California Men’s Gatherings: a community beyond the bar scene
Nonprofit men’s group’s annual Julian retreat to take place Nov. 3-6
Published Thursday, 12-Oct-2006 in issue 981
You’re a man in your 30s, 40s or more. You’d like some fun and want to feel like you’re part of the gay community, but you’ve outgrown the bar scene. You don’t want to go to church just to meet people. If you wanted to take up a sport, you would have by now. And somehow you aren’t making the circle of friends you’re looking for on adam4adam or gay.com.
So where is your gay community? What if you just want to be around nice people doing fun things and supporting each other?
“That’s what our board has been working hard to create,” said Bob Savedra, who serves on the events committee for the local chapter of the California Men’s Gatherings (CMG). “The gatherings take two forms, monthly events and weekend retreats around the state. I like being on the events committee because our focus is simply to create fun and community for whoever wants to come join us.”
In the last year, San Diego monthly events have included pool parties, theater excursions, game nights, potlucks, baseball outings and picnics. The monthly events are as wide-ranging as the ideas brought to local events committees, of which there is one in San Diego, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Sacramento and Palm Springs.
“Last October,” Savedra added, “we had someone lead a walking tour of San Diego’s supposedly haunted spots. This year, we tried an improv comedy night at The FunHouse and a live jazz music picnic in the summer. We try to keep the variety up to draw new people and to maintain interest each month.”
Costs are kept as minimal as possible, with a number of the events asking for as little as a $3 donation. The CMG is a nonprofit organization with no religious affiliation, though a few of the events offered have had a nondenominational spiritual side to them.
“Our statewide motto is ‘Men Mentoring Men to Be Men,’” said Jordan Liberman, who serves on the planning committee for the San Diego group’s annual November retreat in Julian. “Straight men have a lot of role models to choose from, but for us it’s not always easy to see beyond the hype and sometimes the danger of what’s glamorized in the gay community.
“I feel lucky to have discovered this group in my 20s, even though a lot of my friends in the group are twice my age,” Liberman continued. “We learn a lot from each other and the environment feels really safe for that.”
The Nov. 3-6 gathering in Julian, one of three retreats held each year by the CMG, will be the 57th held statewide to date.
The organization has changed considerably since it started in 1978, however.
“The gatherings actually started as an entirely straight group, most of the men being married,” said Garrick Wilhelm, president of this year’s gathering. “The group was created in response to the women’s liberation movement. That movement left a lot of guys saying, ‘OK, I support you in that, but who am I as a man in this equation now?’ So the CMG started out as a very straight event. In the late ’80s, though, a lot of gay men became drawn to this idea and started bringing their friends to the gathering. Well, one thing led to another, and now the organization is about 90 percent gay men, almost 10 percent bisexual, and the occasional straight man or transgender person is made to feel welcome too.”
“The ropes courses are, for some, one of the more powerful parts of the weekend,” said one man who has attended 19 of the retreats, including six in Julian. “I chose to pass on them for years, thinking, ‘This city boy don’t need to be climbing no ropes, walls and trees, thank you!’
“But as it happened, I woke up on my 33rd birthday at a CMG and three separate people said to me: ‘It’s your birthday? You should do the ropes course today!’” he continued. “Finally, I gave in and it was great – so empowering. I’ve never forgotten the feeling and have done it twice since, though I still favor the artsy and personal development classes that are given on the ground.”
Any man who is at least 18 years old is welcome to come to the retreats, which are drug and alcohol free, though the group does occasionally allow alcohol at some of the monthly events. The retreats include choices of workshops and community gatherings, as well as a talent show, a dance party and sometimes game shows, pool parties and ropes courses. Fees are charged on sliding scales to help all those interested afford the various events.
Events sometimes develop from enough people simply wanting a topic presented. Jim Ruboyianes had wanted to have a group for meditation and put it out to the group as an idea. Now there’s a regular open Sunday meditation group offered at no cost for anyone on the CMG’s free mailing list.
“Each week, one of us takes turns guiding it,” Ruboyianes explained, “so that you don’t have to be good at sitting still and just contemplating your breathing. Someone leads you through a relaxing visualization. I’m just thrilled to be part of a community where I could just put this out there as an idea and, boom, we have about 12 people who come each week.”
“Young folks have The Center’s youth group and seniors have S.A.G.E.,” Wilhelm said. “Those guys are welcome to our events, but what’s important for us is that there is a healthy, fun alternative to ‘the scene’ for men of all ages.”
For more information about the monthly events or retreats in San Diego and beyond, visit www.californiamensgatherings.org or call (877) 9-THECMG.