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?