“Oh, stop crying already.” It’s twenty years ago, but I remember the exact tone of my father’s voice, equal parts impatience and disgust. To me, crying is something that happens, not something I can decide to do or not do, so his command makes me burn with all the anger of which a nine-year-old is capable, which is a frightening amount. But there’s nobody I can tell about any of this.

It’s eighteen years ago. I am auditioning for a play that our church group is putting on. The woman in charge has me read a line or two in front of everyone. I’m profoundly self-conscious, but I do it anyway. She takes me aside later and asks if I’m okay. Even though she’s someone I know and like and trust, I can’t say something as simple as That was really hard for me, because as soon as I open my mouth, I feel the danger of tears — not just a trickle but an explosion. So I say, Yeah, it’s nothing.

When she goes away, I wonder for the first time: why is it that whenever I try to tell someone what’s wrong, the tears dam up in my head until it’s a choice between silence and total breakdown — even when it’s something small? What’s wrong with me?

It’s thirteen years ago, my first year of college. I’m standing alone in my dorm room and facing for the hundredth time the feeling of separateness: I don’t fit in here, don’t fit in anywhere, and it’s somehow all my fault. By now I should have learned the rules, but it’s too late to start.

I start to cry, and then, disgusted and impatient, I yell at myself: Stop it. Stop crying. I slap myself in the face two or three times, because sometimes that helps me stop. Soon I stop.

It’s nine years ago, my last year of college. I’m in Sal’s room, confessing to him how alone I am, how separate, what a fake and a poser and a general failure at being anything that anyone would recognize as a human being.

I hate the way my voice is starting to shake, I hate that the tears are coming. I must sound so pathetic. I can’t stand for him to watch me anymore, so I get up and run out. I catch a glimpse of his face, but I can’t look for too long. Nobody should see this.

It’s five years ago. I’ve gotten together the necessary money and resolve, and I find myself at a campground in rural Virginia, participating in the 27th Journey Into Manhood weekend — still in disbelief that I’ve subjected myself to such manifest kookery, still wildly expectant, still wondering how I’m going to explain this one to my friends.

I watch other men scream and howl, weep and claw at the ground, come face to face with the things they never let themselves feel before. When it’s my turn, I do it too.

The weekend is over, and I feel as empty and fresh as a new wineskin. For the next few weeks I keep bursting into tears at unpredictable moments. I don’t mind. It feels good to cry; it feels clean.

It’s nine months ago. I am on the porch, spilling my guts to my roommate S.: how living here with him and C. was supposed to was supposed to be my chance to finally be normal, and how it all went wrong instead. How I’ve got to move out because I can’t control my fears, my feelings of exclusion, my jealousy. I apologize for my tears, which are flowing freely now.

He looks at me and says, Hey, come on. It’s me.

So I blow my nose and we keep talking. Soon I’m feeling at peace, like the reservoir is drained, no more pressure left behind the dam. He gives me a hug and, because by this time it’s past two, I let the poor bastard get some sleep.

It’s three days ago. I am sitting around the kitchen table with two good friends. We’re drinking cheap beer and leftover wine. We all have to get up in the morning, but nobody feels like leaving.

It’s hard to believe how easy it is to talk with them, how much we have in common, even if the specifics differ. I tell them how it used to be for me; how it still is for so many men I know; how I would have once given anything for a night like this; how grateful I still am that such nights are not only possible now, but practically commonplace.

At one point I notice that I’m crying, but that’s okay — that is what people do when they are very happy or very sad.

Next moment we are all laughing again.

14 thoughts on “A History of Tears

  1. Christine

    I remember one day in a pre-school activity we were supposed to be singing, “If you’re happy and you know it.” The lyrics said, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” An adult in the room came up to me and told me I had to clap my hands. I told her that I wasn’t happy, and the lyrics said to clap my hands if I was happy, so I shouldn’t clap if I wasn’t happy. She didn’t seem to think that was a good enough reason. That’s my earliest memory of being told that I had to pretend to be happy even when I wasn’t. I think people do a lot of damage to children by teaching them from an early age that unhappiness is taboo.

    Reply
  2. Tammy

    Steve,

    My heart grieves for how difficult your life’s journey has been so far. It’s very brave of you to put all your pain and stuggles out there for all to see. I wish I could give you a hug and tell you how wonderful you are! I am very happy you are finally finding some peace. Thank you for sharing your story, it has been very enlightening.

    Reply
  3. Alex

    Oof. This is a tough read. (And not a very easy write, I’m sure.) I empathize on so many parts, even as I can acknowledge that no two people’s experiences are quite the same. I know this isn’t a NEW idea, but once again you raise that paradox of countless people all going through the same feeling of isolation and otherness. And considering that there’s no trial so difficult that isolation can’t make it worse, this is downright devastating. I still haven’t quite figured out how to “make peace” with the painful past, but for starters, I can’t help but be grateful–almost painfully so!–of the friendships that have utterly changed my outlook more recently. And cheesy as it sounds, I’m grateful that I can still feel gratitude even as bitterness lingers in the background. Maybe there really is nothing else but timeand prayer to enable that change?

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  4. Alex

    Just another thought. I often hear fellow Catholics say that all women are called to be “mothers” in some sense, even if not literally. Something I don’t hear as much is the universal call of men to fatherhood, even if not as biological fathers or priests (spiritual fathers). But maybe we do? We–I generalize here for all men with homosexual attractions, despite the wide spectrum of that experience–might not be able to embark on the life of marriage and parenting (might), but we nonetheless often have quite a bit of insight into what fatherhood should or shouldn’t entail, as Steve’s post reminds me. No man gets it perfectly right, of course, but I think we can see quite well some things that might be harder for other men to see.

    Our own experiences are quite clear on the fact that time doesn’t heal ALL wounds, at least not all the way. “Brokenness” can still be found in many people around us. Are we not in a position to help heal some of these wounds? Are we not capable of being protectors (as fathers are often portrayed), even to a small extent, against some of these hurts? Of course, sometimes we don’t perceive this, and sometimes it isn’t our place to do anything, but I suspect if we look outside ourselves from time to time, we might discover some opportunities where it is our place to be “fatherly” to someone who desperately needs it.

    Reply
  5. GABY

    I think it’s a totally hot when a guy cries. Guys really need to know that the two sure-fire ways to attract girls are: a) borrow a baby; b) cry. (So you’re gay, so what? You can still attract girls to have as friends!)

    Reply
  6. Anna

    I’ve cried so much I eventually stopped being embarrassed about it–”Yeah, snot is running down my face with tears mixed in, and you can’t understand my voice. It happens.” It usually came from depression and struggles with bisexuality.
    I even used to slap myself–and sometimes bite my . This post really rang true. I’m so glad it’s been easier for you–I think even though I’m not there yet, there is a hopeful future to see. It helped me immeasurably when I got a boyfriend who welcomed me crying on him, because it meant I trusted him with my emotions. I find that people who love you usually don’t bat an eye at it.

    Reply
  7. EM

    This was an interesting post to read for me, as a mom of 3 young boys who cry about just about anything. It can be incredibly frustrating because it really doesn’t take much to set them off and for the 3-year-old, I’m not talking about a little sniffling for a few minutes and then he’s done. No, once he starts, he goes on and on as if the world was going to end and many times there is absolutely NOTHING I can do to help calm him down. I’d like to be able to hold him and hug him until he’s done but that only seems to intensify his crying. This may sound terrible but it seems like when I just leave him alone to his own crying, without saying anything about it either way, he eventually stops on his own faster than when I try and help calm him. Sometimes I can read him a book and he’ll stop but if not, there’s not much hope.
    Anyway, I often agonize over this because I know how I treat him and react to his crying will leave an impression on him for years to come. I want him to grow up to be strong and brave, but I also want him to know it’s ok to have emotions and to share them with me. Raising boys is hard work in these times.

    Reply
  8. Christie

    Reading this post made me angry, defensive, defensive for _you_. No one has the right to tell anyone, or otherwise make anyone feel as though, they don’t have the right to cry. It sounds like you’ve learned this, maybe the hard way, but I’m so, so relieved you have.

    Reply
  9. Audra N.

    Steve,

    I am so thankful to have stumbled upon your site several months ago. I am a former “pagan atheist” convert to Catholicism, and one of the biggest challenges I faced during my spiritual journey to the Church was the standpoint on gays. I was a very liberal, feministic, civil-rights-activist type when I began my search for God. I had been involved in the gay rights movement and had (have) several very good friends who were gay.

    It continued to bother me after my conversion, as I was allowing God to slowly whittle away my personal stances on just about everything, and conform them to His own loving view.

    What I found over time was that our unhappiness springs from separation from God. Not just our “sinful decisions which separate us” kind of feeling, but the fact that living this life, in this world, leaves us inherently separated from complete union with Him. This is why heterosexuals and homosexuals, single, widowed, divorced and married, celibate and actively sexual, lonely or surrounded by friends, we are all unhappy on some level and we are all intensely struggling with that. Some of us just use a lot of mechanics to hide that truth, and others do not.

    I read that after Catherine of Siena had a mystical vision where she experienced the beatific vision and union with God in heaven, she fell into a deep depression upon its end. This life was heavy. She knew that the possibility for what was to come was so impeccably, perfectly beautiful and she longed for it. Doing His work while she remained here was her only solace.

    Like St. Catherine, what helps us to get through pain and spiritually grow is the process of preserving that precious knowledge in our heart, even through the ugly battle, and picking up and carrying the wounded we find as we are forced to walk along enemy lines.

    What truly helps others to get through life’s battles is the willingness of some to be

    1) aware of their struggle with this earthly separation and
    2) willing to share it.

    Thank you for being one of those people.
    You are in my prayers.

    Reply
  10. JAC

    Steve,
    I love your posts brother! Absolutely love them! the one about ‘obstacle vs cross’ and catholic guilt. . . here is what I think – the obstacles in you path on which you carry your cross are to sometimes be simply avoided and other times to be put to use so that you can fulfill His plan for you. Make sense? I don’t know but what I can tell you is that from this side of the interwebs you seem to be living out a plan that you didn’t create yourself but are open to executing.
    God bless

    Reply

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