I know that a lot of men who experience same-sex attraction and are striving to stay faithful to the teachings of the Church relate that have doubts about their masculinity. Some express it in terms of, “not really feeling like a man.” I struggled with my sense of masculinity and even whether I was a real man.
It never really took the form of thinking I was a woman or a girl or even something between male and female. I guess I always thought I was a boy and would never grow into true manhood. That’s basically what the male who molested me over a period of six years told me. It’s an odd thing to realize that what a person who is abusing you says about you carries more weight than what others say. I think it has something to do with how an abuser chooses topics that no one else would probably even talk to you about, but you suspect that everyone is thinking what he’s saying. I wrote of this in my essay “Abiding” on the Voices of Hope website.
This journey to figure out my own masculinity runs through many threads in my life. One of the most interesting, to me, has to do with my hair. When I was little, I had light-colored, short hair. My mother took me to a barber often. As I grew older, it got darker.
My childhood happened mostly in the 1960’s and the length of my hair tended to follow the crowd. It wasn’t because I was prone to be a hippy. It’s just that as things progressed in my family and my mother had to take a job, the haircuts were much less frequent. Hand me a dollar and tell me to get a haircut after school and the dollar will have bought candy on the way home.
My mother complained a lot about men with long hair, but she eventually let me try to fit in, much to my stepfather’s dismay. The main reason I stopped going to church after being ordained a deacon was that I already had a friend and occasional sex partner who was available on Sundays. Another reason was that my hair was long and the other deacons made fun of me for it, though I knew they all wished their families would let them grow it out.
By my sophomore year in high school, it was down to my shoulders and quite dark. I was also quite dark, thanks to the hot Arizona sun. One day, a Hispanic girl at school handed me a flyer announcing a protest march and said in a Mexican accent, “Don’t show this to any Gringos.”
I tried to say, “OK” with an accent.
My facial hair bloomed later. By the time I was a junior, I had left my homosexual encounters behind and went back to church. I had my hair cut in the style of the day, covering my ears and feathered. They let you bless and pass the sacrament that way, but you always knew that once you turned in your mission papers or went to BYU, you’d have to cut it down. I never did either.
What concerned me was that my facial hair didn’t make me look manly. I was baby-faced well into my senior year. This caused me great concern, because I had already bought into the idea that stubble was manly and I couldn’t raise any stubble to save my life.
I kept my reasonably conservative look for a few years well into my marriage. My first attempt at a beard happened when I was in the local choir to perform in Third Nephi, a musical play depicting the visit of the Savior to the Americas after his resurrection. I’m no really sure that Nephites had beards, but the men in the choir were asked to grow beards.
A crusty old gentleman from my ward told me, upon seeing my beard, that I should shave it off. He said, “It makes you look like a homosexual. All of those homosexuals downtown have beards.” I wondered how he knew that.
After the play, I shaved it off. My next attempt was when I went public about my same-sex attraction, about 1995. At that point, I faced a lot of comments from people I knew that made me start to question my masculinity even more. Now that they knew I was gay, it was open season on my masculinity. I struck back with facial hair.
I started with a goatee. Mind you, most of these decisions were based on my idea of what was attractive. I knew I was very much attracted to men with goatees. Something about them looked so masculine. The problem was, mine made me look like my image of Satan, or at least one of his followers. Somehow, it wasn’t the confidence-builder I had hoped it would be.
I speculated that a beard would make me feel more manly. It did, especially when I paired it with a red, plaid, flannel shirt. My wife had always wanted to marry a lumberjack named Stephen. She even wanted him to spell his name with a “ph” instead of a “v”. Stephen is my first name, but I definitely didn’t look the lumberjack type until I grew my beard. My new look, coupled with my experience as a Scoutmaster, and I was suddenly a mountain man named Stephen.
I was asked to be a substitute Seminary teacher. The ward had a new one that moved in, but in a few short weeks, he moved out again. I really enjoyed teaching Seminary. My Scouting experience had helped me figure out how to relate to youth in ways I never did when I was one of them. I was excited the moment I was asked if I wanted the calling permanently, but disappointed when I was told I would have to shave my beard off. They said it was Church Educational System policy that all male seminary teachers had to be clean shaven. It was a hard decision.
The decision was made for me when work took me to Ohio, where we lived for four years. While there, I was dubbed by a coworker as The Giant Mutant Prairie Dog From Hell. It had to do with my beard and standing up in my cubicle, combined with my penchant for getting downright hostile when I experience hypoglycemia.
When I returned to Oregon, I went down to a goatee again and then back to clean shaven. That was around the time I really settled into my masculinity and I figured I could choose to lose the beard. I could choose to keep it too. I just felt it was too much work to keep the grey streaks out of it, so off it went.
Now, I’m going to state right here that my hair saga and eventual acceptance of myself as a man didn’t cure my same-sex attraction, thank goodness. Along with accepting myself as a man, I also accepted myself as a man who is attracted to men. I’ll admit right now that I like the hairy ones, as long as they are also well-groomed. If you’re clean-shaven, don’t despair. I like you too. In fact, I just plain like men, myself included.