The following excerpt is taken from Alan Medinger’s book, Growth into Manhood: Resuming the Journey.
“I had your phone number in my dresser drawer for three years. I kept putting it off, but I finally had to call you.”
Statements like this are heard often in the offices of Regeneration. Regeneration is a part of the worldwide Exodus coalition of Christian ministries whose primary focus is to help men and women overcome homosexuality. I sometimes think that if every Christian dealing with homosexuality who has our phone number tucked away in a wallet or dresser drawer were to decide to call us on the same day, the phone lines would overload.
This type of call suggests three things about the caller. First, obviously, he is at some level unhappy with his homosexuality. Second, powerful obstacles – most often ambivalence and fear – have kept him from calling for help. Third, he has finally reached the point at which his homosexuality has given him such distress that he is willing to confront the obstacles; he is willing to address the ambivalence or face the fears.
Barriers To Seeking Help
Let’s look at these obstacles and the specific areas of distress that the overcomer experiences. The first obstacle has to do with the nature of addictive-type sins. Although a man may hate his homosexuality with all of his heart and mind, at the same time there are ways in which he loves it. For many of us, homosexual acting out was for years and years our way of coping with life, a way of escape, of self-comforting, of finding temporary relief from the terrible pain or emptiness we felt inside. We hated it and at the same time we loved it, and in our ambivalence we were paralyzed.
I hated my homosexuality. It led me to do foolish and degrading things. It drove me to take risks that I knew could cost me everything: my wife, my children, my career, even my life. But for ten years in the marriage I clung to it. How could I live without it?
The second great obstacle to seeking help is fear. There is the simple fear of the unknown. “If I get involved with this ministry, what will these people get me to do, or what will they do to me? What kind of people are they? Are they some narrow-minded group of fundamentalists, gay bashers in Christian disguise, or at the other extreme, are they peddlers of some kooky new psychological theory?”
There is also the fear of revealing oneself, a fear usually rooted in pride or shame. “I have been a Christian for ten years. I should be able to take care of this myself. To admit this problem and to seek help is to admit what a failure I am as a Christian. Perhaps people will even question whether or not I am a Christian.” These fears are often most intense in someone who has grown up in a conservative Christian community where the stigma of homosexuality is most severe.
Low self-esteem is very much a part of most male homosexuality. This is one of the principal themes in Dr. William Console’s book, Homosexual No More. A principal defense against the pain of low self-esteem has been to construct an image—for our own benefit and for others—of a man who is good and righteous and together. So, to stand before another person and say, “I am homosexual,” is to tear down the false identity that has offered us the only shred of self-esteem we ever had.
Finally, We’ve Had Enough – Sources of Distress
Despite these obstacles men do seek help. What is the distress that is so powerful that a man would consider forsaking his addiction and would be willing to walk through such a minefield of fears? If the man is a Christian—and the overwhelming majority of men who come to Exodus ministries have some sort of faith or belief in Christian morality—the distress comes in one or both of two areas.
First, and perhaps most obvious, it is distress over his behavior. He is in terrible conflict over the contradiction between what he believes is good behavior and what he is doing. He may feel like Paul, who wrote in Romans 7 about being driven to do the very things he hates. However, he may feel that Paul’s problems must have been minor compared to his. This would be so especially if his behavior goes beyond masturbation and fantasy. (In this book I include fantasy and masturbation as parts of homosexual behavior. Sexual activity with another person will be referred to as acting out.) I would estimate that over 90 percent of the men who come to ex-gay ministries come because they sense a great conflict between their behavior and what they believe God wants for them.
The second area of distress has to do with the direction of his sexual attractions. He is sexually attracted to men but wants to be attracted to women. With regard to men, the attraction is creating an intense inner longing that he feels will never go away and that he believes, as a Christian, he can never fulfill. The longing may be purely sexual or it may be emotional. Although we tend to think of male homosexuality as focusing on physical attraction and female homosexuality on emotional attraction, in many men there is an almost overwhelming ache to be held by, nurtured by, loved by a man, or by transference, to hold, nurture, and love another man.
I have heard men whose degree of sexual promiscuity would be unbelievable by heterosexual standards pour out their pain and cry, “It was not the sex I wanted; it was just someone to love me.” I believe them. This unfulfilled longing can be as intense as the purely sexual. Of course, the two cannot be totally separated. Leanne Payne and others have pointed out many times how our sexual desires are often deeper emotional desires that have become eroticized.
The attraction to the same sex is only one side of his distress concerning the nature of his attractions; the other is his lack of attraction to the opposite sex. He feels absolutely no romantic or sexual attractions toward women, but he wants one day to get married and have children. Like other men, he has a sense that much of a man’s purpose and fulfillment in life comes through marriage and fatherhood. He wants to feel drawn to a woman, but there is nothing there. The absence of any opposite-sex attraction lies at the root of his sense that he can never lead a normal life, that he is stuck in this place and will never be able to get on with life.
There is a third area of distress that may not come up until the man has started to deal with the first two. This has to do with his identity as a man. Because this is not as directly ‘sexual’ as behavior and attractions, he may not at first link it closely with his homosexual condition. Besides, it is so much a part of “who he is” that he may not have even thought that it could be changed. It is not an identity that says simply, “I am gay,” but one that goes much deeper. It says, “I am not a man, or at least, “I am not a man like other men.” He doesn’t measure up.
Going back to adolescence, sometimes even earlier, he felt different from other boys (and different always translated as “less than” or “inferior to”). These feelings continued through the teen years and into adulthood. Even today, in the company of other men, he feels that somehow he is not a part of their world.
Aspects of The Identity Issue
His problems in this regard center in two areas of life. First, he experiences great discomfort or awkwardness in the company of men, particularly groups of men and particularly in unstructured situations. He always feels as though he is outside their world looking in. Often he doesn’t share the same interests that other men have, and this sustains his feeling of always standing apart from them.
Second, the identity issue is manifested in his belief and frequently in his experience that in many areas he cannot do the things that men do. Not just in the company of other men, but in the family and elsewhere he feels a great inadequacy in exercising the masculine virtues, particularly taking initiative and exercising authority. This may find its expression in his assuming a very passive role in life or, as it does in some men, in his taking on a brittle type of assertiveness that tries to cover up feelings of weakness and insecurity.
Obviously these characteristics can be present in men whose sexual orientation is heterosexual, but there is a fundamental difference in the nature of this shortcoming in the two types of men. In the man with a heterosexual orientation, these insecurities rest on an often subconscious belief: “I am inadequate as a man.” In the homosexually oriented man, however, the underlying belief is “I am not a man.”
Most boys and many men struggle long and hard to prove – largely to themselves – that they are adequate as men. Most of us who grew up homosexually-oriented gave up that struggle early on. Believing that we never really could be men, we sought another man’s manhood.
Whenever I am asked to describe what happens in the healing of the homosexual man, I address the three areas just described: behavior, attractions, and identity. I explain that the struggler can expect to achieve total or near total victory in the area of behavior, a significant if not complete shift in the direction of his sexual attractions, and he can become totally comfortable and at peace with his male identity – his manhood. I am convinced that such change is possible for any man who truly seeks it and who surrenders his life and his sexuality to Jesus.
The Centrality of Identity
Although the healing of the homosexual man is in many ways an indirect process – flowing out of the broader changes in his spiritual life – almost every homosexual overcomer is going to have to confront all three elements of the problem. He will not recover until behavior, attractions, and identity have all been dealt with and to some extent transformed. Although his natural inclination may be to focus on behavior and attractions – because this is where he feels the most distress – I believe that the richest fruit will be borne in his life if he focuses most strongly (and early on) in the area of identity.
This is true for two reasons. First, identity is more amenable to direct attack than behavior or attractions. I have yet to meet the man who one day said, “Today I am going to start being attracted to women rather than to men,” and, barring the rare bona fide miracle, found that anything really changed. As for behavior, although trying to be obedient will always remain an essential part of the healing process, a change in behavior without a corresponding deep change in identity may be little more than “white knuckle” abstinence. Identity, on the other hand, as I will show, can be changed significantly through a program of conscious choices and specific actions.
The second reason the change process can be furthered so significantly by dealing with the identity issue is because a man’s incomplete male identity is what drives and directs homosexual behavior and attractions. This broken or incomplete male identity is the steering mechanism that gives direction to our sexual attractions and the engine that powers our sinful behavior. Let’s look at this in some detail.
Seeking The Other
With respect to attractions, the essence of sexual attraction seems to be “differences” or “otherness.” Certainly for the heterosexually-oriented man, some sexual attraction may lie in his knowledge that his penis interacting with a woman’s vagina can bring extraordinary pleasure. But we all know that there is so much more to sexual attraction than this. What about a woman’s breasts? Why are they an object of sexual attraction to a man? These are simply organs that are there to nurse a baby; they have no direct sexual function. What about her hips, the roundness and smoothness of her skin? What about even some things that she does that are intentional, such as letting her hair grow long or wearing lipstick?
Why should these things stir up sexual attractions in most men? There may be a number of reasons. A woman’s body – her breasts, her roundedness – can stir up a man’s desire to be nurtured; her differences may intrigue his appetite for mystery; her vulnerability might trigger his desire for conquest. All of these make sense, but what most draws man to woman sexually is that she is “other.” She possesses things that a man does not have in himself.
Those characteristics that a woman has that a man doesn’t have, that symbolize woman, draw him to her. They express the feminine and they draw his masculine. The masculine part of a man longs for that other. Looking at it spiritually, the man may be longing for completion, for restoration of that part of him that was removed when woman was created. Or perhaps because male and female together can reflect God more ably than man or woman alone – we were both created in God’s image – a man’s longing may be for a completion that more fully reflects his Creator.
I am a man, and I look to find my completion in woman. But what if the man does not have the inner sense that he is a man? Will he experience the same attractions to a woman? Will she be his “other”? No, and this is critical. If he feels that he is not complete as a man, his first longing will be not for women but for complete manhood; he will be drawn to the masculine in other males. This will be his “other.” This will be his missing rib. This will be his means of attaining completion. It follows, then, that the development of our manhood – finding completion in ourselves – will do great things both to decrease our same-sex attractions and to start drawing us sexually to women.
Craving For Identity
I said that our incomplete male identity, besides determining the direction of our sexual attractions, is also the engine that drives our homosexual behavior. The enormous power of the homosexual drive is seen in the incredibly foolish, even insane things that many homosexual men will do to make some kind of contact with maleness.
What causes an otherwise sensible man to pick up a tough-looking young stranger and take him to his apartment, knowing full well he risks being robbed and beaten or even worse? Why does an intelligent, married business or professional man risk arrest and public humiliation by making sexual contact with another man in a public restroom? Why did I repeatedly go into a gay bar on a main thoroughfare in Baltimore, knowing I could be seen by anyone and have my whole deception uncovered?
We did these things because of the enormity of the craving within us. We were driven to make some kind of contact with anything that represented or symbolized maleness: a hard, tough look, muscles, a man’s penis. These were symbols of manhood – the manhood that we did not have – and we were driven, often obsessively, to gaze on them, touch them, smell them, taste them, become one with them in some way. Our incomplete manhood cried out for this, cried out for its missing elements.
Leanne Payne illustrates this craving for manhood with her cannibalism theory. In The Broken Image she describes how cannibals ate only the people they admire, believing that by eating them they can acquire some of their traits. This “consuming” drive for manhood in the homosexual male becomes obvious: A man who feels he lacks complete manhood satisfies his need for it through his homosexual behavior, hoping to acquire some of the other man’s manhood.
The key point to remember, however, is that the craving for another’s manhood is only present in a man who feels he lacks his own manhood. Is that not the case with all covetousness? We crave the things we don’t have or believe we don’t have. So intense is that craving – so powerful the engine that can drive a man to homosexual behavior – that even when such behavior flies in the face of both his fundamental human desire to protect himself and his most basic religious beliefs, he still cannot stop himself.
The identity issue manifests itself in another way. Many of us see the failure to have been affirmed by men (or conversely the feeling that we were rejected) as a key element in the development of our homosexuality. In this regard, the powerful homosexual drive is a desperate plea from the little boy within: “Won’t some man show me that I have some value as a man to a man?” This is not just a craving to ease the pain of low self-esteem. A man may be quite valued by the women in his life, and he may recognize that he has extraordinary gifts in certain areas, but the cry of the little boy is still there. His value must be shown by a man, and the area being valued must express manhood.
As with so many parts of life, especially areas of deeper need, this need can be sexualized. From that point on, a sexual liaison or simply receiving a signal that another man desires him, even if only as a sex object, somehow temporarily satisfies the craving. This accounts for much of what I call “dry cruising” that homosexual men do, going where other men may come on to them, even at a time when sexual contact is not desired. Sometimes, on the way home from work, when I knew I could not explain being more than a half hour late, I would still stop at a gay bar. I was not looking for a contact but only hoping that some man would show me that he wanted me.
No Shortcut To Growing Up
God could zap any one of us and give us total victory over our sexual sins in an instant. There was such a zapping in my healing in that I was set free from desire for sex with men at the time of my conversion. But because He has a far better plan for us, this is not the way God usually operates. He is not content to see us merely fulfill our desire to stop our sinful behavior, nor is He satisfied to find us merely being turned on to women sexually.
He wants us to become the men he created us to be, true men in every respect. He may allow sinful behavior to continue so as to bring us to the point at which we will surrender the powerful stranglehold that has us in bondage. Likewise, He may allow the pain of undeveloped manhood to continue in order to make us finally willing to go through the painful process of growing up into the men He created us to be.
When my children were growing up, I hated to see them get hurt physically. However, I still took the training wheels off their bikes. I would rather see them get a little bloody and bruised than have them never able to ride a bike. I would rather see them try, fall, and try again than see them grow up to be fearful individuals.
If this is your circumstance, does it seem as though God is playing games with you? Is He letting you dangle in the wind in your homosexuality until you finally figure out what you are supposed to do? Certainly not. One of the principal metaphors that God uses to describe the relationship that He wants with us is that of a father and a son. What does any man desire for his son more than that he grow into the fullness of his manhood?
If we then, who are sinful, desire this for our sons, how much more must God desire this for us? He who planted in each of us all the attributes of manhood could not want anything less than that these attributes grow and blossom to their fullest. And just as a good father disciplines the son he loves, so will our Father let us suffer in our brokenness until we hear His voice and start to seek the very best that He has for us, our full manhood.
God established the family in which each father would teach his son what it means to be a man. We know that life hasn’t always worked out this way. Sin came into the world, and fatherhood, like everything else, became imperfect. However, God’s ultimate plan for us has not changed. While His original plan for our lives may have failed through human sin, redemption is ours through Jesus Christ. God will be our Father, and He will walk us through the process that will bring us into our full manhood. All things become new in Jesus Christ.