On Not Feeling Like a Real Man

One of the greatest struggles of my life was the persistent feeling that I was “never man enough” to really be called a man. I wrote a horribly depressing poem at one point that will make it into my book–it was all about the rutting of rams, where I heard the crack of the rams’ horns far away, and felt unworthy to be a part of the ritual.

I was constantly comparing myself to other men. In college, every man I met on my walk to and from class was a standard upon which I gauged myself. In my mind, I usually fell short.

It was a horrible existence, but I know that it’s common for many men who live with attractions to men. I subscribe to Leanne Payne’s description that some men’s attractions to the same sex stem, in part, from a “cannibalistic instinct.” The basic argument is that the psyche can become drawn to those features we think are lacking within ourselves, and this can become sexualized. Cannibals only devour those enemies who have traits they themselves feel are lacking. I’m not doing justice to the theory here, and of course, such things as sexual attractions are complex, but I am generally drawn to those men who have aspects of there person that I have always felt/wished were different within me, so the theory is compelling to me.

I was doing a bit of reading tonight, and came across this passage from a short story of D. H. Lawrence that perfectly expresses this sense of lack that I always felt when I was younger. I’m posting it here, with the contrast of a passage from C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce about a man who truly learns what it means to become the man God created us to be.

I don’t have enough time to flesh this out further, but notice how in both examples a distorted version of sexuality becomes a way in which this lack of feeling truly like a man comes out, sideways, as it were. And how the true man is master over his passions, and knows, through the grace of God, that he is truly a man.

He came home again, nearly thirty years old, but naïve and inexperienced as a boy, only with a silence about him that was new: a sort of dumb humility before life, a fear of living. He was almost quite chaste. A strong sensitiveness had kept him from women. Sexual talk was all very well among men, but somehow it had no application to living women. There were two things for him, the idea of women, with which he sometimes debauched himself, and real women, before whom he felt a deep uneasiness, and a need to draw away. He shrank and defended himself from the approach of any woman. And then he felt ashamed. In his innermost soul he felt he was not a man, he was less than the normal man. In Genoa he went with an under officer to a drinking house where the cheaper sort of girl came in to look for lovers. He sat there with his glass, the girls looked at him, but they never came to him. He knew that if they did come he could only pay for food and drink for them, because he felt a pity for them, and was anxious lest they lacked good necessities. He could not have gone with one of them: he knew it, and was ashamed, looking with curious envy at the swaggering, easy-passionate Italian whose body went to a woman by instinctive impersonal attraction. They were men he was not a man. He sat feeling short, feeling like a leper. And he went away imagining sexual scenes between himself and a woman, walking wrapt in this indulgence. But when the ready woman presented herself, the very fact that she was a palpable woman made it impossible for him to touch her. And this incapacity was like a core of rottenness in him.

So several times he went, drunk, with his companions, to the licensed prostitute houses abroad. But the sordid insignificance of the experience appalled him. It had not been anything really: it meant nothing. He felt as if he were, not physically, but spiritually impotent: not actually impotent, but intrinsically so.

He came home with this secret, never changing burden of his unknown, unbestowed self torturing him. His navy training left him in perfect physical condition. He was sensible of, and proud of his body. He bathed and used dumb-bells, and kept himself fit. He played cricket and football. He read books and began to hold fixed ideas which he got from the Fabians. He played his piccolo, and was considered an expert. But at the bottom of his soul was always this canker of shame and incompleteness: he was miserable beneath all his healthy cheerfulness, he was uneasy and felt despicable among all his confidence and superiority of ideas. He would have changed with any mere brute, just to be free of himself, to be free of this shame of self-consciousness. He saw some collier lurching straight forward without misgiving, pursuing his own satisfactions, and he envied him. Anything, he would have given anything for this spontaneity and this blind stupidity which went to its own satisfaction direct.

HE WAS NOT unhappy in the pit. He was admired by the men, and well enough liked. It was only he himself who felt the difference between himself and the others. He seemed to hide his own stigma. But he was never sure that the others did not really despise him for a ninny, as being less a man than they were. Only he pretended to be more manly, and was surprised by the ease with which they were deceived.

From The Great Divorce:

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder….What sat on his shoulder was a lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience.

“Shut up, I tell you!” the Ghost said to the lizard. But the lizard wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. Then the Ghost turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountain.

“Off so soon?” said a voice. The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

“Yes, I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap (here indicating the lizard) that he’d have to be quiet if he came….But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”

“Would you like for me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.

“Oh, ah, look out! You’re burning me. Keep away!” said the Ghost, retreating.

“Do you want him killed?” asked the flaming Angel.

“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. “Shall I kill it?”

“Well, that’s a further question and I’m open to consider it……I mean for the moment, I was only thinking of silencing it rather than killing it….”

“May I kill it?”

“Well there’s time to discuss that later.”

“There’s no time. May I kill it?”

“Please. I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—–really—don’t bother. Look, it’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it will be all right now.”

“May I kill it?”

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I can keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

“The gradual process is of no use at all.”

“Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will….But not today. I’m not feeling terribly well now and I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day perhaps.”

“There is no other day. All days are present now.”

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”

“It is not so.”

“Well you’re hurting me now.”

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”

“Oh, I know you think I’m a coward. It’s not that, really…..let me run back to the bus and go home and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll get back to you the first moment I can.”

“This moment contains all moments.”

“Why are you torturing me? And jeering at me?…….If you really wanted to help me, why didn’t you just kill the damned thing without asking me—before I knew? It would have been all over by now if you had.”

“I cannot kill it against you will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?” The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard but not quite.

Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it is saying…..”Be careful, He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and He will. Then you’ll be without me forever and ever! How could you live? You’d only be a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand……Isn’t what I give you better than nothing? And anyway, I promise to be good now. I’ve gone too far in the past, but now I promise I won’t ever do it again.”

The Angel said to the Ghost again, “Do I have your permission to kill this Lizard?”

“I know it will kill me.”

“No, it won’t. But supposing it did?”

“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to go on living with this creature.”

“Then may I kill it?” “Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like!” bellowed the Ghost: but ended whimpering “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.

“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man.

Then brighter still and stronger the legs and hands of the man grew. The neck and golden head materialised while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man—an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel.

What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks.

Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, ripled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clasped the new horse’s neck . It nosed the man’s bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils.

The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them.

When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness—one cannot distinguish them in that country—which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it.

In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I knew well what was happening.

I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains.

Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.

While I still watched, I noticed that the whole plain and forest were shaking with a sound which in our world would be too large to hear, but there I could take it with joy. I knew it was not the Solid People who were singing. It was the voice of the earth, those woods and waters of that land that rejoiced to have been once more ridden and therefore consummated, in the person of the horse. It sang,

The Master says to our master, Come up! Share my rest and splendour till all natures that were your enemies become slaves to dance before you and backs for you to ride, and firmness for your feet to rest on!


“From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.

“Overcome us that , so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.


“Master, your Master has appointed you for ever, to be our King of Justice and our high Priest.”

1 thought on “On Not Feeling Like a Real Man

  1. Christopher writes with insight and a unique ability to share what he is feeling. His writing below includes one of my favorite passages from “The Great Divorce”. Oh that we could learn to master and ride our sexuality as the former ghost in the story eventually rode his stallion! As is clear, getting there is a painful process, and it seems time is running out. Still, one can hope… Sent from my iPhone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s