Today’s guest is Chris Kuwahara-Smith.
I wanted to interview Chris because he creates heart-centered community through his organization, California Gay Adventures.
During CGA-hosted camping trip in Zion National Park, it became clear to me that Chris is doing something important - something that is both classic and radically different.
California Gay Adventures delivers iconic American outdoorsmen culture (that’s the classic part) and he does it specifically for gay men and LGBTQ people. This former boy scout from Idaho finds that idea to be pretty radical.
Chris has leveraged his love for outdoor activities, to create a space where all kinds of gay men find a sense of belonging.
His own hero’s journey through college sports and the Mormon faith has left him with some important life lessons that enable him to be the man he is today. He’s a true leader, creating community by being authentic and holding fast to his own values.
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Episode full transcript:
Mike Gerle 0:00
This is the GerleMen podcast. My name is Mike Gerle, and I'm the host and founder of GerleMen.com, a community for gay men and anyone self identified as the other. designed to help you own your personal dignity, strengthen your connection to your chosen family, and thrive in general society. Today's guest is Chris Kuwahara-Smith. I wanted to interview Chris because he creates heart centered community through his organization, California Gay Adventures. And after joining Chris and the members of CGA on a camping trip in Zion National Park, it became clear to me that Chris is doing something important, something that is both classic and radically different. California Gay Adventures delivers iconic american outdoorsman culture. That's the classic part. And he does it for specifically gay men and LGBT people. You know, this former Boy Scout from Idaho finds that idea to be pretty radical gay people just weren't allowed on the campsites where I grew up. So it's great to see that Chris has leveraged his love for outdoor activities to create space where all kinds of gay men find a sense of belonging. His own hero's journey through college sports and the Mormon faith, especially his mission. While he was a Mormon has left him with important life lessons that enable him to be the man he is today. And I would say that the man he is today is a true leader. He's creating community by being authentic and holding fast to his own values. So now let's get straight to it. And on to the interview.
Mike Gerle 1:45
The moment you realized you were a gay man, you were forced onto the path of the other, so you know oppression inside and out. The calling of otherness has led you on your own hero's journey and that journey has prepared you for greatness. You were a man entering the cult of brotherhood to conscious sex into heart centered connection. Welcome home brother.
Mike Gerle 2:11
Today on the show, we have Chris Kuwahara-Smith. And I've known you long enough to I think I got close to being able to pronounce your name right.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 2:21
Yeah. Perfect Florida.
Mike Gerle 2:23
All right. Yeah. Smith, you don't want to forget that. Thank you for being here. But I just want to start just first by talking about CGA California Gay Adventures. Just, first of all, what is that? You know, how are you connected to that? And let's just start there so people can get oriented.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 2:39
Yeah. Thanks for inviting me, Mike. I'm excited to be on the on the show. California Gay Adventures with a little bit of a we kind of stumbled into it. And that was from a lot of what we're going to talk about today. My life background things growing up. My husband and I were both Chris. So it's Chris Kuwahara-Smith and Christopher Kuwahara-Smith. So there's two of us. We came over from Arizona about six years ago about and I was in, had an off road group in Arizona. And with some friends, it was called cactus four wheelers and came out here and just kind of experienced regular life getting into West Hollywood. We lived downtown, trying to figure out where we fit in. And I realized I really needed my outdoors again. And so what we did is I started doing a lot of off roading. I started a group called Pacific four wheelers on Facebook. And then I realized that a lot of people don't have the extra money here to have kind of like their own play vehicles and extra things. And so we realized that a lot of people like hiking and camping and we went out on a trip with some friends, and we kind of came up with an idea that hey, let's create a group and start doing this more and more and it just evolved from there.
Mike Gerle 3:50
Okay, so it was basically just about you know, guys getting together and an off roading and outdoor stuff.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 3:56
Yeah, off roading, going camping. You know And then it's evolved into where we could do some daytime adventures skydiving...
Mike Gerle 4:04
Well, I'm older than you enough older than you that makes me think a lot of gays would be like What? You want to do what? Was it called gay California adventures at the beginning or did you just was it like, pseudo closeted? I mean what was the deal? I mean and what made you think that a bunch of gays would be into that?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 4:26
You know I think that's that's interesting because it comes from that evolution as well from Arizona when we did Texas four wheelers, Texas four wheelers was not didn't have gay in it at all. We didn't even say anything about a in any of it, just in case we're going to get some homophobic people coming after us. So trying to find where we're going. And that was back. You know, this had to been like 2007 when we really I got involved. It's been around for over 25 years and we did have issues with some people are afraid to show that they're gay on the internet. You don't have some fear because With Pacific four wheelers as we went forward, being in California, I felt a little more comfortable. At the end of years in Arizona, I felt more comfortable as well. And we call the Pacific four wheelers kind of for the same reason it didn't have anything gay, but then I just added on an LGBT offered group, you know, just what would happen, and actually more people join, and we didn't have anybody that had an issue. It's been amazing over the last several years, I'd say in just the way people that I've dealt with the homophobic offroad guys, because that's a lot of what this is the way people treat me and treat us as a community of being involved and things that maybe aren't stereotypically gay. So, well, the reason why we call the California Gay Adventures is because you know what, screw them if they're not gonna like us, you know what, we need to come out of fear and I've really done that and I'm proud I'm proud that we've come this far.
Mike Gerle 5:54
Well, that's, you know, that's a really interesting and it's like a coming out process for your organization. How does that mirror your own coming out process?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 6:04
I was raised with seven brothers and sisters in a Mormon family. Now today at this date I have I have a gay brother and a bisexual sister. So you know, but at that time when I was growing up, I only knew about me there was nobody like me in this world. So of course I had a, you know, a typical we all come out at a certain time. I did not want to come out. I went on my Mormon mission. I was 21, I went to college after I got home from my Mormon mission. I went up to a school in northern Arizona. While I was at school in northern Arizona, I was actually outed by my college basketball coach in front of my entire college basketball team. Today that probably be on the news, but then I just put my tail between my legs and I left college. So after that point, I was excommunicated from my church from my dad as he was in the Bishopric of the church. So it was it was a little rough for me. You know, I've had a rough patch there for a year and a half of really coming out.
Mike Gerle 6:59
What happened when two made huge institutions said, you know, it's not okay with you being who you are.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 7:08
Mike Gerle 7:10
What did that feel like?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 7:12
Well, I mean, you kind of divided it into two. So the fun part, we've all known that sports is one of those places where there's, there aren't gays in sports. Well, you know, there's people like John Amaechi in the NBA that came out after he retired. That was awesome. As people like Dwayne Wade, that are supporting their transsexual son, that's awesome, you know, and that's today, but you go back and there wasn't that when I was, you know, coming up, so I didn't even know if there's any other gay people. So I just, you know, I felt devastated. Number one. He was born again, Christian, and he felt like what he was doing was right. I didn't understand that at the time either, either. So I just kind of at that I had a great relationship with all the players. I was kind of one of the team captains. I had a great relationship as soon as that came out, that changed, it went from being in the light to being completely in the darkness. I was shunned by everybody. Anybody that was my friend was no longer my friend. I had a really hard time finishing out the semester, but I did. And then after that I actually didn't finish college, I actually went back home, got a job, and then dealt with family issues that I that I mentioned, being part of the Mormon church and coming out, you know, that was tough. I knew I was gay at 16 years old. 15 years old, I knew it, you know, and I hid it my entire life. I didn't mention it to anybody, maybe a couple people knew. So that was hard. That was very stressful, growing up, being in high school, playing sports, being in show choir, you know, doing all those things that I really love to do, but not being able to be my true self. So I really took this as an opportunity, went back to college, that wow, this is my opportunity to come out. I mean, everybody's gonna hear about it. So I went ahead and did it. And I just told my parents right up front, told my siblings, and it was, it was tough.
Mike Gerle 9:08
That's such an important part of your life. That story right there. It's just like, all this is taken away from you. You know, and I relate to that too. And I've, I've seen the way you operate your events and parties, and they have so much dignity and you're so giving, and you're so loving. And it's all done with this, like heavy, masculine holding space. And I just see you as this great guy you want not only at your event, but like participating in it and leading it and to hear that that man was like, told by these two different institutions, you've got to go, it's just, it breaks my heart, just knowing that that kind of rejection happened. And so you know, thank you for sharing that. And the reason I stopped you at that point was you had to make a decision. And people's lives really take different trajectories on what happens at that point. And that's interesting to hear the way that you decided to just go full on.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 10:13
Yeah, I thought I was a failure was really what I thought at the moment. You know, I was I was not this strong person that said, You know what, I'm gay screw you! and going forward. I look at it back today that said, Man, I wish I would have done that. No, no, no, I put my tail between my legs. I hit the ball. I went home and I cried. You know, I did. It was it was tough. And then after that, to go into a long term relationship pretty much right away and being excommunicated from my dad and my partner of seven years, not even, you know, my parents didn't even want to meet him. It was a lot. And it was very, very tough. But it's funny people say it gets better, but it really, really does. We learn from our past and it allows us to become who we in the future, and you know, I do I feel like I was shun I feel like I was kind of thrown away. And I don't want other people to feel that way. And that's why I run the group and my life, I guess the way I did.
Mike Gerle 11:12
And that shows that's the reason I wanted to bring that out. It's just like, Why do people make these decisions? And that story that you just told, I think is really helpful in getting there. So you went from not being out to like being out and then like starting a magazine, putting gay, gay, gay on everything. So...
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 11:31
I went through my little phase right around Y2K, where I was going out to clubs, I was partying, and I was having fun coming home at 4:30 in the morning, you know, we did that. And then I really learned what the gay community was in Arizona, and I got really involved. I was doing the pride parades. I was involved in the community raising funds and doing fundraisers and for that probably 15 years of my life I really was dedicated in the community works in the community 100% and I was wonderful. That was a great experience.
Mike Gerle 11:58
That's awesome. It's a great way to talk about that. So how did growing up LDS like, you know, affect the way you run your business?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 12:06
Yeah, I think I could go back to my Mormon mission a little bit. You know, that's something I did not want to do. But when you're raised LDS, when you turn 19, that's 100% expectation. My family, you know, seven brothers and sisters, everybody had gone on their mission before me. It just made sense. I was hiding who I was. And so hey, I could hide it a little bit longer. I went on a mission and I was dreading I did not want to go, I went to Portland, Oregon, so I stayed stateside. So that felt good. And I can say after the mission, it was awesome. I loved it. I didn't really get into the proselytizing, knocking on doors and telling people about it
Mike Gerle 12:46
Can you give us a tiny bit about people who don't know what a Mormon mission is? what's what's the life of a missionary like?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 12:51
So at 19 years old, you go on a two year Mormon mission for the LDS church for two years, you're expected to not connect with your family, you could call your mom on Mother's Day you could call your family at Christmas. You go out day to day door to door, you probably seen the missionaries riding their bikes, their helmets. I was mean, we knock on doors, we talked to people about the church, and why they should join the church and just sometimes just have conversations. It's not always about trying to convert people right away. Sometimes it's building a relationship and trying to gain some trust from them. So I enjoyed that, I'm a people person, it was fun to go out and talk to people who wanted to talk to you. It was even more fun to have people slam the door in your face because it kind of made it a game, you know, and that happens a lot.
Mike Gerle 13:34
Wow. That's a great skill to learn to learn about rejection, Soviet people build their whole lives around not experiencing that one single time. Do you have any idea how many times you experienced that kind of rejection on your mission?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 13:47
I think that that really did help me build my rejection proof mess up, you know, kind of Mormons are known as great salesman, and I think that's why they're they're rejected multiple times a day. And yeah, you might get that one family that's interested in talking to you, once a week. So every day you're out knocking on 50 doors or more, you have one family a week. So Wow, those those percentages are...
Mike Gerle 14:12
That's amazing. And so you said, you learn things from that that helped you in your business, like what do you take from that?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 14:20
I think just understanding that everybody's a little bit different, even if they're in your own community, I learned that there's even in the Mormon Church, they're not clones. I mean, everybody thinks that there's a lot of things out there that say certain, you know, people in religions are brainwashed or they're all the same. They're really not. They're very, very different and complex. And it's really interesting learning about people's differences and complexities and who they are. And I think that in my business, gay people are all different. We come from all different backgrounds. We all have different needs, and even going on a simple thing as a camping trip, there's ways to just include people being inclusive of others and Allow the diversity within your group. We don't all come together and give each other hugs and sing Kumbaya by next to the fire every time. But it kind of does have that feel.
Mike Gerle 15:10
Mm hmm. Well speaking of tolerance, and we are usually asking people to tolerate our gayness or to accept it or to celebrate it, I'm asking for us to celebrate our own queerness but tolerating other people is usually something we're asking other people to do. But I've noticed that you have the ability to tolerate or accept people that the majority of our gay community would not agree with, such as your roommate, you said you have a roommate, who's who's a supporter of Trump. Tell us how, how that works with you.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 15:46
Well, our roommate who will not be named people that know us know who he is, he's a good person and it comes from really good backgrounds. You know, you can see someone through to their heart when they're good, you know, you could kind of just feel it. You know, that some What's good? People are raised different, you know, and sometimes you think, Well, okay, I was raised LDS, I was raised in a republican family. My dad is a kind of crazy Trump supporter. Why don't all people convert over and you know, sometimes it could be for money. Sometimes we don't know what people's hurt what's going on and someone's heart and soul. We don't know that. So I think with all this rejection in my life, all these things come up through my, my life is itis, you just can't throw people away. Now, if somebody was to do something, they were really hardcore against my friends or continually pushing and pushing and pushing. You just have to, because it's not worth the stress. But our roommate keeps it kind of to himself. He will talk about if you if you engage. So what we've been able to do is we've been able to say let's not talk about politics in the house. We know who each other are, and we can get along that way. And we've got a lot of great. We've had our moment. Yeah, don't get me wrong.
Mike Gerle 16:55
Yeah, sure, sure. Of course. How did you guys become roommates?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 16:59
Huh? Do you want the real story or the...
Mike Gerle 17:02
The real story is like, were you like, you know, moving stuff off the truck. And that's when you learned that he was
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 17:07
No actually we met in Arizona. We met in Arizona, okay. His family has a very prominent business. And we met while we were in Arizona, and we just kind of headed off, actually my husband and him headed off really well. And...
Mike Gerle 17:21
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 17:22
When we decided we were going to move to California, we contacted them said, we're moving to California, he lived here, obviously, and we connect to this friends and we came here and really had a political conversation at that point at all. And then we moved into our own apartment downtown Los Angeles. And after a little while, he wanted to move out of his family's home and and we said, Come and move in with us. That's right around the time that we we learned of politics, and that was right in 2016. So it kind of all came to...
Mike Gerle 17:50
Wow. So what do you have in common? What keeps you from ending the roommate relationship.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 17:57
It's nice to have a roommate that can pay the rent every month.
Mike Gerle 18:01
That's a real thing.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 18:02
Yeah, it really is. Like I said, we know yes. And we could talk about everything else. And we can go, we can go on trips together, we can go dancing together, we can go to all these things. Politics. I know, it's a big piece of life. It's not everything.
Mike Gerle 18:16
That's awesome. I just have a lot of respect for that. And I gotta say, that's an interesting thing. I had to do a lot of therapy, I had to do some intense like men's work and other things and confront those political issues before I finally realized what I really want is a conversation with people on the other side, because I want them to respect me and I want to understand them enough to find some way I respect them. And it sounds like you were, you were able to get there.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 18:47
Well, kind of it we're not having that conversation that you want to have. We don't sit at the dinner table and talk about his side and our side and come to agreement. We don't do that. It's more like, it's literally what you see on Facebook, except for we say, Okay, let's not talk about it anymore. So we don't have it's not a it's not an agree you know passive aggressive or a walking on eggshells situation either we've just agreed to disagree.
Mike Gerle 19:12
Okay. Yeah, that I'm really big on that. Because what that does is it opens up access to all the places where you do agree.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 19:19
Mike Gerle 19:20
You know, and you wouldn't have that if that one thing was too much to get by. Let's move on to another question. What do you think the similarities or differences are between gay people who I'll just call them outdoorsman, to cover all your things; You do way more than campaign way more than offroading, it's just: What are the similarities and what are the differences between the gay industry experience?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 19:43
Wow, there's a lot it's interesting because I've done everything from you know, building, whitewater rafting to go into sand rails and the sand dunes and, you know, and, you know, going fishing down in Mexico with my dad, my dad had a TV show growing up for 15 years, it was an outdoors TV show. So I was in that world of being with you know, the straight guys there, that was a Mormon setting where they're not drinking beer every night. And I have been at the sand dunes with the guys that are all drinking beer and partying and they've got their wives there. It's interesting, the hyper masculine sense of the straight world is kind of like, I've got a, I've got to be big and bad. And, you know, it's kind of like the guy that walks by you brushes their shoulder next to you like, Hey, I'm bigger than you. It's a super masculine thing. They have that camaraderie and they like each other. So they're not gonna fight, but it's this interesting. I don't know how to explain it this masculine feel of are you going to shoot the bigger deer? Or am I going to shoot the bigger deer? You know, hey, what motor do you have in that we still do that as gay men to with like, vehicles and things. But it seems like we're just on a wavelength together. And honestly, maybe it's just because I never had that connection with other straight guys, that I didn't get how these buddies bros are enjoying this, because I always...
Mike Gerle 21:05
I love that yeah.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 21:07
It's like that's all I was put off by it. I was always put off by this almost a it's not keeping up with the Joneses but this competitive spirit.
Mike Gerle 21:15
Yeah. Well, I guess there's a really old quote from a I don't remember the guy right now. But he said "When two men pass each other on the street, one of them loses". You know when two men make contact and see you know, there's a sizing up we're always sizing up and saying, I'm the better man.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 21:31
Yeah, that I don't feel that in the gay community. I you know, I know that we we do, as a stereotype, people say, Oh, you know, you're good looking. You're not good looking, oh, you know this or that or this or that. When we go in the outdoors when we're doing this, I really, really don't feel that I say that we're all here for the same reason. You know, some people are into certain people, there might be some romanticism going on and things like that. But that's not the point. The point is just to be together to get along in common like like minded interests, if you will, and it does feel different, it doesn't have that "I'm comparing myself to you" feel to it. That's what I like about it.
Mike Gerle 22:14
So that's not there as much. So what are the gays bring that you don't see at the straight and camping experience? We'll just pick one.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 22:22
I think just they want to belong as a go. They want to belong to, you know, we're raised as individuals, you know, a lot of times when we grow up as gays, we kind of have to kind of move ourselves apart from like our straight friends, because we know we're different. And so we aren't, don't feel like we're ever part of a group like actually truly in a group. And so the reason why I like the idea of the California Gay Adventures group or any group of its sort is that you actually have a sense of belonging, and people truly want that because we're just such individual creatures, as gay men, we kind of have our own little world, we might go straight Your friends and say hi once in a while, but it's nice to have a little bit more and like a spring to it as they bring, I think that yearning and that desire, and they invest themselves just a little bit further into the experience.
Mike Gerle 23:12
Well, that's what I've noticed, I think our collective experience of being the other does force us to look at the world in a more cooperative manner, where we're looking for ways, like you said, to connect, as opposed to ways to dominate. More so. You know, we're still men and we still have all those issues.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 23:34
Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that's it, you know, and you have the a type personalities. And you have that. Yeah, I would rather follow and we have those to, sometimes, you know, a group setting is not always for everyone. Sometimes.
Mike Gerle 23:46
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 23:47
You become such an individual. And you want to be so independent, that it's just you go to a group thing, you know, yeah, I'm not into this. You just do your own thing. That's okay, too. That's okay.
Mike Gerle 23:57
Well, yeah. So I want to talk about the rules for CGA events. They're very clearly stated. You've got rules on sex politics, noise, nudity. It's funny. I have a copy of the boy scout handbook and I just read through it and none of your rules were in there.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 24:17
I remember, a scout is brave, please represent obedient, thrifty, something like that. Yeah, there's your brave good. Yeah.
Mike Gerle 24:23
So the thing is, you know, part of my story is in 2007, I was international Mr. Leather and, you know, I would go to events like a thing called gear up where the only rule is, you can't have a naked butt in the eating lodge. But nudity, sex everywhere and everything... It's part of the event. It's why guys go, you know, and it may be like the alt rights, you know, nightmare of how gay people are just, you know, this scary thing, but the CGA events are definitely not that, much more moderate. Rules, like your sex rules are basically just do it where people can't see you. And I know you get pushback on that, among other things, and I know outside of the gay community people would be like, how is that an oppressive rule?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 25:15
And we don't mean to be oppressive at all. There was a decision to be made, you know, in the four wheel drive group, it was no big deal. We actually mostly would go on like a day trips and then come home and we maybe do a campout once in a while. So camping wasn't really that big of a thing. And when we first went out a couple of our first camping trips, were there there was no rules. It was fine. Everybody just kind of we went up to Yosemite, we had a group of eight guys, there was no issues. Then I noticed that when we had about 12 guys, there was no issues when we had 20 guys there started become some issues around the campfire at night you can imagine you know, things like that. And I kind of had to kind of go into myself and think
Mike Gerle 25:53
I have to push, we just have to make it clear. That was so Mormon view issues happen. Where people having sex at a right at the campfire?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 26:03
Yeah, like a blow job at the campfire.
Mike Gerle 26:05
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 26:06
With other people sitting around and you know, and you know, not everybody wants to see that some people truly believe like, Hey, I'm hot. You want to watch me? You know? And it's like no I don't, you know, you're you're not you're not to me everybody has this like,
Mike Gerle 26:21
Maybe I'm just not in the mood for sex right now. And you're forcing me to participate in your sex scene.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 26:27
or Hey, we're at a campsite. There's a couple in a motorhome. Right? They're not part of our group. Yeah, and you're gonna do this here, this is illegal. And number two, it's just not appropriate. You know? Well, I have a place for things.
Mike Gerle 26:40
And from the leather fetish rules of conduct that's non consensual, and it's not okay. But the kinky people would say that's not okay if everybody's not consenting to it.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 26:52
So some of our groups like, for example, believes in sexual aggression. That was obvious.
Mike Gerle 26:57
I think some people don't I love that rule, because I don't think that some people would consider what they're doing aggressive. They think they're just being they're having fun. They're just playing a game. And again, that gets to consent. I don't think...
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 27:13
Yeah, and I have an example. We had a, we had a camp out near a lake. And we had a situation where we had to kick two people out of the group, and they're not allowed back in and we ban them from the group. And it was because they, the entire day, they were number one hitting on people. Number two, touching people that are appropriate. And number three, when people did have something to drink that night, climbing inside their tent in the middle of the night, That's not right. And well, you know, that is not what we want to see in our group. And we're very, as soon as anything like that happens. It's just, they're out. And so and I believe everybody in the group has been very good about it. We have had a couple situations.
Mike Gerle 27:52
Yeah, people well, I'll speak for myself. I like roles. I like knowing what I'm going to I like that other event. I like the event. where, you know, people's tents are open and we can watch them have sex or they're doing crazy, you know fetish stuff like in the main park. And I love your events because I know what to expect at both of them. It's just a completely different thing and what I, the thing that I got a chance to do camping with the California gay adventures guys is get to know people on a different level, I think on the on the heart and head level, and I believe that our crotch may actually get us there. But it is good to have some modulated sexual stuff so that we might be find other ways to connect.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 28:39
And I believe in that I'm part of it. I'm actually part of a nudist group. And we go do some of these similar things with different roles, but it's not part of California Gay Adventures. And so, you know, I as well believe that whatever you're getting yourself into, it needs to be very clear boundaries need to be set. And so we made a decision to set these boundaries on a broad scope. You know, whether it's nudity or public sex and drinking, you know, drinking, we just say, you know, moderate your drinking. And so, you know, that one's kind of obvious, but for some people it's not like what nudity we will you know, for example, we went on a day trip to Deep Creek, and people were hiking naked, we were naked in the hot spring, but in the event invite it was very clear on what we were doing, you know, or if we go to an area where nudity is allowed, we'll say it in the description that say this area has nudity, we go to an area in outside of Palm Springs, we go camping there and people can be naked and that's fine. But the the sex piece still applies. Just because the someone's being a nudist doesn't mean that they can be have sexual aggression towards them, people just grabbing them or just have sex next to the fire or something.
Mike Gerle 29:49
I want to go on record saying that being sexually liberated doesn't mean that, my sexual liberation doesn't mean that I get to just just sexually assault you. I just, I think that's not for you that's for anybody listening that may be confused about that. And that's the reason I you know, have this I like this credential of like, you know, I'm a big time believer in connecting through sex and fetish, it all of that stuff, but we have to my values, I just don't get to, I don't get to place my values on you or my seen on you, as we call it in it, or my sexual preferences on you, unless we have a discussion and you say, Yes, I want that to happen. So...
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 30:33
And that's exactly how I feel towards this. I mean, it's funny because people that just know me through the group, they come on maybe a couple championships are like, man, he's a prude. And I'm not if people knew that was, you know, once I do get to know me in my different areas of life, you know, I'm pretty open and I'm a very open and accepting and loving person. And as long as there's just the boundaries.
Mike Gerle 30:56
Yeah. And that's what you're doing with your group. I think I think that a lot of people in the LGBT services area get stuck on, you know, everything needs to be allowed all the time. Otherwise, I mean, outside of sex and all that, otherwise, you're somehow oppressive. And I would say, no, this actually gives me freedom to like, show up at your event and know that I can, I can sit there and I can I can talk to these guys and it's not going to get intensely sexual, as if I'm at gear up or if I'm at a play party event. here
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 31:35
Yeah. Or it's or if you've maybe had one too many to drink and you do go back to your test and you are going to just go to sleep that you don't have to worry about somebody that's going to pay I was hitting on you all night. I'm going to come in your attempt with you. That's we really do not want that to happen ever.
Mike Gerle 31:49
So that's assault.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 31:51
Mike Gerle 31:52
That's assault. So who is the perfect the ideal crew member on your adventures?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 32:00
You know, we've had so many people come from so many backgrounds right now we have like a couple members that have just moved to the United States from different countries that are like, I have never seen anything in my life like this. And they're just, I mean, they jumped in with both feet, and they go to every single event, because this is something that they've never experienced. And you know, one was in a country of complete oppression, and you cannot even be gay in the country. And so and he's just, I mean, loving it. And then there's other people that are LA natives, you know, they're they're Angelenos, and they've lived a life of you know, we talked about that people live a life of you know, that they've been around this their whole their whole life, and it's no big deal being gay. That's ideal, too, because I have a local perspective. And then there's somebody like me that's been outdoors my entire life and knows that we shouldn't go hiking when there's ice on the ground in certain area because we might slide off and die. Yeah. So it's good to have that too.
Mike Gerle 33:04
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 33:05
It's hard to tell you that there's an ideal person, I think it is for everyone. I do have a story. There was one person that was going to come on one of our camp outs, just like, tell me how this works. You provide a tent and set it up for me. At first, I was confused and like we don't we don't need people like this, you know, to come. And then I thought about it just be a couple seconds. And I'm like, this is awesome. This is someone that's literally never been in a tent or camping in their entire life. And because they looked through our page and saw how much fun we have together, they want to be part of us. And you know, he's now been on three or four adventures. He has his own tent. He has his own little stove, but he brings out, and it was just so cool. So I can't tell you we have a perfect person.
Mike Gerle 33:49
Well, it sounds like all these people have, you know, a sense of adventure and curiosity and openness, even their backgrounds are all all different. That that's awesome. And I do love that what's going on now with the organization and where do you want to be in the future?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 34:07
Well, I mean, if we talked about COVID, you know, it's been it's been unfortunate that we've had to, we've had, we've had to cancel everything.
Mike Gerle 34:14
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 34:15
But we've we've done that for a good reason, obviously. And we don't know what's gonna happen for the rest of the year. We do have a couple events scheduled right now, as I kind of watch and go and we're gonna go to Pismo Beach. And then we also have a trip planned in September for early September up to Yellowstone, up to Yellowstone. The Grand Tetons. Yeah, we do. We do. Mostly, we do one event a month. That's typically and overnight, we might do an event like, you know, whether it's going to the beach or having a beach bonfire, or going off roading, or even go skydiving within a month. And then we'll have one big adventure every year. Last year we went to Costa Rica, we had 24 guys, we went to Costa Rica for over a week for 10 days. And it was amazing. It was so much fun, because it was so different from being a part of like a regular, even a gay group tour that you signed on for and you don't know anybody. It's really interesting going with 20 guys, of course, I knew them all. But some of them knew four. Some of them knew three. Some of them didn't know anybody. But because we had kind of this bonding and togetherness that some people have with each other, that we were this group together instead of being individuals, and which was really, really cool for a long trip like that. We hope for that to happen again, in Yellowstone in September.
Mike Gerle 35:33
Well, that togetherness is one of the things I really enjoyed on your trip up to Zion that Dennis and I did with you and tell us about the... how you handle the food. I think that's really indicative of how it's community building as well as good logistics.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 35:51
Yeah, well, it didn't start that way. You know, everything is an evolution.
Mike Gerle 35:56
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 35:56
You learn from your mistakes. Yeah, at the beginning I said okay. want this to be as easy as possible for people that are coming. So of course, I bought this huge, massive excursion and you know, brought a trailer and have all the ice chest went and bought all the food. And by the time I got to the camp site, I was exhausted, yeah, setup, we set everything up. And then I'm like, Okay, I'm going to go by the fire and go better. I still kind of go. But now what we do, and it's a lot better actually, is that we put together on a Google Sheet. And we just say, Okay, these are the meals, these are all the items of the meals. And then I just let everybody know that's going go in and select whatever it is 1, 2, 3 items based on how many people are going to be there. And we're relying on you to bring this item so that we can have this meal. It was kind of I was worried about it. I was what like, Are people going to actually bring it? Are we gonna have hamburgers with no meat? Yeah, it's gonna work out and it's worked out great. You know, just send a little reminder but everybody brings a little bit of stuff. We still have community. I think chess and things like that. And we have a community kitchen that I bring. Now we kind of have it set, we bring the community kitchen, everybody kind of knows to help get out of the trailers help set it all up. And then the people that bring those meals, those food items actually help cook. And then we have people that help clean. We're not quite like the Boy Scouts. You know, when we were in the Boy Scouts, where everybody had a specific job yet, people kind of just a little we bring people together and they help, a lot of the new people they ended up hoping by the fire kicking back with the beer. Like why are all these people doing this? And so you know, we let them do that for one trip or two trips. After a while they've gotta help.
Mike Gerle 37:40
That's awesome. And you have whatever they bring, they're responsible for cooking or whatever the thing is putting out
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 37:47
Yeah, all of us know that there are some people that cook better than others sometimes is okay. The skill but enjoy it. Yeah, yeah. They tend to cook a little bit more but you can also tell when they're a little tired of it as well. And I think that we have a great balance there. Sometimes the person that doesn't know how to cook or does not like cooking, they might cut up a few tomatoes. That's it for the whole trip and that's okay. Everybody just puts a little bit in.
Mike Gerle 38:15
Yeah, and you do have such a great you have an elegant of handling adult men who sometimes might not even be whose social graces might be a little rusty. The GerleMen podcast is about you know, this hero's journey from oppression to celebration. And I believe that all queer people have one you know we start in this known place we go away we have these adventures we have these ordeals. We've talked about some of yours with basketball and with with the church and then we come back and in the classic telling, you know, we come back is in Star Wars It was a Jedi Master or we come back with the elixir or we come back with some sort of way of being. Do you Believe that you've been on a hero's journey? and I think we have many of them. And if you have tell us a little bit about that, and what you learned.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 39:09
I think it's very, it's an interesting concept. And it's very difficult for somebody to say yes, I'm a hero, you know, but I guess if you really kind of think about it...
Mike Gerle 39:19
Let me have another way of telling you, I could ask you to tell you your victim story. Tell me how you were fucked over. And I think we're really good at supporting each other as victims and how we got fucked over. I want to support us as heroes having been through a fucked up situation and we came out better men.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 39:38
Well, that word really helped. Yeah, I I really do believe that I'm a better person because of the relations I've been through my life, and going outside of just what I have experienced and what I've overcome in who I am today, it's how you treat other people and what you're doing for others. I feel like I actually have a mission, to work with other people and to help other people being a being in lockdown right now has been kind of like, I want social engagement, and not just to go to a party or do something with other people, I like to help other people come out of their space that they're in, and just become more. And that's, you know, that's that person that's a little bit socially awkward. You know, we have, you know, we've had those people that have come in to our group, and you know, that maybe some people are like, Oh, I don't know if this person should be a member, you know, I don't know if this person should be here and say, Oh, this is exactly the people that need to be here. We need to be the people that love them, and accept them and enjoy them. And we've done that. I believe that we have done that for for some people. You know, some people watching this may say, Well, I didn't feel that way. You know, not ever not everything is known. We can't always, you know, we don't have intuition there. But we can just be the best we can be. My hero's journey is just that we we treat people better in this world. And we just give people some sense of of worth of whatever they're doing, even if it's a camping trip.
Mike Gerle 41:15
That is amazing. And hearing the idea that you want to love people into being there being more is what you said, that's really wonderful. And how different is that from that other attitude you're talking about? It's like, how do I one up you?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 41:33
You see that sometimes, you know, when we were moving to LA, we had this whole thing that people were saying, don't move to LA, we hope is the worst. Everybody judges your clothes and your shoes. And we experience completely the opposite. Maybe it's just the people you're around. I mean, there is that. Yeah, there is that. But
Mike Gerle 41:53
Sometimes people talk about I said if you're talking about West Hollywood bar scene, then yes, but the same things happening on the bar scene on Sunset Boulevard. You're talking about bar culture, not necessarily gay culture.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 42:07
Mike Gerle 42:08
Yeah. I think most of us do want to love each other. The bar scene is harsh and cutthroat and superficial.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 42:17
And we have a I almost say that we have, my husband and I, we're in different scenes. You know, we go to certain parties. We love them. Yeah, we have our groups of friends that we do and yes, they are very cliquey. I try that to go out and see other other people over there. It's tough. It is difficult, but we still do enjoy doing those. Yes, as well.
Mike Gerle 42:38
Well, I found I just did what may be the very very last gay cruise ever but I'm sorry, Rick Campbell, that must really suck. I know. I know. And, you know, I could see all that. But what I did see is these tribes that you know, these things are so huge that many, many tribes can go into one boat and create one giant tribe. And that happens as well as the superficial stuff and the other stuff. And it really is where we focus our attention. It's like they said, you know, which wolf will live the, you know, the, the dark one or the one, the light one and it's like depends on which one you feed. It's an old story. And if you feed the one that gives you negativity all the time, it's gonna get bigger and stronger. And if you feed the one that's positive all the time, you'll get bigger and stronger. And I tend to like feed and gravitate towards those people who I see creating community in that scene. Yeah, now that I'm 55 and I'm officially an elder, it's my job to bless. It's like I'm blessing this. I'm blessing that and I'm just not giving any attention to that over there.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 43:48
Now it makes sense.
Mike Gerle 43:49
Let them do their thing. So let me ask you the three GerleMen questions. It's like how do you invest in your own dignity? I mean, what have you what do you do regularly or what have you done in your life's journey that has brought you to where you are now? You're a leader, you create community, you mentor men, What do you do to like, Stoke that mindset?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 44:11
Doing it regularly. It's practice makes perfect for anything. It's something that I don't think about obviously, I just do it and that's why people are like, Why do you do so many of these things? Why do you do these adventure so often, you just do two or three or, and, and focus on making money and doing traveling. I truly enjoy it. I truly enjoy trying to help other people and having fun with other people meeting new people. How do I stoke my fire? I mean, what do I do? What What is everything? I do go to the gym in the morning and I really want to get more into like what you're into meditation things. I think that could really help me. You know, those are some areas that I feel like I've, you know, I'm lacking as well.
Mike Gerle 44:51
Well, I think those events may be more regular for you too. If I can just you know make up that they are practices in the sense that like sitting down and doing meditation or doing a yoga class is a practice. I mean, hiking is a practice setting up camp, setting up my tent is a practice you know, all of those things are ritual and now that you say that and doing it often it's just I see you participating in a lot of ritual on a regular basis.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 45:20
Okay, I participate rituals, that's my answer.
Mike Gerle 45:25
And I love that you're just following your heart, your intuition is what it sounds like. And that intuition is coming from a community building space loving people space and that's amazing. Who do you consider your closest people, your chosen family the people who will visit you in the hospital and bury you and your or whatever death ritual you have. And and how do you keep that fresh?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 45:52
Obviously my husband You know, we've been together now for over 10 years, and very for a little over five when we were in Arizona, we moved into the same compound, if you will complex of a house. It was interesting because there was this, this older gay man that lived in the home and rented a room to a good friend of ours. And my brother moved into the guest house. So he's always had a lot of gays come in and out of that house. And it's the house was known, good and bad. We developed this family. I mean, we actually literally call him our gay dad and our friend that that lives here in LA that he basically he was going back and forth between the homes, our gay grandpa he just turned, I believe he's ninety years old now. And then my brother was in the guest house. We moved into that house. And we just developed this kind of family, if you will. And we've had a few other individuals that have entered our lives that we truly believe that are part of that family as well. Yesterday we did a COVID drive by which is, you know, we had to see them but you can't get close. They're literally drove parked on the curb. They're right next to their door. They're older, we don't want to be too close to them. So we just talked from about 20 feet away.
Mike Gerle 47:08
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 47:09
Because they're a family.
Mike Gerle 47:11
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 47:12
And then, you know, you bring in, you know, certain friends throughout your life. It's very few, in my, in my experience that come within that to use the Meet the Fockers thing you know and others that small circle that's true. And even if you have this huge network of thousands of people or even hundreds of people that you see on a regular basis, you're still gonna have four or five people maybe even less, that are your true small circle.
Mike Gerle 47:39
Yeah, in my experience, that's very, very true. And that's the reason I'm asking this question, to honor those special relationships because they are few, the ones that last and those people that you can trust in those critical points in your life. So that's fascinating. I didn't know that that story. I was gonna ask who your mentors are, would you consider those two men mentors? Your gay dad and your gay grandfather?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 48:07
Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, a good dad, you know, he, it was it was tough because he went through prostate cancer not too long ago. Oh, we could lose him and it was almost felt like, you know, a family member.
Mike Gerle 48:17
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 48:18
Came right out of it. And he did great. So awesome. He's awesome now, but, you know, we have the financial talks just like you would with your dad?
Mike Gerle 48:27
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 48:28
Yeah. Because he's, he's done well for himself. But you know, the past. He was my age. he screwed up, too. We have those talks. We have the you know, the disapproving father talks sometimes. I think it's good to be able to have those with your friends and with your chosen family.
Mike Gerle 48:44
Yeah, I think that's really, really important. Is there anything else that you want people to know about you or CGA?
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 48:52
You know, the only thing other thing I would talk about CGA is probably the kind of misconception, I think I kind of have With the guy with the tent that didn't have a tent, but a lot of people, they're afraid to come on their first adventure there. We have the we have 3800 people in the Facebook group, we now have our website, CaliforniaGayAdventures.com that has its own app, and people are starting to go there. But you find a lot of people looking, a lot of people just watching. But we do have a lot of people that join, but we just want to be able to extend the invite. You don't have to be a great outdoorsman. You don't have to be someone that has a tent. You don't have to be someone that even knows how to start a campfire. We do all of that. You don't have to even bring any of the food or anything the first trip, just come experience it and see if it's for you. You know, we're open for everybody. I finally decided that I need some help. And so we created what's called our small council. And we said, you know, let's let's get a group that's kind of like our board of directors, but it's our small Council and they are helping, they're helping with the adventures each month, we everybody has a different responsibility, you know, as this whole, you know, pandemic that came out kind of squash that for a little while, but you know, we're going to get back together again, we'll plan out the year, we'll have everybody have different responsibilities, we'll choose a couple of nonprofit organizations to support and like throw pool parties and things like that for we did think that how could we create a way that you could have like a different level that you can earn, and somehow you earn these levels. We haven't quite figured that out yet. In order to pay for things that we do, we charge we do charge for adventures. a camping trip might be somewhere around $35 to $45, you know, a bigger adventure like Costa Rica or something that's going to be appropriate to whatever the international or domestic adventure would be. It's not overly priced. If you look at competing, you know, commercial endeavors that do it where you don't even know anyone. So I think it's moderately priced. We're trying to figure out a way to like there's other ways organizations that have like monthly membership dues or in the membership dues, but don't have any of that, yeah, we've kind of been looking at all the different ways that we could, you know, whether it's motivating people to do things, or it's some way to be able to kind of just give us a budget to be able to work with to even offer more things for people.
Mike Gerle 51:18
Yeah. Well, I just think that's a great way to make it accessible. You know, you've got your other ways. It's like you don't have to start on the Black Diamond trail. You know, we've got a we've got an entry level that we're, we've been waiting for you. So yeah, I just heard you
Unknown Speaker 51:34
There's an evolution that we'd like to do. And I think that maybe now's a good time to start discussing it. To have a lot going on.
Mike Gerle 51:42
Yeah, yeah. I would love to have some of those discussions with you. So thank you, Chris, for doing this. I really think that as an elder, I gotta say that whether you know it or not, you are a contemporary leader in our community and you are providing really high valuable ways for men to connect through heart centered connection. It's also very fun stuff that guys like to do, and I know everybody's invited. And it's just really true to what we're doing here at girly man, which is, you know, honor yourself exactly who you are and trust that you you deserve to feel love and love other people, and you provide a way for people to do that. And I just want to thank you for that and honor you for providing that space.
Chris Kuwahara-Smith 52:30
Well, thank you!
Mike Gerle 52:31
And that my friends was Chris Kuwahara-Smith, a man creating community that helps men find a sense of belonging, knowing that everybody's different, and everybody's welcome, as long as they're willing to follow a few rules, some boundaries that keep everybody having a good time getting the experience that they want. I want to thank Chris and the California Gay Adventure team for being on the show and providing awesome events for us to connect in.
Mike Gerle 53:00
Thanks for listening to the show my friend. Now stay connected by subscribing to GerleMen podcast and sharing with your friends on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere else podcasts can be found. Visit the web page at GerleMen.com. Sign up for the newsletter and find more details about each episode. Let's make this a conversation because I'd really like to hear from you. Join us on Facebook at GerleMen. Submit your questions, suggest topics or just chat with your brothers. Want to add your own two cents? Use the voice memo feature on your smartphone. Ask a question or say anything, we just might play it on the podcast. Email the file to [email protected] Until next time.