Stretch Festival – Day Two
Stretch Festival is a weekend getaway in Berlin made up of workshops designed to help queer men explore identity, love, community, and connection. If participants choose to go deeper, Stretch can also be a helpful way to explore shame, sexuality and the other corners of our brilliant beautiful minds. The name Stretch could lead you to believe this is a yoga retreat, and while yoga does happen here from time to time, it is not the main focus of the weekend. This is Day Two of Stretch Festival by Joseph Kearney, detailing his personal experiences at this retreat for gay, bi, trans and queer men.
retreat for gay men
I wake up on Saturday morning feeling like a man reborn. The previous day at Stretch was encapsulating and immersive. My soul is fed and I’m full of a satisfaction that I rarely feel. I don’t need to check Instagram, or text my friends to feel connected, I am connected – to me. I get on my bike and cycle through the heart of Berlin, stopping for a coffee on the way, and embracing the delicious sunshine on an unusually warm July day. I arrive a little behind schedule, and rush to my first workshop on sexual satisfaction.
Related: Stretch Festival Part 1
Be The One
Pawel Dudus is a conscious sexuality practitioner based in Austria, and today he’s in Berlin running the Be The One workshop; which is about finding sexual satisfaction on your own, and being in touch with your inner sexual voice. Due to my late arrival and the dim lightning, I can’t say for sure how many men are here, but I’d say easily forty. We fill the space, like actors warming up. We walk and breathe and move, eventually finding a group harmony. Pawel invites us to sit and sets the scene for today’s workshop. It’s clothing optional and the floor is covered in yoga mats and mattresses. Pawel advises that the point of today is not really to ejaculate. Of course you can, if that’s what happens, but the purpose is to connect to your inner sexual voice and explore your body.
Nowadays our minds are contaminated with pornographic imagery which has a strong impact on our ability to stay receptive to other types of stimulation. My workshop proposal is aimed at strengthening the connection between body and soul by tuning in with the inner sexual voice. – Pawel Dudus
Eyes Wide Shut
The lights are low as everyone finds their own spot. We lie down and it begins. Of course as a journalist, I have to keep focused on the room for the sake of reportage. Most of the guys and I are quickly naked. A lot of men begin wanking, and others are massaging themselves. Some are humming, some are standing eyes open, some are standing eyes closed. I witness a man standing with a hard-on. He strikes his dick down and it bounces back up.
I must admit, I find it hard to let go and drift off. I don’t really connect with my body, and I don’t strike up a conversation with my sexual inner voice. Perhaps that’s the price to pay for arriving late. I do observe others and I wonder if I’m doing this Be the One class correctly. Then it’s over and we leave. I’m not fully fed and my soul hungers. We scurry over to a dance hall space for our next class.
Daan van Kampenhout leads the ceremony and it’s spell binding. His work is personal, private, precious and the most powerful experience of the whole weekend, for me. We covered a lot of material, too much to include here, but briefly, we are all part of humanity. We didn’t just appear yesterday, and the silencing of our story and the story of the queer people before us has stunted our growth.
Daan creates a space to revisit the ancestry of gay people from the beginning of time. I know that sounds impossible, but he does it and it’s mind blowing. Then through ritual chanting, spoken word, and repeated verse, we see our story in the bigger picture. We fit into now and we look to the future.
Years of Tears
On a personal note, I have been unable to cry since my mother died, I was 21 years old at the time. After she passed away, I stopped feeling, and I buried my ability to cry. This space, this experience tapped into me. I cried. I cried the tears of 15 years. I blabbed and blubbered and wept. I was finally part of mankind’s narrative that I previously felt excluded from. Gay people were wiped out of history. Daan enables us to write ourselves back in. The experience helped me to visit a very deeply buried pain.
We run from Queer Ancestory to make it back to the main building for Shamanic Touch, a huge healing workshop with perhaps 100 men. Robert van Ravens from Rotterdam leads the session with two assistants. He has brought nature with him in the form of rose petals, and basil leaves. Was there rosemary and thyme? I can’t be certain. I remember bowls of warm water, heart shaped sponges, blindfolds, sarongs, sheets, and ropes. We sit in the space as Robert speaks of the chakras and totem animals. I remember talk of a rattlesnake and a tiger or jaguar, certainly a big cat that roars and growls.
Washers and Worshippers
We are instructed to form pairs. In each pair, one must wear a blindfold and the other is a washer/worshipper. Those of us wearing blindfolds, become trees in the forest made from men. Again it’s clothing optional, I stand naked and blindfolded in the room. Incense is burned, cymbals are clanged, bells are jingled and magic descends upon us.
My partner washes me, he places rose petals on my shoulders and splashes water in my face, he then lays basil on my shoulders and massages my face. The smells and sensations are glorious. The washer men are invited to stroll the forest to wash and worship the other trees (men).
A bell rings and we’re told to trade places. My washer is blindfolded and I begin to wash and worship him. We met yesterday on a mattress in the kitchen, literally. We kissed and we went to spank class. Now we are trees and worshippers. We are adventurers cut off from reality and living love and escapism in this safe space. When the washing is complete, we take a moment to reflect and then vacate the space to head to the next workshop.
A Human Experiment
The next workshop is with Amit Elan and is called A Human Experiment. This clothing optional space is fart and erection friendly. I’m naked in seconds, as are one or two of the other 60+ men in this basement. Amit talks about public speaking, nerves and gibberish. He speaks of the usefulness of gibberish and how it can help to steady nerves.
The main core of the workshop is the part where each one has the opportunity, in small groups, to try to explore something outside of their comfort zone, each person and their own triggers/issues. – Amit Elan
We line the walls, 30 on one side, 30 on there other, a corridor of semi-naked men. We are invited one-by-one to step into the beginning of the corridor, one at each end and face the man at the other end. Then we speak gibberish and dance towards each other. The intention is not to entertain, although that may happen, it is to be ok with gibberish. Eventually everyone dances through the lined hall of men, while more and more are getting less and less dressed.
Lord of the Flies
Amit leads the crowd into a march, we parade in a circle hopping, dancing, singing and screaming in gibberish. He lifts his hands and we are a chorus on the highest note, he lowers and we become quiet. It’s very ‘Lord of the Flies,’ guttural, ephemeral and beautiful. We are warriors after the hunt, men in a frenzy, but controlled by Amit’s assured hands. With grace and ease, like a shepherd herding beasts of burden, Amit herds us all behind one line on the floor and we are now seated facing the wall at a distance. The dancing gibberish witchcraft chant has ended, we become an audience.
We share our experience in the performance space one-by-one, and do whatever we need, but only 5 get the chance to speak, no time for 60 confessions. The speakers carry the decompression of the group. I feel so safe and free in this gathering of men. What a unique space, what a queer privilege.
Retreat For Gay Men Ends for Today
This is where the day ends for me, there is another final workshop scheduled called Play Space where sex is possible, but I skip it and am happy to relax and gather my thoughts.
I do dance in the larger hall and I do feel full again, satisfied and happy. My eyes land on the shoulders of one handsome man and I forbid myself to approach him. I’m not free and single today, I’m on a promise to myself.
Time to Process Day Two
I cycle back to my cute apartment, gifted to me for the weekend by Stretch Berlin, stopping for currywurst and a cola on the way. I breathe in the warm night air of Berlin and reflect on how lucky I am to be here at this retreat for gay men and to have these experiences. They are helping me to fit into myself.
I make it to my apartment and prepare for bed. I’m excited for Sunday at Stretch, but also very aware that this can’t go on forever. Night falls, and so do I – deeply in love with myself.
Images: Jean Baptiste Huong
Even More Stretching
Stretch Festival is presented by Authentic Eros (where you can find many longer programs). The next event is called Stretch Imagine, and is scheduled for November 3rd and 4th. To find out more, visit their website or follow their Instagram.
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