5 Times I’ve Felt Like a Man

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So often I lament my lifelong disconnect from the male species and my own innate lack of manhood, I tend to neglect or even forget the numerous times I have felt like a man. And, though often fleeting, it’s these precious moments when I grow more convinced of this path I’m walking — away from a gay identity and toward a, well, male one.

1. I felt like a man when I played catch with my dad.

When I was a kid, baseball was everything. While there was the unfortunate weeping incident when my dad first took me to Little League signups (a lovely event you can read about in my book), I didn’t let that downfall deter me from a childhood of absolute baseball fandom.

I grew up outside Philadelphia, bleeding Phillies red through and through, and I’ll never forget those numerous occasions in my backyard or the park across the street, playing with my dad. Our father-son bond was strong from the start, and with all that’s transpired in the two decades since, I’m grateful for our foundation all these years later: that my dad played with me like the boy I was and I saw in him a man who would take the time to build me up.

2. I felt like a man when I worked out regularly and saw biceps and abs in the mirror.

Growing up a pale, wiry, acne-ridden kid, I simply presumed I could never be good-looking or muscley or remotely desirable. Wouldn’t it be narcissism to yearn for that anyway?

I’m grateful for Matt’s post this week. It’s not wrong to want to look good. It’s not a bad thing to want to be attractive and strong and even thought desirable. To have a healthy self-image.

In recent years I’ve gone through seasons of solid physical regimens and, well, some other seasons that could stand for improvement. On the whole though, my self-image today is far healthier than the days of neglect and verbal abuse in middle school.

I’ll never be Arnold Schwarzenegger (nor do I ever want to be), but it feels good to look in the mirror today and look good and feel strong.

3. I felt like a man when I moved across the country to live with other men.

I’m still astounded that I did this, but I did it. Six years ago, I actually moved cross-country without ever having been further west than the Mississippi, and I took a gamble on a life three time zones away. I lived with a guy I’d only met twice in my life along with his merry friends, and for the next year I lived in a house of seven college-aged dudes.

The fridge was always stuffed.

The house was always full.

The learning moments never ended.

It was among the most stressful years of my life, I’ll admit, but at the end of each day I never questioned who I was. A man living among men.

4. I felt like a man when I opened my heart to another man and he hugged me back.

A few years ago I reached a pivotal point in my journey. I was quite aware how pivotal it was even as it was happening, only adding to the emotions of that morning.

“Hey, first, can you hug me?” I asked him before saying what could never be unsaid.

“Yeah dude,” he replied, and he came over to me with arms stretched wide, wrapped around me.

To this day it’s probably the greatest hug of my life, and I’ll never forget our walk around the park as I told him I was attracted to men and that I often felt less than a man.

“You’re a warrior, Tom,” he later prayed over me. “The armor you’re wearing is too big and too heavy for you, but you’re doing it, you’re putting it on, you’re going into battle, and you’re a warrior.”

5. I felt like a man when I started this blog along with my other brothers.

I wrote a bit about this at YOB’s inception, but for a while I was “done” with this whole “SSA community” or whatever you want to call it. I hated having to dissect my life into online and offline, and my disconnect with “straight guys” reached a fever pitch.

How could running back to all these SSA guys possibly help me?

Well, after four months of running this blog and hearing more of my brothers’ stories, I’m learning that my brothers here are among the most manly men I’ve ever met. They are wise, and sincere, and honest, and blunt, and true, and hilarious, and loving, and they inspire me daily.

Some are married, and some are not; some have kids, and some are childless.

Many are single and still walking a road similar to my own; some older and some younger; and yet all of them remind me of this road we all share, a road of manhood and brotherhood.

Truthfully, if I had to struggle with something on this earth, I’m kinda glad it’s same-sex attraction.

Because this struggle and my brothers who share it have shown me what true masculinity looks like, denying one’s self and picking up his cross to follow the Man we’ve all surrendered our stories to.

I’m grateful for a God who has supernaturally surrounded me with these brothers to journey alongside.

We’re grateful to have you along, too.

What are some specific times you’ve felt like a man? What steps can you take to increase the frequency and longevity of such moments?

* Photo courtesy dabonguyen, Creative Commons.

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  • Rich

    thank you for the very sincere and thoughtful post. I could relate to the working out piece very much. I also have to say on your last point, I also struggle sometimes with needing the support of others who struggle with SSA/being gay, but then sometimes having that highlight remind me that I’m different from OSA/straight guys. That tension is hard for me to balance and navigate some days. Thanks much for sharing.

    • I feel you on that tension, Rich. I still wrestle with it and want nothing to do with this community sometimes. But it’s in those desperate moments that I have to remind myself that the “typical” straight guy also has his slew of struggle and isn’t the perfect piece of manhood that I so often dream up from the sidelines. Reminding myself we’re all on an equal playing field is a continual task.

  • Kevin Frye

    Tom, I want to hug you so much right now!!! I am so proud of you, dude. All that you’ve done, all that you’re doing, all the progress you’ve made, the courage you’ve lived by…. Plus you’re really good-looking. :-p Thank you for everything. Love you, Tom!

  • NoName

    Tom, you’ve gotta be one of the most gracious guys on this blog. Every comment of yours I’ve ever read is affirming. And things like this, “Truthfully, if I had to struggle with something on this earth, I’m kinda glad it’s same-sex attraction” just flip the whole conversation in such a great way.

    For what made me feel like a man growing up, almost all of them had to do with doing physically hard things. I used to do construction and work at a moving company cause the pay was so good, and playing team sports thru high school. In terms of the emotionally courageous truthful things like you mention, not so much. And that stuff seems more like being a good man.

    • Appreciate your kind words, NoName. Truly. I’m so grateful to be part of this community, even when my desperate heart feels angsty and says otherwise.

      Indeed, being a strong man is about so much more than the outer physical. Although that can help reinforce the inner emotional, no doubt, as it has for me.

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  • Jon Evan

    What is a real man? I can relate to all your ways Tom except the first. My dad never did much with me. But do real men cry, hug other men, and are they sensitive and feel deeply? Or are real men only the ones who are handsome, muscular, and whom girls fight over? What about men who are quiet, not athletic, melancholy, have big ears and noses, and who stutter? What the heck is a real man??
    Well straight or gay we are doomed. Because there isn’t a real man amongst us! Even Adam wasn’t a real man: a real man would have taken a stick and killed the snake! So what’s so attractive there? Why be attracted to such men?
    It wasn’t until I met Jesus that I met a real man. Man what a man He is! He cried (still does), and his hugs are healing, and sensitive and lovingly strong is He even though I don’t read about Him going to the gym! There are days I wished I could teleport back to 20 A.D. to hang with Him. How jealous I am of the disciples who spent such time with Him. BUT, Jesus is here now. And He lives in real men who need Him. And, I found that ssa-men who have experienced Jesus are ones I like to hang with. Because, maybe I’m biased but I think they need Him most and so I know “He is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11). I’m glad Jesus is my brother and on the other side all us brothers here will rejoice together in that :). What a time that will be 🙂 :).

    • Great thoughts, Jon. I’ve often been locked into some ideal of a “real man” who was everything I was not. And I’m learning that while I certainly don’t possess “all” the qualities of a “real” man, I have more than I give myself credit for — honesty, empathy, and the list goes on. I’m learning to give myself more credit moving forward, while still striving for the healthy masculine I see in others.

      • Jon Evan

        Thanks for the reply Tom. Get it when you mention (twice) “giving myself credit for” who you are :).
        How we beat ourselves up as we don’t think we measure up to some ideal man. When I realized my attractions were based on some quality I was unhappy with in myself or something missing physically with myself I began to see how wrong that was. Putting myself down in preference for another. How wrong is that. Yes, we need to like ourselves the way God made us and give ourselves the credit due for the uniqueness of who we are. How relaxing is life then :). Thanks for reminding me of that.

  • mistaken identity

    Thanks for another excellent post, Tom. I always enjoy your writing. And I heartily agree with NoName. I have consistently been impressed by your graciousness on this board. Regarding your questions, like you I have improved my self image by hitting the gym. I resisted that for years for the same reason you gave. I was a “mature” Christian and did not want to give in to narcissism. As a result, I was almost 100 pounds overweight not too long ago and dressed like Columbo. While it is true that we should not be obsessed with our appearances, I was not being emotionally honest. What I kept telling myself was not important was actually very important to me. Now, the Holy Spirit may at some point begin to target the amount of time I spend at the gym or the amount of cash I put down for a designer shirt or slim jeans, but for right now He has directed me to pay a little more attention to these things, to be a little more honest. Another action that has strengthened my identity as a strong male is to discuss the issues of this board with other men. For years, my wife was the only one who knew of my struggles. I spoke with her before our marriage. But if the past few years I have shared cautiously with a few fellow strugglers, or pastors whose ministry is confounded by same sex questions, or simply other men who are wallowing in shame for entirely different reasons. When I share my issue, it helps them to feel far less disgusted by their own weakness. And my identity as a strong male is very much strengthened by reading the truth you and others like Kevin reveal here from your own growth. It is liberating to peruse or discuss ideas or questions here in the light that were once only battled in solitary in the shadows of my mind. Thank you!

    • Thanks for your kind words, mistaken identity. I appreciate that very much. Glad to have you along with us! Thanks for sharing so vulnerably about your own body-image issues. I used to be ashamed to want to look good because I didn’t “deserve” that or it was flat-out narcissistic. But I think there is a healthy middle-ground where we can feel good about ourselves, and in turn help others feel good about themselves too. It’s hard to do the latter without first achieving some level of the former.

  • Kevin Browne

    Yet another very cool and thoughtful post Tom !!!!!

    Like my my namesake Kevin Frye, I wanna hug the stuffing outta you again too !!!

    • Hopefully I can wander down to your little island someday, Kevin! I’d love that.

  • Mark Buzard

    Great post Thomas. I felt like a man when I moved 400 miles away from my parents…… then less like one when I moved back 2 years later. I felt like a man when I admitted my struggles on my blog for all to see and quit worrying about what people would think.

    • Please, call me Tom! I only go by Thomas in cases of pretentious authorhood. I can resonate with your feelings of moving away and back to your parents. Totally get it, Mark. Glad you’re showing vulnerability on your blog and letting God work through all aspects of your story! That’s awesome.

  • David Fournier

    Tom, perfect story. Thanks so much for sharing such an intimate perspective. Very courageous!! Since you asked, one of the times I felt like a man, most recently, is when I received the ability not to be concerned if other men are thinking of me as a man. My molding years were filled with other boys rejecting me – calling me girl, baby, fag, you’ll make a great wife someday – you get the idea. My whole adult life has been consumed with being focused on what other men thought of me, that is, as a man. Do they think of me, do they see me as a man? No matter what – I could not get that question out of my head, because I was convinced they were thinking of me as a wimp, a girl, a little cry baby – even my friends. My friends would tell me otherwise, that they didn’t think of me like that but I could never push beyond what I felt. It controlled me completely. But then last month at a men’s retreat – that’s right – a men’s retreat; no prayer over me or no powerful message to reflect over, it all changed. I was just praying with another guy for his needs and when I was done I looked around the room and it was gone. That evil thought was gone. I didn’t care anymore if other guys didn’t think I was guy enough – man enough or whatever. It’s been a month since that retreat and that evil feeling is still cast down (for good). :0) Thanks so much for what your guys are doing. Really – thank you!! I am so glad I was led to this site. I am sure it is the next step in His plan to conform me to the image of His Son – Jesus. God Bless…

    • mistaken identity

      That is marvelous, David. Thank God! Prayers that the evil thought would be dragged off by His angels so as to never return. God is good.

      • David Fournier

        God is sooooo good. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Thanks for sharing so vulnerably, David. That’s what we’re all about here. What an incredibly testimony of your past fears being trampled by the present Spirit. I’m encouraged by that, brother. I still hear those past voices in my own life, and I have to surrender them daily as I listen to Another.

      Glad to have you with us! We’re glad you found us.

      • David Fournier

        Thanks for the welcome.

    • Brandon Burrell

      Awesome testimony brother! I find even more glorious that you received your healing in service to another brother in the Lord.

      • David Fournier

        Isn’t the Lord good that way!!

        • Brandon Burrell

          God is so good. So good!

    • Bryon Bella

      Hey David. I had a similar post! My experience was a result of activities, but I wouldn’t have overcome my fear if I didn’t take a chance. I didn’t mention that when I staffed last weekend, a younger brother admitted to the large group that he was SSA and that he was nearly raped last year. He broke down crying when he said it. I was so proud of him. I had not done that, but just told my group of 6 guys. I think you have a lot of courage. For me, using my real name when I first posted on Tom’s blog was a huge step of manhood for me. I knew that if someone Googled my name it would come up. Not long after that, I told my family, friends, and recently, my whole Church and the world through YouTube. Those are pivotal moments of manhood because I believe that it is manly to be brave with disclosure. I still don’t fit any of the traditional definitions of manhood but what other men say consistently is that they want to have the courage I do. The first time I heard that, I knew I was a man. I had lived my whole life in fear. I felt like a coward. No more! Keep on going David.

  • Jeremy

    Thanks, Tom, for a thought-provoking post, as usual. I so enjoy this site and being challenged, often, by what guys here have to say. Myself I struggled, and guess I still do, with the cultural image of manhood and am still pretty much caught up in aspects of it. Recently I have been challenged on worshipping and learning to worship Him 24/7. I wrote the word on my finger this morning to help me. Lol! I believe that He is our ideal and as we worship Him our perspective of manhood and ourselves will be altered by Him.

    Thanks again for the site and the posts. Really appreciate!

    • I must say, I’m disappointed you weren’t the first one to comment on my post, Jeremy. But ah well, can’t win them all, I suppose. We’re glad to have you here with us! We’re glad you’re finding both enjoyment in our site as well as some challenges. That encourages me as an author and fellow brother. A good balance of both is needed in this Christian walk.

      Prayers for a worshipful week for you this week!

  • Steven

    I don’t have a lot of handyman skills, but I’ve done some things like painting and such with my dad. Since my friend’s aren’t super handy either, I sometimes get to give them some tips, and that makes me feel valuable to the world of men. Also, power tools tend to do the trick 😛

    Being in gyms and locker rooms also make me feel like a man, even if they can also be spaces of temptation.

    I realize that these things aren’t necessarily “true manhood”, but they still seem important. Bishop Olmstead wrote a letter on manhood called “Into the Breach” that basically says manhood is falling Christ while being a male. Not what society teaches, lol.

    • I wish I were handier in the tools department. A friend did help me build my own day bed for my new place last month, though, so maybe I’m on my way!

  • Tom Kirn

    Great article!

    This is a great website and seems to have been sent at just the right time for me. God works in mysterious ways, eh?

    For me, the most memorable moments for feeling like a man was camping with friends, wearing a suit through the Chicago Loop, and being called ‘sir’.

    I think that being in nature is essential for men, since we can ground ourselves and especially in today’s world, disconnect from our phones, the internet, etc. This can take place on a quick weekend trip, especially for me since I live near Chicago.

    In the other cases, I felt respected and part of the brotherhood of men. I love to talk with people and especially the front desk staff or security people in the Loop. I developed this having grown up in St. Louis and being in a diverse population. Just the simple act of being polite and hearing the word sir, was very nice.

    Tom

    • Hey Tom! Awesome name. Fantastic name. Love the name. Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you found us however you did! Pull up a chair.

      Thanks for sharing what manliness looks and feels like for you. I agree with you about nature. Something about mountains and woods and water feels just perfect for brotherhood.

      • Tom Kirn

        It is a great name isn’t it! Haha.

    • Charlie

      Right you are sir, I just spent a couple years in the south where everyone is sir or ma’am and I loved it. I think small formalities and just general politeness is a great way to acknowledge a mans value and dignity and to affirm your own, because only classy gents talk like that. Being outdoors is great too, I grew up in the country with access to many acres of woods and river but it was a very dark and lonely time for me, I want so much to go back with friends and brothers.

  • Bryon Bella

    I just got back Sunday from a men’s retreat for an organization called Marked Men for Christ, here in Colorado. I attended my first weekend 3 summers ago and after a day of opening up to these guys my most vulnerable places, I said to the whole group of 110 men that this was the first time I had ever felt like a real man. I received the loudest, most raucous cheer of any of the weekends I have been to as a staff since. I felt as though my whole person was being affirmed, which I couldn’t have imagined would have ended like that after making my confession. I go once or twice a year as volunteer staff now, and this past weekend, it was my first time facilitating a group. I realized by the end that I wasn’t hiding my SSA as well as I thought I had all of those years. My YouTube channel helped me get to that conclusion as I watch myself on camera, but I finally accepted that other men see my effeminate qualities and assume I’m SSA. It was a discovery of a new mask which I chose to take off and feel like I was great just as I am. You see, the reception of those men is what helped me do that. They didn’t care. They each said I probably had a very tough life with a lot of touch situations I had to endure, without me ever telling them a single thing about myself. The affirmed in me the most important things about how I wanted to be, a compassionate man who wanted other’s to be whole and healed. I never said that but they knew it without any doubt. I cried and didn’t care. You know what? Other men cried when they saw me cry. It happens all the time, but this time I didn’t think of it as a curse; I saw it as a ministry. This time, I worked on this insecurity, and by Saturday night sharing time, I stood up and said, “Men, this is the only place I’m around so many men who cry. I want to thank you because it makes me feel better about myself.” I got a big clap and a few guys afterwards told me I was brave to say what I said. Both of them were frequent criers too, and I suspected they were working on their own insecurity about being a sensitive guy.

    When I went to my first weekend, I confessed I was SSA to those guys, and it was the most frightening thing I had ever done. You know what happened? They all went deeper and confessed some things they admitted they had been holding back until then. Over half of their admissions were just as shocking. My bravery enabled them to be brave because I led the way. That was the beginning of a journey of disclosure, healing and now, proclamation of what God can do through an SSA person like me. I shed the shame, owned up to my struggle, and started some ministry opportunities. I lead book studies on sex addiction, started a YouTube channel and soon will be starting public speaking engagements. All of this because I took a chance, in the right environment, that someone would love and affirm me just as I am. Keep on going boys and we’ll have all of eternity to talk about the wonder of it all when we get to heaven.

  • Charlie

    I felt like a man when a friends teenage son stayed at my house for a weekend (on suicide watch) and told me he had ssa. I told him part of my story and that he was my brother no matter what and then took him to bed and held him tight until we both fell asleep. In that moment all of my pain and brokenness had meaning and purpose, and the years I though were wasted had only prepared me to love and protect him like no one else could.

  • Charlie

    I felt like a man when my friends teenage son stayed with me for a weekend (on suicide watch) and told me he had ssa. I shared part of my story with him and told him he was my brother and this didn’t change anything between us. Then I took him to bed and held him tight until we both fell asleep. In that moment all of my pain and brokenness had a meaning and purpose and I realized the years I thought were wasted had only prepared me to love and protect him like no one else could.

    • mistaken identity

      That’s beautiful. Was it as healing for him as it was for you? How has he been since?

      • Charlie

        Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been away from YOB too long. My friends ssa quietly resolved itself, it was just a phase as I suspected, partly because his meds had his hormones completely jacked. He went off his meds shortly after that and then quit heroin and smoking on his own, but he still needs a lot of healing. We don’t talk much anymore other than to check in and say hi. I’m glad that I was there for him and loved him well, but it’s hard to accept that he doesn’t need me anymore.

        • mistaken identity

          No need to apologize. I am also glad that you were there. My wife and I pray almost daily over this board. We will pray for his continued healing. That is hard to accept when God uses us to impact a life and then we have to watch further growth from a distance. I pray that you will remain healthy and continue to help others like him.

          • Charlie

            Thank you for your prayers. He and I are both still growing and healing in different ways.

  • Alan Gingery

    Hi Tom! I feel like a man mostly when I know that other guys accept me with all my strengths and weaknesses, light and shadows. I have lots of “normal” guys who accept me and that is a blessing. I also know a bunch of guys who struggle with SSA like I have. What you wrote rings true for me:

    …hearing more of my brothers’ stories, I’m learning that my (SSA) brothers here are among the most manly men I’ve ever met. They are wise, and sincere, and honest, and blunt, and true, and hilarious, and loving, and they inspire me daily. Feeling that I belong with these courageous men who have had exceptional pain and struggles and have somehow overcome, makes me feel like a man among men.

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  • Eddie

    Ok, I wanted to put my words into short insightful and poetic bursts:

    I feel like a man when I…

    Accomplish some noteworthy task, undertaking or challenge using my mental and/or physical capabilities.

    Commit to some physical toil like mowing my lawn from front to back in the blistering sun over time and reveling at the sight of all my hard labor.

    Put my faculties to work in creating a thoroughly investigated and well integrated research project integrating my own and other academics’ thoughts and opinions into a comprehensive and incorporated composition to edify my intellect.

    Participate with my fellow teammates in callisthenic exercises and provide a beacon of leadership for my team to mimic my direction as we triumph in victory and suffer in defeat.

    Finish a long, grueling yet worthwhile workout with my “brothers” and feel rather spent but a bit stronger afterwards.

    Socialize in good spirit with my friends by watching a rousing game of football or other sporting event.

    Play a heartfelt game of Ultimate Frisbee with my “brothers and sisters.”

    Commune with my Heavenly Father as He reveals Himself, His Love, His Word, His Knowledge and His Spirit to me and I feel at peace, alive, whole and not alone.

    I feel like a man when I experience life’s own brands of pleasure or pain to allow pass or overcome — a milestone, accomplishment, struggle, success, a spiritual communion or intellectual epiphany whether by myself, as part of a community, as part of a team or in service to my Heavenly Father.

    • Great list! Ultimate Frisbee is one of my love languages.

      • Eddie

        Thanks Tom, appreciate it. Someday maybe we’ll play a UF game. Just wanted to give you something else to contemplate. You don’t have to share this, but what would YOUR list look like or differ if you were to answer the question: “What are some specific times you’ve felt alive?” or What / When do you (do to) feel alive/whole/more yourself? How does it differ from feeling like a man or manly? Again, you don’t have to share this, just something to think introspectively about yourself.

  • Christian

    Interesting… “If you had to struggle with one thing on earth, glad it’s SSA” … I’ve thought the same thing. It gives me a unique perspective into masculinity and sex and life. I also never take the relationship i have with my wife for granted. This post also inspired me to write down those “manly” moments I remember throughout my life. I seek those moments!