“Tom, you are such a man.”

“Tom, you are so manly.”

“Tom, you have what it takes as a man.”

But like. What if I disagree? What if I’m not a man or at least as much of a man as you think I am?

I recently returned from a men’s retreat in which I came face-to-face with my biggest struggle: not anything regarding my sexuality or sexual addictions. But feeling like a man. Like a man among men, assembled on an equal playing field rather than somewhere on another field’s sidelines.

I’ve been wired this way since puberty. Always tied in a knot beyond the masculine loop. The other boys talked about video games and action movies and girls, and I silently listened and wrote fictional adventure stories about them. With them.

I’ve literally written about and fantasized what it would be like to roam the jungles or outer space with another man.

I’ve taken steps over the years to help me reckon with this bent. Daily pushups. Building muscle mass. Running. Getting (and losing) abs.

I used to despise looking in the mirror. Hated my reflection of acne and timidity. A masculine impostor.

Now, I look at myself in a mirror with a genuine smile. I like how I look. I love my hair. I love my scruff. I love my muscles. I look masculine.

And yet.

Somewhere beyond this shallow reflection, that masculine impostor remains. Telling me I’m nothing like the men I still silently listen to. The ones I idolize on my screen. The ones in the church pews. The ones at this particular men’s retreat.

I may look the masculine part on the outside. But inwardly?

Inside, I feel so needy as a man. So emotional. So sensitive toward every little thing said or done or unknowingly withheld against me. Is this manly?

Do other men also yearn for friendship like I do? A craving for continual closeness beyond weekly small groups or monthly hikes?

Do other men feel the deprivation of childhood as I do? The painful loss of would-be birthday parties and sleepovers and discovering porn on the family computer together?

Do other men find intimacy satisfied in dating and marriage, or do they also desire a friend who sticks closer than a brother?

Do other men feel what I feel? Are they the norm, the baseline, myself the outstanding exception?

When I’m with other men, especially straight guys, it’s tough not to feel these inherent screams of “I am so, so utterly different.” Maybe not as much physically different anymore. But in every other way. Emotionally. Conversationally.

But what I saw at this particular men’s retreat — the first time I’d ever seen it in a male group this size — was something that echoes the lifeblood of this YOB community.

Vulnerability. Authenticity. Men who aren’t afraid or ashamed to dive to the deep end. To confess their latest run-in with pornography. Their extramarital affair. Their divorce. Their childhood abuse.

Their lives. Their real, broken, still restoring, masculine lives.

I may still feel like an outsider among the male species at large, and I may never stop hearing those screams, however faint (I hope) they one day get.

But up close, in certain lights and certain circles, I’m discovering my place in a world of masculinity I never knew existed. A masculine world of all stripes of man. All athletic and creative abilities, all personalities and sexualities.

A world where being a man doesn’t mean living without emotions. It means processing emotions. Expressing emotions.

God created those emotions for us as men, and God creates good things.

I want to further explore this world where being a man means so much more than facial hair and abs and fantasy football drafts (not that there’s anything wrong with those things . . . or even the last one).

I want to dive deeper into this world where being a man simply means being real. Being silly. Being teary. Talking for hours. Or hiking a trail in silence.

A world where I’m not less of a man or a third option for gender. A world where I am, indeed, a man among men.

Do you feel like a man? Why or why not?

    Thomas Mark Zuniga

    I'm a storyteller and story-liver in Asheville, North Carolina - the Jewel of the Blue Ridge. I'm YOB's cofounder and editor, and I also host our bimonthly podcast. I've written a couple books, including a memoir in 2013 where I first came out to the world. Once upon another universe I anonymously blogged about my faith and sexuality under the Xanga username, "twoBeckonings." I'm an INFJ, an Enneagram 4w5, and my spirit animal is the buffalo. My favorite place in the world is the one where coffee and vulnerability meet.

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