“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?

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  • Thanks for being so open and sharing your story. I relate to some extent, although I don’t usually question whether I am “a man enough” or not when I look at the big picture. However, when it comes to confidence about my own desires and sexuality the struggle begins. Especially when I change or shower in front of other men and I need to control a lot any arousal. Whenever that happens this feeling hits me completely: I am not a man like them. Look, they walk around naked as if it was indeed something natural and not to think/overthink about, and the fact that even many SSA/gay/bi men don’t face it makes things even worse. So it’s not about sexuality after all, it’s about not feeling like an alien.
    Also, your text made think again about a question that has been raised many times lately: what does it mean to be a man?
    I mean, that’s really tough to answer. Considering every single human being peculiarities, we know that there is not such a thing as “the standard male”. So, what makes a man a man and at the same time different from a woman? (not that this is the goal, but I think you folks got the point).
    I feel like this question falls into those categories that need to be asked but impossible to be responded.
    What do you all think?

    • Feeling like an alien. Yup. I feel it too, Simpson.
      Differences between men and women. That’s a fun discussion. Ultimately, both who claim the name of Christ should be pursuing and exhibiting all of the fruit of the Spirit. That’s becoming more and more my line for what a true man is.

  • Oh man, that feeling like an outsider and longing to be a part of things goes painful deep. Apart from faith, brokenness combined with self always blinds me to what’s true and gets me longing for what’s not real. But when I take heart and act faith and keep going and just commit, I often find the things I longed for are already true.

  • It’s sad that I’m a 39yo man and yet still have a hard time feeling like a “man” or that I fit in w/ the other men. Even though I have many male friends, straight and gay, and am loved and accepted by them, sometimes I still feel like I get lost in the shuffle of rugged macho manliness. I think it’s b/c I had so much negative shoved down my throat from my male peers throughout my adolescence. Our teenage years are crucial in our development b/c that’s when a boy is extremely impressionable and discovering his own manhood and masculinity. It will take the rest of my life to undo the damage inflicted on me. I’m involved in the Mankind Project and have also attended JiM and these groups have helped me a lot in feeling more like a man and reclaiming my masculinity. Also, seeking adventure and thrills and extreme sports and hobbies has also helped a great deal.

    • Thanks for sharing, Christopher. I’m 31 and anticipate still feeling that “lost in the shuffle” by 39. To some extent, I’m reckoning, that’s a good thing for me. Through various organizations and communities, including YOB, I’m learning more and more what authentic manhood looks like and how most of what I’ve seen and experienced in this American Evangelical culture does not reflect this. I hope we continue bringing about this authenticity among men. It’s on us to help make it happen.

  • I was always picked last for any team in school; quite often arguments would erupt when it came time to decide which team I should play for (it didn’t matter the sport). Never mind the fact that I had a ‘girlie’ voice, and everyone knew I had gotten an erection in the showers at summer camp (thank you Boy Scouts of America). I couldn’t grow facial hair, or body hair for that matter, and yet I get condemned for not worshipping at the local temple for football players.
    How am I supposed to relate to other guys, when they are all involved in hypermasculinity that has never included me?

    • Ugh, that’s rough Bradley. I’d reaffirm that you need not belong in this world of hypermasculinity. I think we all have a lot of responsibility toward working together to create a world of actual masculinity.

    • Brad, THE Man! I remember always being one of the last picked for a team. Dodge ball in Junior High was always always always a real trial for me. Last picked. Not aggressive. But…. Then I was nearly always one of the last ones standing at the end of the game, and had to face off against the rough, aggressive, athletic types. It was inevitable that I would lose in the end, but, hey…I was closer to winning in the long run.
      All this to say that, I may have not been anyone’s first pick, but I lasted until the bitter end. I’ll take longevity over preference anyday.

  • Hello, Tom. Your article has caught me in a very vulnerable place at the
    moment. For about two years I have been working hard to lose a very
    prominent midsection and develop significantly underexercised
    muscles…at 63 to 64! In the last three months, I have had the honour
    of helping a middle-aged man in one particular area and he has
    reciprocated by taking me through a rigourous program of diet, exercise,
    and lifestyle change to help me gain more muscle and move from a body
    mass index of Obese Level 2 to the midpoint of Overweight, a significant
    drop for me. Recently, during one of our debriefing times after
    exercising, I was chastened for having “womanly behaviour” and “always
    talking about feelings.” As I came away from that talk, and before I
    read your article about the “affective” aspects of your heart, I felt very lonely.
    For over thirty years, this has been a sore point in our marriage–my lack of
    “manliness” and that my wife is “the guy” and I am “the girl.” That we have
    been together all these years continues to mystify me, her, and our children and their
    spouses. This is not the place for “counselling”, I realize, but I
    wanted to let you know that your article put me in a place where I have
    better frameworks to think through what is happening inside my heart.
    Over and over I commend the people in this place for having tremendous
    courage to put their lives out in front of us, with all their flaws,
    foibles, and fascinations, and gather us together to muse about them.
    Thank you for that courage; thank you for that authenticity and
    transparency. I do not know what I will do tomorrow, but I know one
    thing: I do not quite feel so alone…we are together on this journey to
    embrace the breathtaking wonders within us that God crafted, but which
    other communities may not fully understand nor appreciate. Blessings,
    Tom…many, many blessings to you!

    • Good for you, Paul! How awesome to hear not only of your physical progress but also a reciprocation of care with this other man. That’s beautiful. You’re not alone, brother. Blessings on you, too.

  • Thanks for sharing Tom. I am enjoying the thoughtful blog posts and comments I have recently found here on the YOB site.
    I too have felt like an interloper when among men. Yet, I feel it less and less as I age. Now that I am 35, my social interactions and general observation of others have steadily confirmed the ubiquitous nature of identity issues among men. Are there differences because of my SSA? Certainly! But there is much I share in common with other men when I ask, “am I a man?”
    Actually, I find my sense of (biblical) masculinity is increasing, mainly due to the nature of my struggle with SSA. This struggle has — because of God’s goodness– regularly drawn me closer to Him, rooting my identity in His truth. Even as a broken INFJ who still has many dark-nights-of-the-soul, my lot in life has given me emotional strength and maturity that enables me to help others through the unique struggles they face. This also affirms my identity because I think an aspect of godly masculinity is that it helps bring healing and restoration where there is disorder and chaos. I see the authors here at YOB doing that very thing!
    Anyway, I appreciate the honestly, brokenness and vulnerability I am encountering through YOB. Quite encouraging!

    • Glad to have you with us, Benjamin. We seem to draw a lot of INFJs to these parts…
      Thanks for the kind words. I hope our honesty and vulnerability inspires the same in you. Definitely keep commenting as you feel led. You are welcome here, brother.

  • I don’t know if this change is associated with maturity (just feeling more comfortable with myself), or if it’s that the masculine norms of my life stage are now a better fit for me (“I can’t throw a football, but who cares; I own a house”), or if it’s that the men (even the straight men) I fill my life with these days aren’t very interested in enforcing shallow ideas about gender norms, but as I get older I feel less and less anxiety around my masculinity. In all likelihood it’s a combination of the three. The middle one–the temptation to base my sense of worth as a man on earthly status symbols–is something I’m trying to pay more attention to and not fall into as easily.

  • Tom, i can’t describe how much I identified with your post. I went to a similar men’s retreat weekend 10 weeks ago and I was so moved by the authenticity and transparency I saw. Most of the guys there were ssa, but there were a few osa guys, too. I realized that I was genuinely loved and accepted by these new brothers.
    The experience unbottled all the feelings I had been stuffing and smothering for (I hate to admit) decades. I had gotten so numb, so depressed, so dead inside. I tried hard to not cry at first. Then I saw other men crying, and the “protective “ walls I had built around my heart started crumbling really quickly. I couldn’t hold back the tears – and it was some ugly crying. One great result is that I REALLY feel things now, and the most unexpected things bring tears to my eyes. And that’s okay!
    I was so amazed at how similar we all were – our beliefs, our experiences, our fears… It didn’t matter how old each man was (ages ranged from 20’s to around 70). All of our issues were so similar, even those of my osa brothers. These were real men, like me, and they were accepting and affirming me even with my shadows. I had thought I was so different and alone. I was so wrong!
    I had been in denial for so long, not wanting to accept my ssa. That weekend I heard my voice admit to another man that I was attracted to him. That was so surreal. It was a powerful moment when I finally accepted myself and became real. And now, everything is different. The best thing is now I have brothers who accept and love me as I am, both from that weekend, and here. I’m very grateful!

      • Thanks Tom. For years I had been focusing on all the things that made me different from other men while discounting/ignoring how similar we really are. My newly found brothers are helping to change my beliefs … and they are filling my heart too.

    • Enjoyed reading your post Ray…what a blessing to me personally!!! It sounds like a retreat I would love to go to someday…

  • Honestly, I don’t feel like a man at all. In fact, tbh, I feel like an utter failure at being a man. I turn 30 in less than 6 months, and I still live with my mother, while I deal with some issues, both mental and physical. I’m also not the stereotypical macho kind of guy. I was always more interested in trains, history and theology than sports, and, as I somewhat jokingly commented tonight to some people, the only sport I’m good at is being bad at sports.
    But, then, things have not been helped by the lack of older men in my life. My father passed away when I was 11, after a 2 year battle with cancer, and while other men tried to step in, it wasn’t the same as having my dad around, and to be honest, that still stings.

    • I’m sorry about the loss of your father and the sting and hole you still feel all these years later. That is so rough. Thanks for being bold to comment here, Caleb. Take it from someone just on the other side of 30; you are not alone in your feelings. Much love, brother. Glad you’re here.

    • Wow…I enjoyed reading your post Caleb! Your post especially resonated with me, as I live with my mother after my dad passed years ago. I saw your avatar the picture of a train…I do especially enjoy trains myself since I was a little boy. Anyways, glad you are here with other brothers!

    • Caleb – my heart goes out to you, brother. I can’t imagine losing my father at a young age. I too have never been accused of being “macho”. And I kinda wish I liked trains and history as a kiddo. I wanted to play with dolls and liked to sew. I remember when I was around 8, I brought a pillow I had sewn for my grandma out to show my parents and their friends and wondering why the men weren’t impressed with my creativity. Anyway, glad you shared. You will find support here!

    • I love history, Caleb! I am bookish and thoughtful and contemplative. I’m not your run-of-the-muck type of manly man. But I am a man, nonetheless. And know what? I love it when the manly man types ask my opinion on theology or history!

  • To answer your question Tom…no, I do not feel like a man at all. I know I am a male, but I am pretty skinny, soft-spoken, not good at anything like sports…or hunting or fishing…or fixing things (mechanical stuff is an enigma to me)…or really much of anything I can think of. I try to drown out those voices telling me I am not good enough…but some days it gets so tough. I know Jesus cares and loves me…may that be enough!

    • WaveDave, even though I am good at a few traditionally masculine things and even though I appear straight when people first meet me, I also feel inadequate. If you were suddenly able to appear more masculine it would not prevent feelings of being “less than” other men.
      What has helped me is to take my hurts to God and realize He accepts me! Then, as I live life I seek to have high goals and work toward them, dealing with risks by facing them and not running from them. It also helps to hang around people who are confident, even over confident.
      All these steps can be painful but they are worth it! You will not only grow in confidence and accomplishment but you will be at peace instead of comparing yourself unfavorably with other men.

      • Thank you…I know I am most guilty or comparing myself to others…and then degrading myself as I look at their talents and attributes instead of seeing the work that God is doing in my life. Blessings!

    • WaveDave – Thanks for sharing. You are not alone! It has been a slow process for me to feel more like a man, and I definitely have times when I don’t feel that way. Like today at work when a coworker said in front of others, “You still have to convince me you are a dude.” Thanks kind coworker! I also agree with what Marshall said yesterday.

  • To feel like a man is probably also my biggest insecurity. It is something I’ve always felt I lacked, especially in the company of other “manly” men. It is a daily battle. I’ve tried to build muscles, grow a beard, take on extreme adventures, etc. But in the end the feelings obtained through pursuing those things didn’t last. I’ve come to know that when we as men discover our true identity in Christ, He will align our identity and passions to discover our true nature as men in and through Him. Then it doesn’t matter whether or not we like sports or whatever might have happened in our past. He sanctifies us. He is our Creator. By pursuing Him, we become more and more like Him and who is more of a man than Jesus himself…?

  • Okay, brothers. I’m-a speak up and weigh in, since it touches a cord in my heart.
    Esau was a manly man, a hairy man, a hunter and the firstborn. He sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. He grieved his father and mother by marrying heathen women. He gave in to his whims and wouldn’t stand up for what was right.
    Jacob, on the other hand, was a soft man who dwelt in the tents at home with his mother. And he was the one the Lord chose, and he got the blessing. He was a bit of a coward, running away from home to avoid the wrath of Esau.
    And yet…Jacob wrestled with angels and became a prince with God.
    He didn’t throw a football, and he didn’t fish, as far as I can tell. He didn’t drive a Dodge Ram or Ford F150 (though, to be honest, I really want one of those). And yet, he became the father of many, and he is eternally honored in one of the appellations of Jehovah: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and JACOB.
    We know God through Jacob, not Esau.
    What does all of this mean? The measure of a man is not taken by mechanical skill, bravery, sportiness, or his affinity with the Duck Commander. All of those things are nice and wonderful, and manly. But they are not the true definition of manliness. One may be typically masculine in the modern sense and yet not be masculine in all the areas where it counts.
    Real men face their temptations and conquer themselves. Real men serve Jesus and not the god of this world. Real men live for the benefit of others, instead of serving the idols of culture or their own happiness.
    That’s the measure of a man, in my opinion.
    Your physique doesn’t matter to me, nor your lack of interest in the things the world tends to think of as masculine. If I see you sold out to and living for God, you are a man in my book.

  • The man in my family was my dad. He would drink way beyond being drunk and then find someone to mock and sneer at, someone to beat up with his words or if it was my mum, with his fists. He spoke pretty cute 4 letter words, always barbed, always breaking. His idea of sport was bedding other women and boasting lecherously about it to his mates gathered around his bar in our house. The first time he treated me like a man was when as a teenager, I took a girlfriend on holiday with him…he even shacked us up in a hotel room together. (That’s when I learned I really really wasn’t sold on a girls body). Anyway, as I say, he was the only man in our house…and i promised myself, if that’s a man, I would never ever be like him. The best day in my life was meeting the man Jesus. In the end I don’t think I ever made it to manhood in my dad’s eyes but I am a man in Jesus…and He cried tears, and He was a safe place for John to lean in to and He touched the leper and He had compassion on the crowd, He put others first, He stood up for the downtrodden, He spoke truth, He forgave extravagantly and He served His dad to the death. Now that’s a man and I want to be like Him.

  • Thank you for sharing your doubts about being a “real” man Tom…and then your hopes as you glimpse the better image of that truly authentic man God has made you to be.
    In my day, we became men when we were sent to war at 18 years old. We cussed and drank like men and some of us were lucky enough to “score” and “unlucky enough” to father children. But frankly, by 25 I found it difficult to use that word “man” about myself. It just didn’t fit. And that’s because I felt like an impostor.
    My dad had modelled manhood for me…and I hated him. He was a bully who would tear down with his words, take his fists to my mum, drink every other man under the table, seduce any woman who let him and he ruled us kids with fear. How could I ever want to be a man?
    The closest I got to being a man in his eyes, was when I took a girlfriend along on one of his fishing trips. He shacked the two of us up in a hotel room. In my dads eyes, for once, I had done something to warrant manhood…but in my own eyes, I knew my secret, that whilst I reached out to own her beauty, it was the (boy) friend I left at home that I was really attracted to…so how can I call myself a man?
    It wasn’t until Jesus found me that my being a man became possible. He taught me to separate my image of what a real man is from my image of my dad. Seeing Jesus, gave me permission to be different to my dad. I know Jesus’ approval without propping up a bar, without womanising or following the Rugby World Cup or Football’s Champion’s League. It’s OK with Him that I like movies that make me cry, that I’m a softie, that I like to paint and listen to acoustic guitars plucking melancholic sounds. It’s like I’ve found myself and I’m OK with the man that I am. But I do confess…walking into a room full of bulky sweaty sportsmen, I find myself slipping back into the act of being my dad’s kind of “man”.

  • I can so relate, so relate! Who do you gravitate to in a mixed crowd conversation? Sometimes it’s with guys and sometimes with women. I find myself getting into one guy conversations and I think it’s something to do with comfort and peace and acceptance. Other times I am conversing with the women and it often makes me mad!
    Defining manhood is something I have to continually fight to consider and figuring out what my longings are, do I just start imagining going hiking with this guy? Working on a project? Kidding around? Flirting? Then I’m imaging things I cannot have and that is when I get scared and stop. My longings get so mixed up at times.
    But then I look to Jesus and he helps to put things in some better context and redemptive perspective. Not easy for sure

  • Beautiful! I can relate. I have come to terms with these same feelings by recognizing that “masculinity” as we understand it in our culture is not masculinity at all, but rather an idol, a statue with perfectly carved muscles and a low-hanging nut sack, for all men to bow to and women to pawn after.
    Over the years, as I’ve explored true masculinity within myself, I can identify some very masculine traits that cannot be measured by societies standards. I am uniquely masculine!

    • Definitely relate with that image of masculinity as an idol. Something I’ve chased after for years, both in myself and in other men. Learning to find the sweet spot (rest, contentment, gratitude) in both yearning after deeper masculinity and treasuring the masculine gifts God has already given me. Thanks for sharing this, brother!

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