Evoco Center is a Place Where You Belong

As gay men, we spend so much of our lives existing in a world that is not built for us, we forget that there is an option to finding ways of “fitting in”. We can actually belong.

A week from tomorrow, on Tuesday, Sept 24, 2019, I will relaunch my yoga classes, so I thought it would be a good time to repost my vision for Evoco Center.  

Right now, I am renting space by the hour, but eventually, if all goes well, I will open my own venue. This post outlines who these offerings are for and why the project is so important to me.  

After the venue I was previously using suddenly shut down at the end of May 2019, I took some time off to do “men’s work” with the Man Kind Project in New York and LA, spoke with Joel Benjamin and participated in his Powers of Man – Tantric Workshops for men and his gay men’s yoga offerings at Yoga Smith in Seattle Washington. I also took a very deep dive with Eben Oroz (a modern guru for sure) into meditation and breath work during a four-day phoneless, vegan, and often silent intensive in Topanga Canyon here in the Los Angeles area.  

New Venue at Plyo Fitness

The new location for my yoga classes is Plyo Fitness on La Brea just south of Santa Monica Blvd., 815 N La Brea Ave, Hollywood, CA 90028. It’s bigger than our previous venue, in a better location, and already home to many queer individuals seeking to better themselves through fitness. As I said, my first class in the new location is a week from tomorrow, on Sept 24, 2019 at 8:30 PM.  

EVCO CENTER – What? Who? Why?  

Evoco (Latin); to call forth, summon, evoke 

The current offering is yoga, but this is not yoga for the masses; this is a yoga experience built specifically with you, the gay man, in mind. Evoco Center is a place where your gay male authenticity is celebrated.  

Most gay men spend much of our day to day life existing in a world that is built for someone else. This is so pervasive that many of us are comfortably numb to the fact that we are so isolated. The world, especially in the United States, is built around rituals of hetero-normative culture, of opposite sex dating, pairing, and parenting. Leaders in media, government, and religion make decisions prioritizing those issues. As a result, we as gay men do what we can to fit in.   

Let me repeat that; we as gay men do what we can to fit in. The problem is, fitting in has a profound negative affect on human beings. The psychological and spiritual effect of fitting in diminishes us. It makes us psycho-spiritual (psycho, as in, loony, head case, crazy…); most often the effect is mild, but sometimes the effect overtly warps our mind and spirit.  

Yes, that’s heavy.  

Brené Brown researches shame and illustrates the profound difference between fitting in and belonging. In her book Braving the Wilderness Brown outlines, in elegant, humorous, and scientific detail, the cost of fitting in. The bottom line is that shame diminishes our authenticity. When we are denied our authentic expression, we experience the toxicity of shame.  

Shame leads to loneliness, which, according to Brown, is more toxic than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. It can, and does, kill us. 

So, who are we authentically? Well, all of us are truly unique, but gay men do have a number of distinct gifts for humanity. According to Raymond L. Rigoglioso and his book Gay Men and The New Way Forward, we have 14 specific gifts. They include Serving & Healing, Reinventing Manhood, and Freeing and Enriching the Human Spirit. The good news is that one of our gifts is being models of authenticity. It’s in our DNA. 

According to my own life experience, the joys of belonging can only be accessed through authentic self-expression.  

In 2007, when I won the title of International Mister Leather, I chose to participate in the competition being as honest as possible. Several of the answers I gave to questions put to me during the competition caused many raised eyebrows on faces of the 9-member judging panel.  

I choose to stand in what Brené Brown calls the “wilderness” by speaking my truth, as opposed to giving answers I thought would make me fit in. So, when I won, and the waves of applause rushed over me in the Chicago Theater auditorium of 2,000 people who apparently agreed with the decisions of the judging panel, it felt real.  

I felt loved because I was being applauded for my authentic, honest, and open communication. 

When I received a text from my straight boss, a man literally managing the City of West Hollywood, I felt a human connection with him I didn’t think possible. He had seen the real me and congratulated me for it.  

As gay men, we spend so much of our lives existing in a world that is not built for us, we forget that there is an option to finding ways of “fitting in”. Once we do some self-reflection we will know where we belong. Many of us have never experienced what it’s like to participate in an occasion that is built specifically for us and our particular expression of humanity on the planet. 

That is the primary reason I have created Evoco. Its manifesto is a very specific set of ideals for a very specific set of human beings.  

Not every gay man will belong at Evoco, but those who do will find joy.  

Eventually we will have our own physical space with offering that include not only yoga, but also meditation, discussion groups, celebrations, silent areas, food, phone-free hangouts and a spa. Until that happens, I will continue to welcome those who resonate with Evoco Center’s mission and vision at Plyo Fitness on Tuesday evenings. It is the venue for my current yoga offering; it is a space where the owner embraces us as we are.  

When the doors close, for two short hours, it becomes Evoco Center, a place for gay men to revel in our legacy and intrinsic nature.  

It’s a place where you will be offered opportunity for heartfelt connection with other men.  

It’s a place where you will be challenged to be authentic. 

It’s a place where you belong.   


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Pool Party: Contempt & Love

…under that wave of fear is a desire to connect heart-to-heart with true friends – to share love – to be able to see people I know and love them and feel their love in return.That’s the good stuff. That’s the true Holy Grail I seek. Until now, I have found it hard to admit, even to myself, that I want it so bad.

It’s Sunday morning on the last day of June and it’s time for me to participate in a Southern California ritual that still makes me uncomfortable.

The pool party, or more specifically, a gay pool party.

This one is at an impressive home literally under the HOLLYWOOD sign. I know the host and have been to this location before. Guests will be able to see the HOLLYWOOD sign above, a view of Hollywood Lake below, and the skyline of the City of Los Angeles in the distance. It’s stunning.

Since I’ve been trying to identify my emotions lately, let’s unpack what happens during the arch of the event, starting with the instant I become aware of the party’s existence.  

Immediately I feel contempt.

That’s right, my out of the gate feeling is not gratitude, excitement, or anticipation, it’s contempt.

I feel the contempt as tension in my upper chest, the back of my neck, and the top of my skull. I tell myself the contempt is because I’m above the need for beautiful houses, beautiful views, and beautiful bodies.

That’s right. I lie to myself.

Under that feeling of contempt are the feelings of fear and jealously born out of my fragile-male-ego-Facebook-comparison-capitalistic-consumer, need to compete. My ego tells me I need to come out on top as the prettiest, most entertaining, guy with the most toys and prettiest friends.

You know, a “winner”.

To feel comfortable, I feel like I need to be dominate in the socially elevated arenas of money, property, and prestige that come from possessing two superficial things: 1) resources and 2) beauty.

Ugg! Rather than being above it, I’m a poster child for conspicuous consumption.

The pool party is a perfect time to exercise the kind of conspicuous consumption Thorstein Veblen discussed in his nearly 100 year old essay The Theory of the Leisure Class. The party is an arena to enjoy publicly displaying our resources and beauty, or maybe acquiring said treasures so that we might move up the social ladder and be accepted by the ruling class – whoever that is.

But, what is really going on here?

Well, feeling contempt is my way of protecting myself from confronting my vulnerable truth. What’s really going on is that I’m afraid, afraid of not being enough. I feel the fear in my gut and in the shallowness of my breathing. I have fear that my now waning beauty or moderate income don’t possess enough social prestige. I fear that I won’t measure up.

And yet, I persist on going. Why?

Well, under that wave of fear is a desire to connect heart-to-heart with true friends – to share love – to be able to see people I know and love them and feel their love in return.That’s the good stuff. That’s the true Holy Grail I seek. Until now, I have found it hard to admit, even to myself, that I want it so bad.

I want to belong. I want love.

That’s why I write this blog and teach yoga the way I do. I want to give and receive unqualified love to and from my gay brothers.

But that’s too scary to confront. So, let’s talk about what’s not scary, you know, profile pictures. With the Facebook invite open, it’s time to dive into what really matters – assessing who is invited.  

Who is “Going”?

There are usually one of three reactions to the list:
1) Being appalled at the unattractive crowd,
2) Being overwhelmed by the crowd’s beauty, or
3) Seeing that although you won’t be the hottest guy there, at least you’re within striking distance of the top tier hotties.

The real reason I’m looking forward to this party is that I’ve been working on my body and know that it will present adequately AND the more important reason, the reason that makes this in an investment in my current happiness and my future contentment, is that a few of my gay family will be there.

I have taken clear unambiguous steps towards identifying my gay “family”. Through a ritualized process, we have committed to each other our trust, honor, and respect.

With that comfortably sorted in my mind (who is most important in my life) I am able to shift my focus from conspicuous consumption to sharing love with my family.

It’s not a light switch I change from off to on, from superficiality to love, it’s more like setting down to meditate in an attempt to still the monkey chatter of my mind. The intension is clear, but sometimes the thousand thoughts remain.

It’s the intension that matters and it’s a constant effort.

In yoga the effort is called Dharana, the practice of focusing the mind on a single point. In Darren Main’s book Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, he illustrates the utility of the 6th limb of yoga. He shows the pragmatism of Dharana. It’s not just a practice of focusing the mind. It’s not a practice of set it and forget it. It’s a practice of focusing the mind, acknowledging it’s drifted away, and returning back to the intention of focusing the mind. That’s Dharana, focus, drift, focus, drift… That gets us to the 7th limb, but that’s not what this post is about.

Even the ancient yogi’s acknowledged that the human mind’s condition of drifting away from single pointed thought is normal and should be expected, even accepted. The key is NOT to judge ourselves for having monkey brain in the first place. Our practice is to NOT judge ourselves for being afraid, or anxious, or full of contempt.

So they developed a tool for getting us back to where we want to be.

When I’m overwhelmed with up scaling my social prestige through conspicuous consumption, I give myself a break, acknowledge that my ego is doing its job of trying to protect me, and then bring back into focus what really matters; the smiles on my true friends faces when I’ll see them, the comfortable hugs we will exchange, and the beauty of the heart to heart connected love we will share in that moment.


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Getting Real with Anxiety

Anxiety is a constant companion, tied to every choice, decision, or plan that comes into my head.

Most days I fight with anxiety.

Well, some days I fight. Most days I just tolerate it, like a bad roommate assigned to me whom I’ve gotten used to, one full of bad advice. Or it’s like clouds at the beach. It’s there to dampen my day with whispers of confusion, doubt, and fear, hindering my ability to connect with others.

Anxiety is a constant companion, tied to every choice, decision, or plan that comes into my head.

Like right now. Should I be writing this blog post? Wouldn’t my time be better spent on another task? What about the grocery shopping, those plans I need to be making for my parent’s visit next month, or the yoga class I thought about taking today? What will happen when people read this? I’m teaching guys to find their bliss in the yoga classes I teach. How can I do that while I’ve got my own carefully hidden tumor of anxiety lodged deep inside me?

Well, I must write about it. If I’m going to stay true to my own value of authenticity, then I’ve got to talk openly about the anxiety I carry.

It’s real. It’s mine. And I’m not ignoring it anymore. In fact, I’m introducing it to all of my friends. With their help and my own internal work, I’m finding out what it has to teach me.

Consciously facing it has improved my daily meditation in that regard. I sit. I listen. I let go of the judgment I have (as best I can) for feeling it. I feel where it is in my body. And I identify what it’s trying to teach me. I explore it with a licensed therapist.

I think it’s trying to teach me how to feel.

Until now, it always seemed to come from another dimension, from origins imperceptible to my most intensely conscious reality.

I’ve come to realize that is because I have always tried to live in an empirically driven, measurable reality, a world where reasoned, rational thought prevails. Unfortunately, anxiety grows out of the world of emotion not reason. So guess what? Even after I’ve put every behavioral aspect of my existence into its own perfect little box, labeled it, categorized it, and sent it off to peer review to be validated, I still feel anxious.

That’s because I don’t know how to truly identify or have a feeling.

Sounds funny, and it would be if it were not such a serious impediment to another of my core values, the value of “contentment.” With regard to anxiety, feelings are all that’s left to explore. I’ve tried ballet, moving, extreme sports, sex, extreme sex, computer network administration…anything that’s formulaic and predictable.

I’ve tried to mitigate the clouds of doubt with extreme rational organization techniques, using: Frankly Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Master/slave roles of the BDSM world, Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and restructuring computer and permitting systems at my city hall job. I find all of those protocols helpful and edifying, but, for the most part, all they offer is an escape from the origin of all behavior, which is emotion.

I thought my gayness had forced me to be more advanced then this.

With prejudice, I observed that us gays were more willing to express feelings than the non-gays. And by comparison to straight men, yes, we are better at it, but only to a relational degree.

Guys my age (I’m 54) had to teach ourselves about the human homosexual experience on planet earth, all without any help from the dominant culture. With my other queer comrades, I thought I had learned about love, community, and compassion.  

We built an activist culture. A warrior culture. Practicing it brought me dignity, but it didn’t teach me much about how to process a feeling.

The primary thing I learned was how to identify a quantifiable policy issue that needed to change, like job protection, AIDS research expedition, etc. and then fight like hell until we won. And we won a lot!

But, I’m I still anxious…

Again, it’s because of this whole emotion thing. I was taught that feeling them would expose me to loss, rejection, or violence. I’m a man born and raised in the northwest heartland of the USA, a world where emotions are shamed if not expressed as anger or triumph. Even in Los Angeles culture, hell, even in West Hollywood culture we support each other if we are really ANGRY or totally WINNING (look at Facebook) but expressing doubts or any other vulnerability is like wearing a blindfold and walking down Hollywood Boulevard naked with the words “kick me in the balls” written on my body in black magic marker.

To be honest – and that really is what this exercise is about, being honest, and that’s why it’s scary – my anxiety is such a part of me that I find it hard to visualize my identity without it.

Who will I be without this constant companion? As uncomfortable as I am with this tumor of doubt, I’m not sure I would know how to live without it. Would I still be Mike? My ego tells me, “No.” I would no longer be me without it. Its loss would threaten my primary relationships and I would end up alone if I told anyone about my real fears, dreams, and regrets.

So that’s my anxiety. At least I recognize it.

I know how it limits me because of its affect on my behavior. I know it has something to teach me and those lessons are probably about grief, aging, and ego.

Rather than simply feeling rage or pride – being less than or greater than – I now give myself permission to feel, no matter how vulnerable that makes me. Because inside my vulnerability is where the juicy stuff is hiding.

I’m willing to hug it and love it until it no longer serves me. I’m willing to be with it until I attract a world of men who have done the work already and can teach me, or are willing to walk this path of emotional exploration with me.


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Yoga is Prayer in Motion

Like a prayer.

Yes. It was indeed, just like a prayer. In a studio packed with yoga practitioners, I felt my soul being revealed. In that up-dog during a hot MODO yoga class, a sacred feeling overtook me.

The physical stress of that class was intense and uncomfortable. It fit my mood as a man no longer living in the same house as my husband, a husband I was in the active process of divorcing. Somewhere in the breath between down-dog and up-dog, the tears of clarity came to me a fell freely, gently opening my heart.

The memory is so clear to me: I am in my body; this is now. I’m breathing deep, lungs fully expanded; sweat streaming off my body and nearly every other yogi present, all bodies fiercely beautiful, a shared intention. A ritual revealed.

That’s when the 200-hour teacher training I had recently completed, hit me. I’m ready…to endure grief and the unknown.

The clarity came to me in that sweaty moment when I connected to…to…what?

I had known physical intensity before this. Having been a ballet dancer and a WeHo gym boy preparing for the White Party, I know what it’s like to work a body hard. This was different. On that Tuesday night’s “workout” I needed the concentration. In the tears and the sweat, sharing space with the human steam of other bodies, I touched peace. I found surrender.

This is what yoga is for me today, a ritual to uncover authenticity. I am honored to be sharing my journey and invite you to come take class with me.

My teaching has evolved over the last two years as I’ve lead specialized naked classes for gay men; at first it was just in the fetish community. Now I am teaching twice a month at Flux Rebellion, on Melrose, across from Fairfax High School. I’ve recently re-connected to a dear friend who has a dance studio in Pasadena that will be conducive and comfortable not only for yoga, but community and hang out space before and after. Exposed brick! What gay man can resist exposed brick?

A lot is possible. I look forward to sharing this path with you.