We are on a journey of self-discovery to explore and address underlying issues and embrace our authentic masculinity. The core of this journey we call “M.A.N.S. Work.”
Despite growing up in very different countries, cultures, and faiths, we find in the Brothers Road community that, with astonishing frequency, we share many similarities in our life histories, past hurts, and resulting issues.
Here we summarize some of the most frequent and significant experiences relating to our sexuality, identity and relationships. (Of course, everyone’s story is unique, and not everything we describe here applies to everyone in the Brothers Road community.) We’re not saying that these things caused our same-sex attractions, necessarily. (Direct causation is almost impossible to prove, and we are not social science researchers in any case).
Nor does our experience necessarily relate to men who easily and naturally embrace a gay identity and a gay life as their authentic selves. Their stories may be different. For one thing, their sexuality could be more influenced by “nature” (biology) and ours could be more influenced by “nurture” (environment, life experiences). In the end, the only thing each of us knows for certain is our own life experience. And sometimes even that takes a lifetime of self-exploration to really understand.
A More Sensitive Personality
Many of us were born with the gift — and curse — of having a more sensitive nature than may be typical for most males.
Speaking in generalities, this sensitivity has led many of us to be more creative, artistic, spiritual, empathic and relational. We may also be less physically inclined (less athletic or sporty, for example) and more emotionally inclined (perhaps expressed through art, music, or deeper relationships, for example).
But the downside of a more sensitive nature is that we may be more easily hurt. We may perceive rejection more easily and feel it more deeply. Sadly, that can be a set-up for responding to life’s hardships with less resilience than a less sensitive person might.
This may explain why two boys from the same family, with many shared genes and similar life experiences, may respond very differently to similar experiences. One boy may be deeply hurt while his brother may seem to bounce back fairly easily. It may also explain why parents can be surprised to find that their now-grown son perceived rejection as a boy where, from the parent’s point of view, none was intended.
Detached From Other Boys or Men
Growing up, most of us had both positive and negative experiences with other boys or men, of course — but the negative may have significantly outweighed the positive or had more lasting effects on us. Growing up, many of us felt:
- Rejected, unwanted, bullied, betrayed or abandoned by other boys or men
- Unsafe or fearful in the company of boys or men
- Different from other boys — too different to ever really fit in as one of the guys
- Shame around not fitting in or not feeling wanted
- And sometimes shame about even being male, as if maleness itself were some kind of defect.
Sadly, too many of us also experienced abuse — verbal, emotional, physical or sexual.
All of these experiences could be made even more difficult when Dad was an unavailable or undesirable role model—either because he was absent, detached, too passive, overly harsh or demanding, or struggling with his own demons.
Trying to protect ourselves from further hurt, many of us responded to these experiences in ways that ultimately ended up hurting us even more. Oftentimes:
- We withdrew from associating with other males at all, as much as possible.
- We put up walls and defenses against other males, rejecting them before they had a chance to reject us (“defensive detachment”)
- We defensively told ourselves we were innately inferior or somehow defective and could never compete in their world.
- Or, at the other extreme, we may have defensively told ourselves that we were in fact superior to those bullies. (“Who needs them anyway? I’m too good for them.” Sometimes this defense was even taught or encouraged by well-meaning moms or others.)
- We envied other guys and even maleness or masculinity itself, as if it were somehow unattainable for us.
- We may have escaped into the relative safety of the feminine — preferring the company of girls, where we felt “safer,” more welcome and more understood
- But we may have still watched our male peers from afar, longing to be included, but afraid to take the risk (the “kitchen-window boy” syndrome).
Detached From Our Own Masculinity
For many of us, a critical mismatch developed between how we saw ourselves and how we saw other boys and men. Whatever a “real man” was, we knew it wasn’t us. Many of us developed a profound sense of not being “man enough.” Some of us felt a sense of existing outside gender: We knew we weren’t female, certainly, but we didn’t feel fully male, either.
We may have idolized certain masculine traits and unconsciously created “gender imperatives” — traits we thought “real men” had that we couldn’t see in ourselves. In doing this, we placed ourselves even further outside the male world.
This internal conflicted planted seeds of self-doubt and self-criticism — even self-loathing, sometimes — that set us up for further struggle.
Too Much Feminine, Not Enough Masculine
Growing up, some of us experienced mostly positive, healthy relationships with women and girls. Others experienced neglect, rejection, abandonment, judgment, criticism, and worse. Many of us felt:
- Overly controlled by Mom or other women
- Smothered by an over-protective or overly involved mother. Sometimes this could go so far as “emotional incest” when Mom confided in her son as if he were her husband.
- Discouraged from or even shamed for showing masculine qualities (“Don’t be like your father”; “Don’t be like other boys”)
- Immersed in feminine environments at home and school, where femininity was sometimes over-valued and masculinity was often under-valued — or worse.
- Rewarded by female peers for being more like them and less like other boys
- Generally emasculated by females
Sadly, too many of us also experienced abuse at the hands of women or girls — verbal, emotional, physical or sexual.
One Common Response: Becoming Enmeshed With the Feminine
In response to these kinds of experiences, some of us escaped into the relative safety of the feminine realm — and remained stuck there. We may have over-emphasized and over-valued feminine traits while neglecting or rejecting more masculine traits — thus alienating us even further from our true selves.
Whereas men and masculinity held mystery and excitement for us, women and femininity were overly familiar. If it’s true that the unfamiliar or “exotic” becomes erotic, then the familiar and common may become uninteresting and unarousing. It may be impossible to identify with women as sisters and still feel romantic or sexual attractions toward them.
Attraction to women requires men first to be firmly grounded in our own masculinity, recognizing and valuing women as complementary but significantly different.
Another Common Response: Repelling the Feminine
At the other extreme, some of us rejected women or even felt disgust or disdain for all things feminine. Some of us felt repulsed by any feminine traits we saw in ourselves.
We became unwilling or incapable of becoming too close to women or girls, afraid that we might become engulfed, controlled, shamed or otherwise hurt by them.
Or, we may have seen them simply as uninteresting and irrelevant, focusing all our energies instead on finding our place in the world of men.
We may have subconsciously and unintentionally rejected women as safe but exciting romantic partners.
Within the Brothers Road community, roughly a third of us or more experienced some kind of sexual abuse or unwelcome sexual touch as a boy or youth. This was almost always at the hands of men or other boys.
When that happened, if we weren’t already confused about ourselves and our sexuality, we certainly were then.
Like other sexual abuse victims, we may have welcomed the attention at first. (“At last! A man or another boy wants me!”) Plus, it just felt good. (Our bodies are designed to respond to touch that way, after all.) But afterward, we were devastated with guilt, shame, and confusion. (Why was another male treating me the way a man is supposed to treat a woman? What does that say about me? How can I like it and hate it at the same time?)
Similarly, sexual abuse at the hand of a girl or woman can result in fear, disgust, and distrust of females that can take years to overcome.
Even without actual abuse or unwanted touch, early and unwanted sexual experiences can create an emotional and sexual imprint that may never be fully erased. If we hadn’t already begun to eroticize masculinity, we certainly did now.
Feeling alienated from boys and men, it was easy for maleness and masculinity to become a mystery. Exotic. Something to be admired or envied from afar. Desired, certainly, but seemingly unattainable. And in one sexual-development theory, “the exotic becomes erotic.” Envy turns to lust. Masculinity can become a sexual craving.
In an attempt to close the perceived gap between how we saw ourselves and the masculinity we yearned for, we began to respond to other males erotically. We did this through fantasy, pornography, or by seeking out sexual attention from other boys or men. (How else were we to feel wanted or desirable?)
Many of us turned to sexual arousal (thoughts, behaviors, even obsessions) for self-soothing, emotional distraction, and to cope with all kinds of distress. And once lust attaches to emotional hurts, deep yearning, and unmet needs, these feelings can become almost permanently intertwined with lust. They can feel overpowering.
And never enough. Early, repeated, and reinforced sexual thoughts and behaviors only strengthen those attractions, desires and lusts. Our hunger for male connection becomes insatiable when fed by sexual arousal.
Other Complicating Issues
As complicated and messy as all this already is, it can become even more distressing or unmanageable when otherwise unrelated issues arise. Co-existing challenges like anxiety, depression, trauma, low self-esteem, perfectionism or obsessive-compulsive tendencies can make everything more complicated, more painful and more difficult.
Within the Brothers Road community, there’s no way for us to quantify how common co-existing issues are among us. But they certainly are not uncommon. And that is yet another reason to treat ourselves and each other with great compassion, kindness, and patience.
None of us “chose” our challenges. We can only choose where we go from here.
Not a Sickness
If you can understand our common histories and resulting wounds, we hope you can see that it might be natural for some of our sexual feelings to get tangled up with some of these life challenges.
But one thing is certain: Our sexuality is not a “sickness.” We absolutely reject any notion that homosexuality is a mental illness, mental disorder, disease, sickness, or in need of a “cure.”