M.A.N.S. Work: Masculinity

As we in the Brothers Road community share our life experiences with each other, we have found that with astonishing frequency, we share a common history of feeling highly alienated in one way or another from our male peers, fathers or the male world generally. At the same time, we too often experienced an unhealthy over-attachment to or enmeshment with the feminine.

Common Experience: Feeling Alienated From the Male World

While growing up, our common experience with the male world too often entailed:

  • Feeling different from other boys, like we didn’t fit it, didn’t belong or weren’t even wanted
  • Feeling rejected, neglected, dismissed or even abandoned by fathers or other males who should have been there for us
  • Being bullied, taunted or mocked
  • Experiencing verbal, physical or even sexual abuse
  • Feeling deep shame about any of these things — and sometimes even shame about being male at all, as if our maleness were somehow defective.

Common Experience: Feeling Enmeshed With or Controlled by the Feminine

Growing up, some of our common experiences with the feminine were:

  • Over identifying with the feminine, retreating to the relative “safety” of the world of women and girls, compared to the more aggressive and intimidating world of men and boys
  • Feeling enmeshed with, engulfed or smothered by strong women
  • Feeling controlled, over-protected, emasculated or feminized by strong women or girls
  • Being neglected, abandoned or abused by mothers or other women who should have been there for us.

Common Responses and Reactions

Many of us responded to these all-too-common experiences by:

  • Yearning for male friends and father figures from afar, while fearing and detaching from them to protect ourselves from further hurt or rejection
  • Defensively telling ourselves we were superior to other males (“Who needs them anyway?”) and rejecting them before they could reject us (“defensive detachment”)
  • Or defensively telling ourselves we were inferior to other males, or simply defective—and rejecting or shaming ourselves because of it
  • Envying other guys and even maleness itself — as if it were something unattainable outside ourselves
  • Ultimately, turning that yearning, defensiveness and envy into lust for other guys — in other words, erotizing the masculine
  • Turning our over-familiarity with the feminine into sisterly affection. Or turning our domination by the feminine into disgust, rebellion or fear of being controlled by the feminine. Either way, to protect ourselves, we subconsciously and unintentionally rejected women as potential romantic partners.

As long as we were stuck in these unhealthy responses and reactions, how could we help but continue to experience same-sex attractions in response?

Our Solution: Inner-Healing and Personal-Growth Work

Hundreds of us who have found growth and inner healing through our work with Brothers on a Road Less Traveled can testify that a vital and integral part of our journeys has been developing our authentic connection to the masculine. This means developing both

  • our internal sense of our own masculinity — truly feeling “man enough”
  • and our interpersonal sense of masculine attachment — knowing that we really do belong in the world of men.

Doing so was frightening and challenging — but it ultimately became a rich blessing, and forever changed our lives for the better.

Our Solution: Internal Connection to the Masculine (Feeling “Man Enough”)

We consciously worked to develop our inner sense of masculinity by, for instance:

  • Challenging our unhealthy thinking and negative attitudes toward ourselves and our masculinity
  • Actively developing masculine traits like assertiveness, independence, initiative, decisiveness, standing up for ourselves, and setting clear, appropriate boundaries with others
  • Challenging ourselves by participating in activities or experiences that we may have previously feared—activities that we find to be “masculinizing,” that reinforce our sense of masculinity.

Our Solution: Interpersonal Sense of Masculine Belonging (Feeling Like “One of the Guys”)

We took the risk of attaching to the world of men in new ways by, for instance:

  • Finding ways to relate to men as peers with at least a few common interests, activities or shared goals
  • Finding or building a meaningful male community for ourselves. (Men need a “tribe,” or a place where they belong and feel welcome and are working with other men towards a shared goal.)
  • Reaching out to other men and being vulnerable enough to build multiple, deeply meaningful, platonic friendships. (Men need a number of close male peers or “brothers,” not a “bromance” with one single best friend.)
  • Establishing mentoring relationships with men we admire. (Men need father figures in their lives, throughout their lives.)

Our Personal Stories

“There was always something in me that was reluctant to go down the road of “coming-out,” and for me it was more complicated than simply being gay. I am a man; I want to be a man; I like being a man. I knew that for me personally, same-sex attraction was a sexualized distortion of the person I wanted to be. Deficiencies in my own feelings of masculinity, along with a negative view of masculinity imposed on me from an early age, made it difficult for me to identify with men and my inherent masculinity.

“I made a point of becoming more involved in the world of men, while still being true to myself. I interact better with men, and feel more in tune with my own masculinity. I enjoy being a man today.

“I have found that the best thing for me has been to throw myself into being more involved with men (non-sexually, of course). If there is something I especially admire about a man, that’s okay. It does not mean I am an inadequate man. So I can relate to other men far better than I used to.

“I still have feelings of same-sex attraction but on a relatively infrequent basis. There has been a considerable reduction. Generally, when I experience SSA today, I can see that it’s because either I am feeling inadequate in my own masculinity, or I am frustrated by something.

“On the other hand, when I feel secure in myself and my own masculinity, I experience an increase in attraction to the opposite sex. When I feel like a man, women become more beautiful, and I become more aware of their real femininity.

“I have better self-esteem and I am far more assertive. Men I used to admire and fear, I no longer see as demigods—they’re just guys who have particular attributes I like. I can talk to them if I want and relate to them as equals.

“I feel more at peace in my own body. I no longer consider myself less than other men, and even when I meet a man I previously would have feared and been attracted to, I can acknowledge his attributes, physical or otherwise, but not feel inferior to him.

“I view women completely differently today, too. In some sense I find it harder to relate to them, as I don’t understand them. But that’s okay. It’s all right for me to not think like a woman. There is nothing wrong with being a man and thinking and acting like one. I notice women now in a different way than I used to. I notice their femininity, and their differences—which can be both rewarding and infuriating at the same time!” — Alex, Scotland

“It was incredibly liberating to come to understand that my attraction to other men at its core wasn’t because of homosexuality per se but because of a deeper unmet need for me to connect with masculinity in order to complete my own growth. I realized that interacting with men in a sexual way wasn’t helping me attain masculinity within myself. That was futile. Like drinking salt water to quench a thirst.

“I don’t have same-sex attractions today in the sense that when I see a good-looking guy I don’t want to engage with him in any sort of sexual way. I see him as an equal—a brother with good and bad qualities, just like me.” — Mohamed, United Kingdom

“I have learned to assert myself and to not allow myself to be taken advantage of. I have improved as a husband and father, with incredible confidence. I have learned to relate to other men as a man among men, rather than seeing myself as less-than or unworthy of masculine love and affirmation. I feel like a man, and for the first time in my life, I am actually thankful to be a man.” — Charles, Ohio, USA

“I used to feel much more in common with women than with other men, though I certainly never thought of myself as a woman. Now I feel fully masculine and realize that masculinity is a spectrum, not simply the hyper-masculinized stereotypes portrayed in the media.

“The sight of a physically attractive man used to immediately trigger sexual arousal and fantasies. Now I see another man, much like myself, with physical characteristics that I either identify with or admire. I also see a whole person, with a history, with relationships, with faults, not just a physical image.

“I have learned that I need intimate, healthy, emotionally connected relationships with other men. As I have taken the steps to be open and vulnerable with the men in my life, I am growing in these relationships. This is filling the void in my heart that I used to medicate with gay porn or acting out sexually with other men. The real connection I long for with other men is not sexual or romantic, but pure, brotherly affection, affirmation and belonging.” — Richard, Oregon, USA

“I began to understand that what I was really seeking was non-sexual affirmation from the world of men. Sexual gratification never filled the underlying void. I felt deep in my core that I was not homosexual; rather, I had sexualized those male qualities I judged I never possessed, including sports ability, a muscular physique and other masculine physical qualities, strength of character, and more—all things that I deemed different from me.

“I attended Journey Into Manhood, which completely improved my self-esteem and concept of sexuality, due in part to the safe community of non-sexual male friendships I developed as a result. I attended an advanced experiential learning weekend called Journey Beyond that further solidified my sense of mature masculinity. I developed confidence to be the man I was intended to be.

“I now have a group of men I meet with weekly, to continue healthy relationships with salient, encouraging men. They are straight, bi and gay, and I love and trust each one with some of the most private and intimate details of my life.” — Chuck, Florida

“Lies that I believed from childhood made me feel insecure and inadequate in the world of men. Some of those lies others told me, and some of them I told myself. Learning to accept myself as a real man was and is so powerful. Finding myself in the world of men (both heterosexual men and men with SSA) and feeling like I belong is so freeing. It takes away the pain and the loneliness of my past.” — Alan, Ukraine

“I used to feel I needed to own the masculinity of another man. As I have learned to connect with other men non-sexually, I have gradually gained the understanding that I really am just like other men: no better, and no worse. Just part of the tribe.” — John, Washington, USA

“I used to see myself as a little boy in a man’s body. After Journey into Manhood, I saw a completely different change in my cognitive thinking about me being a man just as I am, warts and all.” — Jesse, Alabama, USA

“Once I allowed myself to take a chance and become friends with men outside of the gay or same sex attracted groups, I finally realized that I could do those things that other men did and that I could be part of that community. I now enjoy NASCAR, football, and I even go riding with my ‘real men’ friends on our UTV off-road vehicles. Yes, I bought a UTV! I bought football season tickets to our local university. And go with my wife to at least 2 NASCAR races every year. Life is great!” — Glen, Utah, USA

“I read a lot about feeling masculine, but I thought it meant I had to change to be more masculine. In one Journey Into Manhood weekend I was able to make incredible progress toward feeling masculine and belonging in the world of men—and the only thing I changed was my thinking. JiM has put me on the path and given me the tools and confidence to succeed.” — Ryan, Pennsylvania, USA

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