As I came of age in the 2000s, the message I got from the culture and from the other boys on the playground was that masculinity was most easily defined by what it wasn’t: gay. My anxiety to avoid doing anything that could be called “gay” was especially strong in middle school. I basically installed a “that’s gay” alarm system in my body—and kept it on a hair trigger—to the point where I avoided doing anything “gay,” even in private. Crying? “Gay.” Wearing a Speedo? “Gay.” Getting too close to another guy, outside of the basketball court? “Fuckin’ gay, dude.” Since then, I’d been in just about every all-male group context you can think of: sports teams, dormitories, a fraternity, even a men’s magazine. Each had varying degrees of homophobia, varying levels of emotional openness, varying forms of acceptable male intimacy. In each, I proved my straightness in different ways.
Fast-forward 17 years, I was 29 and I was all clammed up emotionally. I was recovering from a recent breakup, I’d just started psychotherapy, I was reading bell hooks. But I still felt disconnected from my feelings. When I stumbled upon Evryman, I knew right away that the gooeyness of it, the New Agey earnestness, everything that made me want to run in the opposite direction—all that stuff was exactly why I had to jump in. So I…put it off for three months. But then I hit 30. And when you hit 30, a good question to ask yourself is “What am I holding out for?”
Evryman was founded by Dan Doty, Lucas Krump, Sascha Lewis, and Owen Marcus in 2017. They had prior experience in men’s groups—Owen’s going back as far as the 1980s. The premise for Evryman was actually pretty simple: provide men a safe space to practice being vulnerable so that they could bring greater emotional intelligence into their relationships, their friendships, and their work. Or, translated into old-school guy-speak, what Lucas likes to call “CrossFit for your emotions.”
Evryman has more than 1,000 men, attending more than 100 groups around the country. The groups are free. Where Evryman makes its money—it’s structured as a benefit corporation, which means it’s for-profit with a social mission—is on pricey weekend retreats, like MELT (Men’s Emotional Leadership Training) and Open Source, and from corporate group work facilitation. It’s also developing programming that includes men and women in the circle together. Dan Doty recently led a coed discussion on sexual violation, gender inequality, friendship, and intimacy. But for now, the core of the Evryman experience is the weekly men’s groups, which operate mostly autonomously, following a loose script and with members occasionally seeking guidance from the leadership.
What makes any support group successful, in addition to honesty, vulnerability, and safety, is diversity of perspective. Evryman has failed, so far, in this last regard. Most of its members, and nearly all of its leadership, are straight and white. That’s the case in my group as well.
We gather every Monday night from 6:45 to 9:45 p.m. at Nathan’s apartment. Each man has 10 minutes to share what’s going on in his life while the rest of the group listens closely and challenges him to go deeper when he gets off track. He might laugh or cry or scream into a pillow. That is followed by two minutes of feedback from the group. If anyone is “feeling hot”—if he’s going through a particularly painful moment in a divorce, let’s say—he can ask to go for a second, longer session at the end of the night.
Here’s the thing: Guys, across our culture, are “feeling hot” right now. The demands of modernity, specifically around emotional intelligence, are higher. Men—and this is my impression both as a man and as an observer in this space—often don’t have the tools to meet those demands. This is, in part, why you hear women in relationships with men speaking up about having to do so much emotional labor. Guys are ill-equipped to pull their weight in this regard. Because even if the understanding of what masculinity can be in this country is evolving, traditionally speaking, men are actually rewarded for the opposite, for being disconnected from their emotions. That’s how they can perform all those traits of stereotypical masculinity, like not crying. Now guys are being asked by their partners and their communities to perform at a much higher emotional level, and for good reason: As a society, we’re beginning the process of reckoning with male privilege.