Me & Masculinity
Something you may not know about me already is that I am not a ‘traditionally active’ person. To the extent where I own no activewear and don’t participate in organised sports or go to a gym. So, it was with a reasonable level of surprise that a couple of months ago I received an invitation to attend a three-day event called ‘The Huddle’ which was being run by activewear brand Lululemon. Up until that point, I didn’t really know too much about the brand apart from the fact that they made lots of stretchy clothes. This was also the first time I would be actually going to an event as a participant and not a mental health speaker.
As you do probably know, I’m not really a ‘man’s man.’ Whatever that means. I have some masculine qualities and I have a lot of feminine ones too. The majority of my feminine traits have been deliberately and purposefully cultivated over the last five or so years so that I could try and find a balance of the two and become a more centred and whole individual.
‘The Huddle’ was basically described to me as a three-day immersive retreat held at a winery an hour and a half from Melbourne, Australia. It would involve 29 other men who are also making an impact in their communities.
My initial answer was ‘No thanks.’
Not because I thought badly of the brand, or because I thought that they might make me exercise, but because it was going to be a group of 30 men and I would be trapped at a winery with them for three days. Had it been a co-ed event, my initial reaction might probably have been a ‘yes’.
You see, I don’t really like men. Most of my friends are female and the few male friends I do have were carefully chosen and not exactly ‘typical’. This is for two main reasons;
There have been times when I would be judged, picked on, and sometimes verbally abused on the street, because of the way I was dressed. My crime? I wear a lot of colour and patterns because it makes me happy and whilst I haven’t had it anywhere near as bad as a lot of repressed minorities, the fact that approximately 100% of the perpetrators have been men leads me to have a slight aversion to surrounding myself with groups of guys. Particularly your ‘normal, everyday’ guy who thinks pink is for girls.
Check the image at the top, it’s not exactly difficult to solve ‘Where’s Wally?’ if I ask you to point me out.
The main reason for my reluctance, though, was the thought of the conversations I would have to have. I find it very hard to converse with most men because they are so afraid of being open and vulnerable and talking about real shit. I can usually last about 10 minutes in surface-level conversations about the rugby, work and objectifying women before I nope out and go find someone else to talk to.
I looked through the profiles of the other people who had been invited and saw a lot of footy players, gym owners, runners and all-around athletes. I weigh 75kg and it looked like I’d have the highest percentage of body fat of anyone there! These were not my people. I knew I had very little in common with them and I would probably get annoyed at having to be there for three full days with no one on my wavelength to talk to.
Another problem was that I am also not really a fan of groups in general, as the comedian George Carlin said;
“People are wonderful. I love individuals. I hate groups of people. I hate a group of people with a ‘common purpose’. ‘Cause pretty soon they have little hats. And armbands. And fight songs. And a list of people they’re going to visit at 3am. So, I dislike and despise groups of people but I love individuals. Every person you look at; you can see the universe in their eyes, if you’re really looking.”
I love that quote. It really sums me up. Put me in a group setting and I will shy away but put me face to face with another individual human and I will see their soul.
And here I was being asked to spend three days with a group of sporty men.
Not really on my list of things to do.
I only have one job; to work on myself and then tell people what I learned. This event…well, in reality, this event was actually exactly what I needed regardless of (or perhaps, more accurately because of) how strong my initial reaction was to decline the invitation. I needed to sit myself down in an uncomfortable situation, check my biases, check my judgements and learn some things about myself.
So, as you know because I’m writing this article and from the pictures above, I obviously ended up saying yes and made my way from my little isolated Mexican town of Puerto Escondido to a retreat with 29 other men at a vineyard outside of Melbourne.
When I arrived at the Lululemon Headquarters in Melbourne the opening lunch event had already started. Guys were playing basketball, drinking beer and/or kombucha, eating sausages off the BBQ and chatting.
I quickly found the two girls who I knew that worked for Lululemon and talked to them.
When they had to go and do some work I leaned against a car, aimlessly checked my phone and didn’t really talk to anyone. I felt I was on the outside already. All the other boys were talking like they were best mates from way back.
We were driven to the winery and when we arrived we did a ‘Sweat Session’ which comprised of a workout on the lawn. They made me exercise. This made me feel even more on the outside. All of these other fit, athletic, sporty types and me who literally had to buy shoes for this event because I didn’t own any trainers. I was also very lucky that Lululemon had provided us with a bunch of clothing to wear because like I said, I owned no activewear.
After an early morning yoga session, the following day was more up my street, promising a full day of ‘content’ that would essentially be personal development. Whereas I had been completely out of my comfort zone the previous day, this was my wheelhouse.
From my observations, it really wasn’t what many of the other guys were used to, which didn’t really surprise me much and fed into the narrative I had in my head about the type of guys that were in the group. I want to give a lot of credit to Helen and Robbie who facilitated the workshops, they created a fantastic space where everyone could be open and feel supported even if they felt outside their comfort zone.
Here is what surprised me; these men, these guys that I wrote off as jocks and people who prioritised the aesthetic and functionality of their body over their mind and heart, allowed themselves to become vulnerable. They shared their heartaches, their struggles, their fears and their hopes. They lifted each other up and championed each other’s causes. They cared.
I was really impressed. This actually gave me hope. This showed me how close we are getting as a society to the tipping point of balance in masculinity. How all it took was a ‘safe space’ and most importantly, permission, for them to open up.
I was literally watching transformation before my eyes and it was powerful.
As I was sitting there I was constantly checking in on myself. I had judged these men too harshly off the bat. Whilst some of them, in the downtime, did default back to what I would call ‘man’s man footy talk’, I realised that that was okay, that is was just part of them doing them and something they obviously enjoyed talking about. But what I also saw was the potential. And it brought a smile to my face.
There is a chapter in my new book called ‘The future is not female’. And it’s not. The future is not ‘female’, but it is very much ‘feminine’. A successful future society is going to require males to make a shift along the continuum, not all the way to female, or ultra-feminine, but towards the centre. Ushering in more feminine energy into their life to create a better balance. I saw this happening here. The qualities that we easily and often attribute to females – vulnerability, openness, willingness to share, supporting others and providing a safe space – these were all happening in a room full of men. And some of the most traditionally ‘manly’ men you could imagine at that.
One of the beautiful things that Lululemon did was that they asked everyone’s loved one to make a one minute video about how their life had been impacted by that person and screened them to the group at the end of the three days.
It brought many tears to many men and it was beautiful to see how affected they were by the words of their loved ones. It seemed to me that it may have genuinely been the first time they had heard those particular sentiments really spelled out to them and it really meant a lot.
Libby made a video, of course. She said lovely things, of course. But in her video, she also said something that struck, ‘there’s not even really much I could say here that you haven’t already heard from me before’… And she was right, we say these kinds of things to each other all the time. We have a great impact on each other’s lives and we articulate that to each other regularly. In many ways. I know she is my greatest teacher and I am hers.
This made me want to reiterate again, wherever I can, that if you love someone, tell them. Not just ‘I love you’ but ‘I love you because…’ Articulate it properly and fully, leave out no detail.
It’s important. It makes a difference.
Whilst the content itself didn’t provide me with any particular epiphanies, I did get some from my time there;
Stop judging people before you meet them you dumb bastard.
I already knew this, but I needed to put it into practice more. This experience helped make that a reality. I know that judging someone preemptively removes the ability for me to form a connection with them and gives me biased views of the world.
You don’t need to be afraid of all men.
Yes, a lot of men do fit into my stereotypes and act a particular way that drives me away, but that’s changing. So many men are starting to evolve into wonderful humans. I would like to create deeper relationships with them.
Start doing yoga more often.
I’m getting old. I need to become more flexible, in body and mind. Yoga is the right way for me to do that. They gave me a mat. I will use it.
I have a fear of success because of a fear of getting cut down.
Tall Poppy Syndrome has fucked me up a little. I am scared of dressing entirely how I want to, I am a little scared of saying 100% of what I want to say and I’m scared of fully becoming who I want to become because I’m scared of people trying to tear me down.
So now, I’ve drawn an energetic line in the sand. I’m on my way to becoming ‘unfuckwithable’ and saying no to those fears is a big part of it.
I wrote down (in the most beautiful journal I’ve ever written in, thanks for that Lulu) a simple phrase;
‘Shine mutherfucker shine.’
It means that I am ready to start now. I’m ready to work.
Thank you, Lululemon. I don’t get invited to many things and I am grateful that you opened this opportunity up to me. Brands have been afraid of discussing mental health for so long, it’s wonderful to see you embracing it and helping make changes in men (and women) around the globe.
Thank you, 29 strange, manly men. Being trapped at a winery with you all for three days was exactly what I needed to help overcome some of my prejudices. Thank you for being so open and willing to share parts of yourselves with a room full of strange men. I hope some of you become my friends.
Thank you to me, for putting myself in uncomfortable situations in order to create growth. It’s all I can ever ask of myself.
And thank you, for reading.
Thank you to Dennis Armfield (a former professional ‘footy’ player) & Gabe McClelland (a trainer of ‘intentional high sweat workouts’) who, when I told them that I had dressed down at the event all week for fear of getting judged, encouraged me to be my true self and wear whatever the fuck I want to the final dinner that night. It was freezing on the observation deck for drinks and even in the restaurant (yes, I’m soft, I live in Mexico where it doesn’t get under 22 degrees Celsius). So, I wore the warmest thing I own, it happens to be quite bright; a woman’s pink and purple leopard print coat.
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