Chicago-area men who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning ( GBTQQ ) have the opportunity to experience The ManKind Project's ( MKP's ) New Warrior Training Adventure ( NWTA ) this summer.
The GBTQQ-specific version of the three-decade-old men's training, based on the narrative of the "hero's journey"in which the hero separates himself from the outside world and enters the wilderness to discover his inner self, in turn becoming stronger so he can be a positive force in the outside world upon his returnwill be held in Woodstock, Illinois, July 14-16.
Boysen Hodgson, MKP's marketing and communications director, told Windy City Times that the organization encourages the men who participate in the 48-hour training to "have their own experience." To that end, he said, "Out of respect for the mysterious nature of the training and the difficulty fully explaining what happens, we ask men to hold this information in a 'sacred' way."
This may leave readers wondering what exactly they will get with the $700 they spend on the training. Those details are largely at the discretion of the men who attend the trainingmany of whom refrain from providing the specifics of what actually happens there. But to persuade potential newcomers, MKP offers testimonials from men who speak positively of their experience at the NWTA.
Sixty-three thousand men have experienced the training since its beginnings, said Hodgson. MKP, he said, works with men "to be better," to understand themselves, and build emotional intelligence.
However, the mystery cannot be denied.
Addressing the questions
Four Chicago-area men founded The ManKind Project about 30 years ago, when they began offering men the opportunity to attend a "Wildman Weekend." Now, MKP boasts an international non-profit presence. Its "Gateway" NWTAsincluding the GBTQQ-specific trainingmark the organization's efforts to be more inclusive of populations such as GBTQQ men, men of color, and men with disabilities. Wentworth Miller, the star of television's Prison Break, spoke positively of his experience with MKP in a speech he made at the 2013 Human Rights Campaign Dinner.
But an internet search resulted in a handful of articles that may raise questions, including several discussing a wrongful-death lawsuit brought against MKP's Houston branch by the family of Michael Scinto. Scinto, 29, committed suicide after attending the mainstream ( non-Gateway ) NWTA in 2005.
The lawsuit, which ended in a settlement, led to changes in the application process, Hodgson said. Prospective participants' applications are now evaluated by a "mental health resource team" that includes medical professionals.
"It is never our intention to abuse; it is never our intention to degrade; it is never our intention to injure," said Hodgson. But, he added, "That does not mean that men won't perceive it that way. [The NWTA] is challenging and can be confrontational."
As for MKP's stance on sexual orientation, and reports that the organization has been endorsed by reparative therapists, Hodgson acknowledged that men have participated in MKP activities who identify as having "unwanted same-sex attraction"a mainstay of the reparative-therapy movement. The organization's official statement on sexual orientation, adopted in 2009, states in part that, "We welcome men of all sexual orientations: gay, straight, and bisexual, including those who identify as having unwanted same sex attraction."
But Hodgson said that MKP does not practice, support or endorse reparative therapy. Furthermore, he said, the organization has contacted members of the reparative therapy movement that have expressed support for MKP, "and asked them to remove all reference to The ManKind Project from their web page."
John Carlsen, Psy.D.a licensed clinical psychologist at Englewood Mental Health Center and a board member of MKP's Chicago branchcompleted the mainstream NWTA in 2013. Four years later, he's preparing to staff the GBTQQ Gateway NWTA this July.
Soon before his training, Carlsen realized that he had "never gone back into the larger world of men as an out, integrated gay man." The training made it clear to him "what barriers I was experiencing," including, most prominently, homophobia that he had internalized during his years of coming out in the 1980s.
He told Windy City Times that he is grateful for his experiences of completing his NWTA, working in his ongoing "I-Group" for men, staffing NWTA weekends and serving as an MKP board member "in a predominantly heterosexual male environment." These experiences, he said, have been "welcoming," "challenging," "deeply affirming" and "supportive."
Carlsen suggested interested readers attend an upcoming "Homecoming Celebration" that will welcome participants back from the April 2017 Chicago NWTA. This event, open to the public, will take place Wed., May 3, 7-10 p.m., at The ManKind Project's Chicago Center.
More information on the organization is at MKP.org .