Several years ago I was walking up a hill with my church pastor when he told me “God knows your type; he’s dealt with many others like you in the past.” He was referring to my tendency for introspection and insecurity, but his point now chimes with another part of me.
He reminded me that “type” is not a dirty word in the Christian vocabulary.
Everyone is an unrepeatable personality, of course. But part of our capacity to relate to one another is because we identify similarities in other people – traits in ourselves that we spot in others also. This can be on many levels – physical, sexual, spiritual, temperment, etc. But now I find myself wondering about a particular combination of all of these, and I can only describe this type via a metaphor.
A year or two after the conversation with my pastor, I had another chat, but this time with a close friend of mine – one who seems to hear from God quite clearly. He told me that God gave him an image of me – a delicate flower, like a poppy. The outer shell seemed fragile, but inside there was substance, room for growth. The point was not that the delicacy or vulnerability would be washed away, but that it would be given greater direction. In other words, the hope was that I would come into my own more.
Thing is, I always felt myself different than the other boys at school. I wasn’t interested in sports and I detested any attempt to turn me into a macho man. I felt it simply wasn’t who I am. I was interested in art, family history, and the design of women’s clothes. I enjoyed spending time with the women in my life more than the men. And that was possibly because I knew instinctively that I responded to men in a different way – especially to men who carried a special kind of strength or authority.
At school I would often fantasise about a couple of my teachers and the older prefect boys. I wanted to be ordered around by them. I felt a need to serve, to submit. I admired their strength, muscle, their assertiveness, their dominance – those qualities I frankly lacked in myself. Combined with a growing awareness that I was especially sexually attracted to such men, I found myself in an uncomfortable position: I was everything my family and society was telling me I mustn’t be. I was exactly what the bullies at school jeered at me.
Unfortunately, I suppressed my sexuality for a few years while I was at university and part of a particular evangelical church. But even during this season of my life, the poppy in me was showing. I took a job as a caregiver, and I did rather well. Clients liked my sensitivity and gentleness. I wasn’t threatening to them. I could listen. I could cook, clean, and make house.
If I’d been listening to the Spirit in a deeper way, I might have realised that all this was revealing something about who I am as a person.
My sweetness, my gentleness, and my lack of “manliness” wasn’t something to be ashamed of. I was endowed with other gifts. I was one of God’s poppy boys.
What is a poppy boy? It’s my term for those males throughout history who, no matter what their age, have been profoundly submissive in their natures. Often labelled soft, delicate, effeminate or weak, we are in fact a distinct kind of person with our own gifts to the world. Instead of repudiating such adjectives, we should be reclaiming them as our birth right. Not eunuchs, but we are nevertheless of their band. And weren’t eunuchs some of the first to taste of the Kingdom of God?
Throughout history, there have been poppy boys who found themselves in positions of service to other men – men they considered “real,” endowed with what they lacked. Such submissiveness pervades the entire person, radiating out from us like a shining aura. Our inner desire is to serve the man to whom we are dedicated in all of life – to create a home, to honour, respect, and care for him.
Various names for such a boy have included houseboy, ghulam, eromenos, kinaidos, and yusufakia – perhaps even the centurion’s pais whom Jesus healed in Matthew’s gospel. Of course, such labels often referred to other things as well, including more derogatory positions that I think pervert the heart of submissiveness. But generally speaking, they denote a male who serves a more dominant man in many capacities, and is strictly receptive, passive, and soft in sex. The poppy boy finds fulfilment in serving his man. Psychologically, there may be a power exchange, and this can often be represented by various tokens within a couple’s relationship, emphasising the complementary differences. In popular culture, we talk of “Daddy and boy,” “Man and twink,” “Dom and sub,” “Sir and pup,” and many other combinations the English language has to offer. Of course, in real life, poppy boys come in all shapes and sizes, and from all over the world speaking many different languages.
It has taken me a few years since I came out to recognise why I was different from other gays, and as a Christian, I also struggled to reconcile my nature with conventional ideas about what males are and should be like. But always the image of the poppy has stayed with me.
I have learned to cherish my gifts, and I now want to be the best poppy boy I can be, because being so, I become more myself, more human, and find myself closer to God.
The task I find myself in now is to heal from any residual shame I have about who I am and can be, for in learning to love myself, surely I also then learn to love other poppy boys as well, to help them find purpose too.
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photo credit: “Lone Poppy”, “Into the Light,” Richard Vytniorgu, used with permission; “Poppies in Grey,” George Hodan, public domain.
RICHARD VYTNIORGU is a Romanian-British academic of Serb and Russian-Caucasian descent.
He’s nearly completed his PhD in English, and enjoys interior design and cats.