[Click here for Part One.]
Shortly after arriving, participants were divided into teams and assigned (surprisingly comfortable) cabins. I don’t know if the staff just did their homework or ran background checks or drugged us and made us take Myers-Briggs tests while we were blacked out or what, but the members of the individual teams got along eerily well, which I honestly did not expect. Everyone on my team was sober, for example, and even during the more stressful group activities, we were able to get shit done without disagreements or tension. So that was pretty cool.
There were a few spontaneous dance parties throughout the weekend, and while part of me wanted to join in, most of me was still coming down from Friday night’s panic attacks. Plus, as a general rule, I don’t dance when people can actually see me. However, whenever I found myself stuck in that mindset, I’d look over and see my teammates — Fast Cat, Fearless Mongoose, Flying Black Dog, One-eyed Falcon, Patient Fox, Prowling Wolf, and Young Buck — huddled against a wall in a tight-knit group, muttering to each other and glaring at the men who were throwing themselves into the music.
As it turns out, it’s really hard to isolate when there’s a pack of interesting introverts to go isolate with.
Emotional check-ins are a big part of New Warrior training, so teams sometimes served as facilitated process groups. My first check-in was something along the lines of “I am feeling ANGRY and VICTIMIZED, and I don’t want to PARTICIPATE or CONNECT or TALK ABOUT IT.” And what threw me off was… nobody tried to make me talk about it. I mean, a couple of the staffers kind of touched base with me a few times on Saturday, but it was just, “Hey, doing okay? Okay, good.” For the most part, they left me have my space until I was ready to
stop pouting interact with everyone else.
When it was my turn to share during an exercise that evening, I talked about working in a gay bar, and how much it bothers me when straight tourists come in and treat the place like a petting zoo. That statement led to the following conversation back in our cabin.
Prowling Wolf: “So hey, why do you spend so much time in gay bars?”
Me: “On account of the homosexuality.”
Prowling Wolf: “…”
Patient Fox: “WELL PLAYED.”
Which is how I became Prowling Wolf’s First Gay Friend™.
So let’s talk about something real quick. One of the consistent complaints I’ve seen levelled at the New Warriors is the “homoeroticism” of their events. But as someone who recreationally dabbles in homoeroticism, I can say with utmost confidence that there wasn’t any.
We did not give each other sensual massages or have tickle fights in our underwear. There were a couple of clothing-optional moments during the weekend, but no one was pressed into them. We were asked to strip down to our comfort level: For some people, that meant taking everything off, and for others, that meant leaving everything on. Both and everything in between were acceptable.
It’s just worth noting that a bunch of guys spending time around each other in any state of dress does not automatically equal “homoerotic.” If being in a roomful of men makes you uncomfortable because you can’t stop thinking about having sex with them… well, that’s between you and your spiritual advisor.
But back to Prowling Wolf. He was on probation for (if I remember correctly) aggravated assault, and earlier in the day, he’d told me that that the weekend had better not involve any nudity, because “I don’t do that gay shit.” But he also wandered into our cabin when I thought no one was around and caught me with that contraband item (see previous post) and went, “How do you still have that? Did you bribe someone?” So I explained how I’d panicked, and how furious I was with that friend of mine, and he was like, “Huh. Well, I think you should forgive him,” and wandered back out. He didn’t say anything about me being gay after the surprise wore off, but he did spend the next day and a half going, “Have you talked to your friend yet? Go talk to your friend. Your friend needs to know how you feel.”
I will admit that I avoided my friend for the rest of the weekend. (We have talked since, though; we’re good.) But I will also admit that 24 hours of encouragement from a dude who was initially as enthusiastic about being trapped in the woods as I was — and who could easily throw me through drywall — has dramatically softened my perspective.
I don’t have too many straight male friends (except for my fellow notary Andrew, who will accuse me of blatant heterophobia and refuse to speak to me if I don’t tell everyone how great he is), and in the times of my life when I did, I often felt branded as the Gay Neighbor of the group. So it was an unusual experience to be surrounded by straight men like Prowling Wolf who weren’t like, “Oh, don’t worry: We don’t think of you as gay,” or “We don’t care that you’re gay, just don’t hit on us.” Instead, they saw all of me, and they accepted all of me as an equal part of the “tribe,” without disclaimers or qualification.
I got a text from Prowling Wolf the night after I got back to Houston, asking when I’m going to take him to a gay bar. Before I could respond, he sent another text that was like, “Oh! We should definitely take Young Buck with us.” My next New Warrior Adventure will apparently go down much closer to home than the last one.
[Click here for Part Three.]