A Contemplation of Male-To-Male Relationships
This article is an effort to express some thoughts and observations of Christian and non-Christian attitudes towards the way in which men in our culture interact with one another, what is deemed appropriate in these relations, and why some men may struggle with gender or sexual identity within the faith – especially in light of the homosexual agenda in our society and its promotion in some more liberal confessions. As a male, I will focus on this issue as it pertains to men in American society. I do not wish to give another cliché list of reasons why homosexuality must be rejected by Christians, nor a sugary discourse on the need to show love and consideration for those “afflicted with this turmoil.” I do, however, carry a deep burden for those with a homosexual orientation, and am greatly distressed to encounter many brethren speaking of them with such abusive language, as if they are on par with murderers and rapists.
I believe that, especially in our modern culture, we have overlooked some very important theology in this realm of anthropology, and this deficiency has caused a significant number of people to experience and wrestle with feelings and yearnings which they do not understand and cannot fulfill, yet are derived from a sacred place within ourselves as bearers of God’s image.
THE BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN NEUROSIS
As has been observed time and again throughout history, the way in which life is depicted in the media and arts is in turn inevitably injected into the way common life is lived. When this applies to relationships in Western culture, what we have witnessed is a fleshing out of relations between males as following one of two extremes – either distant and reticent in personal matters, or romantic and sexual.
The portrayal of love stories amongst men and boys on screen consists of a curious, mesmerizing feeling of care and affection for the other person which leads to romance, for that is what is understood to be the result of affection and its expression. This is, however, not what these feelings are truly leading towards, but is rather the result of people not knowing how to express the spark of God’s overwhelming love within them.
Particularly, American culture has created an excessive unspoken list of criteria for what constitutes manliness, segregating interests and activities into realms of masculine and feminine. Those who are not drawn to the categories normally associated with their gender in this kind of culture very easily come to the conclusion that they are homosexual. The masculine categories include such standards as maintaining a very unemotional façade [with the exception of childishly violent anger], an avoidance of activities that are deemed artistic or lacking brawn ruggedness, a general sports or “outdoorsy” orientation, a valiant and daring spirit, and a strong independent vein. When one is caught straying from this narrow path it seems that he is by necessity labeled as queer, wimpy, or more politely, “in touch with their feminine side.” Christianity should recognize that these man-made cultural criteria are not only a false polarity but also are extremely harmful and detrimental to God’s entire design for the human male. Abiding by this short list above would, on several levels, strongly conflict with living the Christian faith – especially the aim of autonomous independence.
THE GIFT OF SINGLENESS
The fact that “It is not good for man to be alone” [Gen. 2:18] was originally resolved with the creation of woman, who completes the human race such that the two complimentarily make up the image and likeness of God. But this does not mean that all people are called by God to partake of the sacrament of marriage. This sacrament expresses the love of God and His union to His Church in a unique and deeply emblematic way. But the Church also has historically recognized the monastic vocation of lifelong singleness in community with others of the same gender as an equally sacramental and sanctioned pursuit of union with God as is the marriage to a member of the opposite gender. I highly recommend George Aldhizer’s excellent book review of Spiritual Friendship on this matter.
Christ speaks of this in Matthew 19:11-12:
But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
This is a clarification that monasticism is not the end all be all goal of every believer, and monks and nuns are not in a special elite category, as it is only for those to whom it has been given. However, Christ affirms that consecrated life-long celibacy is a legitimate vocation that should be embraced by those called to it. Just as in marriage, this is the path they traverse in personal pursuit of the Kingdom of Heaven, bringing others into it in the process.
I believe the dispensation of monasticism by most contemporary Christian confessions has led to a tragic displacement into a confusing realm of estrangement for those believers who are not called to marriage and who may possess a longing for nonsexual intimacy and transparent relations with members of the same gender. Indeed most modern single Christians, after reaching a certain age, tend to become marginalized, treated with pity, and perhaps viewed as deficient in some way.
But there are many biblical examples of God’s children who were not called to marriage or were married later in life. And some examples of intimate male friendships that went far beyond camaraderie are David and Jonathan, the prophet Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, and most importantly Christ and the apostle John whom He loved, symbolic of all believers who faithfully remain by His side to the end.
WHAT IS LOVE?
Since we are sacramental beings, I believe there are spiritual feelings and desires that are deeply connected to a person’s physical experience of transparency and intimacy in a sexual context. This intimacy and transparency also suffered privation due to Adam and Eve’s realizing and concealing their nakedness – a physical expression of a spiritual catastrophe. Yet this bodily demonstration is but a shadow of what is internally occurring, and is a result of not recognizing and knowing how to properly express our ability to tap into the Divine, self-capitulating, caring, nurturing, total-devotion-to-the-wellbeing-of-the-other fabric of who we were designed to be.
What is truly longed for by men, especially in a culture that idolizes testosterone-charged liberty and self-reliance with minimal personal interaction, is intimacy, transparency, vulnerability, affection, and a letting down of the internal walls men tend to build up only to be left alone and driven towards madness by isolation.
The sexual climax of romanticized Hollywood stories is a the most anti-climactic farce of how true love is felt and expressed according to the nature of the One whose image we bear, and is the opposite of the example He gave us as a man. The apex of love is not sex; it is sacrifice. I believe that a “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” [John 15:13]. Love – “Twu Wuv” – is that mother-hen-like feeling of such deep regard and concern for someone that, if the smallest thing were to happen to them, we experience an immediate forfeit of self for their interests and protection without a second thought. Jonathan’s affection for David was such that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself [1 Sam. 18:1].
In the secular world sex is essentially a completely selfish endeavor ninety percent of the time, and it usually bears some element of selfishness the other ten percent. But selfishness is the antithesis of true love, which is not self-seeking. Indeed most heterosexual couples may have lots of sex but no true intimacy whatsoever.
St. Maximus the Confessor tells us:
“A true friend is one who in times of trial calmly and imperturbably suffers with his neighbor the ensuing afflictions, privations and disasters as if they were his own.” . . . ‘A faithful friend is beyond price’ (Ecclus 6:15), since he regards his friend’s misfortunes as his own and suffers with him, sharing his trials until death. Friends are many, but [only] in times of prosperity. (cf. Pv. 19:4). In times of adversity you will have difficulty finding even one. . . . ‘A faithful friend is a strong defense’ (Ecclus 6:14); for when things are going well with you, he is a good counselor and a sympathetic collaborator, while when things are going badly, he is the truest of helpers and a most compassionate supporter.”
As believers sincerely “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep,” [Rom. 12:15], become progressively “devoted to one another in brotherly love,” and “give preference to one another in honor,” [Rom. 12:10] this yearning for intimacy and affection will be found in the experience martyrdom. It is only by forgetting our yearning for personal fulfillment and desire, losing ourselves in devotion and concern for the other, that we will grow “to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” [Eph. 4:13].
 Independence is an incommunicable attribute of God that humanity, though in His image, was not given, but humanity was rather created to recognize its dependence on the Creator and interdependence to one another.
 Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.) (1981). The Philokalia: The Complete Text; compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth (Vol. 2). London: Faber and Faber.