When you are in a group with Mike, you simply feel alive. His energy, excitement, and joy resonate far and wide. As one of EVRYMAN’s lead facilitators and one of our lead coaches, Mike’s deep connection with mind and body plus his positive vibes has helped many men dig deeper and feel more connected to their life and relationships.
Here, Mike opens up about growing up in a cult, coming out, finding true love and how he found his calling to be a coach.
You exude so much joy – where does that come from?
Joy was such a hard emotion to feel as a kid. The joy I felt as a little boy was so natural, but my grandparents saw that as immaturity. My grandpa would say, “You are ‘OAing’!”, which meant ‘over acting’. So, I learned to shut it down. But I have really learned to feel the joy since coming out. Joy as a full expression was hard to access in my adolescence, but when I came out, I didn’t give a fuck. Coming out gave me permission to own my emotions and be grateful for them. I have a lot of calm in my life. My philosophy is slow and calm. When I am slow and calm, I can access joy more often.
What’s your coming out story?
My husband Jerry and I say this all the time, it’s a privilege to come out. It was the roughest and toughest journey but there is a privilege of saying- I don’t give a fuck what society, or family says about me. I get to be my true self. There is resilience that builds from having the courage to come out. I don’t think most straight people have that same experience and privilege.
I grew up in a pretty conservative Christian household. We were in a cult and they believed that homosexuality was the original sin. As I learned this I was coming into my identity. I grew up in a Filipino household and most Filipino’s are Catholic. I thought I was sick, that God had to heal me. On top of that, I am also a survivor of sexual abuse from an adult male, it made me so conflicted. I started to feel shame. I started to ask myself, am I gay because I was sexually abused?
From ages 10-23 there was this internal conflict. It wasn’t until college that I really started to challenge these beliefs. I was taking anthropology classes and world religion and I really started wondering if homosexuality was a sin. After months of processing this, I decided to leave my church and find a more accepting one. When I left the church, I left an entire community I grew up with. Thankfully, one of my best friends, Katherine, left the church in support and that meant a great deal.
When I let my mother know I was leaving the church I started questioning so many things we had learned. I asked her if a murderer could go to heaven if he accepted Christ and she said yes. Then I asked if a homosexuals could go to heaven if they accepted
Christ and she said no. She wondered why I was asking these questions, so I simply came out to her. She didn’t believe me. I had to tell her I have been having these thoughts for ten years. Overwhelmed, she asked me to tell my uncle. My uncle was my best friend, we spoke every day. When I told him he was silent. I asked if he still loved me, and he said he would always love me. That is the last time I spoke to him. 10 years ago. March 9t h is my 10-year anniversary of coming out.
I was now on my own. It took me a while to speak to someone else and I was in a real self-destructive, suicidal moment in my life. I spoke to my mentor Kevin Lasit and told him I was thinking of taking my life. As soon as I told him I was gay he simply said, “I am so proud of you.” That shifted my direction completely. That was all I needed to hear. Slowly I started coming out to others and surrounding myself with people who supported me and lifted me up. Not to say after that I didn’t have regret and depression, but the suicidal thoughts started to dissipate, and I started to feel more whole especially as I integrated into the gay community. There is so much joy in being authentic.
I really does get better.
And you are happily married! Tell us more.
I had my heart broken by my first boyfriend and my soul sister asked me what I wanted in my life. I called into my life a man who would take care of me, maybe even a doctor. Two weeks later I met a physician on Grindr and we spent 48 hours together. He was in Seattle and I was in Oakland. Four months later he moved to San Francisco and it freaked me out. That was nine years ago, and we still have the same conflicts but in the early days the conflict would last two weeks, now they last 10 minutes. We accept each other for our flaws, we don’t expect each other to be everything for each other and we address humility and can own up to our own shit. We can take a break and say I need a time out and come back and apologize, talk it out, and we are done. We just get each other but we know we will fuck up. We won’t be everything for each other and we have flaws. What I really appreciate is how we are students in this relationship and teach each other to love. There is always learning involved.
He is my life partner.
Last year we moved to San Miguel in Mexico because we wanted a calmer life and to get away from the rat race. We wanted to own land. We knew the hustle was impacting our relationship and would cause us to disconnect often.
You have mentioned acting in the past. Tell us more.
I was always a charismatic kid. My aunts would pay me money to do the macarena at family parties! When my older sister was in middles school, she took a drama class. And after seeing her perform I said; I want to do that! It was my first elective. I fell in love with it. My parents were getting a divorce and I was coming into my sexuality.
Theater was a place to just act out in different masks and be whoever I wanted, and it was celebrated.
Later, I auditioned for a touring theater company and did that for 10 years. I did a lot of community theater around the Bay area. I just love performing as it helps me become more emotionally resilient. You have to have compassion for these characters and experience the range of emotions these characters express, so I got to feel those emotions and how they come into my body.
How did you get into coaching?
I was a touring actor, and it wasn’t landing anymore. It was also ‘corporate theater’ and I just felt trapped as an artist. But the light bulb moment happened when we were doing community theater for young people. I was in a program ‘Nightmare on Puberty Street’ and a girl came up to me and confided that she was sexually abused by her uncle. I wondered why more adults aren’t helping these kids out and the higher purpose just clicked. I needed to work with adults.
A friend was coaching, and I had no idea what it meant. She gave me the info for CTI (The Co-Active Training Institute, a professional coaching training program) and I signed up and found my people. My mentor in the program asked what I wanted to do with my career, and I said- I wanted to work with men. I think that came from having a mentor and my uncle in my life. We formed my purpose statement- I create safe spaces for men to think deeply about themselves and develop emotional awareness – and from that point, I had no idea what it meant but I started doing all this men’s work on my own.
How did you get involved with EVRYMAN?
Through my involvement in the work, I heard about them through a friend. I didn’t give it any thought because it looked like a bunch of straight white dudes with beards doing men’s work. But then I heard more about them and I hopped on a call with Dan Doty and asked if it was right for me. I would probably be the only gay man and only man of color.
But I went to the meeting anyways. In a room of 60 men, I was the only gay guy, and one of four men of color, and this was in the Bay Area! I felt like this doesn’t reflect the demographic of the US. So, I started working deeper with the organization to get more exposure with different groups of men.
At that first retreat, Owen Marcus and Brad Golphenee were leading, and their leadership inspired me. I was put in a small group with Brad, and his guidance challenged me in ways that no other man had. I feel honored to lead Fundamentals with these two men. I consider them my teachers and mentors.
What does it take to be a great coach?
Emotional awareness. The ability to compartmentalize our own shit and to come to a coaching relationship present and open. That doesn’t mean you can’t own your shit but listen to yourself and think ‘is this appropriate to bring into this relationship’. It’s so important to listen fully to your client and checking your own biases. It is all about having your client witness self-discovery. We are more likely to make changes if we come to the answers by ourselves. Even if it isn’t the best solution, it’s a learning and growing experience. If we tell a client what to do, they aren’t as invested. I want my clients to go do the work and come back with the results.
A great coach has to be aware of their baggage, pains, hurts, challenges and have a relationship with all of those things. Not stuff it down but shine a light. From these challenges we then can help so many people who can relate to those problems.
Why should a man join a men’s group?
We as humans need human connection! We also need to connect to people who have similar experiences as us – that brings community and belonging which are the antidotes to loneliness and I believe, mental illness, depression, anxiety. When we share we can express and release things we haven’t shared with others. We are releasing tension in our body and bringing it to a parasympathetic state which brings us to a better place mentally, physically, spiritually.
Any tips for our GBTQ community who are feeling lonely or unheard?
We know what it is like to take risks, to step into our authentic version, it also takes risks to be in community with other GBTQ men and share the deepest parts of our being. Continue to take those risks, open up, to accept there might be pain from opening up but on the other side of that is relief, connection, community. Just as importantly, let’s take a risk and put ourselves in a community of straight men. That’s vulnerability.mike sagun