lgbtq christians

Not good to be alone

Adam and Eve

Photo Credit: brockit.com

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner. (Genesis 2:18, NRSV)

For some Christians, the account of the creation of man and woman in Genesis chapter 2 is foundational to their understanding of sexual ethics. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”  OK, sometimes they’re not quite so impudent, but that’s the general idea. The account in Genesis is taken as normative for sexual relationships, and since it involved one man and one woman, that’s how every sexual relationships should be. If that’s your perspective, this post is for you.

And my purpose is NOT to try to convince you that you’re wrong. (While I do, in fact, believe that way of thinking is wrong, I’ll save that for another post). For now I’m content to say that you’re entitled to read and interpret the passage in accordance with your knowledge and beliefs.

But I would like you to own up to the repercussions of this belief, especially in the context of the passage quoted. Chapter 1 of Genesis includes a series of mini-creations, all punctuated with the assessment “and God saw that it was good…” Then we work through chapter 2 down to verse 18, where for the first time, God notes “it is NOT good…,” in particular, not good for the man to be alone. That’s why God made a partner for Adam.

Is it relevant that God made a woman as a partner? I guess one reading of this passage might be that it was the creation of another person that was significant. Adam was no longer alone, because there was now another person. If you read the passage that way, you might take it to just mean that we need relationships with other people to be healthy. In that case, then it wouldn’t seem that the passage was saying anything about sexual relationships at all, but rather just about relationships in general.

On the other hand, maybe Eve’s gender was relevant to the story, and I think many Christians assume that to be the case. God created a sexual partner, a mate for Adam. But why? Because it was not good for him to be alone. In this case, it is a passage about a special kind of relationship – a sexual relationship. And from that we would conclude that sexuality is by default a pretty important thing for human beings.

So do you see the problem? If sex was an important part of the equation when God made Eve to address Adam’s need, then what does the church have to say to gay people? “God admits that it’s not good for us to be alone, but in your case we’ll make an exception”? “God provides a way for us straight people to have a special bond of intimacy with another human, but not for you gays”?  It doesn’t exactly convey “God loves you!”

And granted, plenty of straight people may not have such a partner in their lives, in some cases for a season, in others for entire lifetimes. But “wait” and “someday if” are very different from “never” and “even if.”  That’s a heavy burden to place on someone.

Shallow Understanding

1585

It’s not his fault. I mean, at least he’s trying. I think. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know that I’ve come out to several close friends. One of them in particular has been trying hard to understand. He’s more than willing to listen; he initiates often; and I know that in his own way, he cares about me. But sometimes his attempts at understanding are more painful than the plain-spoken hatred of homophobes.

My being gay is not analogous to your experiencing lust

I’m a little surprised how common this thinking is among evangelical Christians. Have they really not thought it through? “You know, I see women all the time that I think are sexy, but I choose not to act on it.” So, if straight guys occasionally have to curtail their sexual appetite, that’s somehow equivalent to gay people forsaking their sexuality altogether? It feels a bit like someone saying “Oh, you’re not allowed to eat food, ever? Well, I know just how you feel! One time I had to say ‘no’ to a second bowl of ice cream.”

There’s a huge difference between being told there should be some limits on your sexual expression somewhere, and being told that any expression of your sexual desire would be wrong, in every context. Matthias Roberts writes about this way of thinking in his post Stop Comparing Your Lust to My Sexual Orientation.

Your six months of studying can’t compare to my years of lived experience

This one was especially frustrating. My friend wants to discuss with me what the Bible has to say about gay sex. As far as I can tell, it’s not in a Bible-bashy kind of way – I think he’s genuinely curious about how my beliefs have evolved over time. I used to believe the standard evangelical line, and now I don’t.

The problem is that I’m not willing to engage the issue on a purely academic level. Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than capable of defending my beliefs. But for me it’s not ONLY academic. It’s personal! And if it’s personal for me, I want it to be personal for him. Get to know gay people. Listen to their stories. Hear firsthand the pain that Christians have caused, and continue to cause, to LGBT people.

In response he said that he was very invested, and that he had spent significant time praying about the issue and studying the scriptures. When I pressed for details, he elaborated that a few years ago, he and his wife thought that one of their children might be gay. So they had studied the Bible long and hard to find out what it had to say, and in the end weren’t convinced of anything other than the “traditional” view they had already held.

But where in that process did they get to know any gay people? What sources did they study? What experts did they consult? I’m with Kevin Garcia when he says I Don’t Need Another Straight Pastor to Tell My Story. If you want to engage in a conversation about gay people, make sure you START BY LISTENING TO GAY PEOPLE!

Imposed lifelong celibacy is an incredibly heavy burden

OK. I understand that in the end, not everyone will agree with me. People will reach their own conclusions. I hope that people will at least get to know gay people before deciding what they believe about the ethics of gay relationships, but even then, they still may reach different conclusions than I have. But whatever you choose to believe about the ethics of gay relationships, don’t minimize the weight of the burden of imposed celibacy. Speaking about the religious leaders of his day, Jesus said “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4). It’s one thing to reach the conclusion that gay sex is wrong, and that consequently gay people should choose celibacy. It’s quite another to pretend that for them to do so is not excruciatingly difficult. And then, as some Christians do, to add the implication that if a gay person chooses another path, it’s somehow indicative of a lack of self-control.

Don’t underestimate the damage done by attitudes like yours

It’s relatively easy to discount the bile spewed by obnoxious haters. It’s much harder to reconcile the emotional dissonance caused when someone who seems to love you nevertheless embraces beliefs that deny your basic personhood. And that’s what it feels like to me.

 

January 2016 Update

_MyHusbandIsGay

Well it’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and with the new year, I figured it’s time for an update. Way back in January of last year, I posted about coming out to a friend. In the year since then, I’ve come out to  two other friends, and just a few of weeks ago, my wife shared our situation with a close friend of hers. So, progress, I guess. No resolution; no major turning points; but incremental progress nonetheless.

So where do we stand? I’m still gay, my wife is still straight, and we’re still married. I’m still celibate. I still love my wife. I’m still confused. And I’m still afraid for the future. I’m out now to five friends – the five people I would consider my closest friends. My wife, a friend from high school, a college roommate, a graduate school buddy, and my writer friend. In the process of coming out over the past couple of years I’ve gain a few small insights.

Acceptance is a low bar

Four of the five people I’ve come out to already knew some of the story. Like my wife, they’re all people that I confided in early in our relationships. They all shared the same evangelical understanding that I embraced at that time – specifically that being “same-sex attracted” wasn’t a sin, but “acting on it” was (see Not Chipper). So with each of these friends, early in our relationships, there was a “round one” coming out. Not “I’m gay,” but rather “I struggle with homosexual temptation.” And I remember clearly what a relief it was when they accepted me anyway!

It now strikes me as sad that I felt like that was at stake. I trusted them enough to confide in them, but not enough that I had any confidence in their response.

Judgment is a two-way street

So from my teen years onward, I’ve had a group of friends who supported me as a “same-sex attracted” guy striving to live an “evangelical-approved” straight lifestyle. When I myself bought into that mindset, it was great to have such support; but as my own views changed, it just turned into a new and different closet. “Sure they like me now, but if they only knew…” Keeping Secrets is exhausting.

And so I feared their judgment if they were to find out. But it struck me recently that I had been guilty of judging them in the same way that I only feared that they would judge me. If they found out that I had become gay-affirming in my beliefs, I was afraid that they would reject me. But in truth, if they had been gay-affirming in the first place, I probably would have never pursued a relationship.

I need more gay friends

One constant throughout the years has been the perpetual sense of isolation. It certainly helps to be out to my closest friends (I’m no longer alone with my thoughts), but then again it can be isolating in a different way. For most of them, I’m their one gay friend. Pretty poor exemplar, wouldn’t you say? When I was fully in the closet, being gay was nothing in my life. Then as I came out, it suddenly became the most salient thing. But when I’m with other gay people, it feels like it’s no longer nothing, and it’s also not everything; it can just be something – a part of who I am.

Roster of Love

Roster of Love

After my earlier post Roster of Hate, about prominent fundevangelicals who attacked the supreme court ruling on same sex marriage, it occurred to me that there are also many prominent Christians who have expressed love and support, celebrating the victory. So here is my roster of LOVE – gay Christians and straight allies who celebrated the victory for LGBT people. Many of these people have positively impacted me (and I’m sure many others) through their writing and activism. There are MANY more, but I’ve just chosen a few that come to mind.

Coming out as Ex-Side-B

StillGayI recently started writing a post titled “when sadness is only a step away,” about how sometimes it feels like the smallest thing can plunge me into a downward spiral. Even came up with a nifty little graphic for it. But then I realized it wasn’t just sadness that was so looming, but also anger, anxiety, and resentment. Many of us have emotional sore spots where our emotions are near the surface – quick to be inflamed by the slightest provocation – an opinion, a phrase, or sometimes even just a word.

Upon reflection, I realized that one of my sore spots is what is called Side-B among the gay Christian subculture. For those who may not be familiar, a brief primer on Side-A and Side-B. First of all, both sides agree that there is no contradiction in the term “gay Christian.” There is no sin, and should be no judgment in having a gay orientation. A small concession, yet way ahead of many fundamentalist Christians who condemn those who even identify as gay, regardless of their actions. But the two sides differ in an important way:

Side A adherents believe that God blesses same-sex marriages. They believe that the Bible passages that have in the past been used to condemn gay relationships have in fact been misinterpreted. These passages either do not refer to gay people at all, or they apply only in a lost cultural context that no longer exists. Read more about Side A or about why the Bible does NOT condemn same-sex relations.

Side B adherents believe that, while there is nothing wrong with a gay orientation, the Bible teaches that gay sex is wrong, and therefore God calls all gay Christians to abstain from sex with people of the same sex. Read more about Side B.

So why am I so sensitive to Side-B thinking? Why does it elicit such a powerful response of hurt, anger, shame, and anxiety? Well first, I’ll note that I’m not alone in this. Stephen at Sacred Tension wrote about it poignantly back in 2013 in When Side B is the New Ex-Gay (which was recently reblogged by Susan Cottrell at Patheos). I love Stephen’s gentle and vulnerable yet clear-spoken style:

Sometimes, your heart starts to break, and you don’t know why. You catch yourself emotionally limping through life, or angry and explosive at the drop of a dime, or feeling like a small, wounded child, and not understanding why.

Such has been the case recently. I’ve been struggling with very deep feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal – feelings that have made writing, rest, and engaging with other people in productive, peaceful ways very difficult. When I finally noticed these powerful feelings, I sat with them, trying to understand their origin. In a moment of clarity, I suddenly said to myself, I know these feelings. I’ve felt them before. 

It’s taken the past few month of processing and writing about my recent fallout with Side B (the conviction that while a gay orientation is not in and of itself sinful, expressions of that orientation in sex or gay marriage are sinful) to unearth a subterranean monster of overwhelming hurt, guilt, and rage. As is often the case, such huge emotions can influence our behaviors and thought patterns, but it can take time for us to see them clearly.

I realized that the story I’ve been living recently is a story I’ve already walked, many years ago.

Stephen goes on to describe how he was once part of the cruel and misguided “ex-gay” movement. How he once bought into the lies that assured him that he could be “cured” of being gay. But as you might guess, over time he came to realize that it was a house of cards. Though I never went the ex-gay route, I can relate to so much of the emotion that Stephen expresses.

I was Side-B before there was a Side-B. Since I was a young teen, and up until far too recently, I believed exactly the same as many in the Side-B camp. “There’s no sin in being gay in orientation, as long as you don’t ‘choose that lifestyle’ ” <ugh – excuse me while I go clean the vomit out of my mouth>. I sincerely believed that God loved me, and not just intellectually. I felt his love for me. I experienced it each day. And because I believed, as side-B adherents do, that the Bible unequivocally prohibits same-sex relations, I “chose” to forgo romantic relationships with men. Instead I “shared my struggle” with my closest friends, prayed earnestly, and resisted temptation.  I read everything I could find about homosexuality and the Christian. I sought the counsel of pastors and religious leaders. I dated women, and eventually met and fell in love the one who would become my wife. The whole story is throughout this blog, but especially at Greg Comes Out and Not Chipper, and Gay Man, Straight Wife. A regular Side-B poster-boy! I abstained from gay relationships, and God rewarded me with a wonderful and supportive wife who knew of my “struggles.”

For me, the problem with Side-B is that it underestimated and even trivialized the very human, physiological and psychological need for sex. It treated being gay at an intellectual level, while doing nothing for underlying human need. As if finding and embracing the right understanding would then somehow do away with the need. But of course it didn’t. Stephen captures it well:

Like several years before, though, I slowly became disillusioned. I watched many people lead anguished lives of compartmentalization or promiscuity, never attaining a joy that makes vocation sustainable. Many of the leaders were able to find genuine love with celibate partners, but I realized celibate partnership, while potentially very good, would hardly be workable for many people under similar circumstances. Nine times out of ten, I watched Side B people jump ship before their lives went dark.

In the same way that the promise of orientation change fell apart in my hands, the promise of sustainable and life-affirming celibacy for everyone who pursued it fell apart, too. I never believed it would be easy, but discipline is self defeating if it ends up killing you. I was left feeling crushed, helpless, betrayed and lied to all over again.

So there it is. My emotional sore spot for Side-B thinking is there because of my own experience. So when I hear young Christians embrace Side-B thinking, it makes me sad, and angry, and sincerely concerned that they don’t know what they are getting into. Now the Side-B thinker might say “That was only your experience; not universal truth. My situation is different. I’m entering into this with open eyes.” But don’t you see, your knowledge isn’t going to save you? I had all of the knowledge available to me; the support of my friends and religious leaders; and ultimately the love and support of my wife, who knew and understood things in the same way that I did. But knowledge isn’t enough. Knowing about food won’t take away your need to eat. Knowing about air can’t take the place of breathing. Knowing about intimacy won’t satisfy your need for relationships. And knowing about sex won’t meet your need for sex.

If you’re considering Side-B

Whether you plan to remain single and celibate, or marry an opposite-sex partner with their full knowledge, consider this. You may have addressed your need for spirituality; your need for openness; your need for emotional intimacy; for logical coherence. But how will you address the underlying basic physiological and psychological need for sex?

You say “I will remain celibate, just like many other people throughout time and even today remain celibate.” A practical question then: how do you plan to deal with the visceral urge for sexual expression?

  • resist and push down: very difficult, perhaps impossible, and likely with severe psychological repercussions.
  • masturbate with porn: if it’s your only sexual expression, it is extremely isolating and ultimately unsatisfying
  • masturbate without porn: still isolating, and what the hell are you going to think about? Corn flakes?

If you choose to marry an opposite-sex partner, you have additional things to consider. Are you planning to have a chaste celibate sexless marriage, focusing on all of the aspects of a wonderful relationship that you can have, even if it doesn’t include sex? Then you BOTH have to answer the question above: how will you each address your sexual needs? Or perhaps you’re planning for your marriage to include sex. This certainly seems like it could work if you are bisexual. (Or maybe not. I’ve heard from other bloggers like BellaElena that it remains a huge issue for them as well.) Even if you’re the gayest of gay, perhaps it can still be made to work. I don’t want to go all TMI here, but my wife and I enjoyed a good if not great sexual relationship for many years. Sex can meet all kinds of real needs – affection, physical intimacy, touch, expression of love. But if you are gay, even if it meets all of these needs, even if it is completely pleasurable, it  still will ultimately fail to meet your basic human need for sexual expression. So we’re back to the same question: how will you meet that need within your marriage?

These are honest questions! If anyone has answers, please share. I’m sure my readers who find themselves already in mixed-orientation marriages would love to hear. And I want to continue to believe that it can work. But if you are not already in that situation, why choose a path so fraught with danger and the risk of pain?

Fool me once…

Fool me

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I don’t know what made me think of this old expression, except maybe the sense of futility I feel at having bought the same lies over and over again for so many years:

  • “You’re not good enough
  • “God is disappointed in you
  • “Your faith is too weak
  • “You are choosing to be evil
  • “God doesn’t really love you
  • “You don’t deserve to be loved
  • “There’s no hope for your future

And all because of one little thing: I’m attracted to guys instead of women. The absurdity of this is astounding.

If you are gay, and you’ve ever been made to feel the things above, please recognize them as LIES! ALL LIES!

Time for something new

Chapter TwoWe recently celebrated our anniversary. Yes, celebrated is certainly the right word, despite the fundamental contradiction of a gay man being married to a straight wife. We’ve had many happy years, many happy times. Shared heartaches and triumphs. We love our kids; we really do enjoy one another’s company; we share so much in terms of worldview and values.

But nevertheless, my heart is dark inside of me. As time goes past, fear and shame grow stronger; pain and resentment deeper. Fear of the inevitable day when my secret will be made known to people I love. Shame for my actions – unfaithful, weak, pathetic. Pain that stems from the message that I heard and embraced again and again throughout my life: that deep in my heart I was evil, broken, bad. Resentment toward those who sold me the lie that, if I was honest and sincere, that god would “fix” me. That if I found the perfect girl, if I was honest with her from the start, and if we entered into marriage with pure intentions and faith in god, that everything would work out. Well guess what? Despite finding the best girl in the word, despite my most genuine attempt at honesty, despite our sincerest faith, it isn’t working out. It’s not OK. We both live with chronic emotional pain, a  wound that won’t heal.

The truth is, even though my resentment pretends to be directed at others – my family, my church, my culture – maybe the proper target of my resentment is me. I’ve read plenty stories of gay people who grew up in the church, in families that were not accepting of gay people, and yet at an early age they found the strength to reject the messages they were hearing. So why couldn’t I have done so? Why didn’t I?

Maybe it’s time to stop blaming everyone else for choices I have made. Time to start making new choices. I  mean, I can’t change what I thought and felt and did in the past, but what I do now and in the future – that is not yet set in stone. And I would like to think I’ve made progress. Many years ago, whenever I heard the dominant cultural narrative about what it was to be gay, I pretty much accepted it without question. I willingly embraced the judgment. Over time I found the strength to question and reject those same demeaning attitudes and beliefs, if only internally. I questioned and rejected them, yet almost always remained silent, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I didn’t want people to figure out my “secret.”

As I look to the future, I’m not satisfied with that. It’s progress, yes; and I’m grateful for it. But it’s time for more; time for something new. It’s time to speak up. Time to counter the anti-gay attitudes and beliefs still too prevalent in my everyday experience. Time to get over my stupid fear that people will figure out that I’m gay, and stop letting it determine what I do and what I say. It’s time for a new chapter.

Culture of shame

800px-Shame_grafitti

Recently I’ve been noticing shame as a topic on some of the blogs I read, perhaps because I’ve been feeling an abundance of shame myself. Two great examples come from the same blog, Vincible Ignorance.  The more recent post, titled Porn Shaming gives this:

Within purity culture, porn is to men what premarital sex is to women – it’s how we become “ruined.” It becomes yet another arbitrary standard that nearly no one meets and is used to shame and control people. I’ve seen too many very good boys and men, who are shamed into thinking they are dirty, perverted, terrible people because they view or have viewed pornography.

An earlier post titled Purity Culture gives this:

Ethics is more than sex. Sex should be weighted 1-6% of Christian moral teaching, but it’s the overriding issue. It’s why one can violate Catholic teaching on just wages, caring for the poor, or being hospitable to immigrants and it’s not the end of the world – but even so much as think the wrong thing about sex and you’re in a state of mortal sin. That’s too much power given to sex. I say, let’s stop letting sex have all of the power in moral discourse. It’s not that sex isn’t powerful – it can be spiritual, communicative, bonding – and, it can also be a biological release of endorphins, a stress reliever, or just pure physical pleasure. There are so many aspects to life, but only sex is framed as ruining one’s “pure” state by just one act. No Christian would say that one has lost their innocence once and for all with one lie, one miscommunication, or overeating. Let’s stick to an ethic of love, compassion, non-violence, consent, and health, and include sex in our application of that ethic.

Beautifully said. Readers, what are your thoughts on the church and shame?

Religious counseling makes things worse

depressed

I’ve been in therapy a number of times in my life. The first time was when I was in college, at the strong recommendation of the missions organization that had just rejected me for experiencing “homosexual temptation.” The referred me to a good Christian counselor in my area who probed my relationship with my father, and with my mother, and my feelings of inadequacy. Blehhh!

The second time was when I went away to graduate school. I was stressed about living in a bigger, progressive city, and fearful that I might falter in the “progress” I had made in my fight against the aforementioned temptation. Well, I call it “the second time,” but it probably really shouldn’t count. I went to just one appointment at the university counseling center, and quite logically and eloquently (I’m sure…) explained how and why I was experiencing these errant impulses. When my counselor revealed that he was gay, I elected not to return.

And more recently, since my second coming out to my wife, I’ve been working with a good individual therapist. So I was quite distressed (though not surprised) to hear of a recent study assessing the efficacy of mental health treatment in reducing the risk of suicide among LGBTQ people.

The study finds that seeking treatment from a mental health or medical provider did not reduce the odds of a suicide attempt. Respondents who sought mental health or medical treatment at some time prior to their suicide attempt (or, among those who did not attempt suicide, prior to the age when suicide might have been attempted) were as likely as respondents who did not seek any mental health treatment to have a suicide attempt or serious suicide attempt after this time. However, counseling from a religious or spiritual advisor was associated with worse outcomes. Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely later to attempt suicide.

“The findings are troubling because seeking treatment is a recommended suicide prevention strategy and this study’s results show no more positive effect for people who sought treatment. More troubling is the finding that individuals who sought religious or spiritual treatment had higher odds of later attempting suicide than those who did not seek treatment at all,” said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy. See more at: williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu

Did you catch that? Seeking help from religious or spiritual advisors actually increased the risk of suicide for LGBTQ people. Shocking, right? As I said, not surprising based on my own personal experiences, but nevertheless so very disappointing.

Signs of progress, though. Exodus International, one of the leading organizations advocating faith-based reparative therapy for gay people recently disbanded and issued an apology for the harm they have caused.  And a group of former leaders of the ex-gay conversion therapy movement have joined together and come out against conversion therapy.

If you are depressed, please don’t suffer alone. Reach out for help – but be careful who you reach out to!

The Church and Left-Handers (or, “Babes, p2”)

ned-flanders

After my conversation with my 12-year-old son (see post), I felt emboldened to have a conversation with my daughter, age 15. So last night we were out running errands, talking about anything and everything. Conversation flowed pretty easily to me mentioning something about one of her uncles who is gay. And then I asked her directly: “What do you think the church should do about gay people?”

<…long pause…> I could tell she was struggling. When she finally found her voice, she said “‘Do’? What do you mean, ‘do’? The church shouldn’t do anything!”

Such a GREAT response! The truth is, during that momentary pause, from the look on her face, it was as if she was trying to understand what the question even meant. As if I had asked “What should the church do about left-handed people?” “What should the church do about black people?” “What should the church do about redheads?” “What should the church do about people who prefer peas instead of corn?” She was truly at a loss to understand why the church would do anything at all ‘about’ gay people. Why should the church treat gay people any differently than anyone else?

Oh, preach it sister! (or rather, “daughter!”)

At this point she really was a bit shocked and confused, so I felt I had to give her a little context. I explained to her how historically, many churches have viewed being gay as a choice and as a sin. Many churches have excluded gay people and insisted that they either change who they are attracted to, or live without expressing affection toward those they may love. How even today, gay people feel like second-class citizens at many churches (or perhaps not even ‘citizens’ at all).

She was flabbergasted. Appalled. Vexed. She launched into “I can’t believe that! Why would they say or even think that? Boy, some people really push my buttons…”

My little girl really made me feel proud!