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EP008: Dr. Don Kilhefner: Wisdom of the Tribal Elder

episodes show notes May 25, 2020
PHOTO: Don Kilhefner and Morris Kight at the Gay Community Services Center, Los Angeles, 1972 © Anthony Friedkin from EMAHO Magazine.
Today’s guest is Dr. Don Kilhefner.

I wanted to interview Dr. Don Kilhefner because his name and accomplishments show up nearly every time I do work on elevating Gay Male Existence. He’s a living icon of gay activism.

In his 80’s, he is still a dynamic force in the gay community. As you will hear in this episode, it’s a community he considers family.

Mr. Kilhefner has a remarkable amount of energy, vision, experience, and wisdom he generously offers to his family on a daily basis .Another guest, who has done and keeps doing amazing things for the gay men’s community. Let’s heed his advice to know ourselves better, so that we may serve our community better. 

Because of the COVID-19 threat, this episode was done over Zoom, so you will notice some sound quality issues. I ask that you focus on the content and forgive the sound quality as we all learn how to adjust. 

I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed having the dialog.

We talked about: 

  • Who is Don Kilhefner? [04:37]
  • Boy Energy vs. Man Energy vs. Elder Energy [12:19]
  • Spirituality and Queer Contributions [21:50]
  • Heterosupremecy and Privilege [27:38]
  • Masculine Archetypes and Gender in Culture [35:32]
  • Investing in Your Dignity, Family, and Queer Gifts [46:50]
  • Advice for Starting a Revolution [49:29]

Resources mentioned in this episode: 

Find more about Don Kilhefner at: 

Get connected! 


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; a community of gay men and anyone self-identified as the other. Designed to help you own your personal dignity, strengthen your connection to your chosen families, and thrive in general society. Today's guest is Dr. Don Kilhefner. I wanted to interview Don because his name and accomplishments show up nearly every time I do work on elevating gay male experience. He's simply a living icon of gay activism. In his 80s he is still a dynamic force in the gay community and as you will hear in this episode, it's a community he considers his family. Mr. Kilhefner has a remarkable amount of energy, vision, experience and wisdom he generously offers to me and everybody else in his family on a daily basis. That includes you. Because of the COVID-19 threat, this episode was done over Zoom. So you'll notice some sound quality issues, I ask that you focus on the content and forgive the sound quality. I hope that you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed having the dialogue with Dr. Kilhefner. And now, on to the episode.

Mike Gerle  1:20  
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 are a man entering the cult of brotherhood to come into sex into heart centered connection. Welcome home brother.

Mike Gerle  1:46  
Welcome to the podcast today I have a very special guest Dr. Don Kilhefner. I've been a fan of his ever since I first heard about his stuff and started reading about all the things he does. I saw I'm at conference and have followed him ever since. At the end of the episode, we're gonna have ways to contact Don, all of those links are in the show notes. So please look for that. And I think and as of today, Don is also available on Instagram, on top of all the other places you would expect up until now, I just want to read a few things that I found out about Don online. And I didn't know that Don, you were in an Amish Mennonite community until you're 17. I grew up Mormon. So I kind of identified with that other random bits of information. Don was in the first group to serve in the United States Peace Corps. He has a PhD in Union psychology. He claims as I do that, gays have a different consciousness than heterosexuals created the the center, a 24 hour gay hotline, the first in the nation and that was publicly listed, co founded the Venice recovery house was very active in the Gay Liberation Front in 69 and 70. In 1970 Don also did this amazing thing, he noticed a campaign where 479 gays agreed to relocate to Alpine county in Northern California in order to create quote, "A refuge where homosexuals can live without harassment". My geeky boyfriend did some investigation into that and found out the Alpine County Board of Supervisors held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue, and in 2008 Alpine county along with the neighboring Inyo County, were the only two England counties to vote against prop eight. That's the way we wanted people to vote on prop eight that withdrew marriage equality from California same sex couples. Anyway, onward. 1971 he helped organize the Biltmore rebellion, an act of the Gay Liberation Front where 35 members infiltrated the international psychologists and psychiatric conference because one of the protesters was going to talk about curing homosexuality, sexuality. He's a founding member and spiritual counter Culture movement, the Radical Faeries as something else that you got started founder of the LA Community Services Center, which is now the Los Angeles LGBT Center. You, I think you found it and are still very active in the gay elder circle. And that's so much stuff and we're not even going to talk about that stuff. We're going to talk about other stuff. And anyway, Don, welcome. Welcome to the girly men podcast. I'm so excited to have you here.

Don Kilhefner  4:27  
Yes, yes. I'm glad to be of help, have always liked you and admired the work that you have done.

Mike Gerle  4:33  
Well, thank you, sir. It's a real pleasure to have you here. So you have this huge biography. Let's just pull all that back for a second. Just like who's Don Kilhefner when we asked you, that was me asking Wikipedia and academia. How do you see yourself?

Don Kilhefner  4:50  
Well, it depends on the stage of my life that you're talking about.

Mike Gerle  4:54  

Don Kilhefner  4:55  
Oh, when I was let's say before, I was 21. I would consider myself lost. And the Peace Corps opened me up to a much larger view of myself. And I became, at that time, World Service. And then Black Liberation in this country, led me to get a master's degree at Howard University. And then I began to develop black consciousness and the understanding of the history of black people in this country. And then gay liberation came along while I worked on a doctor at UCLA, and it that became my life. And for the last 51 years, I have been focusing on the well being of gay men and lesbians and others and the welfare of the gay community. So it depends at some stages in my life. I was a warrior. some stages in my life, I was the healer. Some stages in my life, I have the elder such as right now. Gay tribal elder, so it depends on the state of my life. But I am at a point that when I go out the exit door, I'm going to have a smile on my face. Because I truly think I use this lifetime wisely and didn't waste too much time wasting a little, but didn't waste too much time on distractions.

Mike Gerle  6:19  
That's what I see.

Don Kilhefner  6:20  
Did that answer to...

Mike Gerle  6:22  
that? No, actually, I'm really excited about that. Because of all the things we could talk to you about. I really want to talk about like our age, you know, delineated roles in the tribe that you wrote about in gay adults, gay adults. Where are you?

Don Kilhefner  6:39  
Yeah, an article that appeared in white crane journal in the summer of 2010.

Mike Gerle  6:46  

Don Kilhefner  6:47  
And I've I've had hundreds of responses. That article from all over the world. It surprised me. That is spoke so clearly to gay man.

Mike Gerle  6:57  
Yeah, it really did. And Before we move on to that I just wanted to talk about that introduction and all those stages in your life. And those are all bricks in the foundation that I stand on. And I really want to thank you for creating such a solid platform for me to do my work on and so, so thank you. Thank you, Don. Thank you, sir very much for that. As I turned 55, two days ago,

Don Kilhefner  7:28  
Happy birthday!

Mike Gerle  7:30  
Thank you. It is...

Don Kilhefner  7:32  
You're now eligible for membership in the gay elder circle.

Mike Gerle  7:35  
Yes, I am. So that's that's a huge momentous thing. It also marked my official first day of retirement from my West Hollywood City Hall job. And because of the article that you wrote, and you're modeling your life, I feel like I have a lot of exciting times ahead of me.

Don Kilhefner  7:55  
What was it in that article that spoke to you? What was it that spoke to you

Mike Gerle  7:59  
It spoke to me that there's not one way to live that our job is different based on our age. And I was at an age where I was adult at the time, and I didn't realize I was the one doing all the heavy lifting. I didn't realize I had such a responsibility. And I think it's helpful. My partner, my boyfriend, of three years, he is smack dab in the middle of his adulthood. He's 38. And when I shared with him, the insights I got from that article, his eyes really opened up. And I think that he really took on his responsibility as a leader in the community as an active leader that's actually doing the lifting and he works in local government as well. So just having that understanding, I think made him, it made it possible for him to feel more powerful in work that he does and to be more useful. And that's part of what you know, it spoke to me too. And I also had another elder when I did a sweat lodge once talked about the differences in age and he explained how elders shouldn't be trying to be youth and youth shouldn't try to be elders. And that was news to me also. So,

Don Kilhefner  9:24  
You know how the article came into being was in 2004, I was central to organizing a soul conference here in Los Angeles, entitled, "Standing on the bones of our ancestors: Exploring the role of the gay and lesbian elder", and it was on a Saturday at the gay lesbian center, and the next day, Bishop Bruno was hosting a birthday at his birthday party for Malcolm Boyd and I was there and a young man came up to me who was at the conference, the day before and he said to me, that was amazing yesterday because I heard you talking about a gay elder, a gay adult, and I had never in my life heard about a gay adult. And I thought he was putting me on. I thought those little gay guerrilla theater going on, he said, All I've always heard younger gays and older gays and I've never heard the idea that life is divided into four stages: Youth, Adult, Elder, Ancestor. And it shook me to my roots, because I realized that something was missing in the gay community. A certain conscious was missing, that these adults were needed and they weren't available. And our community suffers as a result. And so the article: Gay adults, Gay adults, Where are you? came out of that conversation I have with a young man, a bright young man who makes reports for NPR on environmental issues. So bright gay man, but I never realized there was a gay adult stage.

Mike Gerle  11:11  
Yeah, and it's the same, I feel the same way. I I'm rethinking my, the idea that West Hollywood should be called Boystown, because

Don Kilhefner  11:23  
Isn't that amazing?

Mike Gerle  11:24  

Don Kilhefner  11:25  
Isn't that amazing? And people take great pride yes we haven't grown up yet

Mike Gerle  11:32  
Yeah that's that's the what I have a problem with it now is I believe in in what I want to call like exclusive space like I believe in lesbian space and gay men space and you know, like smaller places and then we all come together in a tribe like at pride and whatnot. Well, one family, but yeah, like Boystown is we're kind of stuck in the boy energy but there is a lot of boy energy on that street.

Don Kilhefner  11:58  
What we need is not more boy energy, what we need is more man energy.

Mike Gerle  12:04  
I agree. I agree so...

Don Kilhefner  12:06  
We are over abundant in boy energy. We're in scarce when it comes to man energy.

Mike Gerle  12:13  
Yeah. Can you talk about the differences? Maybe it just ended those two things. What would you consider the differences? What are examples of boys energy and order examples of man?

Don Kilhefner  12:22  
Well, the process is a process of maturation. A boy is a early development maturation, a man is a later development of maturation, then the wise old man is a third stage of maturation, so that a boy energy would be one of the central organizing principles of youth is having fun and playing. And as you might have noticed, in the gay community, there's a party every other day. There's a dance party every weekend that we are not A people who are a party or dance party do the right people. But a bunch of our community has revolved around that. Particularly the organized kick is about having fun. Yeah, oh, man, psychology would be a more assuming responsibility for something larger than themselves. One of the central organizing principles of youth is they're self absorbed, and if and it's dutiful to be around, and if you're around the too long that are very, it's very Me Me Me oriented. When we make that transition into adulthood, we begin the central organizing principle is more assuming something for larger than oneself. For example, where I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, somebody between 30 and 65, an adult stage, would be volunteering on the volunteer fire department would be helping to organize the committee, would be focusing on a recreation center for the young people because non existent you get it

Mike Gerle  14:14  

Don Kilhefner  14:15  
Care for oneself and also something larger than oneself. So that's one of the big differences between boy psychology or the boy stage of growth and a more man psychology is something larger than yourself. And as you probably have found out, many times with gay men, all they talk about is me. Me, me me.

Mike Gerle  14:40  
Yeah, so that's the difference that's between boy energy and man energy.

Don Kilhefner  14:46  
And wise old man energy

Mike Gerle  14:48  
And wise old man energy. So what is that and what are their roles? So you've done like the boy stuff the man stuff. So then you said the wise elder energy. What is that?

Don Kilhefner  14:59  
Elder is somebody who tends to the spiritual well being of the community, his own well being, the well being of something larger than themselves and the well being seven generations yet to come. So it's a different it's a minor role. Carl Jung, who influenced me greatly. Carl Jung define the elder as the spiritual mother and the spiritual father. So it's a spiritual role. The animal is more a 10th to the material needs of the community, mentoring the young.

Mike Gerle  15:37  

Don Kilhefner  15:38  
It's the future of the community that has to be nurtured and supported and encouraged and have the expectations of in any way we can.

Mike Gerle  15:48  
So in our very secular tribe, what advice would you give to me as a brand new elder, on touching the spiritual needs of our community? How do we handle that tricky phrase?

Don Kilhefner  16:01  
I'll answer that. But first I'd like to ask you, as someone who's 55, now entering the third act of your life, where you are in the process of becoming a gay elder, what are you seeing in the community as a spiritual need?

Mike Gerle  16:20  
Ah, well that's why there's this podcast. I see a spiritual need to move from independence. You talked about that Me Me Me into interdependence. And that takes trust and love. And I want us to go from being just what I call having crotch based connections to having heart based, heart centered connections, and having a heart centered connection, looking into another man's eyes and dropping our shields and just allowing ourselves to be seen and to see that other man, that's a spiritual connection for me. That's what I do in my yoga classes that I teach, and that's what spirituality is, for me, I really do lean on yoga and Hindu Buddhist philosophies that I learned through yoga, which is an end for me that there is a spiritual perfection inside of all of us and it doesn't need to be created. We just need to drop the things that aren't that. And so my role, my goal is to help men with the tools of dropping those things that aren't serving them, and then tapping into their Divine Wisdom inside themselves. Part of...

Don Kilhefner  17:38  
Beautifully said!

Mike Gerle  17:40  
Oh, thank you!

Don Kilhefner  17:40  
You got it. Okay. You have to let that age let you let that develop. And by the time you're 65, deeper by the time you're 75 it'll be even deeper yet, and by the time we're at five, it'll be very deep. You have the spiritual instinct in you. Thank you. One of the things our community needs desperately is I kind of spiritual guidance. Our religious institutions, my experiences, they're all operating principle emeralds for pharmacy, that somehow you and I are mistake. They save in different ways. But basically that's the bottom line. But there is a spiritual need in our computer, especially with young people. For example, just this morning, I was working with a 21 year old, young gay man in St. Louis, who has a gift, has to shamanic gift and something had come up prices in his life. And we were dealing with that shamanical which he's able to do and it was a big help to you. If he had been encountered by a conventional religious person or a conventional psychotherapist, they probably wouldn't say you need to be locked up and no medication, didn't need to be locked up in America. He had a spiritual experience. And there needs to be people in the community who can understand that and see that and young people in terms of their spiritual development, and adults helping them and the development of their spiritual development. You know, for many, many years here in Los Angeles, I conducted a year long workshop entitled, Father hunger, the union of the son of promise, with the father of achievement, helping late teenagers and 20 somethings make that transition from youth into the first stage of adulthood. And much of that work was helping them develop not only a physical manifestation but also a spiritual manifestation in the community. At other workshops at the end of it, I always ask what worked and didn't work. And when you have a man raised his hand and said, I now have a roadmap of how my life might unfold, and I never had a roadmap before. Nobody ever told me what this life might be about. You get it? and that's a spiritual wolves. It's not about shaking tambourines in a church. Although that can be fun, don't get me wrong, But it's about helping these people, helping young people helping adults, helping others making developing a more spiritual, spirit directed life for themselves. And we live in one of the most material cultures the world has ever seen. Many times we don't realize this, that what we're living in is a middle of a giant

Mike Gerle  21:01  

Don Kilhefner  21:02  
Buy me, buy me, buy me now, we hear around the clock seven days a week

Mike Gerle  21:08  
I was gonna ask you where you see examples of spirituality in the queer community that I think that they established institutions are obvious. My very first guest the second episode in girly men, which is already out there is just a unity from the Sisters of perpetual indulgence. And you know, I come out of the fetish leather scene and I saw them blessing, you know, events and contests and it's very funny and and clown like, but it's also serious and real and a real blessing. Can you talk about where you see spiritual energy and would you say it's like, what about the Radical Faeries to me from the outside? they seem spiritual to me.

Don Kilhefner  21:50  
That was that was part of the original call to gay men, back in 1979 when Harry he and I set out the original call for the record. There were three things that we say we want to discuss. One was breakthroughs in gay consciousness. So the Radical Faeries are about gate. The second one was gay deacons. What are we envisioning for the future. And the third one was the spiritual dimension of being gay. And we thought maybe 25, 30 no more than 50 people would show up. And 220 gay men from all over North America, showed up at this room out in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. And we had an exciting three days event, and that it's read throughout the world. So but at its base, it had two things. One is a spiritual dimension. And the second one is helping gay people to get beyond the myth of the homosexual, that somehow who we are, or our success, we didn't reduce by our Heterosexual Supremacy to a sex act for centuries and centuries. And it's the my contention and Harry's conception in the early Radical Faeries we're working is the fact that we are contributing to society contributing something to human evolution that makes our presence in this world important. Substantial. There's a purpose to us being here.

Mike Gerle  23:24  
Yeah. Can you speak a little more to that? You know, one of my questions is Do you believe that queer people, especially gay people have special gifts?

Don Kilhefner  23:35  
I would, I would say it this way. There is something that gay people are contributing to society. And the next wave of gay liberation, queer liberty, is to delineate that more clearly what that contribution is. We know from evolutionary biology, that a trait is not as for one generation To the next generation to the next over a long period of time, unless that trait is contributing to the evolution of it. So as long as we've had written records, cuneiform hieroglyphics for 4000 BC, gay people have been pressing for what is it that has us keep reappearing reappearing, millennia after millennia, while our oppressors go down when I call the drain pipe of history. So what is it that we're contributing to the E.O. Wilson, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, one of the deans of Americans science in this country, world famous for its research, says, quote, "Homosexuals may be the rare carriers of the altruistic impulse in the human species". He's not talking about which orifice did you stick it in? He's saying, we may be the rare carriers of the altruistic impulse. In the human species. altruism means idealism. That's a spiritual concept I deal with. Are you with me?

Mike Gerle  25:17  
I am totally with you. I was making a note of that. We're gonna chapter that in the show.

Don Kilhefner  25:21  
It appears in a book called "On Human Nature" by E.O. Wilson, there's a chapter on homosexuality. Joan Roughgarden, who teaches at a woman who teaches at Stanford, in evolutionary, who has written an important book called Evolution Rainbow that talks about people like us. She said from studying us, not only humans, but in the animal kingdom broadly. We carry the cooperative principle, the cooperative principle. Again, she's a she's not saying define It says effective. She's defining a thing that we're doing something spiritual, that we're, if heterosexual their purpose is the reproductive survival of our species and they do a good job of that. What is the purpose of gay people? Let me let me make it clear. I am not anti sex. I'm pro sex. I'm a sexual liberation one. But it really does boil down to the tail is wagging the dog? And we need to pay more attention to the dog. Then the wagging tail.

Mike Gerle  26:38  
Yeah. And you say the tail is the sex that we have is wailing, wagging the dog, which is this whole other very juicy, expansive, talented part of ourselves, and we're ignoring all that if others focus on the sex. Yes. Yeah, I totally agree with all of that and it is interesting. I think ultra It is associated with youth, though, isn't it? So and I think that's what happens when we get older, and especially with the trials and tribulations that queer people face, we lose our altruism, but maybe not to the degree that...

Don Kilhefner  27:15  
Ah, we do it, we do it whether or not we understand or it's kind of like gravity. It doesn't matter whether you believe in gravity, or it doesn't whether you believe in a theory or an idea that we are contributing to society. We do it anyways. We do it anyway. We're doing as teachers, a psychotherapist.

Mike Gerle  27:38  
And by the way, I've used your term to hetero supremacy, because I just loved it when I saw you write about it. Can you talk a little bit about that for the listener?

Don Kilhefner  27:47  
Sure, one of the mistakes that happened with gay liberation in the early 70s. The word homophobia was used to develop, to describe our oppression and homophobia it's a psychological war. It literally means fear of the same. And it said heterosexuals are homophobic, meaning they're just scared of us. And if they had 12 sessions of CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, it would go away. It's not true. There has been historically a systematic and destructive violence against by hetero supremacy, saying they are superior. It is similar to white supremacy, as far as people color. It's similar to male supremacy, as far as women are concerned, and heteros, but as far as gay men are concerned, and that's a political it's not a psychological term. I've written an essay on we need to burry the word homophobia.

Mike Gerle  28:55  
I have used it as little as possible ever since I read that and understood that and so thank you for bringing that. I think the conversation of hetero supremacy, it dovetails with privilege and being a white man, I have tons of privilege in me. And at least now, it's been a whole evolution for me to understand I don't understand how much privilege I have. And I just wonder if like hetero supremacy I don't...

Don Kilhefner  29:23  
know why and as a white man, you that privilege.

Mike Gerle  29:26  

Don Kilhefner  29:27  
 as a gay man, you do not have privilege,

Mike Gerle  29:29  
You're right. So I can I can see things both ways I can code switch, or

Don Kilhefner  29:34  
that's why the word intersectionality has been coined, in political work today, meaning that somebody can be the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time.

Mike Gerle  29:47  
Yes! absoluitely. And, yeah, that that's fascinating. I think, on our side on the left, that's something that we need to look at very, very carefully. Because sometimes we can be blind to the needs of our own group, which brings up an idea of mine may be a little controversial, but you know, you started the gay lesbian center, or you did or that what was it called when you started it?

Don Kilhefner  30:15  
Gay Community Services Center

Mike Gerle  30:17  
The Gay Community Services Center. And now we have the, you know, the LGBT Center. It's beautiful. I was so proud of it. I had my father and mother who are very much into service in their religion. I have a really great relationship with them. They were very impressed by the gay and lesbian center. But I would say this is for men, especially adult men the way that you describe them. There is almost nothing to do at the center. Unless you have AIDS, or an STD,

Don Kilhefner  30:53  
One of the ways that the center has changed over the last 50 years, the evolution of the center, when Morris Kight and I in 1970, began to envision a community center. It had two primary purposes. One was to provide services to gay and lesbian people, that existed nowhere. And secondly was to create a community to create a center around which a community could develop, that there was no gay community in 1970.

Mike Gerle  31:27  

Don Kilhefner  31:29  
71 they didn't exist. There were a few organizations here and there. There was an NCC church, but there was no sense of community where we assume responsibility for you. And so one of the big breakthroughs for gay liberation here in LA was that breakthrough, developing the idea of community and were responsible for each other. The early center was grassroots in its orientation. So it involved a lot of hundreds of hundred The people there all day long as the center developed and became more professional, had more money available, it became more institutional and social work, providing to clients rather than a community center around which people could get involved. I praised the fact that they're not operating on a budget of $147.5 million with 700 employees.

Mike Gerle  32:30  

Don Kilhefner  32:31  
Oh, we couldn't even envision anything like that in 1970

Mike Gerle  32:36  
Yeah. Yeah

Don Kilhefner  32:37  
Austin's grassroots.

Mike Gerle  32:38  
And I do believe that. Like I said, I'm very proud of the center and what it's done and I've done five AIDS lifecycles to raise you know, money and, and I still will support it and all of that, but there's nothing for me to do there. And I think the way we got here is we had the plague of AIDS, and all that as Then we have you know, people, you know, living on the streets or kids or on the streets, we got them off the streets, you know, trans people have a lot of needs that go beyond, that are actually just life needs. And all of that's happening but I think we kind of got stuck there. And I want to get back to that. Were there non gay people in the LGBTQ community, like the point that gay men are just basically what you see on West Hollywood Boulevard, young guys partying all the time, and not doing much more than that. And I would like to see more opportunities for gay men to do things at the center, whether that's writing classes, or game nights or lecture series, all those kinds of things. And I just, it's just not on the calendar right now. And I'll be poking that bear.

Mike Gerle  32:42  
My understanding at this point is a lot of that is already there. Book clubs, a lot of the things you were talking about needed. It's already there.

Mike Gerle  33:57  
But they're not specifically for gay men. You know, and the calendar is just it's rough. I've done the mankind project, thanks to your endorsing it. And it has been wonderful. And some of the other guys though, in their 30s and early 40s, in my group are finding it hard to find places to hang out with other men their age, that's not a bar or a dance club.

Don Kilhefner  34:23  
Well, that's that's the challenge of your generation. Yeah. Going back to something we don't do that. It's about moving it forward. And what is your generation going to do in terms of creating, to meet the needs of your generation, to point a finger at something and say you should be doing no work. You, your generation needs to do that, in terms of creating the new needs of the community. That's what elders and adults, particularly adults do, they need to see what the community needs right now. And address that.

Mike Gerle  35:01  
Thank you and and thank you for pointing out that it's not something that we just complain about at the bar or on the street or on your podcast. And then hope that it's handed down from the top. It's something that we work on and we put some extra effort.

Don Kilhefner  35:15  
Yeah, on the bottom up, yes, that's why the center is or that's why community is there on the bottom up.

Mike Gerle  35:23  
Yeah. And I know if I engage, that will happen. I just felt compelled to do that to complain to my elder. Can you expand much on the union masculine archetypes the King, Lover, Warrior, Magician? Do you spend much time thinking about that or whatever? It's a big...

Don Kilhefner  35:42  
You know, I, I do have a PhD in human psychology. And

Mike Gerle  35:48  
well, I see I didn't know if this was a big part of what he did, or just this little piece that we pulled out, you know, for my men's group to help us.

Don Kilhefner  35:55  
It's a little piece you pulled out for your men's group.

Mike Gerle  35:58  
Okay. Okay.

Don Kilhefner  36:00  
But don't get me wrong.

Mike Gerle  36:02  

Don Kilhefner  36:03  
The Moore - Gillette book. Yes. The four archetypes? Yes, it's covering the four archetypes of the mature masculine is important, but my only concern about how it's being used is if people think it's like, I'm going to the cafeteria and selecting an archetype. I think I'll be the king. I think I'll be the warrior. It doesn't work that way. The archetype finds you. And usually in my case, you can tell that there were certain kinds of archetypal forces that were working on me that were working on my brothers and sisters in my room, okay, I didn't want to play kick the can. I wanted to go walking in the forest. I love listening to the forest. I love being with the animals. from very early age, I was listening to something different, a certain kind of archetype came and guided my life in a way that at some point in my life, maybe in age 40, I could say, Oh, it's blank archetype. The Warrior's not moving. The wise old man is now an archetype that is guiding my life. So we don't select the archetype. The archetype selects us.

Mike Gerle  37:30  
Okay, I was looking at the archetypes and again King, Lover, Warrior, Magician, and also like masculine and feminine. Although I have troubles with the both of those words.

Don Kilhefner  37:43  
What do you have? What's the problem with those words?

Mike Gerle  37:45  
Oh, I just think that masculinity has been twisted into something, what's masculine and feminine, has been twisted into like strong is masculine and weak is feminine. And that's just not true to me. There's like, you know, lots of like Germany even has all these giant like on top of the Brandenburg Gate and the Sega Sol and all that it's all these powerful women, very strong women. What I mean is, I think in current culture, we've redefined them into something that isn't true and masculine has become, accepted masculinity is this toxic archetype, and that it's a construct that somehow yielding is not masculine. And

Don Kilhefner  38:30  
what you need to do, I would humbly suggest, is in a culture that has male supremacy.

Mike Gerle  38:38  

Don Kilhefner  38:38  
I want we need to be careful. First of all, sex is either male or female, and a very, very small percentage of intersex people. But basically, that's sex. Gender, can be masculine or feminine, but it can be much more than that. Among the Navajo there are genders, among the Blackfeet Indian, there are seven genders, you get it? or is one a society defines gender as being if you were among the Navajo, someone like you would be called, in the Navajo language we'd be called "Men not made for war". Men not made for war, how do you like that?

Mike Gerle  39:26  
I Love that.

Don Kilhefner  39:27  
That describes me perfectly

Mike Gerle  39:29  
Describes me perfectly too!

Don Kilhefner  39:31  
You got it? Lesnians are called in their language "Women who hunt for rabbits", women who hunts the rabbits, because only men do the hunting for meat.

Mike Gerle  39:44  
Oh, wow

Don Kilhefner  39:44  
And those are not negative terms, they're just saying: there are some people not made for war. There are people who are hunter rabbits, women who hunts for rabbitts. Yeah. It's gender role. Yeah. When we talk about the masculine and feminine principle, psychologically, it isn't every man and then everyone is the masculine, some Yin and Yang, as we said, in Asian cultures, Yin and Yang is enormous. Yeah, the Yin principle of the feminine, being a receptive currency that goes deep. The masculine, the Yang principle, is an acting principle that goes out into the world. And there's lots of other differences to that, you see? So you have to be a little careful.

Mike Gerle  40:32  
I think I would prefer using Yin Yang too, because I'm not culturally attached to it as much as masculine feminine. Because there's so much cultural baggage attached to that now.

Don Kilhefner  40:43  
Yeah, but don't lose your intent. Don't use your intellectual life. Just because the herd is doing that doesn't mean you have to do it. Yeah, you can have them into like that knows what it means to have to work with a masculine feminine principle to know what gender mean and gender can be lots of things depending on your society, and knowing what sex means, as well as the binary.

Mike Gerle  41:07  
And and that's when I get when I get to the union archetypes, you know, King, Lover, Warrior, Magician and then add the masculine feminine, that does give me a matrix to work in, because I usually feel like I spent a lot of time in my professional life as like a Magician Warrior. And now I see myself as trying to be a sovereign Lover with a very feminine support. It's the way I use the archetypes to kind of like sense of like, it helps me find where I am in the world, and when I'm having some issues, I've realized I might be too heavily invested in an archetype for example, the boundaries are defended by the Warrior and if I'm not using my warrior enough to keep my boundaries, I can't keep pursuing my goals because I let myself be distracted by somebody who's crossing a boundary and I'm letting them and then they're sucking up all my time and energy, and if I hold that boundary with that warrior energy, then I can go back to doing my sovereign Lover thing that I want to be doing right now.

Don Kilhefner  42:12  
It's usually one archetype at a time. Okay, finding our life, not many archetypes. Usually an archetype. Guiding our lifes.

Mike Gerle  42:23  

Don Kilhefner  42:24  
This is a time in our life.

Mike Gerle  42:26  
And would you say that's, like, seasonal as in your life seasonal when those archetypes change from one to the other?

Don Kilhefner  42:35  
I would say prior to 19, maybe 25. The Youth archetype was guiding my life. Then when gay liberation came even before that anti war movement. The Warrior started guiding my life. I was fighting back, not in an ego battle but fighting back for justice. Around And then when I entered that be about my late 30s 40s 50s, the Wounded Hero archetype became much more important. He who heals because he is wounded, see you heal because she is wounded. And then as I entered my 70s and 80s, the Spiritual Father, the wise old man, that became an archetype that was guiding me more. So it depends on the period in your life, at some period, especially for a young person, the hero, the archetype of the hero, it's very important. Luke Skywalker, the young man, he needs the Hero archetype. But when you get to be 50, if you're still using the Hero archetype, it's not appropriate for a 50 year old. That's something that's coming to us.

Mike Gerle  43:51  
Yeah, was speaking of that the hero archetype or the hero's journey, I for me, I was able to retell my own story as a hero's journey rather than sad victims story, you know, it's the same set of facts, but my early coming out and moving along and dealing with AIDS, that all happened before I was 35. I like to reflect on that as a as a hero's journey that gives me strength to move forward. I think that's where I learned resilience, that's where I learned who my tribe is, and my family is and all of that. So when you talk about the the hero archetype, I mean, do you see that being a useful thing?

Don Kilhefner  44:31  
Ah, the way I work with it, for example, in the father hunger groups I've done with young gay men, again, largely 20 somethings, is the hero does a heroic task. That's why it's called a hero. There's something where there's our heroic task. Luke Skywalker, and a Jedi Knight had a quick test. And so one of the in the father hunger group, I tried They help young gay men find out what the heroic task was.

Mike Gerle  45:04  
Oh, that's fantastic.

Don Kilhefner  45:06  
So for some, it's getting a PhD, which a couple of them did. For somebody else, it might be getting off heroin. For somebody else, it might be opening their own auto garage. So the hero archetype is connected to doing something heroic.

Mike Gerle  45:24  
I really love that.

Don Kilhefner  45:26  
And you feel like you've done something heroic in your early life?

Mike Gerle  45:30  
Yes, I feel like I had. Well, first I feel like I had a mentor when I was very young, an older man. 

Don Kilhefner  45:36  

Mike Gerle  45:37  
But then yeah, I left my town when I was 20 years old, and I left Pocatello, Idaho to be a ballet dancer in San Diego.

Don Kilhefner  45:45  
Ah, you were following something larger than yourself? Yes, I love that.

Mike Gerle  45:50  
Yeah. And then I became HIV positive in 1987. And I became part of the protests and the movement and all of that, so

Don Kilhefner  45:59  
That was a heroic task you engaged. Staying alive. While other were  dying around you.

Mike Gerle  46:06  
Yeah and tending to the wounded and the dying and the dead and and all of that. And that's what happened for me in my

Don Kilhefner  46:12  
Sounds to me like you've engaged in a heroic task.

Mike Gerle  46:18  
Well, thank you I did hear a calling and I did follow it and I'm way I'm so much better for it than if I had just stayed in Pocatello, Idaho. No offense to all the people who stayed there. 

Don Kilhefner  46:30  
No, you had to venture out.

Mike Gerle  46:33  

Don Kilhefner  46:34  
Many people stayed in Pocatello. Yeah. That's not a criticism. Right. Your fate, your harrowing fate. Well, you had to venture out into the unknown world. And you're not.

Mike Gerle  46:46  
So let me ask you the three questions I asked every guest. The first one is how do you invest in your own dignity? Some people are stumped by this. I'm afraid that you need a couple...

Don Kilhefner  46:57  
Done by you have to do worthy things. Self worth, dignity, is based on living a worthy life doing worthy things.

Mike Gerle  47:08  
Mm hmm.

Don Kilhefner  47:09  
It's a simple answer.

Mike Gerle  47:13  
That is awesome. So then how do you identify and invest in your chosen family? Whether that includes your bio family or not, How do you identify the people that visit you in the hospital and will handle your death ritual, whatever that is? That's one way I described family. And you know, how do you invest in those relationships?

Don Kilhefner  47:35  
I would say one of the archetypes that has guided my life has been the archetype of the wounded hero, the trauma archetype. And so I see my family and this is not grandiose words. I see my family as the gay community. Men and women in the gay community. That's my family. They might not reciprocate that. But that's how I operate. So the last 51 years of my life has been taking care of my family.

Mike Gerle  48:08  
Wow. And how do you stay close to them?

Don Kilhefner  48:12  
Every day! I'm up at 7am. And by eight o'clock, my phone is ringing. I'm doing blogs, I'm doing workshops, I'm doing writing, I'm doing videos, I'm doing... So that's how I do it. What's the third question?

Mike Gerle  48:30  
The third question is: What do you think are the special, your special gifts that you would say your gay gifts are for the planet?

Don Kilhefner  48:38  
I stay away from that word "special"

Mike Gerle  48:41  

Don Kilhefner  48:42  
It makes it sound as superior, many times people just with it as saying, my gift at different stages of my life was different.

Mike Gerle  48:53  

Don Kilhefner  48:54  
But primarily the gift was wanting to live a larger life, needing to live a larger life. There are reasons why people like you and I leave Pocatello. We mean to live a larger life and it has to be a larger life that has a intellectual dimension to it, an emotional dimension to it, a spiritual dimension to it. And it involves, not the cause of my choosing, but what it shows me, it involves work in the gay community.

Mike Gerle  49:27  
Well, that's just amazing. What advice do you have for people who want to start a revolution?

Don Kilhefner  49:33  
First of all, it's important that they be revolutionaries. Not everybody is a revolutionary. So revolutionary implies that one sees that the structure of the culture that we're living in is destructive to the interest of ordinary people. So you have to have a certain consciousness. Che Guevara didn't wake up one day and say, I want to be a revolutionary. He took a motorcycle trip from Argentina, through Latin America, up into Mexico into the United States and he saw the great suffering of people everywhere. And it motivated him to change that system to devote his life to changing it. So you have to understand what this is. You have to understand that it's wrong, it needs to be changed. And then you do the work of joining with others to change it.

Mike Gerle  50:28  
Wow. So again, it starts with knowing who I am first, doing some inner work

Don Kilhefner  50:34  
Inside of you, you can't get you can't get phony, you can't fake it.

Mike Gerle  50:37  
And then I need to know the truth about the world and the community that I want to start around.

Don Kilhefner  50:43  

Mike Gerle  50:44  
That's fantastic. That's really as much time as we have this time.

Don Kilhefner  50:50  
I'm very open to coming back and continue

Mike Gerle  50:52  
Oh my god!

Don Kilhefner  50:53  
I love talking with you.

Mike Gerle  50:55  
You know, I will definitely take you up on that and I am still a little I have a huge man crush on you, Dr. Don Kilhefner. And I appreciate you. Thank you for coming on the GerleMen podcast, thank you for all the work you've done. And I really look forward to having you on again in the future.

Don Kilhefner  51:14  
Okay, thank you. Thank you.

Mike Gerle  51:17  
Thank you.

Don Kilhefner  51:18  
Peace be with you.

Mike Gerle  51:19  
And that my friend was Dr. Don Kilhefner. Another guest who has done and keeps doing amazing things for the Gay Men's community andn the larger queer community in general. Let's heed his advice and know ourselves better so that we may serve our community's better. Until next time, this is Mike Gerle with the GerleMen podcast, where we celebrate our greatness.

Mike Gerle  51:44  
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, 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.


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