This is all to rare in today’s world. From the Boston Public Library photostream on Flikr.

I write the answer to this question based on my own personal experience as well as my observation of others. I am also assuming that you are coming from a framework where you (a) have a testimony of the gospel and want to live its teachings, (b) are male, and (c) experience a strong degree of homosexual attraction. If you don’t fit these categories, you are welcome to read on, but my answer is written with this kind of person in mind.

The reason why those feelings feel so natural is because they are natural! Stop reading for a moment and consider very carefully this question:  What is it you really want and yearn for from another man? Is it really sex? As men we have a God-given, testosterone-fueled libido (strong sex drive). We are wired to find  sexual expression pleasurable. But put that in perspective for a moment and consider everything that you desire from another man. Is it sex you want most of all, or is what you are really craving intimate closeness and affection from men?

For me, the answer to that question is easy. Affection and closeness to men is what I want, and that doesn’t feel wrong because it isn’t wrong. You can find examples of deep affection and intimacy in every part of the standard works. In the Old Testament, we have David and Jonathan. In the New, we have Jesus and His apostles. You can find Alma and Amulek, or the brothers Nephi and Lehi, or the sons of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. In the restored Church history, look at the closeness and affection Joseph Smith describes for his friends and fellow-workers in the Kingdom.

Now some people try to suggest that these individuals were not only close friends, but sex partners as well. I think they’re totally missing the point. This desire for closeness with other men is something all men feel, though how much of this a particular man may need may vary. I hope it is clear I am talking about all men, even those who experience no level of homosexual attraction. This even extends to (appropriate) physical affection. I grabbed a screen shot of some General Authorities holding hands during General Conference a few years back. These men were being released from the Sunday School Presidency, and it was clear they had a very close and special relationship to each other. Are they “gay” because they are holding hands? No! Is it wrong for General Authorities to hold hands during General Conference? No!

 

What feels wrong (to me at least) is sexualizing or romanticizing those feelings. For me, what I feel and get from men is qualitatively different from what I get from my wife. The one cannot replace the other. I want, and need, both in my life.

I have talked to hundreds of guys over the years who experience homosexual attraction, and when they describe their first sexual experience, the vast majority of them say to me some variation of this: “I didn’t really want sex. I just wanted to be held in the arms of a strong man. I consented to the sex because that’s what I needed to do to keep feeling the physical and emotional closeness.”

Now I am not so naïve to claim that these men didn’t enjoy sex (though it’s surprising to me how many of them say their first experience, at least, is quite a letdown, not at all as enjoyable as they expected), and so gradually once men start having sex that increases in importance. But it’s still a surprise to me that sexual desire itself is so rarely part of what guys tell me motivates them, at least at first. Though I don’t have a lot of experience in this area, that was definitely true in my case as well.

Sorry to put it this bluntly, but it’s a damn shame that we live in a world where it is easier to get a man to have sex with you than it is to have him hold you or let you cry on his shoulder when you are having a hard time. That is not your fault, and it’s not my fault. But we can do something about it.

Despite the difficulty, I have managed to find men whom I do have that kind of closeness to, who support me and whom I can tell anything to and share everything with. They will even will give me safe, non-sexual hugs when I need it, and yet I can trust them to respect my sexual and romantic boundaries. Many of these men do not experience homosexual attractions, and can find it helpful to them as well. If we can step outside our cultural labels of what is “gay” and what is “straight” it seems perfectly normal for one man to comfort another by putting his arm around the other man and allowing him to cry and grieve. It’s only in our culture that is so hypersexualized and attuned to “gay” that this becomes uncomfortable for some people.

Even outside of difficult emotional times, most men have a need to spend time with other men. This is a large reason why sports clubs, ice fishing, hunting, and “man caves” were invented. It is a zone of masculinity created where men can spend time with and connect with other men.

If you are fortunate enough to serve in Church leadership (like the General Authorities pictured above), then it is possible that those needs can be met in Church service. But if not, it can be difficult because the Church culture does not approve of time spent outside the home. If you are not doing your calling, or doing your home teaching, then there is this unwritten expectation that you are supposed to be home with your family. Yet I do not see this written anywhere, and there are plenty of examples that indicate otherwise.

I am fortunate that I have a wife who understands me and supports my need for “guy time”. A large reason she is okay with it is because we are happily married and have a fully functioning marriage. She sees that not only am I a good and faithful husband and father, but that when I come back from my time with the guys, I am recharged and more fully engaged with the family. The time away makes the time I am with the family more effective.

It does require balance and compromise on everyone’s part. I am fortunate that I have a wife who understands this aspect of male needs and supports me. I also have to realize that I may not always get my needs met. (My friend Rex Goode likes to say that the Savior didn’t always get His needs met, but He was still obedient. Having little free time is no excuse for breaking my covenants.) There is no hard-and-fast rule for how much time I appropriate to spend with other men, and how much is too much. It needs to be with good friends who affirm my values and support the direction I want to achieve in life. It needs to be a group where I can be myself fully and have lots of fun, but in an honest and authentic way. It’s not about mere distraction or entertainment.

In other words, not only does it need to be the right amount of “guy time”, it also needs to be the right kind of “guy time.” I can’t give any hard and fast rule to this because everyone will be different, and as people change and mature, their needs evolve as well. But one thing my wife watches for is if I come home more engaged, recharged and energized with her and my family, more fully real and present, exercising leadership, then it’s not too much. On the other hand, I know men who return from their time away from their families only to be sullen, withdrawn, and short-tempered. It is likely this man is avoiding addressing issues in his life (and probably marriage) and the guy time is only a way to escape temporarily from these problems.

For me, however, in trying to strike that balance, I find that I hardly ever have to “white knuckle” obedience, or suppress any part of myself. I certainly don’t have to hate myself or lie to myself or others about “who I really am.” If I put Heavenly Father first, I really can have it all (though not necessarily right now).

This is not easy and not everyone is successful, but for me, it is worth it.  It has entailed sacrifices, but if I had chosen to live as an openly gay man with a partner, that also would have involved sacrifices. I had to decide what I wanted, and what was worth it. That’s a much better  way to make a decision than just going with what seems easier, because what appears easiest right now is not always the easiest long term.

Leave a Reply

14 comments

  1. avatar

    I can relate with so much of what has been written here, having lived my life similar to these sentiments. You are fortunate to have an understanding wife who accepts your needs for “guy time”. For me, my “guy time” is limited to work relationships, church calling connections, and home teaching. Not to imply my wife is not understanding, but I’ve needed to put her feelings above my “needs” for the greater good of our personal situation and circumstance at this time. I hope to be able to come to a better “understanding” with her, to not hurt her or have her mistrust me, when the “guy time” need is necessary for both of us.

    -1
  2. avatar

    Rex

    Amen, Jeff! And you left Jeff and Rex out of your list. :)

    And what about the kind of hug that lifts you up, literally?

    Being in a helping profession, working as a professional mentor to adult males, I really know that it is important for men to have “guy time.” It makes a huge difference in the behavior of my clients if they are getting regular time with their male mentors.

    I get a lot of it through my work, and even though it benefits me as well, my work time is really for my clients. Some of my colleagues working through the same agencies also agree that we need non-professional guy time, time to spend with our male friends outside of work we we aren’t responsible for their safety and dealing with their issues.

    -1
  3. avatar

    Scott

    What a beautiful article. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  4. avatar

    GMP

    Jeff, this is an awesome post! I fully echo your sentiments.

    I have a question though. What should I do if that need for guy time turns into a crush on the guy I’m spending time with? I have a friend and we like doing a variety of things together, hiking, playing video games, going to the batting cages, church service, etc. We have what an outsider would call a good bromance, but to me it’s a little unfulfilling because I have that crush and attraction to him. Any tips from anyone on how to make sure guy time doesn’t become gay time for one of the parties?

  5. avatar

    J

    Good post, Jeff. Until you brought it up, I had never thought about how men spending time with “the guys” is unofficially discouraged in church circles. Maybe it’s part of the general “demasculinization” of men that I think has occurred in “Mormon culture” (but that’s a whole other subject.:)) One thing that was not touched on, but I think has contributed to my need for male affection, is a lack of affection from my father. I think that lack of physical affection has left a hole that has been very difficult for me to fill. As a father I try to give that affection to my two sons so that they don’t have that void.

    Growing up, I shied away from group activities, like sports, because I always felt like I didn’t fit in. That just perpetuated my feelings of isolation and not fitting in. I’ve tried to not continue that as an adult and put myself in situations where I can hang out with other men and feel that male bonding. It’s not always comfortable at first, but it’s worth it!

    J

  6. avatar

    Sam S.

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. As for me, yes, I crave it all! It’s a craving for the whole package. The love and affection, the emotional connection and the physical connection as well. When I got married, I always heard how sexual relations with my wife would be so fulfilling because the physical coupled with the emotional connection would serve to strengthen our bond as husband and wife. We would be more spiritually connected as well. But actually that never happened to me. Once I was able to have sex with a man that I loved and had a deep emotional connection with, it was mind blowing! I felt alive and energized. All of my senses were firing and I knew I was doing what I was made to do.

    So I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about. And by the way, I can still feel the love of my Savior and my Heavenly Father eventhough I love and bond with men. It’s deceitful to try and insinuate that that is not possible because my affections naturally go towards memebers of my own gender. I can follow the gospel of Jesus Christ no matter whom I love. He never condemned those who “suffer” with SSA. You seem to be perpetuating false scientific beliefs and spiritual lies to boot.

    • avatar

      Jeff

      Sam, I just wanted to clarify something. I don’t believe that intimacy with men is any way a substitute for a romantic and physical relationship with a women. Quite the opposite.

      I do, however feel that in comparison to what I used to experience when there was a romantic or physical component to my same-sex relationships, my nonsexual non-romantic male friendships are superior in every way to me, even though they lack the intensity or a romantic or erotic component. And I say that even though I came to know some wonderful men in that prior environment. I don’t mean superior just with the “nice” stuff you might expect, like support, intimacy, affection, and so on. They are also superior with the “tough” stuff in the sense that they are more challenging, more difficult to navigate, and therefore more conducive to my growth. Men can be infuriating, hurtful, hard to understand and communicate with, and changeable. It’s part of the package, and these elements bless and strengthen me as well. So I’m not trying to say this is a rose-colored wonderland.

  7. avatar

    Jaramiah

    I met a guy at the gym that I connected with and thought I had found a friend that I could go out to lunch with, play racquetball with, maybe go on a hike with, and invite over to say hello to the family. Was disappointment when it turned out he didn’t want any of those things, but was interested in what I was trying to avoid. Sigh. I haven’t found much ability to make those connections with men at church. If you are lingering too long with a fellow brother, and its not in the course of playing sports, then you should be out doing your home teaching, having a PPI, cleaning the building, planning a ward activity, or leaving to get home to the family.

  8. avatar

    Rex

    GMP, I’m not Jeff, but I have a thought about your question.

    Proverbs 11:14 says that “…in a multitude of counsellors there is safety.”

    I paraphrase it as “…in a multitude of friends there is safety.”

    No one man will meet all of your needs. Spread yourself around. It’s not fair to the rest of us for you to let one man have you all to himself.

  9. avatar

    I was extremely fortunate in my final year of singlehood to live with an amazing group of guys. We were very close, and we all felt very comfortable being ourselves around each other. The interesting thing for this discussion is, I never felt sexually attracted to any of them (even though some of them were pretty hot commodities on the female BYU market at the time!). To feel that way toward any of them would have been to ruin the good thing we already had. Our relationship was so complete as it was. Even though most of us are married now, we still get together from time to time, and it feels so good! But it doesn’t detract from my relationship with my wife. It fills a different niche in my psyche.

    As I try to think about how I got to where I am with this group, I realized that part of the reason we were close, at first, was because of some very difficult experiences that we had gone through together–sometimes if you really want to be good friends with a guy, something has to happen to break down his natural barriers. I also had to interact with them in ways they could understand, which sometimes meant deliberately restraining my potential expressions of affection. I had to build trust with them through little acts of kindness, like listening to them when they had an opinion, or not trying to one-up them when they were excited about something. When you find the right guy friends, it’s extremely rewarding, because they start doing the same for you, and it builds from there. Now our friendship is something we all treasure, without some of us expecting more from it than others. I wish the same for everyone who reads this post.

  10. avatar

    Warren Cory

    Jeff:

    This was an excellent post. I can tell you put some thought in how to communicate it.

    Warren

  11. avatar

    Jeff

    Thank you all for the comments on this post, I’m really pleased with the discussion and comments that it has prompted. And thanks Rex for responding better than I am to “GMP”. I haven’t had access to a computer for quite a while. And if none of you have had a hug from Rex ever, it is an unforgettable (but, for me, all to rare!) experience.

  12. avatar

    Amen Jeff. I totally relate to your thoughts in this post. Thank you, and thank you for being one of the men in my life who I count as a true brother and friend.

  13. avatar

    Awesome post, Jeff. I copied the picture of the general authorities and quoted you (by name) the one part of your post in which you cussed.

    That’ll learn ya.

    You do great work dude.