A New American Christian Male Identity

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I was born in the United States of America, a product of the 1980s. I spent most of my first twenty-four years of life there, living and growing and learning. My father was from Pennsylvania, my mother from North Carolina. We bounced back and forth between the two states, so I experienced quite a bit of each.

As a result, I obtained a very American worldview. Of course I would, right? I believed things were a certain way because that was just the way they had to be. People did certain things and they didn’t do other things and that was just how it was for everyone. Anyone who wasn’t fine with this system must have had some kind of problem, and in the church we would say those people needed Jesus.

And that’s true — they did need Jesus. But don’t we all need Jesus?

I grew up American and in the church, so I thought I was fine with the system. But in my teens, I came to a true understanding that I personally needed Jesus, which meant that I wasn’t fine. I was the one who had some kind of problem.

And this problem, I came to realize over the next many years, was bigger than just lusting after men. It was bigger than a porn addiction, bigger than wondering about my sexual orientation, bigger than any single label I could try to put on it, because it encompassed all of that and more.

It was a problem of identity. I didn’t know who I was.

I had believed for so long that I was a Christian, I was an American, and I was a white male. And because I was all those things, I felt I had to comply with the rules of those categories in order to remain accepted in all three realms.

We all know these rules. We all know they exist. We might each have a different perspective or understanding of the rules or how they might apply to each of us individually, but there’s no doubt that we all feel some kind of pressure, from within or without, to abide by certain rules because of the location or status in which we were born and raised.

American men tended to avoid touching each other gently, lovingly. They avoided speaking affectionate words, especially to other men. They tried not to spend too much time focusing on their looks. They had to like sports. Emotions were taboo to express except for anger or excitement (but then only if it had something to do with sports.)

Christian men were pretty much American men who went to church.

White men were pretty much American men who would choose country music over rap.

I thought I was okay living according to these rules and others that I believed were the standard for everyone to live by. I thought that if everyone else was living this way and was fine with it, then this must have been the best way for anyone to live.

Wasn’t America supposed to be the greatest country in the world? Wasn’t Christianity the only way to get to heaven? And since this was the only way of life I had ever known, and supposedly the best, I expected it to meet all of my needs, inside and out.

So when this American Christian way of life didn’t meet my needs, when I ended up frustrated and dissatisfied, I wondered what was going on. I was a true Christian, I loved Jesus, but I was still searching for something.

There was a need for identity in me that I was barely even aware of, but which God knew about in depth. He started guiding me to some clues.

In 2003, I went with a team of missionaries to India for six weeks. There I saw the way another society did life. Men held hands in public, and it only meant that they were friends. They put their arms on each other’s shoulders as they walked down the street. They were comfortable with touch and would go to great lengths just to have a pleasant, casual conversation. In churches, women sat on one side of the room while the men sat on the other side, often holding hands for the duration of the sermon.

In 2006, I went with another team of missionaries to the Philippines for ten days. Again, I saw men holding hands. They stroked their friends’ heads. Teenage boys would sit between the legs of their friends and lean back on their chests or rest their heads on their shoulders. My translator insisted on holding my hand or resting his hand on my knee when we sat together in church. On public buses, people seemed to purposely sit a little “too closely” to the person next to them.

There was no such thing as a personal space bubble between men.

In 2008, I got a job in Xian, China. I ended up living there for a year, and then for another nine months after a few months’ respite in between. On crowded buses, guys would sit on the laps of their friends if there wasn’t another seat available. They danced together in night clubs. They weren’t big on hugging, but they freely admitted to desiring friendship with certain people.

They had no problem saying that another guy was good-looking or well-dressed. While not typically emotional, they were quite comfortable acknowledging their enjoyment of another man. Boys would often be very physical with their friends, hanging on them, tickling their inner thighs, rubbing their backs, or putting an arm on their shoulders.

Now I live in Japan. I’ve been here since 2011. Japanese people have a reputation for being cold and standoffish. While that tends to be true much of the time, they have their own ways of bonding with people and building relationships.

Boys here are much as I saw other boys in China, India, and the Philippines. They seem to be comfortable with physical touch and affection. I’ve seen plenty of boys, even teenagers, rest their hands on their friends’ thighs, even grab their crotches in public, and nobody thinks anything of it. These are all just playful gestures of affection.

And nudity is a pretty regular thing here, too. Going to a public bathhouse together as a family or as friends and getting naked together and bathing together is an act of bonding here. Nudity is a normal part of life.

I learned that the American way of life, abiding by its cultural rules, could not satisfy the needs of everyone.

There were people in the world who needed to sit between their friend’s legs and have their head stroked without shame.

There were people in the world who needed to hold their friend’s hand as they sat together in church.

There were people in the world who needed to dance and touch and play and wrestle and be physically affectionate with others like them.

There were people in the world who needed a lap to sit on since all of the seats on the bus were taken.

There were people who needed to get naked and sit in a pool of steaming hot water with their friend before they could relax and clear their heads enough to talk about what’s really going on.

And American Christian rules of proper social etiquette for heterosexual men forbade all of this.

What, then, would become of these people who needed these things while living in America or by American rules? Many times, while they may be accepted, they’re accepted on the basis of being labeled “gay.”

I realized that I, myself, needed these things, although I was an American Christian male. For a while I thought I must have been gay. Taking on that identity would certainly seem to grant me freedom to break all of the other restrictive American culture rules for men.

But taking on a gay identity didn’t seem right, either. It wasn’t true of me.

Living in Asia for the last six years, seven years total, I’ve come to realize something that has completely changed my worldview and understanding of my personal identity. I’m not Japanese. I’m not Chinese. I’m not Indian. I am American because I was born there. I retain a certain amount of American culture within myself.

But my American citizenship or upbringing is not the primary defining point of my identity. Traveling the world, adopting new cultures, changing citizenship, even changing my name would never change who I am. God has made me who I am, the way that I am. No earthly system, no country’s culture or rules can satisfy all of our innate human needs.

We all need Jesus.

Through Jesus, we take on a new citizenship, one that’s not of this world. Through Jesus, we become citizens of heaven. Therefore, our primary defining points of our identity, who we are and how we live, the rules we follow in this life, are no longer dictated by what country or culture we were born into or raised in.

We are now children of God, citizens of heaven, and our innate being, even in this bodily human form, are direct representations of that heavenly identity.

So now what am I supposed to do? What can I do?

Simple: anything I want.

My desires are now changed and continually being changed by God’s power in my life, so what I truly want is to please God, and these desires are the things that he wants for me as well. I’m no longer bound by the rules of this world, of my country, any religion, racial expectations, or what people think men are supposed to be like.

Do I want to rest my head on my friend’s shoulder? I can.

Do I want to let my friend sit on my lap on a crowded bus? It’s allowed.

Do I want to get naked and take a bath with the guys at my church? I’m free to.

There’s no fear, no shame, because I no longer have to live according to the rules of this world or dead religion. This place is not my home.

As I follow Christ in his freedom, living in God’s kingdom, I’ve found I’m much more satisfied than I ever was before. Am I fixed? Have I arrived at the final conclusion? No, but I’m getting there one day at a time.

The Lord has satisfied me and given me peace. It didn’t come from accepting my homosexuality. It didn’t come by getting sexual reassignment surgery. It didn’t even come by moving to another country.

It came only by Jesus Christ, humbling myself before him, and accepting his love, his plan, his identity for me.

It wasn’t until after all of this that God finally showed me a Bible verse that spoke about this quite well and which I have held onto ever since. It’s Hebrews 11:13-16.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (NIV)

Have you ever felt bound by your American Christian male culture or other upbringing, unable to do the things you really want to do because it’s not “normal” or appropriate? What does it mean for you to live in God’s kingdom while still on this earth?

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  • Jeremy

    Such an interesting article, Kevin. Thank you! Yes, I certainly have felt bound and restricted by the mores and taboos of my culture, just as you did. But, unfortunately, we have to regard those boundaries if we live in those places. That’s life here! I love that passage in Hebrews that speaks of us having this new thing in heaven. What to look forward to as we shed the things of this life!

  • Karl Jacob

    Yes, I do feel kinda restricted at times. But my friend group is pretty physically affectionate, a lot more than would be considered normal, I think. Though I am probably among the less affectionate guys, I’ve been teaching myself that physical touch is not leading me to sin. Living in God’s kingdom on earth, I think, is living life with a worshipful attitude. The specific actions that are a part of that will come more naturally, then.

  • NoName

    The ways guys interact that you’ve experienced have such an innocence about them. There was a time growing up knowing that. But American culture hypes it into something it isn’t and American church culture condemns it for what it never was and when things became sexual for me, the innocence got lost. Knowing Jesus has created a longing for knowing that innocence again, having a clean conscience makes living good. There’s something good and pure about God giving us these bodies and enjoying that, and being together physically with others and not being ashamed. I’m not talking about sex, just enjoying this day with friends and whoever God brings in our life, and it being ok when we actually make contact. Big virtual hug for you brother.

    • Kevin Frye

      Very true, NN. Sexualizing the nonsexual destroys innocence along with all of its glorious, simple pleasures. But through Jesus, there is redemption and everything can be made new. Big hug back, brother!

    • Bryon Bella

      You know NoName, temptation is real and boundaries have to be set in those cases. If I were used to sexual relationships with other guys, I would have to limit my touch with other SSA men and certainly with straight men I was attracted to. I do see benefit in hugs with other men though, even though I didn’t always want it. I think being a male who wants affection from other men, with men that find it repulsive is tough. I have found men though that insist on hugging though and it is simply a part of the culture in my men’s group. That has helped me immensely. I never considered a virtual hug though. LOL!

  • Spot on. I couldn’t have said it better. I wish everyone would read this. It’s so essential to recognize the needs of men outside of the stereotypical norm.

  • Jon Evan

    What does it mean for you to live in God’s kingdom while still on this earth?
    That’s a good question! For me, it’s realizing that I am not of this world yet live in this world. As you say “what I truly want is to please God”. Of course this isn’t easy. Romans 7 haunts me over and over but Jesus is helping me. He is on my side.
    What does God want of me? To love Him is what He wants and to love others. However, although “everything is permissible but not always beneficial” there is still a need to respect culture. In the sense that I must not offend others by my freedoms. I cannot have my best male friend sit on my lap on the subway. Not in my culture. I cannot walk down the street holding my friend’s hand even if there is nothing erotic going on. Yet, in church I’m free to hug and touch my friend on the shoulder, but likely not to kiss him. I must have respect for others who may misunderstand and become offended.
    I’m thinking this is what you mean Kevin living to please God but however limiting our freedoms in respect of weaker brothers. I think this is a needed qualification?

    • Kevin Frye

      I wanted to leave it the way it was, without the qualifications and exceptions. Actually, you can sit on your friend’s lap on a subway, or hold his hand in public. People might think you’re gay or judge you, but I don’t think they would be offended as the Bible refers to offense. They need to just get over their hang-ups and stop judging others. But showing respect for culture and for other people’s weaknesses is something we need to take seriously, which I am planning on addressing very soon in another post.

      • Jon Evan

        I’m uncomfortable with that Kevin. I know Jesus was offensive in many of His behaviors. But, His reason was to redeem in the end their life-styles and them. For me, to purposefully offend whether Biblical offense or not by causing other people to think I’m gay on that subway isn’t useful but seems rather self-centered of me. I may gain but what gain does my behavior obtain for them?

        • Kevin Frye

          To purposely offend is one thing. To do something for the sake of offending somebody else is one thing. But to do something that you simply enjoy or need or that comes naturally to you, and then somebody else happens to see it and doesn’t like it; that’s something else. Jesus was called a glutton and a drunk. Don’t think that would have offended a lot of people? But did he stop doing what he was doing? Did he stop drinking wine? Did he stop hanging out with “unclean” people? No way. Us loving our friends when, where, and how they need it might be weird to other people. Then again, those other people might think it’s wonderful and want to join in. Either way, it’s dumb to do anything for the sake of offending others. But doing something offensive for the sake of loving others, I think, is the way of Christ.

          • Jon Evan

            “But doing something offensive for the sake of loving others, I think is the way of Christ.”
            I agree loving others is the way of Christ. Who might be offended and why? People who don’t know Christ would think I’m gay and wouldn’t be offended and might cheer. Pharisees would think I’m gay and be offended. These are the people Christ offended by your true words of “loving others”. Is that an issue? No. It wasn’t to Jesus as you say Kevin. So, where’s my problem? It would be that young eighteen year old ssa-guy sitting on the subway watching me who has been struggling with his identity and is hurting. In this western culture two guys being physical would tell him we’re gay which is celebrated in this culture. Something I don’t want to advertise, promote, or by my freedom to love innocently as you say further hurt this young man. So, in public I don’t know everyone around me. Jesus did. Maybe if I wasn’t so dull of hearing or dense I could hear Him more clearly as you do make a lot of sense Kevin and I am trying to understand you. Maybe my problem is that I’ve not sorted through this physical thing with guys. I don’t believe in reparative therapy if that is what you mean by hugging. Hugging guys is unnatural for me still. I’m ambivalent to hugs from guys. Hugging unattractive guys I don’t like their hugs. Hugging attractive ones pushes the wrong buttons. That’s why I prefer just to sit in silence and experience a hug from Jesus. It’s always welcome by me and is always pure and so healing. But, know that I respect your journey Kevin and in no way want to hinder what Christ is obviously doing in your life :). Stay strong bro!

          • Kevin Frye

            I think this is getting into the realm of mere opinion. I think that 18-year-old SSA guy wouldn’t really care if he saw two men getting snuggly. I don’t think it would actually hurt or hinder anyone. In fact, it would be an example showing that it’s okay to love people. I’d rather for gay people to just be honest about their feelings and needs and hold hands and not have anyone bother them about it than to restrict themselves in fear and then act out more heinously in private out of sheer desperation. But these are my opinions. I’m very comfortable with hugging. It’s natural for me. But you’re different. You’re not comfortable with it. It’s not natural for you. That’s fine. We are different people with different opinions. I appreciate your honesty and grace here. Thank you for the comments and the blessing!

          • Bryon Bella

            Kevin, I agree that physical touch is a need and not necessarily dependent on attraction. I think as an SSA person, but ESPECIALLY as a man, there is a disconnect there. I don’t think that most men have a connection in their hearts and minds to affection being part of expression of feelings and a sense of self and being, but just a means to sex. I’m glad that you voice your opinions. I can identify with Jon too though, since I was touch phobic for nearly 30 years. I’m still not a touchy feely person and at this point only like hugs but I see where I am going and what healthy expression looks like and how I’m going to get there. Still, even though I wanted that to be different before, it was too scary. Not as scary that I would sin (a pastor was grooming me with affection once and I cut things off when I realized where it was going) but that I would be rejected for wanting or expecting affection. The thought of wanting something I couldn’t have was too unbearable. Not wanting from a gay relationship (which would be easier to get) but wanting from a platonic male relationship. Now, I’m free to take what I can get and sit with my longing in a healthy way otherwise. It is such a long journey for most touch phobic people, SSA, straight and female people alike. I think your experience is different than mine and I’m glad we have a chance to share how they are different.

          • Bryon Bella

            I really appreciate this discourse and am very thankful for your personal clarification Jon. I too was uncomfortable with affection, but for different reasons. I was sometimes turned on by hugs with guys, although extremely rarely. It was always a person I was already attracted to though that I already knew. I was abused though, and when it was happening, I had two reactions, one of which was to freeze up. After it stopped, I didn’t want to be touched because it felt “wrong.” My celibacy has been only because of that fear up until recently. I had a lot of guys around me for a few years who insisted on hugging because it was “good for me.” I did so with bristle and I don’t think of it as reparative therapy other than helping me get used to physical touch. It took a long time, but now I welcome and even crave hugs. I think I was most afraid of the craving part. I don’t crave them from just men, but in general. Since then, I can receive emotional love too much more easily, even compliments. I think better of myself and have a healthy connection with other men on an emotional and trust level too. I’m not “afraid” of them either like before, because I was obsessed with the possibility they would reject or ridicule me.

            Of course, all of these benefits didn’t happen just because of a hug. I do believe however that it was the beginning of letting down my guard, believing that I could have needs and that it wouldn’t lead to sin. I have always longed for the feeling of my body going limp in another person’s arms and receiving a hug rather than gripping tightly. I have had the privilege of doing that for several other men and I have experienced it several times too. It healed a great deal in me and I believe it has helped prepare me for the possibility of marriage. There are a lot, and I mean, A LOT of straight men who feel like hugs from men (and women) are unwelcomed. Cuddling and petting are “unnatural” for them and they experience a lot of fear. SSA men are in need of the same healing and it doesn’t necessarily mean it will reverse our attractions. I have come to seek healing regardless of wanting my attractions to change. In the process, it has made my life dynamic, interesting, enjoyable and redeeming. At the same time, the fear of stigma, rejection and an unchanging attraction have become much less important to me in light of the intimacy and healing I have experienced with other men. I surround myself with the right kind of men now, those who appreciate and respect me. I belong to a men’s group and have both male and female friends. I feel like a normal person and my attractions are a small part of my daily living. I enjoy reading your comments and look forward to more wonderful discussions from you.

          • mistaken identity

            good points

      • The Daily Ground Hog

        There is a place in the American tradition where it’s ok for men to sit with each other in tight quarters. If you are in a pick up in Iowa in JANUARY an there are four of you, it’s ok. You are even allowed to enjoy it and tell your buddy how his ass warmed up your legs, but after that, you must never take about.

  • Kevin Frye

    Beautiful, man! Thank you for sharing! We are indeed new creations, and God is still making people new every day.

    • Brandon Burrell

      I appreciate your candor, and godly fearlessness. I am glad with blog exists. The changes lives that post here are changing lives in turn, by God’s grace. What a mighty God we serve!

      • Brandon Burrell

        * changed lives.

  • Ron in New Orleans

    I can relate so well to your article! I have desired to be more physically expressive, but have feared giving offence or creating misunderstandings. Straight friends were bound by society’s conventions and wouldn’t understand. However, I recall that when I was active in sports, specifically wrestling, there was a lot of non-sexual physical contact and male camaraderie. During that period of my life, I never felt homosexual attractions. I believe it was because my needs for intimacy were being met. Recognizing our needs and finding ways to satisfy them licitly, can go a long way towards keeping us “on the straight and narrow of path”.

    • Kevin Frye

      Well said. Thank you for this.

  • Alan Gingery

    I always enjoy your articles Kevin! I am also an American living in another culture, which helps me see a different perspective. The “American” way is not the only way or the right way. It is just one way and it has some good things and some bad things in it. I first experienced shaming in my America culture as a young teen for not feeling like I fit the WASP male mold. I was not athletic, nor interested in many of the typical male interests and I was bullied by my peers and called a fag, queer and fairy. Yeah, I am old enough that the term “gay” was really used at that time. As a young man trying to find my place in the male culture, these experiences did more to alienate me from men and create a huge need for male acceptance and affection, that eventually became sexualized into SSA. When I began to grow as a Christian man in university, I began to see that God loved me in a way that other men never had. It was the start of accepting myself as a child of God…a much more important identity in Christ than being American, white, typically masculine or any other cultural identity I could have adopted.

    • Kevin Frye

      Thanks for sharing that, Alan. It used to drive me crazy that I grew up in the church, but I felt deprived of love and acceptance. As I grew closer to God, I learned to receive his love for me, but I wondered why his followers had so much trouble following his example. Now I understand that we’re all broken and can’t be perfect representations of Jesus Christ. No matter how perfect other people might be, we still need Jesus and his power in us to give us identity and purpose.

      • whocares

        Thanks for sharing this because of my own experiences even as a European woman in the American culture I have found the same experience to hold true.

  • Tom Kirn

    Great article Kevin!

    I’m glad you wrote about your experiences in Japan and the Far East. I’m Korean, but I was adopted so I never learned about the Jimjibang until college. It seems that men from the Far East are more open to being affectionate and open to each other than here in the States. This wasn’t always the case, as my dad told me of his upbringing in the Midwest.

    The American culture is diverse, but seems to want men to be only by stoics or pillars of strength, e.g. Alpha Males. I think that shouldn’t be the case, as you pointed out. I’m trying to figure out my relationship with God right now, by being faithful to Him, but reconciling my attraction to men. It’s been an interesting journey and thank God for this Cross. I’m glad to be able to share these struggles with you and everyone else.

    • mistaken identity

      prayers for the common struggle, Tom

    • Kevin Frye

      Yeah, American culture has definitely changed in just the last generation or two. We’ve lost so much… But I’m glad that some people now, like you, are trying to find the truth and reclaim was is good and pure. Thank you for sharing here, Tom.

  • Elliott Gladwin

    “There were people in the world who needed to hold their friend’s hand as they sat together in church.” ME! Thats me.
    I am so glad you wrote this. I will eventually write something similar about my cross-cultural experiences and how that has altered my limited American understanding of masculinity and affection.

    • Kevin Frye

      I look forward to reading it!

  • Brent

    Coming in late to this conversation. Really great article. I lived in Korea for years. I traveled many places in the world. In Thailand, I held with my guys friends. I had an American roommate who spent time in Nepal and we both came back wanting to continue that kind of affection. So we held hands at time out of friendship and got some looks. Ha.

    My biggest struggle is that I no longer have those relationships and I’m having to come to terms that as I get older I may not again.

    There are probably many wants that must be surrendered and go unmet in this life. I have to believe that Jesus steps in and fills up what is lacking and what no one can fill.

  • Alex Cochell

    Wow Kevin once again I resonate with your life story and teachings. Praise God for his work in your life. The past 4 posts that I have read from you (realizing that they are over a year old from today) are so on point with my life. I might sound like a creepy follower or something but I genuinely have learned so much and received so much peace from your writings. So thank you. I recently got back from India as well and have a heart for the nation’s. I could talk about those passions forever but I won’t rant. I too noticed all the guys and their affections toward each other while there. Having struggled with SSA my whole life this was something that definitely stuck out to me as American culture is as you said anti touch and affection between men. I found so much peace seeing this. I have longed for this sort of male affection. One story I will share is from a small village in northern India. I started to become very close with some boys that were there, not in any sort of attraction way but out of love from Jesus. One day I played sports with these boys the day even though I could not speak the language. When we finished the day of high energy athletics, laughter, and fun we were walking back up the hill to eat dinner. One of the boys came up behind me and started to hold my hand. At first I was afraid in my mind, but within a few seconds I realized that there was no judgement and perfect love casts out fear. I became filled with the Holy Spirit and overwhelmed with love and joy. Thanks for your stories and teachings Kevin.

  • whocares

    Being of Old world European decent I thought nothing of holding my Mothers hand. One evening it was getting late and to rush my mother I held her hand and helped he speed down the street towards home. I stopped at a store to get a drink for my Mother and was ask if I was gay. I said no that’s my Mother, the man then said: what does that have to do with being gay. I do feel American people have been to closed in. Frankly; I feel we shouldn’t hate gay people as Christians. they too are Gods children. Why must we make these distinctions in the first place? Who are we to be so judgmental? If being gay is a sin it isn’t my sin. shouldn’t god be the judge and isn’t it our job to love thou neighbor as thou self. I am certainly not making a claim that loving your friends or anyone means you are gay but I am saying judge not least you be judged yourself.