My adolescence was a social nightmare. I grew up in the rural South but didn't fit the mold of Southern masculinity in the slightest. Sports piqued no interest in me; roughhousing made me nervous; slaying innocent animals seemed cruel and gross.
Of course, I never expressed such blasphemies — I wasn't stupid!
But I was everything opposite of what my Duck Dynasty-like culture insisted I should be. I was sensitive. I liked to read. I liked to draw. I liked to journal. I wasn't your mud ridin', hog huntin', ball playin' kind of boy.
You could see how this might make life a little scary for me, right?
Well, the nightmare cranked up to a Freddy Krueger level of horror when I realized I was attracted to the same sex. While my male peers were crushing on girls, I was crushing on them. Girls were fine and all. But I liked other boys.
I didn't utter the word "gay" to describe myself until I was nineteen years old, and no one prior to that time knew about my so-called sexual orientation. But I knew. I was painfully aware of how abnormal and unmanly and distorted and screwed up I was, which made relating to other guys . . . well, I just didn't relate to them.
The disconnect I felt between my male peers and myself intensified when I ventured into that hellacious institution called High School. The guys my age were chasing girls like it was the sole purpose of their existence. I wasn't totally disinterested in girls; I enjoyed conversing with them and even thought some of them were pretty. But I wasn't the sex-crazed huntsman of females most guys my age were — not because I was any nobler than they, but because my sex drive was geared in a totally different direction.
When all the guys would gather up to chat . . . um, let's call it "imaginatively" . . . about what it would be like to be with a woman, or even to share their real-life experience of being with a woman, I couldn't have felt more out of place. But I knew these guys were normal. The things in which they found interest were normal. The things in which they participated were normal. The things they talked about were normal. I was the one with the problem — I was the one whose man-wiring had gone terribly awry.
I really thought that whatever god was responsible for creating me must have been a little drunk when he pieced me together. I never felt like, nor did I want to be, a woman . . . but I also didn't feel like a man. I felt other, and this sense of otherness made me feel inferior to other males and uncomfortable around them.
I mean, sure — I had guy friends. But those friendships were a forgery. Those guys didn't know the person I really was inside; they only knew the fake Matt — the Matt who played football and partied and dated girls just to be perceived as normal. The real Matt Moore, the one I concealed from their sight, was constantly filled with fear and anxiety while in their company because I didn't believe I measured up to their standard of manliness.
I felt less than what I was supposed to be. Incomplete. Distorted. Other.
Fast-forward six years through a lot of junk and drama, and I found myself a Christian in a new community: the Church. Though my soul's deepest need (reconciliation with God) was satisfied by being united to Jesus, the relational sphere of my life continued to be strangled by insecurity and feelings of inferiority. I still felt inadequate as a man and painfully uncomfortable in the presence of other guys.
I can honestly say not a single Christian man, even after learning of my history and ongoing struggles, ever spoke or acted in such a way that provoked my anxiety. My insecurity wasn't caused by the actions of others; it originated years before in the secrecy of my own heart and was nurtured and sustained by my own thoughts and perceptions.
So even in the Church, the place in which I should have felt most at home, I still felt somewhat alienish. I had great friendships with Christian women, but I had no meaningful friendships with believing men. There were definitely opportunities to cultivate such friendships — I saw Christian brotherhood beautifully displayed in the various churches I visited during the first two years of my new life in Jesus. But I didn't believe I was "man enough" to fit into that kind of fellowship, and I didn't think I could handle the rejection I believed would come if I tried. So I lingered in the shadows of church life, attending services and then quickly escaping before any of the men could pin me down and invite me to "hang out."
But one Sunday morning, I got pinned.
After the worship service at the church I was visiting concluded, I began to sneak out of the building when some guy literally began to yell, "Matt Moore!"
Shocked, embarrassed, and slightly irritated to hear my name reverberating throughout the room, I froze, turned around, and slowly began making my way toward this unashamed shouter who successfully interrupted my escape.
I recognized him immediately: Kyle. A couple of weeks prior to this moment, Kyle, a staff member at the church, had introduced himself via a Facebook message after running across one of my blog posts, seeing my picture, and recognizing me as a regular visitor.
He reached out his hand to shake mine, introducing himself again. He spent the next few minutes complimenting my blog and telling me how impressed he was with my hermeneutic (I didn't know what that word meant at the time, but I nodded my head like I did and told him thanks).
After a few more minutes of chitchat, he released me from that terribly awkward situation. But little did I know that terribly awkward situation would be the beginning of an incredible friendship — a friendship that would transform my life in a million different ways.
At his prodding, Kyle and I started meeting once a week for breakfast. Most guys I knew only got together to do things: throw the football, build something, shoot something, or other things I lacked the ability to do. This was the first time I regularly met with another man just to talk.
I thought our conversations would be forced and awkward, but they weren't — like, at all. They were fluid, honest, and comfortable. He didn't shy away from my messy homosexual past or my ongoing struggle with those tendencies. He spoke comfortably about this struggle of mine, not painting it any weirder or worse than his own struggles. Kyle engaged me in a way that didn't make me feel like my personality and sin-struggles invalidated me as a man. He treated me like an equal — an equal in Christ and an equal in manhood. For the first time in my life, I had a guy friend who, even knowing me as I really was, viewed me as just another guy — something my heart was in desperate need of.
When I discovered Kyle was moving to New Orleans to plant a church, I prayed (for about a day, haha), and decided to join him and his team. Months later, eight of us made our way down to the Big Easy and formed our own itty bitty church community.
Though I experienced an unprecedented level of comfort and ease in my relationship with Kyle, I still found myself retreating from the other two men in our super small church. However, just like Kyle, neither of these guys accepted my retreat. They both relentlessly pursued my friendship and made constant efforts to make me feel like I belonged.
And by "make me feel like I belonged," I don't mean that they tried to shape me into their image. They didn't give me a guy-makeover, forcing me to go to football games or to participate in other culturally masculine activities I didn't enjoy. They actually did (and still do) something utterly foreign to many men today: they sat down and talked to me.
They invited me over for dinner or out for coffee and initiated conversations about things in which they knew I had interest. They asked about my life. They asked about my family. They told me about their life. They told me about their family. They shared their struggles with me in a way that showed me they didn't view my same-sex attraction as worse or weirder than their own brokenness.
These guys embraced the patient work it was to push through my walls and get to know me. They gently, but stubbornly, pursued friendship with me . . . even when I didn't want them to. If, for no good reason, I declined an invitation to hang out, my phone would start ringing almost immediately. They wouldn't allow me to retreat from fellowship without a fight.
After ample time spent with these men, I began to see that we weren't all that different. Sure, they loved football, and I couldn't be less interested in it. But aside from our different interests and hobbies (which I had finally begun to believe have no bearing on how "manly" a person is or is not), we were similar people who loved Jesus and valued meaningful friendship and conversation.
As I got to know them and observed the lives they led, the image I had in my mind of what it meant to be a man started to crumble.
A man could be gentle and compassionate, like these guys. A man could be thoughtful and sensitive, like these guys. A man could be a better conversationalist than he is a sportsman, like these guys. A man could talk about women with respect and integrity, like these guys. A man could struggle with various weaknesses and brokenness, like these guys.
If these men, even with their flaws and weaknesses, accurately represented what it means to be a man, then I also met the standard.
Seeds of healthy confidence in my God-given manhood began to settle into my heart. I started to believe God didn't mess up when he was making me, and that he has actually wired into me truly masculine traits — like compassion for the marginalized, a desire to protect and care for the weak, and resilience to follow and obey Christ.
And yeah, my sexuality is jacked up. But I finally started to see that my brokenness doesn't invalidate me as a man because every day I am submitting that brokenness to the will and power of God. I could be straight as an arrow but still fall terribly short of manhood if I didn't submit my heterosexuality to the revealed will of God.
It is more masculine to be mainly attracted to men yet obedient to God than it is to be mainly attracted to women and disobedient to God. A celibate same-sex attracted guy is far more of a man than a womanizing guy who bows to the will of his sex drive.
Real men obey God.
Growing to see myself as nothing more and nothing less than a redeemed man who struggles with the flesh might be the most freeing transformation I have experienced as a Christian. It has freed me from anxiety, from feelings of inferiority, and from living in the shadows of isolation. And it has freed me to meaningful friendship and fellowship with a community of men who love Jesus.
If the guys I have spent the latter half of this article describing hadn't rallied around me in authentic friendship and loving affirmation, I would have experienced none of this. I am so grateful God brought men into my life who didn't try to give me a "guy makeover," but accepted me as I was, loved me when I didn't want them to, and allowed me to learn from them what manhood is all about. They will never know to what depths they have enriched my life.
Originally posted at moorematt.org.