Once upon a time I wrote about five times I’ve felt like a man. As we wind down the theme of “Love Month” at YOB, I started thinking about some instances when my heart has swelled, or exploded, or some other symphonic verb meant to translate the depths of safety, care, and affection I’ve experienced with other men. This isn’t a “top 5” or hardly exhaustive list, but these are five stories that come to mind . . .

1. My Heart Swelled as a Man When an Other Brother Hugged Me at the First YOBBERS Retreat.

Back in 2018 we hosted our first YOBBERS retreat. It’s the understatement of this near-decade-long experiment to say I had no idea what to expect. We’d only previously gathered in a disorganized Facebook group, along with somewhat organized Zoom calls for a year and a half. To go from such limited virtual contact to a full-scale in-person weekend-long event was a jump of epic proportions.

That first retreat easily could have bombed.

Thankfully, by God’s grace, it didn’t. I had a ton of help from one of my YOB cofounders, and leading alongside him was such a joy.

Despite its challenges, leading was also safe. In many ways, it’s easier to lead an event like that than actually participate: keeping separate, building walls, skipping the work of relationship all in the name of providing relationship for everyone else.

Thankfully, I didn’t stay on my leadership tower the entire weekend. But I did need someone else’s unexpected help stepping down.

Toward the end of our weekend together, during a lull in my tribe (small group) discussion, one of my other brothers stood up and stepped toward me. I was literally seated above him and the rest of my tribe, atop a picnic table, a fitting metaphor for that separation — that wall — of leadership.

He stepped right up to me, and he hugged me. And he hugged me for a long time. The longer he held on, the less “above” him I felt, along with anyone else in that circle or in that camp. I realized then that I’m an other brother, too, also deserving to connect and belong here — not just lead.

That hug has stood the test of time as one of my fondest retreat memories in five years. A defining YOB memory at large.

I’m an Other Brother Too

2. My Heart Swelled as a Man When a Friend Texted Me This.

It’s one of the most impactful texts or words of affirmation I’ve ever received from a man. I won’t detail the context, as I enjoy keeping some personal details to myself. Needless to say, I was feeling utterly unworthy of friendship as the self-criticism blared.

I’m too high-maintenance.

I’m grossly unappealing.

I’m undeserving of your friendship.

And then I received his single sentence reply of a text:

Tom, I am delighted to be your friend.

3. My Heart Swelled as a Man When a Former Classmate Told Me I Changed His Posture on Homosexuality.

It’s one sort of lovely thing to hear from someone you never expected to hear from again; it’s another to be told that your story has impacted his life and beliefs in an unforeseen way.

I’m grateful to one of my old classmates, a very loosely labeled “friend” of yesteryear, who reached out to me upon learning of my first book, in which I first told the world my story of faith and sexuality. We reunited in person nearly a decade removed from the classroom, and he told me that my story opened his eyes to this experience of homosexuality like nothing before had.

I’m paraphrasing him, but maybe homosexuality wasn’t a “choice” like he’d always thought — like his rigid, if not pharisaical Christian upbringing had led him to believe.

I wrote about my decade-long reunion with my old classmate in my second book, in which he looked me in the eyes and thanked me. He remains a friend to this day.

4. My Heart Swelled as a Man When Other Men Traveled and Adventured with Me.

For all the deep, heavy, cavernous conversations and connections this introverted Enneagram Four longs for, I also enjoy my frolicking. I can pride myself, to a fault, with my stoicism.

But when my guard gets let down by others, when I get carefree and unclench my facial muscles, often without realizing it, life becomes a more dynamic, beautiful thing.

Some of my fondest adventures with other men occurred during a “Year of Flights” some time back, in which I boarded a plane every month for an entire year. Some of those trips were solitary excursions, but many of them involved other men partaking in the adventures with me.

We watched stars from our car atop the tallest mountain in Hawaii.

We soared around a ferris wheel at the Texas State Fair and ate fried Oreos.

We recreated a photo we’d taken at our first-ever meeting on a Mississippi River bridge, four years later.

Just this past year, I participated in the famed “YOBBERS beach hike” with our Southern California contingent. I delighted in scurrying down a tight ravine with them, just past Alicia Keys’ house, and celebrating at the bottom with a picnic on the beach.

It was a longtime YOB bucket list item, finally checked!

SoCal YOB Beach Hike!

To be honest, I really do enjoy traveling alone and generally prefer traveling that way.

But when the right people are in the mix, particularly the right men, my wanderings take on an altogether different form of magic.

5. My Heart Swelled as a Man When Another Man Cried in Front of Me.

We hadn’t even known each other that long, hardly a couple months. But as I shared a 15-minute condensed version of my story in our men’s group, he started tearing up beside me. I heard him sniffle, and I snagged a quick look to my right.

Tears were streaming down his face, and he wasn’t wiping them away. They glistened on his cheeks as he held back nothing.

In that moment I had been describing how difficult it’s been both to get close to other queer/SSA men and also straight men — the former because of emotional and physical boundaries, the latter because of my masculine disconnect and fears.

“I just feel how hard it is for you,” he shared with blurry eyes, “feeling trapped whichever way you go.”

To my best recollection, it’s the first time anyone’s cried when I’ve shared my story. That it was a straight, married man I’d only known a couple months was beyond unexpected and moving.

I felt relief after sharing my story with those guys that night. A mountain of relief.

But I also felt something else. Something that wasn’t just for me.

It was a swelling love for my fellow man.

When have you felt your heart swell as a man? What experiences with other men stand out as ones that have made you feel safe, cared for, and worthy of affection?

5 Times I’ve Felt Like a Man

About the Author

  • Here is a question for you… This summer my best friend and I will have been friends for ten years. He is very cool and hilarious and I’m blessed to be his friend this long.

    I’m planning a fun day with him and I had this idea that might be crazy, but maybe not. Would it be strange if I gave my friend a ring to commemorate our friendship?

    To clarify, he has a girlfriend and daughter and would likely not be on this website. So I’m not sure how it might come across. We have shared some platonic intimacy in the past, which he seems to appreciate, but then gets awkward and retreats again. I have trouble reading him.

    I’m just thinking something simple, manly and not overly expensive. Maybe a quote or Bible verse engraved on it.

    What are your thoughts? Any other gift suggestions instead of a ring that would symbolize my affection for him in a manly way?

    • Thanks for inquiring this of our community, Kaleb! We had some good discussion on it in our private Discord server, and Frank did a good job representing the discussion we had in his reply to you. It’s cool that you have such a bond with another guy in the first place! I’d also like to recommend maybe like a trip or adventure to commemorate your friendship (something beyond a tangible item). I’m a big experience-person, more than a collector of items, so I know this would speak to my soul. Just some friendship food for thought!

  • Out of care for you as a brother, I think you would be setting yourself up for major heartache, both because of the surprise factor and the marital association of a ring. It could be pure magic, but it could very well be a disaster. Can you ask your friend, “I want to do something to commemorate our friendship, what would that look like for you?” I mean, wouldn’t it be something you both wear/present anyway? Like those old “Best Friend” medallions split in half and each wears half. But your friend deserves buy-in, no surprises, and nothing that for him is too romantic. You can tell him you’d wear a ring, but maybe something else means more to him. You might end up with matching earrings or tats or something. I just feel this is guarding your heart, and his.

    • Thanks, Frank. Those are good points and you probably identified exactly the reasons why I had misgivings. He would either reject it and I’d feel like a fool or accept it but hide it from his girlfriend or “lose” it, which would hurt me and still feel like a fool. Or maybe he would appreciate it. But that’s a big maybe.

      I could ask him, though he isn’t one to make creative decisions so I think it would go nowhere probably. But yeah, maybe if I explain I would do the same as him he might warm up to the idea and think of something. It’s worth a try.

      I don’t think it is as much a milestone for him as it is for me. He’s kind of a *shrug* “Whatever” person. And he’s had more friends historically than I have. But it’s important to me as someone who has had very few friends and hardly any as close as he is.

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