When I re-read yesterday’s post, it sounded pretty flat to me — devoid of emotion. Or even worse, it might have leaned toward chipper. And I definitely don’t feel chipper.
Twelve months ago, more than twenty years after the first time, I came out to my wife again. It was terrifying and traumatic to both of us, in different ways. Her trust in me was shattered, she was plunged into doubt about our past life together and our future, and she began to mistrust her own perceptions of the world. If she had been wrong about this, what else might she be wrong about? She’s cried many tears since that day.
For me, the trauma was in the years leading up to that talk, beginning from the earliest days of our relationship. As I mentioned yesterday, I told my wife about my same-sex attraction before we started dating. Yet we were naively optimistic about the future (young love is like that sometimes, I suppose). We greatly underestimated the ramifications, and we moved on into dating and engagement, encouraged by those around us that we were on the right path. I think that she and I and our friends all shared a way of thinking common in Christian circles. The basic tenets are these:
- Same-sex attraction (SSA) is not inherently sinful, but it is disordered, out of line with God’s perfect plan.
- Acting on one’s SSA is inherently sinful, and must be avoided.
- Christians who experience SSA have two choices: remain celibate or marry an opposite-sex partner.
- God can heal, and those who love and obey God will be blessed.
So there we were — both deeply committed Christians, active in our churches, committed to daily prayer and Bible study. We both had set out to be missionaries before we met, and we still considered that a likely future. As our love for each other grew, we found ourselves to be wonderfully compatible on a day-to-day basis, and our friends encouraged us onward in our relationship. Eventually the day came when we started discussing marriage.
Ironically, being gay might make a guy more attractive to some girls – especially Christian girls. In Christian purity culture, overt and covert messages clearly communicate that sexual desire is wicked. And if sex is bad, the controlling your sexual urges must be good. So a young Christian woman who finds herself in a relationship with a guy who doesn’t push the boundaries might take that as a sign of his godliness. And the gay guy may feel relieved that she’s not pressuring him for sexual experiences he’s not ready for.
An so we moved onward. Got engaged, planned the wedding, and through it all were very happy together. The wedding day came, and it was a beautiful sunny day. A wonderful wedding, surrounded by friends and family, many of them relieved, (those who knew, at least), that I had sidestepped that whole gay thing. Our early years together were wonderful. I was in graduate school and she was working as a teacher, leaving us lots of free time. We loved being together — running, playing tennis, going to the beach, going out to eat, or just snuggling on the couch in our apartment watching TV. Summer breaks gave us a chance to travel all over the US visiting friends and family. And after a few years we felt ready for kids.
Sex is complicated in a mixed-orientation marriage. I’m sure every MOM couple has their own unique experiences depending on where the gay spouse is on the Kinsey scale. But for us, sex was frequent enough and always enjoyable. Intimacy was a genuine expression of love and affection, but it wasn’t driven by passion — something that I often regretted for her sake. But the specifics — the details, the motivations — weren’t natural to me. I often felt lost, uncertain, inadequate.
Once again, there’s a way of thinking common among Christians that makes this all seem virtuous: agape love is higher, more virtuous, a better love than lowly eros. Brutish animal passions should be put away. By denying the errant lusts that afflicted me, and choosing instead to pursue a love blessed by God (a heterosexual love), wasn’t I doing good? And wouldn’t this likely be the path through which God would bring me healing from my malady?
I bought into that way of thinking for most of my life. But I was wrong. Sexuality is a basic part of who we are, a fundamental human need. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sex goes along with food, water, breathing, and sleep.
This is one place where I’ve heard straight people make an ill-fitting comparison between the sexual desires of a gay person and the illicit sexual desires of a straight person. “Sure, I might like to sleep with younger prettier women, but I don’t because I’m committed to my marriage. Can’t you do the same?” The difference is that they have an appropriate, socially-sanctioned outlet for the expression of their sexuality. Maybe in their current relationship; maybe in the past; or if not, there is at least the possibility that someday they may be in a situation where the expression of their sexuality would be celebrated, admired, joyful. For gay people in many religious contexts that is not the case. I internalized the belief that the only proper response to my sexual nature was to reject it. There was no context in which I could ever express my natural sexual identity without guilt, remorse, and shame. Unless, of course, God would change me. If he would make me straight, only then could I fulfill that essential human need.
And that line of thinking subtly subverted our married sex life. The honest expression of love and tenderness could never be separated from the need to walk in a hetero identity that I so much wanted to embody. Sex became a sign of the hope that God was doing what we both wanted. He was making me straight.
Fast forward through ten more years of marriage and the birth of our four children. Throughout that period our sex life was up and down; I’m sure it’s hard for any couple with four small children to maintain the passion and zeal of their youth. Then midlife crisis hit me hard. Job turmoil, financial troubles, deaths of loved ones. Along the way I made some choices I regret. And then one day I just realized, with crystal clarity, that God hadn’t changed me. He wasn’t making me straight. I am today who I’ve always been — a gay man in a straight marriage. And though I’m still me, and I’m still gay, there’s one thing that has changed — I no longer have hope that I will ever be anything else.
So for the past year we’ve been reeling, trying to find the ground under us; trying to find our way to a hopeful future. I’m really not sure whether we’re succeeding or not.