I’m Mike, a follower of Jesus, middle-aged, married, a father of three. I’m also straight. YOB’s conversations about faith, homosexuality, and masculinity have been enlightening, challenging, and a blessing to me. I’m thrilled to contribute to those conversations with some of my own stories.
“What the – am I doing?”
This thought crossed my mind — more than once — on my cross-country flight to the recently held YOBBERS retreat. I had been supporting YOB for over a year, and I felt like I’d gotten to know several of the other community members over Zoom calls or through Discord conversations. However, I’d only met one other YOBBER in person up to that point, and he wasn’t coming on the retreat. This meant all forty-nine of the other guys attending would be new to me.
Oh, and I’m straight. I’d be spending the weekend with an entire group of gay/SSA/bi/queer men. Something I’d never done before.
But, you know, YOLO. I’d told one of my friends from church, “It will probably be a lot like a typical Christian men’s retreat.”
“Except with more hugging,” he replied.
But, really, why was I going?
There was a mix of reasons, which is why I found it difficult to articulate to myself (and others). But much of my reasoning was because I felt like I should.
Perhaps one day I will write another blog describing how I found YOB and why I felt led to be part of this community. For now, suffice it to say that going on the retreat seemed like the next step toward becoming more fully a part of YOB.
There were other reasons, too. I wanted to meet these men I’ve gotten to know over the Internet. I’d had a few YOBBERS ask me if I’d be going or otherwise encourage me to go. I also like talking to people about life-below-the-surface issues, and I thought I’d have good conversations on the retreat. I even prayed that if someone on the retreat would benefit from talking in depth with a straight guy (about whatever) that that would happen.
But even knowing all of this, I was still nervous — which is actually the word I used to check-in at my first tribe (small group) gathering the first night. Despite some good conversations in the rental car from the airport and again at the retreat site that evening, along with everyone’s being so kind and gracious, I remained pretty anxious.
“Like a fish out of water” is the response I gave when asked how I was doing early on the second day.
The scheduled solo time that morning was quite welcome. As I prayed about my nervousness and my place in the group, I felt God saying, “Just be present. You don’t need to do anything else.”
I can do that, I thought.
And for the rest of the retreat I felt fine. I still had a slight sense of outsider-ness, but I think that’s to be expected, and it wasn’t enough to negatively affect my interactions with the other guys anyway. Besides, I’ve long known that feeling in a variety of contexts. Plus, I kind of like being on the outside; it lets me move into my natural Enneagram Five’s observer state.
There were so many highlights and stories that weekend. The near-snafu of a rental car situation saved only by the quick actions of another YOBBER; the 6:45 dark morning run on rural Georgia roads with three other YOBBERS; games of Frisbee and One Night Werewolf; meeting dozens of men I’ve gotten to know over Zoom and Discord; some really insightful preaching; and the most beautiful rendition of “It is Well with My Soul” I’ve ever heard.
Plus, lots of questions. This group doesn’t shy away from asking hard ones.
“What does your wife think about your being here?”
She’s a little uncomfortable with it, but we’d talked about it, and she said if I felt like I should go then I should go.
“What do your kids think about your being here?”
My 15-year-old son’s response was, “Don’t let them turn you gay.” I hope that’s not offensive, but it is actually what he said. My 12-year-old son was more direct: “Are you gay?” he asked; “No,” I said.
“Is this your first gay men’s retreat?”
Let me think about it. Hmm. Why, yes, in fact — it is!
“Is this what you were expecting?”
For the most part, yes. I’ve been in YOB for a while, and so I think I have a decent feel for the group. And it is a lot like other Christian men’s retreats I’ve been on — but, yes, with more hugging.
Plus lots of “How are you doing?” and “Why did you decide to come here?” — both of which I’ve already talked about.
There were plenty of jokes, too, and a few guys even got comfortable teasing me before the weekend was over. “You’re bringing our average Kinsey scale down, Mike!” During our silly group photo, one YOBBER yelled, “Let’s get the straight guy!” In that photo I’m peeking from behind a tree with a terrified look on my face. And I know I said, “Is this some sort of gay thing?” to general laughter at least once that weekend.
I also got in a joke after the retreat was over. On our Discord I posted a photo of Saturday’s schedule of retreat activities. My caption: “I finally figured out YOB’s gay agenda.”
I put my foot in it a time or two as well. At mealtime, one guy asked another if he was a fan of Britney Spears. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Really?!” in a slightly judgey voice. “I was serious!” the first guy said.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” I quickly replied, embarrassed, followed by “hit me, baby, one more time!” — the only Britney Spears lyric I could think of. Nobody was offended (I hope), and we all laughed as I learned something new about Britney’s fan base. (In retrospect, “oops, I did it again” would have been a much better response.)
I also received a lot of affirmations at the retreat.
“Thank you for coming.”
“It means a lot that you made the effort to enter into our space.”
Even, “You’re really brave.”
I didn’t feel particularly brave, but I certainly appreciated the affirmations despite my discomfort with the attention.
I was also thanked for being an ally. I’m not comfortable with that word, for various reasons, and I finally told one of the YOBBERS so. That led to a discussion about what the word means, and he finally said, “By ‘ally’ I just mean someone who will treat me like a normal man and not freak out if gay people share their experiences. That might seem like a low bar, but the sheer number of straights in the church, guys especially, who don’t meet that standard is so large.”
“I can be that kind of ally,” I thought and said.
Two different men also told me that I was the beginning of an answer to a prayer they’d been praying for years — about straight men being better about reaching out to gay men. I’d never before been told I was an answer to someone else’s prayer. It is a weird and honoring and humbling experience.
But mostly, as I look back on the retreat a month later, I remember spending a weekend with one of the kindest, funniest, most emotionally open groups of Christian men I’ve ever been with. It’s a group that understands the dark side of life, too. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all those qualities are connected. A story from near the end of the retreat kind of encapsulates this for me.
I was at the airport, about to head for my gate when I met up with several other YOBBERS who were flying home as well. We all decided to hang out together. But then I felt it coming, that I-need-time-to-myself feeling I get pretty regularly.
I turned to the group and said, “I’ve successfully kept my introversion at bay most of the weekend, but now it’s returning with a vengeance. I’ve really enjoyed meeting and talking with you guys, but I think I need to go to my gate now for some time to myself.”
A lot of people don’t understand introverts, so sometimes when I pull an introvert move I get confusion and “Are you okay?” as a response. But when these YOBBERS looked back at me, all I saw was understanding on their faces. They got it. And when I thought about it . . . of course they would.
During YOB’s virtual event this past summer, someone asked me if I had many gay men in my life. “Not really,” I answered. Over my fifty years I’ve casually known several gay men, but none fixed in my life to that point. “Well, now you have a bunch of gay friends,” he told me.
Yes, I now have a bunch of gay friends. And my life is richer for it.
Has anyone ever told you that you’re the answer to their prayers? When have you also stepped out in courage to a foreign environment because you felt God leading you to do so?