I am a man who yearns for men. Usually, I use “gay” as an imperfect but sufficiently legible shorthand. Every once in a while a situation has arisen where I decided “same-sex attracted” was the right description — the language that would get across the meaning, as good language does.
But “man who yearns for men” is a description that is as arresting to me as eye contact with my reflection in a mirror. I suspect that most of the men in our little community will resonate with this description.
We yearn for men. We yearn for specific men. We yearn for abstract, unspecified men. We yearn for men in general. We yearn for men to yearn for other men.
Sometimes we yearn for men’s bodies, sometimes for their hearts, sometimes for their souls. We yearn for brothers. We yearn for boyfriends or husbands. Some of us yearn for fathers, some of us yearn for sons.
We yearn to encounter, to access, and to drink deeply of the raw, earthy-sweet, intoxicating, powerful substance of masculinity. To be welcomed into it, to be wanted into it.
Yearning is a kind of longing. I’ve always thought of it as a deeper, sharper, longer-lasting version of longing. Yearning endures daily ups and downs; it can last seasons.
It is not fun, but I am (slowly!) learning not to experience yearning, in and of itself, as bad.
Yes, there’s an aching tension to this yearning. Some religions say that desire, being a source of pain, is evil, and should therefore be shed. I have often wanted to turn off my longings. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” the Teacher observes.
On the other hand, Paul writes that longing points to a future reaching fruition:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God … For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.Romans 8:19, 22-23
It seems that Paul would say longing is the right feeling for our time and place. And yet even if I can call it a correct response to the promises of God and the state of the world, I could not face an eternity of this feeling.
The only real comfort I find in the midst of yearning is knowing it will come to an end.
Though, what would it feel like to be burdened no longer with longing? Is that even a human way to live? Is love still love, without yearning?
~ ~ ~
In C.S. Lewis’s 1945 novel, The Great Divorce, an exalted Spirit of Heaven confronts her former lover from her previous life on Earth, referred to here as the Tragedian. The Tragedian is a dim and contorted Ghost whom she is trying to tempt away from the stygian Grey City to the vibrant wilds of glory.
He feels betrayed when she will not admit to missing him in the afterlife. If she was not miserable without him, he reasons, she must not have loved him. He accuses her thusly, and she responds:
“You don’t want me to have been miserable for misery’s sake. You only think I must have been if I loved you. But if you’ll only wait you’ll see that isn’t so.”
“Love!” said the Tragedian striking his forehead with his hand: then, a few notes deeper, “Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?”
“How should I not?” said the Lady. “I am in love. In love, do you understand? Yes, now I love truly.”
“You mean,” said the Tragedian, “you mean — you did not love me truly in the old days.”
“Only in a poor sort of way,” she answered. “I have asked you to forgive me. There was little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you.”
“And now!” said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. “Now, you need me no more?”
“But of course not!” said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out in joy.
“What needs could I have,” she said, “now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly.”C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
(I will not spoil the Ghost’s decision regarding the Lady’s urging.)
I have often hated this passage, because it thrusts an uncomfortable truth in my face: what I call love, that longing ache, might not be as noble as it feels, after all. What if it indicates not emotional magnanimity but emotional poverty?
The most disturbing part is the thought that I’m not capable of loving truly and rightly — not on this side of glory.
~ ~ ~
It was 2009, and I was in the home stretch of undergrad. I lived in a five-bedroom duplex with four other guys. This place hadn’t been vacated in years as college-aged tenants moved in and out piecemeal, with a lease like the Ship of Theseus.
Everyone who moved out left some junk they were either too lazy or too forgetful to move, which then became nobody’s responsibility and everybody’s problem.
The place had two refrigerators, which nobody ever cleaned out. One of them was spraypainted with a camo pattern.
We called it The Dump.
I, a young gay man with nice German saucepans and extremely developed opinions on the best way to load the dishwasher, did not fit in. However, the duplex was close to campus and rent was just $290.
My room was adjacent to my friend Jordan’s room. Between our rooms was a Jack-and-Jill shared bathroom, accessible only through either of our rooms. My bed was next to the bathroom door on my side of the bathroom.
Jordan usually went to bed much later than me, but his bedtime routine rarely woke me up. He’d been a close friend for a few years. Things got complicated, but by the time we moved into The Dump together, my feelings were more stable and easier to handle.
One night I woke up as Jordan was brushing his teeth before bed. He hadn’t closed the door to my room all the way, and golden light was streaming around the frame. I could barely see his familiar movements in the incandescent warmth of the bathroom.
I cannot explain what happened, but I can describe it.
I was filled with love like I had never felt, not even for him. In my half-wakefulness, somehow momentarily blessed with complete self-forgetfulness, I loved my friend truly, deeply, gratefully, peacefully.
The feeling was expansive and timeless, almost overwhelming.
I didn’t wonder what he thought of me or our friendship.
I didn’t wonder whether I should say anything to him, or what.
I felt no regret or shame about where our friendship had been.
I felt no fear of growing apart eventually (though it would have been justified; we did).
I felt no sadness that he was only some straight guy who wouldn’t give me what I yearned for.
I didn’t yearn for him, not in that moment. But I loved him more and better than I ever had before.
I smiled, contented.
Soon, he turned off the light and went to bed. I quickly fell back to sleep in the happy afterglow of that ephemeral feeling, wondering if it was a little like how God feels toward us all the time.
I have never had an experience like it since.
How have you yearned for other men? Have you experienced moments of contentment or insight in your yearning, or only a perpetual longing?