Through good fortune or God's blessing, I was assigned to a unit that was just being formed. This meant that most of the men were starting out at the same time, putting us all on level ground relationally. The forty or so of us represented a broad cross-section of Baltimore boys, and after a few months I had a total sense of belonging to the group. Most of us stayed together for the eight years, attending drills every Monday night and going away two weeks each year for boot camp, service on a ship, or other military training. When we became old enough, a group of us would go out weekly after the meetings to one of the bars that dotted the Baltimore harbor area where we trained. In that group of men, I belonged; I felt part of them.
My second experience of joining the company of men came during college. In those days, the need for members among fraternities at Johns Hopkins University was greater than the interest young men had in joining. This meant that almost every interested freshman would get a bid - including a nerdy type like me. All of a sudden, I had another group of forty or so men who totally accepted me, men with whom I would party and do all of the good and bad things that college age men do. Again, I belonged; I was part of a group of men.
These experiences didn't heal me of my homosexuality; many more things would have to happen for my healing. But it was during this eleven-year period, through my Reserve group and the fraternity, that I believe I met a number of my most basic needs for male relationships. My drive diminished, and for eleven years I got by without needing a male sexual fix.
Just like all same-sex attracted men, I had sexualized my need to relate to men; but at its base, as we have all learned, this need is not sexual. Thus, I was able to meet this need without the sex; I fulfilled an unmet need, a need to be part of the herd of men. Later, when I did find healing, I believe that my experiences of healthy male friendships helped facilitate my full recovery.
A Desire to Belong
I am quite certain that God created in men a strong desire to belong to the company of men. You might even say that we were given a herding instinct. This makes sense. He gave men the primary responsibility for being protectors, rulers, builders and explorers, and each of these responsibilities can best be carried out by men working together in groups rather than by each man functioning as an independent agent. Men thrive in groups.
Women, on the other hand, focus more intently on individual relationships. Being given the primary responsibility of raising children and providing the glue that holds a family together, a woman focuses more naturally on one-on-one and small group relationships.
In our modern, psychologically guided culture we have greatly feminized the way we believe people should relate to one another. There is a considerable emphasis on being vulnerable, on intimacy, on being known in the deepest sense, and the key to all of this is verbal openness.
While these views are important - and some would do well to grow in them - they ignore the most basic way that men relate to one another. Men relate with each other by doing - by playing and working with one another. Of course, men do need other men with whom they can be totally honest and open, and we do need intimacy, but I believe that these are secondary needs. Our primary need is to belong to a group of men, a group with whom we can do things.
We can see the tremendous bonds formed among men in non-verbal ways by looking at the military. Soldiers develop strong bonds by doing things together as a body of men, not by deep verbal exchanges. In fact, it is generally believed that it is not love of country that motivates the greatest acts of heroism on the battlefield, but rather a soldier's loyalty to his comrades. Soldiers give their lives for the good of the company of men with whom they serve.
Overcoming a Lack of Affirmation
Men thrive on being in the company of men, on doing things with them, and in having a sense of belonging with a group of men. This sense of belonging is critical.
In looking at the roots of male homosexuality, we have identified how many of us did not receive the affirmation we needed from our fathers while growing up, and we were therefore left with an unmet same-sex love need that eventually became sexualized. It is also important to examine another step that takes place in a boy's development towards homosexuality.
When a boy is unaffirmed by his father, he then faces the world of other boys unaffirmed. Other boys, affirmed in their maleness, sense that they belong in the world of men and boys. The unaffirmed pre-SSA boy feels like a stranger in their world, and he either withdraws or remains in their midst feeling like an outsider. He encounters same-sex peer wounding, and thus lacks development of his manhood, which, of course, is developed in the world of men and boys.
One theory about male homosexuality is that it is rooted in low self-esteem. I believe that most of SSA men have low self-esteem -- not as persons, but specifically as men. Never having belonged in the world of men, they feel they are less than other men in the world of men.
Many SSA men who have athletic ability have channeled it into individual sports such as diving, ice-skating or gymnastics, rather than into team sports. The experience of not belonging makes team sports a perceived threat. With other boys and men, however, being a member of a team is invigorating. You can see this in any group of young men as they leave a ball field or a basketball court.
If you are a man seeking to overcome SSA, a significant part of your healing is going to come from gaining access to the world of men - joining the herd - and feeling right about yourself there. If you have a fundamental sense that you don't belong there, it will not be easy, but with wisdom and determination, you can do it. Here are some points that might help guide you:
1. It is OK to start with a group of other men coming out of homosexuality. I recently spent some time at New Hope, the residential program for men overcoming SSA in San Rafael, California. The men in this community do all kinds of things together, many of them deliberately "man things." They will eventually need to find themselves belonging in the wider world of men, but in the meantime, they are learning what an absolute delight it can be to be actively involved in manly activities with a group of other men-activities which do not focus either on the sexual or the feminine. It awakens in these men a feeling of masculinity that many did not know were there.
2. Doing things with men is critical; what you do is secondary. At first, start with activities that are less threatening to you. You don't have to start out playing football. Go fishing with the guys. Work on a major construction or peform a repair project with other men at your synagogue. It is best if the activity is physical; it needs to involve more than one or two other men. For the growth and healing that we are discussing here, it is the herd that you need to join, not an intimate sharing group.
3. Do things with men who know of your struggles and with men who don't. Kindly men who know your struggles may treat you differently than the way they treat other men. This may be okay at the start, but eventually this will be counter-productive. It might sustain in you feelings of being a boy in the midst of "real men." You will feel much more like a man on common ground with other men when you find acceptance among those who don't know of your SSA background.
4. Do things in all male groups. This is difficult but essential. The dynamics of a mixed male and female group are entirely different from those of an all male group. Also, a group that is likely to include a lot of SSA men (e.g., the men's chorus) will not provide the kind of identification you need. For single men thirty or beyond, stop looking exclusively for single men with whom to do things. There aren't many around, and those who are may be dealing with other issues that separate them from relating healthily in the world of men. And a word to married men: your wedding ceremony did not lift from you the need to belong to the world of men. In fact, the emotional health that such belonging can bring may well make you a better husband and father.
Joining the Herd
Almost certainly you share much more with other men than you realize - they, like you, have numerous areas of personal insecurity. By going out and joining the herd you will realize how true this is. And, becoming part of the company of men will diminish your sexual attraction to men, they will no longer be the "other."
We are sexually attracted to those who are "other," those who possess what we don't possess, those who complement us, those in whom we seek to find our completion. Join them and become a part of their world. As you do, they become less "other," less our complement, less interesting sexually. Once you find your soul nourished, your spirits lifted, and your energy revitalized through a process of being in the company of men, you then may be ready to move on to the next step in your healing.