(Originally published in Bomb Snow Magazine, Fall 2022)
The second men’s group I ever attended was facilitated by a woman. I was already nervous enough coming to a place where my anxiety, discomfort with my own feelings, shame, and my struggles were regularly on display. The thought of sitting in a circle of men and sharing openly pushed every “resist and escape” button in my body. I’d considered joining for years after hearing about it from friends, but something always seemed to get in the way. Busyness, or forgetting, or “that’s cheesy shit,” or…anything but that. So the thought of stepping into that space with a woman specializing in men’s work only added to my nerves. What would I reveal? What truths was I resisting that she would spot? I didn’t want to go. And yet, I was at the point in my life where I needed freedom more than I needed comfort.
I was already sitting on Shawn’s couch when Erin walked in, soothed by the soft cushions and warm lamp light of his therapist office. Her dark, curly, shoulder-length hair bounced as she walked, and as we met eyes I knew instantly that she didn’t fuck around. Her bright green eyes carried no hesitation and, as her glance landed on me, I squeezed my fists shut and looked away. She sat down in a chair at the front of the room and gazed at each of the nine men. A note of tense expectation hung in the air — a woman facilitating a men’s group. This was new.
After a body scan meditation and introduction from Sam, Erin took the floor and introduced herself and her work, answering the question we were all probably holding: why would a woman want to do men’s work?
“You know,” she said, “this is the safest I’ve felt all day.”
She smiled, sensing our surprise.
“I’m sitting here in a group of nine men who are committed to showing up in a good way. You wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t true. So I feel confident that I can trust you.”
My body shifted. Being told by a woman that my masculinity made her feel safe was a first.
“I work with men because I believe in the best of what men can be. Who you really are. I know you want to give and love. I know you want to show up. And I know that this culture doesn’t prepare you to do that.”
For the first round of the night, we went around the circle and did our normal “check in,” a five minute share about what’s alive for us, in our bodies, in the present moment. That alone, being witnessed by ten people as I stepped off the cliff of my prepared story, that was potent. I have no idea what I said, but it doesn’t matter. Looking back half a decade later, I see that I was building the resilience to hold my discomfort, speak spontaneously, and grow my capacity for being vulnerable.
The next round was more intense. Erin took the center of the room and told us that this was a special opportunity, that there would only be time for two or three men.
“Okay, I’m inviting anyone who feels ready, who really needs to express something to someone in their life. I want you to come and sit in front of me, and imagine that I am that person. And then I want you to give yourself permission to express it. To really let go. To say what you need to say, however you need to say it.”
Silence. Terror. My body recoiled. I could feel rage and grief inside, the wounds and unspoken words I carried from childhood and from past relationships. I felt the taboo in my body, the “I can’t, I mustn’t express this.” And so I didn’t. But others did, and every time I wished it were me. As they let go into the truth of their expression, moving from anger to sadness to wailing grief, Erin never flinched. By the end of the night, I felt newly alive. Solid. Honest. At ease. All the hesitation I walked in with was replaced with a sense of connection. From that moment, I was hooked.
For the past five years (minus my time living away from Bozeman) I’ve shown up every Thursday night to sit in a circle and tell the truth, even when I don’t feel like it. Especially when I don’t feel like it. A central part of the work, and what I’m learning masculinity is actually about, is accountability. By showing up each week, I have no choice but to own my behavior, my emotions, and my blind spots. I meet myself at my best and my worst, my most optimistic and my most overworked and anxious.
The other part of me that has changed the most is the capacity I’ve grown to feel. As a man raised in Montana, I learned early on that feeling too much, crying, and being sensitive were off limits. It is only with slow, consistent work that I’ve been able to rediscover those parts of myself. Sitting in the circle each week, tuning into my body, and speaking spontaneously from the moment teaches me over and over where true connection comes from. In the past five years, I’ve seen each member of that group grow into more of who they really are and find the courage to meet their individual challenges and relationships with integrity. Along the way, they have become some of my best friends.
I think back often to that night and what Erin said about men when we’re at our best and what’s being asked of us now. I consider the fragmenting social climate of the US. The overdue Me Too movement. The injustice of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v Wade and steal a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. We are witnessing in real time the reversing of decades of progress. These trends, championed by wounded, angry men, are doubling down on a version of society that exploits the natural world and marginalizes humans everywhere. It is a reinvestment in deeply bigoted, classist system that seeks to oppress and dominate. It is a tired story where violence is too often confused for strength.
Over the past decade, southwest Montana has become a hub of men’s work, with groups meeting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. Each time a new member shows up, I see the same nervousness I encountered (and still do) when I first sat down to face myself. But underneath that, I recognize the determination to live a more whole, loving life. By the end of five minutes, I almost always feel something true about who they are. And, by the end of the meeting, I inevitably witness their relief and gratitude. Such is the power of choosing to show up for the truth. Ultimately, that’s what “being a man” is all about.
And we are needed now more than ever. As men, these modern times beg of us to dig deep, below our pride, and to touch our hearts. To really look. To care. We’re being asked to bear the weight of our wounded histories and find the courage to truly feel their impact. And, most of all, we’re being shown that we can’t do it alone.
If you’re interested in learning more about the men’s work growing in the area, or to get ideas about where to look in your own region, email Bomb Snow editor Todd Heath (email@example.com) or me (firstname.lastname@example.org).