Straight men have always been scary. They’ve long been “the other,” going all the way back to first grade.
I used to sit with this one girl on the bus, and we’d tent our jackets over our heads and tell stories about the boys in our class. I had regular dreams about one boy in particular, and I never hesitated to share these stories with her like a secret club on that tented bus seat, no boys allowed.

And what an adolescence it would be.

I found my male classmates cute and charming and attractive on the surface, yes, but something beneath their exteriors also beckoned me. Whispered what I wanted to be. Screamed at me what I wasn’t.

Their hobbies were alien to me: video games and action movies and sports on sports on sports.

But also their personalities and proclivities: brash and conniving, speaking without thinking and sneaking pictures of topless women in their jeans.

It all horrified me.

And yet I wanted it, all of it. To fit in with the other boys, yes, but more simply to be. I just wanted to be a man.

I fixated on one particular boy until sixth grade when I changed schools and changed states and changed regions altogether. Even then, I fixated on him. Stalked him online, craving his connection from afar.

To this day, I still have dreams about him, though not as regularly as in years past.

The first straight man to be my friend “had” to be my friend, as he was also my ministry supervisor one summer. He was fantastic. One of the most charming men I’d ever met: a gigantic smile, jokes and stories for days, and just spiritually wise and mature.

He was “the other” for all the right reasons.

If I can be half the straight guy this guy is, I thought, I’ll really be something.

We’re no longer friends, but I’m grateful for what he kickstarted in me that summer. That straight men can be vulnerable and sensitive, too. They can be empathetic and pray for you. They can speak life into you.

They can express healthy touch.

However. I’m insane — or at least immature — if I think I can expect a straight man to meet me fully where I am within a single moment, or even a single summer, of knowing me. Emotionally, physically.

Friendship takes time. Takes work.

I was a soul-sucker with this straight guy. Eugene described it in vampiric terms, and I hate this tendency to objectify straight men. To demand so much of his time and touch.

Without my offering him anything back. Not thinking myself comparably masculine or capable.

~ ~ ~

When we started YOB nearly four years ago, I assumed straight people wouldn’t “get” it. Even though our very name called out to them:

Hey, Church, we are your other brothers, too. We’re not just in the gay bars and Pride parades and closets. We’re sitting right beside you in the pews.

But to actually hear from straight people who encounter our website? Who read our blogs. Who listen to our podcasts. Who treat me to coffee and lunch. Who share their story with me.

Pastors, moms, dads, fellow singles, and fellow strugglers. New friends.

What a thing this has been — both for YOB at large and for me personally.

In an ironic way, this community for sexual minorities has contributed to my growth as a man, a man among men, a man among straight men. Creating this counter-culture of masculine vulnerability, I’ve been blessed by straight men confiding some of their deepest secrets with me.

We may not share the same tastes for sports and media consumption, but we still share a common masculine heart. One fraught with hauntingly familiar masculine thorns.

Lust. Insecurity. Anxiety. Crippling fear.

Am I enough?

My first instinct remains to feel separate from my straight friends, even as I’ve befriended several such men over the last couple years.

I’m not sure if this instinct will ever completely go away, but the instinct isn’t as immediate anymore. Some days are better — or worse — than others.

But the more intentional I am. The more I text straight guys. The more I call them. The more I meet with them. The more we share vulnerably and laugh heartily. The less I believe I’m inferior and not worth befriending . . .

I don’t feel quite as alien anymore. Don’t feel as obsessive about time and touch, like peering over fences, back when these men were so foreign, so alluring, so prone to idolizing.

Yeah, I still want their time and touch. Yes, I still have to fight the urge to idolize them.

But they’re people, not calories. Not things to be consumed for my benefit.

We’re souls to be shared. Masculine souls with masculine hearts and masculine bodies.

And gosh are they beautiful. From their surface to their soul, men are just beautiful.

Have you struggled to connect with straight men? How have you grown in these relationships? Are you a straight person who has been impacted by YOB?

  • I recall a lot of the same feelings, although I think we were all too young to think of certain boys as “straighter” than others. I think what intimated me was how competitive and aggressive they could be. Also, I was very straightlaced, and that same crowd of other boys would also push the limits on the rules much more than I wanted to. I spent my childhood around the boys who were more sensitive, intellectual, nerdy, or (interestingly) just physically smaller.
    Looking back there was always that sense of being outside of normal, and I had an ambivalent disposition to the inside. Part of me was desperate to be invited in, but part of me had built up what positive identity I could manage around not being competitive, aggressive, rowdy or rude. I wanted to be a member of that group, but I was too proud or scared or suspicious to take the invitation the few times it was extended.

    • Ryan, great point about recognizing the “straighterness” of the other boys. That didn’t really register til much later. For much of my adolescence, it was more the “essence” of boyhood that I craved and felt lacking in me. And I’m still realizing more and more I’m not alone in those comparisons.

  • Oh gosh I resonate with this one Tom. When I grew up I remember seeing the other boys as so rowdy, noisy, obnoxious, and badly behaved and I swore never to be like that. And getting older I remember the other boys just having that rough and tumble personality and also being blunt and rude with everything they said that it terrified me to be around them. Even in college. For the Forth of July this past year I saw the fireworks with a straight friend and a friend of his who tailed along a bunch of other straight guys. Gosh, it was night and day difference compared to being with my Side B friends. Yeah I was pretty much scared to connect with them as well and didn’t really want to on top of that. That was the thing that was so hard in my days before YOB when I would really try to connect with straight guys it just didn’t work because our personalities and temperaments were always so different. I hope in the future I can find some straight friends who are more sensitive and loving (yes, people keep telling me they’re out there) but my gosh its like a needle in a haystack.

    • Thanks for sharing, Eugene. One thing I neglected to say in my post is this: solid straight friends won’t just fall from the clouds and into our laps. Like any other relationship, it takes intentionality and work — maybe more intentionality and work for certain guys in our community than others (I know plenty in our community have no shortage of great straight friends). We have to do our part and put ourselves out there, something I confess to not doing for too long. I still have work to do, and I still fight those insecurities. But I can say I’m further along with straight men than I’ve ever been. My friendships, even my closer ones, feel more balanced than they’ve ever been: gay and straight and everywhere in between.

  • Tom, that is beautiful, insightful writing, and it all rings true for me. Struggled? Oh, yes, my oh my, yes. But there has been growth in recent years. A couple years before I discovered your book and YOB, the Lord directed me to move toward men, not away as I had always done. But, wasn’t I supposed to flee temptation? In this case, I had it almost backwards. I laughed when I read your title and immediately thought of October. I recently finished Tim Timmerman’s book after a musically-gifted YOB friend badgered me about it for years. I was so thrilled with the first two chapters that I contacted TT. He ended up inviting me to a men’s retreat in October. I readily accepted before learning that, apart from TT and me, all present will be the scary, sport-loving types. I’m still going, as I have kinda stumbled into the belief that God knows what He is doing, even when I am clueless. And these scary types have been there for Tim over the years, greatly helping him in his walk. Great writing Tom!

    • Wow, look at you. I’m curious to hear how that men’s retreat goes! Please report back.
      That’s awesome that you connected with Tim. I randomly went to a group that he guest-led years ago, though I never introduced myself. This was before the days of YOB or even my first book. It’d be something to connect with him some time!

      • I’ll definitely report back. There is a Yobber who lives just 15 minutes from the retreat site. My wife and I will get to spend time with him before the week-end.

  • I get the intimidation from straight guys — I have faced the same many times. But, like you mentioned, that intimidation is pretty much our perception. We’re not any less guys because of our attractions or interests. Thank you for sharing your heart on this, Tom.

    • “Perception is reality” hits all too closely to home. My perception was that I was less than, and so I was. For years and years and years. It’s gonna take many years yet of perceiving a new reality to shift those tides, and I’m glad I have a community like this one to keep me accountable. Love you, Dean.

  • Oh how I resonate with a lot of this. Always wanting to fit in, but never fitting in at the same time. Never been one to be a gamer or a sports guy. Heck, only played little league for one year. I enjoy watching some sports, but never engaging in it. Always being one to feel like I was always on the outside I never had a ton of friends, so my circle seemed to be the outcasts. But I always wanted those close friends. The ones where I felt like I belonged in their circle, but always felt unworthy to be a part of it. Thankfully now I do have some very close straight friends who know about my journey and love and accept me anyway. That has been a wonderful thing. Thoughts on disconnect still linger, but they are fewer now. I just have to be willing to take a chance on the connection and pray it works out

  • What a beautiful article full of hope and encouragement! I absolutely believe that healthy relationships with other men gay and straight are possible without having to be cured of same-sex attraction and while still wrestling with the tension of not feeling that masculine fullness within ourselves. God meets us right where we are and there is a way to move forward in the strength of Christ; after all, His strength can be made perfect in our weakness — if we’ll allow for that! Everyone has their own weaknesses (I am not equating them all) in which they must choose to move forward while putting 100% of their faith and reliance on Jesus to guide them through. While I frequently still feel like a newbie on this road toward spiritual and emotional health, it has helped me to realize that I don’t have to suddenly feel capable in order to move forward in my journey of becoming the best of what Christ desires for me in all of my relationships and interactions with others.
    I remember being in a group prayer setting with two other guys once (both straight as far as I knew) and one guy emotionally shared some details of his nasty divorce. We joined hands to pray and those familiar feelings of not being enough — of being an outsider and a fraud — welled up within me as I began to obsess over the fact that I was holding this guy’s hand, pretending I was a normal guy. It wasn’t that I was attracted to him at all — it was 100% a feeling of uncomfortableness and awkwardness. I didn’t deserve to hold his hand as a fellow man because I was hiding my “true” identity. If he knew, he wouldn’t allow me to hold his hand (or so went the internal conversation). All of my attention was focused on our hands and this self-defeating conversation in my head.
    Then, in a moment of mercy, I turned my eyes to Jesus for a moment and asked Him in despair, “What do I have to offer this guy? I’m defective; broken; incapable. I immediately felt God redirect my attention to Him as He assured me that this moment for this man had nothing to do with me or my brokenness; rather, it was all about Christ in me, and whether I would surrender my own self-centered feelings of insufficiency enough to allow the presence of Christ to reside in me and flow through me to this hurting soul as we prayed. I surrendered in that moment and suddenly I was connected to my brother in Christ within my heart — not through my own power and wholeness, but through the power and completeness of the Holy Spirit.
    Perspective changes things in a very profound way.

  • I don’t remember being scared of straight guys growing up. This probably sounds really stupid, but tbh, I thought I was a straight guy growing up. Playing team sports, chasing girls, going hunting, it all seemed so natural. Everything changed in high school tho, I was being a straight guy like I was a Christian, doing it but missing it too and kinda clueless figuring things out on my own. So many guys here talk about knowing who they were when they were young, and that’s awesome to me. It probably made growing up that much harder but reading some of the comments, it also made you who you are today, which is better. It’s just better being honest dealing with stuff rather than not knowing what’s a lie and what’s true, something that’s still a challenge.
    Then again, God uses many roads to lead us to know we’re not like Jesus. Do you ever wonder if the longing to be like other guys we want to be like is just a misplaced longing to be like Jesus, and we’re looking at the wrong thing?

  • Great post, Tom… Handle male friendships are not an easy task, but it can be gratifying… Since 2017, I am practising BJJ, a very masculine but with high dosis of closed touch…My partners has been both welcoming and challenging… They are a blessing to me…

  • Like many of the guys here, I grew up not fitting in with many straight guys. They had different likes and dislikes from me and I felt not just different but also inferior. For some unknown reason, I felt nothing in common with girls either. I didn’t have any desire to be around them.
    I did have a burning desire to be loved and accepted by men, so I did whatever I could to find common ground with each guy I wanted as a friend. In the process I learned enough about sports, fishing, and yes, even girls. I found the “element of fun” in each interest my straight friends had.
    That enabled me to share in a straight guy’s joy when he was happy and successful but also empathize with his disappointments and failures. This helped me to build emotional connections with many sraight guys, understand them, and lose my fear of them!

    • Thanks for offering your perspective too, Marshall. I’m glad you touched on the things you’ve “learned” over the years. Too often in our community (and I include myself), we want straight guys to meet us on our level. Being sensitive, caring, conversational, touchy-feely, etc. But what about our meeting them on theirs? What if they don’t want to talk? What if they prefer bonding in the “doing”? If they’re gonna wind up as good friends, they’ll naturally want to meet us on our level as well. But maybe we need to take the first step toward them.

  • Tom, this is a beautiful post. I love your sincere vulnerability! Isn’t it amazing the realisation that we all men have the same masculine heart! We might feel so very different from our macho brothers, but in the end God put the same heart in all of us. It is indeed beautiful and so are you!

  • I used to have a lot of trouble connecting with straight men. Straight men were feared and intimidating to me. But the more comfortable I have become with myself and who I am, I have been able to let a lot of my fear and shame go and hold my head up. Through my involvement with the Mankind Project, I have met many, many men who see and accept men (like myself) for who they are. It doesn’t matter if we’re black or white, fat or thin, Asian or French, gay or straight; we are all MEN and I love that about that organization. It has helped me face my fears and shadows and reclaim my power. A lot of the mystery and intimidation and fear I have held towards straight men has diminished exponentially 🙂

    • Letting stuff go, that’s like the best thing but sometimes the hardest thing to do. It seems like Mankind Project helped you. I’ve heard both good and bad about it, but not from ssa guys. The good is that it makes you a better guy, more confident. The bad is that the training is abusive and manipulative. It kinda sounds kinda boot camp for the soul. It’s not religious tho, is it? Like guys from any religious background go to it.

      • Because of some of the processes at the MKP’s NWTA, it could be triggering for some SSA guys. It’s quite a shock at first to be in a large group of men, no women, and the training is intense. There is no abuse or manipulation. It is set up for us to do our own work and touch our own shadows and come out on the other side. There is a lot of emotion, vulnerability, connection, brotherhood, physical endurance, etc but for me that speaks to my masculinity. There is TONS of symbolism throughout the weekend. Even the things that would make people scratch their heads or run away in fear have a purpose. All religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, age, etc are invited to experience it. It makes me feel good to work alongside men who are helping other men become their best selves <3

        • Man I’m behind the info curve on this. I thought it was one 3 day weekend. Have you gone back that you’re able to help out, like on staff? Tbh, it almost sounds like a frat initiation but more personal dealing with darker stuff. The symbolic stuff sounds awesome if it’s not hokie.
          Can I ask, since it gets so personal, was your faith part of the experience for you? The times dealing with darkness in my life and in my soul, I don’t wanna do that apart from Christ.

  • I have to say I have struggled with relationships with straight men. In my early childhood, I had a serious crush on an older guy (10 years older) when I was 7 years old. He was like an idol to me of masculinity and manhood. I wanted to be him and I wanted him to mold me into the man he was. However, circumstances being what they were, that never came to be. I sought out other male role models, but like before our relationships were short lived. I did manage to get involved with sports like football and develop some cammoradie with guys my own age. Of course, I wasn’t any good as a player, but the experience allowed me to still be accepted as part of the team. My former teammates are still important friends in my mind and heart as we have history together. Other friends are important as well and I try to value their association.

  • Thomas, another great and thought-provoking post! I have not struggled in the least to connect with straight men, because, in a way, they are the object of my attraction. Not sexually (although I’m afraid today what I would do if a man approached me sexually-I think I love Jesus enough to say no). One example, I have shared life with men in leading Bible studies for over 25 years on Friday mornings. I loved the men who attended. We shared Jesus, we shared successes and failures, we shared accountability (except I was never brave enough to come out to any man-I could only share when I had stumbled with porn). Yes, I have life-long relationships from these men. Did I have enough or as deep of relationships that I desired? No, I couldn’t expose my “true” feelings. Was I sexually attracted to them? No, I can’t think of a single instance. We were there to become naked as men before a Holy God. And that was enough.

  • Shalom Shalom to you all.
    Thanks Mark for bringing up this subject. If you knew me, you would most probably be like everyone else. From my family (father, mother and sister) to my schoolmates, I am told that I behave like a girl. I’m never interested in those things that have masculine reputations such as football, video games and courting girls. I’m in a boy’s boarding school and whenever we have social events with other schools, you’ll just see pairs of boys and girls. When there are groups, I do fit in very in the discussion unlike my masculine schoolmates because I’m very much used to staying with my sister and mother. NB: I literally have no friends at home. The girls do find it strange but we just pull through. When it comes to games, whatever is referred to being a girlish game, that I know. I don’t often get disturbed by my behavior but people criticize me a lot. They joke around with me and times cross the line. When I try to just act “normal” I find myself being as I usually am. I grew tired of trying to be what they find okay and just continued to be myself. I just let their mockery and jokes pass by and some have grown tired of trying to get to me because they don’t. What I’m wondering is how I’ll cope once I’m out of school because I’ve lived my whole life exposed to my family, teachers and schoolmates. It makes me shiver when I think of how other men will think of me and treat me when they realize my feminine behavior. My mom, sister and I laugh about it and I feel at ease around them. My dad has never shown concern. One problem is that I just desire to be held closely by another big man. I’ve tried it once with a friend of mine in school and I ended up being a pushover which really broke his heart and that really hurt me because I don’t like to bring trouble to others. He felt really pressured and I guess it’s because I had given him the company and attention that he told me he had always desired but lacked. It was my first time to have a very close relationship with another man and I idolized the friendship. This happened last year(2019) and it has almost killed my hope of ever being hugged by anyone in my life. I just don’t want to be pushy. I also don’t want to idolize friendship at all. But as for my feminine behavior, I just pray that Yahweh guides me and grants me favour in the eyes of others and more importantly, in His eyes.
    As for you, it is good that you’ve developed acceptance for yourself. It’s something I have had for a long time but it has received a great beating in my school life.
    To those who read this, sorry for not having a clear flow in writing this.

    • Shalom to you! No worries, I followed your story well. Thanks for sharing with us, brother. I see your concerns, but I’d also encourage you that you’re free to be whoever you want to be outside the confines of school, family, etc. Speaking only for myself, I’ve felt so much freedom escaping those parameters and learning more and more what it means to be Tom. Especially Tom in Christ. Maybe some of myself comes off “effeminate” or maybe other parts are more “masculine,” but I like who I’m becoming. Both aspects of me, together. I hope this can encourage you. Prayers and love, brother!

  • Thomas Mark Zuniga

    When I don't wander away for weeks at a time, I live in Asheville, North Carolina – the Jewel of the Blue Ridge. I'm YOB's cofounder and editor, and I also host our two podcasts. I've written a couple books, including a 2013 memoir in which I came out to my readers. Once upon another universe I anonymously blogged about my faith and sexuality under the Xanga username "twoBeckonings." I'm an INFJ, 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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