I’m Joey: software developer by day, novelist by night. All of my happiest moments involve silent indoor spaces, a book in my hands, and golden sunlight to draw rectangles on the floor. I’m a man who has always lived small but dreamed big. My greatest hope is that I would encourage, comfort, and give hope with my words.
Being gay has ruined large crowds for me.
Something about being surrounded, seen but utterly unknown, twists my soul. And then add to that the layers of guilt I feel.
All these couples I’m jealous of because they get to be here together. Or the number of attractive men I see, the number of times I don’t control my lustful thoughts. Or worst of all: when I spot a gay couple somewhere out there, and I want to be them, and I wish I didn’t.
One day, I decide to go to a baseball game — knowing there will be crowds.
It’s a beautiful summer day, sunny and breezy. People are wearing our team colors and cheering when they see matching strangers. I’m one of the first ten thousand fans through the door, so I get a free bobblehead of one of the players. I have to ask who it is.
I have to ask who we’re playing against, too.
I’m not really here for the game. I’m here to spend time with friends. To be outdoors. To live a few mask-free hours in the company of twenty thousand and breathe easy the entire time.
Except for the moments when my breath seizes in my throat, when I realize how alone I am. When my chest tightens and my thoughts run on overdrive.
It’s easy to cover these slip-ups. You force a smile and pretend you were startled by the roar of the crowd.
I find my assigned seat, sit down, and notice a hundred disconnected things at once.
I can see at least five different scoreboards from this one spot.
I’m already thirsty, and we have at least three hours of game coming up.
Also, cute guy at four o’clock.
And two more at 9:30 and 9:45, respectively. Are they together? No, they’re too bro-ish. Must be friends.
Must be nice.
The summer weather has brought out t-shirts and tank-tops, and I’m impressed by the number of guys who obviously managed to hit the gym a few times during lockdown.
We sing the national anthem. The game begins.
I settle in, splitting my attention between the baseball field and the mob of people around me, knowing I’ll need their help responding correctly when something good or bad happens. Like when the opposing team scores three runs in the very first inning — I pretend to be upset by this. I’m absolutely flawless.
Am I the only one whose mind is spinning out of control? Am I the only one lost in his own emotions instead of the game? I notice all the details I don’t want to see: the uniforms of the players which are pleasingly tight, showcasing their well-toned legs and buttocks; the handsome lad a few rows down, who’s only a kid; the other handsome guy a few seats over, who’s a dad, married, with kids of his own.
Come on. How can I think it’s okay to see all of these people this way?
Maybe I’m too hard on myself. Guilt and shame come easily but tend to have limited usefulness in our lives. They start as helpful mouthpieces of our conscience, but they quickly become millstones around our neck.
And there has to be a difference between aesthetic appreciation and objectification, right? Where is the line? Does anybody know the line?
I wonder if the fact that I’m pursuing this question means I’ve already crossed it.
I once asked a straight friend if he similarly has an immediate and complete knowledge of all the pretty women upon entering a room. He said, “Yeah, pretty much.”
So, maybe I’m normal. Maybe all men, or at least all young men, operate this way. But I can’t help feeling that I expend an awful lot of energy sizing up the possibilities — when, for me, there are no possibilities.
They score. We score. They score again. The innings slide by, but my head’s not in the game.
It’s been an hour and a half of baseball, and by now I really need something to drink. I stand up and slip past the friend on my left, heading toward concessions, bracing myself for the insane stadium prices.
Everyone’s here with someone else; there isn’t a single single in sight. I suppose that, from the outside, I appear befriended, too. I certainly know how to laugh and look like I’m having a good time. I know how to bounce my gaze away from where it wants to stick, to keep myself from staring, to keep myself from wishing.
Could I ever have what all these people have? Could I have the baseball buddy, the automatic tagalong? Someone to yell jokes at over the roar of the crowd? Someone to buy a beer for, so I’m not returning with one hand empty?
I know it’s not beer I’m here for. I don’t need the thing that looks like gold and tastes cool going down but leaves you thirstier than before. I just need water.
I was right. The prices are unthinkable.
Water for five bucks a bottle. Love at the cost of your soul.
I make a purchase and return to my seat, more alone than ever. The cutest little kid is sitting next to us, spinning in circles and offering fist-bumps to strangers. His parents got him a junior-sized jersey. The organ sounds, such an iconic part of baseball, catch my ear. I hear a fleeting wrong note and realize for the first time it’s being performed live.
It’s amazing what your brain notices when you’re desperate not to think of anything at all.
But I paid good money for this ticket. Maybe I should stop considering everything else and give the game a chance.
I force myself to focus, realizing there’s tension in the air. We’re behind by two, but we have two men on base and a third at bat. All the elements for victory are right before us.
The importance of this moment sinks in. I attempt to see past all the distractions; despite myself, I lean forward in my seat.
The batter hits the ball — not a home run, but a fast line drive, and the players on base run. Two of them make it home, and the last guy slides safely into third just as the baseball comes his way —
— but the ball goes wide. The opposing team misses the catch. We all start screaming. Our guy sees his chance. He jumps up from the ground at third, races forward, pumping his arms and legs. He’s rushing into home.
The baseball and the runner converge back over home plate. Everyone draws silent. A cloud of dust fills the air.
The umpire holds both arms out wide.
Safe. The runner made it. He scored.
We leap to our feet, clapping until our hands are sore, yelling our voices hoarse. I join with everyone around me. My throat hurts the next day, and I sound like a smoker, which I’m not.
But for a little while, I got to be someone else. A fan who belonged. A family member. One of the people living by hope whose hope has resolved into reality.
I wasn’t wondering, or wanting, or hurting. I was just existing, along with the rest of the fans in the crowd that day.
This, I think, is what heaven might be like. Not sports (at least for me) — but selflessness, unity, a victory everyone can share, bought at the price of someone else’s dedication and sacrifice.
I leave the stadium with a smile on my face, happily lost in the crowd. I have become someone else. I’m one of the winners. And for a few moments, I forget to feel alone.
Do you catch yourself staring in crowds, and what do you think about? Single or not, how do you see yourself amidst a group of people, or a group of men?
Thank you for your post Joey. I love the shift in your tone as you begin to become one of the crown and absorbed into the game. Baseball has always seemed foreign to me – something I was never a part of but yearned to be. My best friend growing up played competitive baseball and never had time to do anything with me outside of school because of baseball, so I was always jealous of it as a sport. It not only was not something I belonged to, but pulled what I really wanted to spend time with away. The guys changed clothes in the dugout and their white pants, the thought of wearing a cup, being part of a team and belonging, the warmer days of Spring and Summer after winter that got longer. There is just a lot going on there… I agree crowds can be overwhelming. I remember my friend saying something once about being in a crowd, “Never have I been surrounded by so many people and felt so alone!” I think your post shows me how “normal” I am as I can relate to a lot of your feelings and emotions about checking out guys at the game. It also reminds me about how when you finally connect into the world of sports it can be an escape and is a powerful tool for belonging – something we all don’t just crave but need to survive. I remember going to baseball games with beautiful girls in high school, they talked openly about what players they would like to “do” including my best friend. I think they meant give them a blowjob and it was easy for me to look at the players and want to do the same. I took my kids to a baseball game last Spring and was fun to go with my son. We got into the game and enjoyed the food and was good to be around people again. A year ago a friend played catch with me in the park, it was a week or two after I told him I was experiencing same-sex attraction. I went home and cried because I felt loved. Throwing a ball is a therapy technique for people who have been through trauma. I always wished my dad or had a brother or friend who would have taught me how to throw a baseball. I still get self-conscious about it. It seems like a lot of guys like us struggle with knowing how to throw a ball.
I stumbled upon this post quite randomly. Started to read it, but wasn’t sure if I was interested to continue, but then it got my attention. When you described going to the game & just trying to blend in with everyone else, who were there mostly to enjoy the game. But in the meanwhile you’re observing things that seemingly no one else is focused on, the various men who caught your attention.
This resonated with me. I encounter what you’ve described on a daily basis. When I go to the supermarket, or I’m walking in a busy area with lots of people, going to a restaurant, going shopping, etc. It seems I notice all these men who push my triggers. I try not to take a second glance, sometimes this is achieved successfully, sometimes not. I check out their faces, bodies, how they look in their clothes, admire their manliness, but for me I imagine how these men are secure in their heterosexuality & here I’m struggling with my SSA, thinking how I wish I could just be like them.
I know God is working in my life & that I need to draw closer to Him, ask the Holy Spirit to indwell me constantly, accept He loves me as I am & that in time, I will get stronger to fend off these struggles more frequently because God doesn’t make junk.
Thank you again for your post, God bless & keep the faith.
Whew, do I feel seen, good grief. I am a sports fan, but so closely identify with the loneliness, wishing to be part of a group of fans, or spending the majority of the time at a game alternating between noticing attractive guys and beating myself up for my shameful thoughts, desires, attractions… It becomes a runaway train so quickly. Glad to know I’m not alone.
You are certainly not alone, friend.
I don’t know where the “official line” is for lust, but I’ve realized lately that I probably am a bit uptight or more withdrawn that I need to be. Through some powerful experiences, I learned (and keep having to re-learn) that it’s OK for me to admire the dudes.
The thoughts that I “shouldn’t” are the ones that often lead me to anger and more potential for temptations towards masturbation.
But something is different when I simply allow it all, the admiration of another guy or the desire to be all “sexy” myself.
I don’t know how it all works. I know God wants me to live a chaste life, but it seems like He want’s me to enjoy it as well.
I enjoyed reading your article. Not being very sporty, I have always struggled with big games and the stress it causes- in checking men out but also recognizing my being such a sport misfit. But I applaud you for taking that step, not sure I would have done that at your age ( I am 49).
The deeper question is about our loneliness. I think it plagues most of us in this journey as Side B pilgrims. I have a wonderful wife and am happily married, but sometimes those feeling still come. I desire for a man’s embrace. Maybe because I don’t ever remember my father doing it. But more and more- as the old monk Brother Lawrence tells us about knowing and practicing the presence of God, and recognizing that it is the truth- that Abba father is here with me, embracing me and holding me, hidden in His beloved son, helps a lot. Even in big crowds.
Thank you for sharing.
Joey, thank you for your post. I really liked your description of finally being caught up the enthisiasm of the other fans. I’m not really a fan of any sport, and large crowds can make me feel panicky, so I tend to try to avoid them. However, in the workplace I often see men, especially younger men, who are quite good looking. I’m now in my 50s and would say that appreciating the handsomeness/beauty of a man or a woman is fine in itself – this is as much aesthetics as anything else – but mentally undressing another person, and everything which goes beyond that, is where looking becomes lustful. I generally find that if I get to know the person concerned it is a lot easier to stay the right side of the line. I suppose this is because personality and demeanour are added to appearance, and the person becomes more whole and rounded in my mind. I appreciate however that in your situation you can’t expect to get to know every good looking man in the crowd…God bless you and help you to stay close to him, and to find a friend or two to accompany you to sports fixtures to share the games with you.
I loved this. It was so well written (even the part about sunlight) and relatable, aside from me not going to a big ball game like that with friends.
As for objectification, since I only had my own thoughts to go by, I thought everything was lust. But after talking with a priest and others, I realized there had to be more desire/fantasy/intent for that. Even though it’s a lesser sin, I think we can still objectify people by seeing them as nothing more than, well, an object; especially to somehow make us feel better. Appreciating the beauty of a sunset or great architecture can be a bit more selfish because those things are not unique individuals with their own souls.
I am by no means free of objectification, but some of the things that help me are to study their faces (instead of just their bodies) and to pray for them trying to use context clues about their life. Like you noticed one was a dad, so pray for his relationship with his kids that day.
We are visual creatures that are going to notice people, so don’t beat yourself up too much and try to put it to work for the good.
Hi, Steven. Thank you for being honest. I really pray that you develop a way of looking that is wholesome and which does not trouble you. I know how hard it can be. I also agree with your point about faces.
As someone who is very sensitive to beauty, I honestly think that the glory of a sunset, part of God’s creation, and great architecture, which men and women design with God-given skills, are things to thank God for. Sure, there are buildings which are unfit for purpose, wayward in style, inappropriately scaled for their context, etc, but the very best of them rightly bring delight. A W N Pugin, the great Gothic revival architect of 19th century Britain, was wrong in thinking that by building churches in the ‘true’ Gothic style the country would rejoin the then Roman Catholic Church, but the general point that buildings can positively (and negatively) influence those around them still stands, I believe. In Russia the Old Believers (who broke away from the Orthodox Church over church reforms in the 17th Century) even went to the effort of deliberately commissioning houses which were especially beautiful not only on the inside but on the outside, too, so that the poor who passed by would have a measure of beauty in their otherwise often miserable lives.
In Chapter 4 of their letter to the Philippians the apostles Paul and Timothy urge their readers (v 8): ‘Finally, beloved, whatever is […] pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ Deciding what falls within these parameters is a matter of taste, as well as Christian discernment, so opinions can vary, but I honestly think beauty in the natural and man-made worlds come well within the scope of these verses.
I am not offering these reflections to antagonise you but rather in the hope that they might unlock a source of visual delight which is preferable to lust, and which, in my experience, can be a positive replacement for lust.
With very best wishes. Ian UK.
As a huge baseball fan, it delighted my soul to read this post. And as a fellow “super-observant,” it struck another chord in me too. How often I look around the stands, or across the restaurant, or at Zoom squares, and make up elaborate stories about how happy and fulfilled everyone else but me. I’m at least aware of these tendencies to fantasize now, and hopefully I can catch myself more regularly when I play that no-win game. Because I know other men, straight or married or otherwise, also struggle. And I’ve found a lot of times they’re also blind to whatever struggles they’re facing.
Hope you write again for YOB, Joey! And hope to catch a game with you one day.