Tag Archives: men

Warning — this post contains crude words and crude humor. It is for grownups, and by grownups I mean “people who are okay with jokes about people’s private parts, and some serious discussion about what those parts do sometimes.”

There, that ought to make sure everybody reads it.

Frank, the group leader this week, interrupts Gordon’s monologue: “I just want to explain that Gordon is attracted to young boys. That’s something he deals with. Is everybody okay with that?”

Are we okay with that? I guess we are. Most of us are just learning how good it is to bring things out into the light. Who are we to ask Gordon to keep his own pain in the dark?

This is the twice-a-month meeting for people in my area who have been through the Journey Into Manhood weekend. For me, it will turn out to be only an aid for the reentry process: soon I’ll start to go only once a month, and soon after that there will be no reason to go at all. But reentry takes longer for those who have been further out into orbit, and I wonder whether some of these men will ever get back to terra firma at all.

Gordon is at the end of his middle years, with a respectable beer belly and more gray than brown in his generous beard. He is talking about loneliness, and we murmur our assent, he talks about a boy he knows, ten years old, about whom he has been having difficult thoughts. “A beautiful boy,” he says. He closes his eyes when he says beautiful.

This is the first time I have ever met anybody whom I know to be afflicted with pedophilia. I do not hear lechery in his voice or see it on his face — I mean, he’s not discussing this boy the way a frat boy would drool over a cheerleader. He longs for this boy the way I have longed for the men I’ve longed for, which is to say, not primarily sexually, but sexually only as a side effect.1

For some reason, this is a surprise to me. Pedophiles are supposed to belong to the same category as serial killers: people so far outside the circle of ordinary humanity that they see human beings as collections of body parts. They are not supposed to be filled with very human, very recognizable tenderness. The look on a pedophile’s face is not supposed to have anything in common with the look on the face of a doting father.

They are supposed to be pedophiles because they are monsters, not because they are human.

But we are human beings, and we are all full of knots. Nothing is where it is supposed to be.

I wonder whether sexual longing is ever anything but a side effect. When I say “sexual longing”, I don’t mean the whole complicated edifice of eros, I just mean the sex part: the wanting to Put Your Thing In Their Place.

A straight friend told me once that, if an woman at a party motions him off to the side, makes it clear that she wants to talk to him one-on-one, he’ll get an erection. That’s not because he wants to have sex with her then and there. This is how I parse the situation:

 

The Soul Speaks

She wants to talk to me.
SHE wants to talk to ME.

There is a she and a me
and she is not interested in just Being Here With Us
but in Being Here With Me.

She has noticed me, she is aware of me.
I have registered in the eyes of another; I exist.

I exist and I am good,
because I am good in the eyes of the one
who is good in my eyes.

 ***

The Dick Speaks

WHAT? IS IT SEXYTIMES?

 

I don’t know how it is for women, but for men, or, all right, for me and a lot of the men I know, our dicks are dowsing rods, or geiger counters: they register the presence of intimacy in the immediate vicinity, and react indiscriminately. Whether sexytimes are imminent or not, consciously desired or not, possible or not, permissible or not, the physical reaction is the same.

More to the point, sometimes it happens whether the intimacy in question is sexual or not.

The penis is, in other words, an exceedingly crude instrument. Which is why — in the case of homosexuality, pedophilia, or any other deviation from the sexual norm — it’s not surprising that the instrument should sometimes be badly miscalibrated. It’s badly miscalibrated even in the case of “ordinary” men, which is to say, men whose sexuality is fractured only in the more common ways.

I’ll leave you with the exchange that started this train of thought. It was a series of late-night texts from a gay Catholic friend,2 who somehow found himself marooned in a gay bar at midnight on the eve of all Saints’:

I just want someone to touch me and want me to be there with them.

I know.

I just want to be held. That longing burns, like fire, from the waist to the collarbone.

My friend, I know.

1 I’m not interested in normalizing pedophilia, since pedophilia is not normal; just like I’m not interested in normalizing homosexuality, since homosexuality is not normal. The two aren’t equivalent, though I wouldn’t presume to say which of the two is the greater perversion. They do, however, have these things in common: that they involve sexuality, and that they are manifestly disordered.
2 To be clear, the texts in question were cris de coeur, not booty calls, and in any case he is hundreds of miles away. Also, I naturally asked his permission before including them here. I don’t usually mine my conversations this hard, but a good phrase is a good phrase, no? Thanks, hermano mio.

Back when I was in college and as crazy as a bedbug — a bedbug on a steady diet of caffeine, nicotine, and Nietzsche — I decided I was the phoniest bastard in the history of the universe and I wasn’t going to stand it anymore.

I lie constantly, I told myself, and not only in words: I lie with my face, my tone of voice, my gestures, and even the way I walk. That raised eyebrow? It was calculated to make you think I’m sophisticated. The way I laughed? Designed to make you think I’m boisterous and cynical.

So to remedy the situation I wrote down on my fingers — one per finger — all the ways I could think of that I lied. That way, every time I saw my hands, I would be reminded to CUT IT OUT.

Please, you don’t need to tell me how insane this is. You have to understand, I was doing the best I could, 19 years old and so full of neurosis you could probably see it swirling around when you looked in my eyes.

My friend M. saw my fingers all marked after dinner and asked what that was all about. “It’s to remind me of all the ways I lie,” I said, solemnly, careful to hold my eyebrows still, keep my voice flat, and not move my mouth in an insincere way. “Oh my God,” she muttered, amazed and disgusted. I brushed her off (she didn’t understand) and went off to wander back to the dorm, practicing authenticity with every step.

It is not hard to understand why, during this time, I found social contact even more difficult than usual. It was a beautiful double bind I had put myself in: I was desperate to fit in, but fitting in seemed to require consciously adapting things that were foreign to me — or that most foreign, artificial thing of all, the thing all the Normals recommended, called Being Yourself.

Looking back, I get to laugh, maybe shudder a little at how close I might have come to actual psychosis, and thank God I’m not there anymore. I don’t remember how long it took me to give up the project. I do remember the feeling of my own limbs and facial muscles settling around me like lead, the strange mummy-like feeling of trying to control every inch of my body every minute.

I thought that if I just cut off all the artificial parts, the Real Me (which must be buried underneath) would emerge. I was trying to cast off every mask, but the more I held still to let my own face surface, the less it felt like I had a face at all.

There was no eureka moment when I realized what I had got wrong, but I was thinking about all this yesterday on the way home from work, probably because I’m hosting a poker game tonight. I know how I’ll be at the game: probably drink and swear a little more than usual, probably act a little more arrogant than I feel, probably use some turns of phrase that aren’t strictly natural to me.

But I won’t feel bad about it. Because I’ve discovered that this is how it is with people, maybe especially men. This is how we work. A stag party has as rigorous a code of etiquette as a black tie dinner. The rules aren’t written down anywhere, but they function the same way etiquette always functions: they provide a field in which to speak, to interact, to dance the intricate dance of human contact.1

A field, actually, in which relationship is possible. If etiquette is a mask, it is a mask that allows us to reveal our truest selves — but prudently, slowly, a little bit at a time, in a human way. How many people do you know who sit around the dinner table and reveal deep truths about their souls? Do you really want to live inside a Russian novel all the time — or is a little small talk okay now and then?

Buckle down, I’d tell my 19-year-old self, and learn the rules. Swallow your pride, forget yourself a little, and play the game. You want radical honesty and authenticity? Then walk around naked. Or you could just choose an outfit that expresses who you want to be, not who you are — we don’t find ourselves, Fr. T once told me, we build ourselves — and wait until the man grows to fit the clothes.

It might happen sooner than you think.

1 Not that I’d say these things to my poker buddies, or anyway not in the middle of a game. F★ck no. Who’s big blind?

“What on earth am I doing?” is what I completely fail to think, as I position my hand so that when the portly-but-attractive bartender (has he been giving me the eye, or is it my imagination?) puts my glass back down on the counter, his fingers will make contact with mine.

It works — can’t have been by accident, he could easily have avoided the touch — and I also fail to feel guilty, despite the fact that my friend M., seated next to me, is in the middle of a college reminiscence that I have not been quite paying attention to. I refocus.

M. is not really my friend. I’ve met him once before, several years ago and for maybe five minutes. I knew his wife L. in high school, but she’s not really my friend either: we’ve lived in the same town for two years and only run into each other a couple of times, and not even on purpose. But L. invited me to a barbecue at their house the other weekend.

At first I thought I was being set up with some girl or other. People do this to me every once in a while, because I am single and not unattractive, and besides I have a good job and even a motorcycle and am somehow not married yet. But then I realized I was being set up with her husband, so to speak; I hear through the grapevine that their marriage is not all smooth sailing these days, and I suspect that her efforts to get him some “guy time” (her words) might be part of some plot to save them by saving him.

As the barbecue goes on, I start to think it might be a good plan. Does he have anybody to see, anywhere to be but with his wife and four kids? It’s clear that he loves them all, but what man can spend all his time with women and children and not go a little bonkers?

Just because a man’s straight doesn’t mean he stops needing men. On the contrary. This is something my straight friends have taught me: they enjoy and even need each other so much that I wonder how I got along in comparative isolation for so long.

Of course I don’t know any of this about M. It’s purely speculative, and incredibly presumptuous besides.

I stay for three or four hours, chat with M. and his wife, play with his kids (his five-year-old son knows Karate! Instant bond: we trade techniques and are pals in 10 minutes flat), eat burgers and drink beers. M. and I share a smoke before I leave — he quit four years ago but is more than happy to indulge when he gets the chance — and exchange phone numbers.

Yesterday I text M. on a whim and ask if he wants to meet for a drink today after work. He agrees, which brings us to the bar tonight. I’m only on my second drink, but this is one of those high-class gourmet-beer joints where the alcohol content tends towards the double digits, and I am a lightweight anyway. This brings us back to the bartender, too, who I wouldn’t have even noticed if he hadn’t interjected something into our conversation five minutes ago.

I certainly wouldn’t have noticed that the bartender’s got The Look, or that he’s paying me more attention than is strictly warranted by the duties of his position. But what on earth? Where do I think this is going to go? Is this what normal people mean by flirting? Is this wrong, or is it just harmless fun? But I’m not thinking about any of this, not much, because I have been drinking.

Meanwhile I am, frankly, enjoying M.’s company. We have some things in common: a love of classical music, a disinclination towards team sports; a background, however slight, in martial arts. He is easy to talk to.

As the beer flows, the conversation steers, by unnoticeable degrees, towards more personal things. We go from drinking stories to how he met his wife to, suddenly, questions of faith. He’s an agnostic now, he says; something has been draining away for the last six years, and now he’s not sure what’s left. It doesn’t make things any easier with his wife.

We’ve both got to get home, but we stand talking outside for a bit first, and share another smoke. Then I think, duh, and invite him to adoration with me on Tuesday morning. He is eager and tentative at the same time, so I press the point, busting his balls a little bit, and put it in my calendar: “Call M. to go to adoration. DO IT.”

Back at home I am recuperating, waiting for the fog to clear. I flop on the couch, going over the events of the evening, congratulating myself for actually doing some evangelizing for once, thinking fondly of what a great guy I am; then wincing suddenly as I remember flirting with the bartender, not two minutes before talking about faith and doubt and Providence and Adoration. Like some kind of expert.

Lord, I’m a narcissist. But I meant what I said about Adoration, meant every word when I was telling M. how much my daily half hour of prayer has changed my life. I think of Dostoevsky:

Beauty! I can’t bear the thought that man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with the ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad. I’d have him narrower.1

Me too, Dmitri, me too. It’s terribly confusing work, being human. But I think it’s going to work out.

1 The Brothers Karamazov, Part I, Book III, Chapter 3. More context here. Oh man what a good book.

Well, this is an interesting time: it’s the first time that the majority of the people I see most days know that I deal with SSA. I told roommate #2 last night (roomate #1 has known for several weeks), when we were discussing the imminent move and he wondered out loud if there was some way they could get me to stay.

“Well, here’s the thing about that,” I say to C., turning towards the sink.1 “I’m gay. So. Sorry to drop that on you out of the blue. But” — whoa, that’s weird, all the wind went out of my lungs. I’m more nervous than I thought — “that sort of makes things difficult. Sometimes.”

C.’s eyes are downcast. He pauses and then says, “Well…do you mean you’re gay, or that you have homosexual tendencies?” I almost laugh at him, because I know C. and his almost preternatural sense of integrity: he is torn between the desire to offer compassion and the need to speak the truth as he knows it.2

I also know he doesn’t mean “tendencies” as in “Awww, you’re probably basically straight except sometimes you want to have sex with men for no reason.” I know he’s aware of what this means for somebody, because we’ve talked about it before, when I brought up Henri Nouwen on the ride to work once and he said solemnly, “What a cross that must be!”

So I’m not offended, except maybe a teensy bit — does he really think I don’t know this stuff? — but I assure him I’m not about to jump on the gay pride bandwagon, that I usually use “same-sex attracted” but I wanted him to know immediately what I was talking about, etc., etc.

C. and I are not in the habit of having DMC’s, so it doesn’t go much further than this. We chat a little bit more and then say Compline,3 and that’s it. He says “God bless you, Steve!” about a thousand times and tells me he’ll be praying for me about a thousand more. Like I said, solid guy.

I’m getting the sense that this whole thing is a much smaller deal than I used to think it was.

1 It’s a well-known fact about men that we are better at talking to each other when we’re looking somewhere else. That’s why bars are built with the seats all facing in the same direction, and why road trips are so good for bonding.
2 Although if you straightsters should ever find yourself in a similar situation, the compassion part is probably better to start with.
3 Asking my roommates to join me for Compline was one of the greatest little decisions I ever made. So much better than saying it solo.

It would be funny if it weren’t so embarrassing, the thought of a grown man like me hoping that the teacher is going to come tell me I’m doing a good job.

By “teacher”, of course I mean “Sifu.” Lord, how I love Kung Fu. I love it a surprising amount. I know I’m a little bit of a dilettante — I love to pick things up, but I don’t always follow through. Hence the odd musical instruments that litter my apartment (and my closet).

I think and hope that this time is different. I think about Kung Fu all the time, I dream about it, I practice kicks in the hallway at work.1 I want to earn the black sash some day, I want to move like they do; I want that physical joy that comes from a well-executed kick to be a permanent part of me.

Of course, some of the attraction is having a large, strong man around to tell me what to do. I don’t mean that in a sexual way. He’s good-looking enough and he has a contagious enthusiasm, but — it ain’t like that. It’s just that he’s the Sifu.

People think that men don’t like authority and don’t like being told what to do, but it’s not true, not even when we’re young. It’s only that we don’t like being told what to do by just anyone. When we’re younger, “just anyone” is usually our fathers, later on it’s the boss — but give us someone who’s got the right light in his face, the right nobility in his movements and his words, and we’ll be all his.

There’s something in a man that wants to submit. The key is finding someone who’s worth submitting to: someone better than us, who values our love and service. We want a master, a king.

Trouble is that most men aren’t kings. It’s easy to put a man on that pedestal, just like it’s easy for some men to set a woman up as a goddess. Disappointment follows, and so do hurt feelings. Not every Sifu is Ip Man2 — heck, even Donnie Yen probably isn’t like that in real life.3

So I have to remember, when Sifu Gary doesn’t notice how hard I’ve been practicing my form, or that I managed to stay in horse stance for a very costly extra five seconds this time — Lord, how it burns — that he’s not my father and he’s not my king; he’s just a good man who can teach me a lot.

Meanwhile, I have to keep on searching for, and following, and searching for all over again, the real King. Morning Mass tomorrow. Hope I’m not too sore to kneel.

1 Heh, and today somebody came out of another office just when my foot was pointing at the ceiling. Hard to play that one off. Yeah, I was just scratching my nose. With my toe.
2 You’ve got to see Ip Man 2! (And the first one, too.) It’s like the Chinese Rocky, except Donnie Yen is priestly instead of thuggish. Not that thuggish doesn’t work admirably for Stallone. Also the Westerners are evil, but that’s par for the course in Kung Fu flicks. At least in this one it’s evil Brits instead of evil Americans, and everyone knows that Brits really are evil.
3 Although I’m sure he still kicks a significant amount of ass.

How do you talk to strangers? What are the rules? Nobody knows. I’m usually happy when a stranger speaks to me, and some strangers are happy when I speak to them, but everybody’s worried: will he think I’m weird? When I say Good morning, do I mumble or enunciate? How big is too big to smile at someone you don’t know?

The other day at the gym I kept catching the eye of a fellow swimmer, a man about my age, both in the pool and in the locker room. I didn’t mean to keep looking his way; you want to be careful about making eye contact in a locker room (although eye-to-eye contact can be safer than eye-to-elsewhere). When he was leaving, he caught my eye again, smiled, and waved. Relief: he didn’t think I was weird, just friendly.

Well, we were both dudes, and both swimming, why not? That’s enough common ground for a wave.

I overheard a conversation once between two (presumably straight) guys about gaydar and how it might work. One said to the other: if you catch another guy’s eyes and he looks just a little too long — you can tell. Ridiculous, or true? Maybe a little true. Most men do avoid each others’ eyes. Is that because they don’t want anybody thinking they’re gay, or for some other reason?

I’ve been getting to know the guys who live next door. The first time we spoke was when I was doing some work on my motorcycle. I think I wrote about this: we ended up killing a fifth of Maker’s between the three of us. Since then we chat occasionally, usually in the hall on the way to our respective apartments; last Sunday I stopped by for brunch; this evening I invited them to watch the game at my place on Sunday.

I know this is nonsense, but I sometimes feel like their amiability isn’t genuine — that they’re too normal, not to mention too good-looking, to really want to spend time with me. The feeling says a lot more about me than it does about them. I used to feel that way even about my friends. I remember that When Sal agreed to go on a road trip after my junior year, I wondered (and, poor guy, I even asked) if he was just being kind to the poor nerd. That was easier for me to believe than that he liked road trips and liked me.

We neurotics — or is that everybody? — go around building things up in our minds, constructing whole narratives out of stray glances and tones of voice, never suspecting that everyone else is every bit as simple and crafty and naive and guileful, as we are. Children afraid of our own shadows.

I tried for over an hour to write this post about what happened today at the gym. It was about how, even though I found out my gym buddy Eddy is gay, and found this out by him hitting on me, and had to tell him that yes, I’m (1) gay, but also (2) Catholic and therefore (3) celibate, I feel nothing but good and satisfied and proud of myself.

Well, I do feel good and satisfied and proud of myself. I don’t feel regret. Starting something with him isn’t something I could have done. Eddy’s got a gentle smile and is built like a tank besides, and did I mention I have sort of a thing for Latinos? But in the end there’s only one man worth starting over for, worth turning your life completely upside down, and that man’s a Jew, not a Puerto Rican.

All the good ones are gay. Ladies? Amirite?1

I actually didn’t notice, until I emailed my friend D. about it, that I was kind of upset. I noticed that I was using more exclamation points than usual, and asking more questions, in rapid-fire: what do I do now? Do I start steering clear of the steam room? Change my gym schedule so we don’t run into each other? Can we still be friends? Should I have been more clear?

But I was clear. I told him I’m celibate; that I knew I couldn’t be both gay and Catholic; that I chose the one that I knew was more important. He apologized, said he felt like he was being a mala influencia, and I told him No te preocupes, I understand, I would’ve done the same thing.

It’s not that I’ve ever thought about him, much, outside of when we happen to cross paths. It’s not that we’re a match in any way, if being a “match” romantically with another man were even possible. It’s — heck, it’s not even that I’ve never been hit on by a man before. Just not by anybody I actually knew or liked.

Just as well I couldn’t patch together a glib post about how it’s all fine. Sometimes it ain’t fine. It’s not terrible, either, just not fine. Así es.

Just as well, too, that I’ve got Adoration tomorrow morning. It’s not like Jesus isn’t used to me complaining.

1 I have never actually typed this word before. Looks a bit like one of those Old Testament peoples: And the Israelites cut down the Amirites by the edge of the sword. And also their King, Og, who smelled of spoiled meat.

AoM responds to Ian Lang’s assertions over at the cesspool known as AskMen.com. Sample assertion:

Finally, do you think your dad would enjoy lying in a field with you making daisy chains and contemplating what it means to be a man? No. He would tell you to work hard, that life doesn’t ever get easier and to stop being such a pussy.

Snip from the response:

Yes, a man should be a man of action. That is the end of his creation. But what is the means to that end? What kind of actions should he take? What is driving that action? What is the purpose of that action? What kinds of goals and priorities, values and morals should a man have? Contemplation is needed to answer these questions. Contemplation leads to right action.

Read the whole thing here.

Cut

Hooray for the gym! Three months after my last sciatica1 flareup, I’m finally back in action, and up to a little bit over a quarter mile in the pool. Today around 4:00 I felt like I could barely type another line of code; now at 8:00, after a good swim, I’m full of energy. Sadness particles dissolved. Maybe the fish oil2 is helping too.

Physical fitness is great, mens sana in corpore sano and all that, but the culture surrounding it can be toxic. I don’t know how many hours I spent as a teenager poring over Men’s Health — I was reading it for the articles,3 obviously — but the practice encouraged deep habits of envy and vanity that I’m still trying4 to root out, and the gym can do the same thing.

You spend all that time looking in the mirror, and you tell yourself you’re trying to soak up the image of yourself as manly, as strong and powerful, trying to correct the false body-image that so many men with SSA struggle with — but you end up more self-conscious than ever, with a little self-obsession thrown in. It turns you in on yourself, which for me has always been the problem.

I read an account once of two friends, both with SSA, both seeing the same therapist. They didn’t know about each other’s SSA, but each of them mentioned the other to the therapist, saying: I just wish I looked as manly as he does.

My SSA, especially in the early years, has always had a lot to do with physical envy of other men. So it was easy for me to think, If only I looked like that guy, everything would be fine. And there’s some truth to it. I’m much more confident than I used to be, and part of this is the confidence of knowing I look pretty good.

But I think it’s a small part. My need to be emotionally close to other men is greater than my need to look like a man. It’s easy to focus on the latter, partly because the latter is more easily achieved. You can go to the gym for two hours a day and never talk to another soul, and be worse off emotionally and spiritually than when you started.

What’s harder, but more effective, is sticking your neck out socially: accepting the invitation for poker night, initiating a conversation with the intimidating coworker, calling a friend on Friday even though he might turn you down.

Like everything else I write about, this is something I’m still working on. Keep up those prayers, dear readers! I appreciate them more than I can tell you. I’m praying for you, too.

1 I once mentioned my sciatica to a friend, and he said, “Isn’t that something that old men and pregnant women get?” Real pal.
2 The bottle says: “No fish burps!” I wouldn’t have even though about the possibility of fish burps if they hadn’t mentioned it. Gross.
3 Unfortunately, I actually did read a lot of the articles. From what I remember, MH is a great resource if you want to learn how to be a degenerate, misogynistic lowlife. And get that beach body at the same time!
4 Sort of the same way St. Augstine was trying to be chaste. Lord, give me freedom from vanity! As soon as my triceps are a little bigger.

It’s almost embarrassing to say it, because I had forgotten that I used to feel this way, but: I used to blame myself for having SSA. I thought, if only I’d hung out more with other guys and learned to be like them; if only I hadn’t quit the street hockey team, and soccer, and little league; if only I hadn’t faked sick on field day. If only I hadn’t been so scared all the time.

My main sports memories from when I was young are memories of complete and total confusion. What position am I? Who’s on my team again, which color are we? Are we offense or defense? WHAT IS A RIGHT WING? Do I have to step on the base before after I catch the ball (if I catch the ball), and what the hell do I do after that? HOW IS IT STILL ONLY THE SECOND INNING?

Go a little bit older and the confusion turns to shame. When I was ten, nobody knew the rules. When I was fifteen, everybody knew them, except me, and not only the rules but the terminology, and the stats of players I had never heard of, and breathtakingly convoluted plays that I had I pretend to understand, except why did I bother because they’d figure it out when I suddenly started running in the wrong direction?

The worst, though, was in high school, on field day. The thought of spending THREE HOURS in a state of constant terror, shame, and confusion, was too much for me, so I spent it in the sick room instead, up on the second floor, watching everyone having a good time and wondering what was wrong with me. What made it worse was that, to get out of it, I had had to tell Mr. Staedtler I was “sick” — Mr. Staedtler, who all the girls wanted to marry and all the boys wanted to be — and he knew.

I’m surprised, remembering it, how little shame I feel about it anymore. Not because it was shameful — rational or not, the things I felt at the thought of going out there would have felled a small horse — but because of how it used to make me wince, for years afterwards.

At the time I blamed myself for feeling that way, because I knew a real man wouldn’t have been scared. And at the same time I knew I was a coward, because the others hadn’t let their fear stop them. I never noticed that the two accusations contradicted each other. I envied them for not being scared, but at the same time I envied them for overcoming their fear.

Well, lies usually do contradict each other. I think I believed the lies until years later, the night I told my older brother Caleb about my SSA. I told him how I had envied him, growing up, watching him on the basketball court down the street and thinking how brave he must be to play with people he didn’t even know, how I could never feel comfortable enough around other guys to do that.

He surprised me by saying: The basketball court is the only place I do feel comfortable around other guys.

That was a new thought. That for some people sports weren’t terrifying, but just natural, the way music and coding are for me. That I wasn’t weaker or more cowardly than my brother, but just constructed differently. That “normal” guys had all the insecurities I had, but showed them in ways that I misunderstood. And that none of the above was my fault; more than that, that none of it was anything wrong.

As much time as I’ve spent working to get into the boys’ club, every once in a while I realize: I’m already there, and everyone inside is just like me. Only different.