monday I leave home again for another 10 days. Instead of Retreat, this will be an Adventure. I am driving a rented moving truck for a friend who does not have a driver’s license to his new home in Portland Oregon. This will give me a chance to visit my oldest brother, who lives on Vashon Island near Seattle. Gordon is another of my gay siblings who is so important in my life that I have often referred to him as my “guru”.
Retreat, followed by an Adventure!
Ah…. Life is Good.