Why I Forsook Gay Identity, Part 3: Openness

(Okay, enough groundwork.  The rest of this series will be spent discussing five reasons why I gave up my gay identity, one reason per post.  The posts are arranged so that they should get increasingly interesting as the series progresses, so if you think this one is stupid, you can just check out right now and come back later.)

Reason #1:  My gay identity made me less open to the will of God.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an identity that acknowledges where we are at, that says, “This is who I am, this is how I feel, this is what my life looks like right now.”  That’s why I balk at the exgay tendency to deem any sort of gay identity a “false identity.”  There is nothing false, in my opinion, about coming to terms with the fact that you are attracted solely to people of the same sex, as well the ramifications that has had on your past and is likely to have on your future.  Our sexuality does influence us powerfully, and it is a significant chunk of who we are, and denying that seems to be the sort of thing that always comes back to bite us.

So, as I see things, a valid Christian gay identity might say “You know, the fact that I like chicks is part of the reality of my life today.”  It would be an identity that’s like a tent we pitch in a place that looks good to spend the night.  For me, however, gay identity was more like a lovely mansion that I had done up real nice on the inside, that I would never dream of leaving.   I was settled, I was comfy.  I didn’t merely see same-sex attraction as my present reality, I saw it as my destiny.

Let me try to explain a little. I have this general tendency to fall in love with the idea of myself as a certain sort of person, even to the point where I do things in order to conform to that idea, out of fidelity to it.  

Sometimes this is good.  Being deeply invested in my sense of myself as a loyal and honest person helps me do the right thing when my rather limited stores of virtue wouldn’t do the trick on their own.  I often find myself rejecting a sinful course of action not only because it’s wrong, but also because I have this conviction that DM just isn’t the sort of person who does things like that.  Sometimes it’s just silly.  I started listening to Bach not so much because I liked him, but because I thought of myself as a person who would listen to Bach.  (Now I love his music in its own right.)  The same goes for buying my first leather jacket–I didn’t really want a leather jacket, but my DM-ideal wore one, so I had to get it.  And sometimes it’s downright pernicious.  I like to see myself as a physically tough person who never gets hurt.  So I am notorious for brushing off and ignoring various injuries, so that little things become very serious, all because of my stupid devotion to an idea of myself as somebody who doesn’t feel pain. 

When it looks like I might have to give up or change things in a way that threatens my cherished idea of myself, I get really ticked off.  For example, I love my pessimism.  I love that while other exgays see their experience of attraction change as a comforting token of God’s favor, I look at mine suspiciously, waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking there’s gotta be a catch.  I love how intensely brooding I can get.  I love how I so often find myself pleasantly surprised with life, simply because it would be astoundingly difficult for the world to underperform relative to my gutter-level expectations.  So when I recently read in a book about pregnancy (I’m not, yet, by the way) that optimism in pregnant women correlates with healthier babies, and that moms-to-be should therefore “try to see that glass of milk as half-full,” I was furious.  I’m supposed to become one of those sunshiny people?  I wasn’t upset because I thought change would be impossible–I have no clue whether or not I could actually be an optimist if I tried–but I was upset because optimism just seems so beneath me, so unworthy of the ideal vision of DM that I have. 

My relationship to my gay identity was like that, only exponentially more intense.  That’s because it was something I had fought hard for, something I had labored to build, something I had achieved.  It had been a huge struggle to make sense of who I was and what I was doing here. When my queerness began to dawn on me (and everybody else!) at age eleven, I was confronted with tons of questions:  What did it mean that I liked girls in roughly the same way that the girls seemed to like boys, and what was I supposed to do with that?  What made my mom freak out about the way I instinctively dressed, walked, and acted, and what compelled her to keep trying (futilely) to make me over?  Why were the other kids asking me in between punches where my dildo was, and what the heck was a dildo anyway?

Over the years, I gradually worked towards an idea of what my feelings meant, of who I was supposed to be.  Learning at first from snippets of gay-related stuff in the mainstream news and on TV,  and later from gay books, gay music, and other queer kids, I somehow cobbled together an understanding of what it meant to be gay, and correspondingly invented myself as a dyke.  And I really, really liked the finished product.  I saw my queer existence as an impressive hard-won accomplishment, which in a lot of ways it was, and looked forward to spending the rest of my life enjoying it.  Even after Jesus crashed that party a few years later, I fought like crazy to hang on to whatever I could. 

I mentioned in the previous post in the series how I would have rejected a hypothetical miracle pill to make me totally straight.  This remained the case even years after I became a Christian and renounced homosexual sex and relationships.  (I would still reject such a pill today, though probably somewhat more politely than I would have then, but that’s a post for another day.)  Not only did I not desire attraction change, and the sorts of lifestyle that might go along with that, I found the prospect repugnant.  Sure, I wasn’t real thrilled with a probable future of lifelong celibacy, but there were certain depths to which I couldn’t imagine myself sinking. 

It wasn’t so much about hetero marriage’s evil patriarchal nature or anything like that.  It’s more that I just felt that heterosexual attraction, heterosexual relating, and marriage, should have absolutely nothing to do with me.  I mean, I was gay, after all.  Maybe I couldn’t be with girls, but I was still somehow special, somehow above intimate dealings with men and the messy business of breeding.  Heterosexuality, like optimism, was unworthy of me, and there was no place for it in my vision of who DM ought to be.  If an extraordinarily naive Christian acquaintance innocently asked if I had a boyfriend, I would go gripe to my Christian friends afterwards about the heterocentricity and marriage-idolatry of American evangelicalism.  How dare that silly girl think I might be involved with a MAN! 

But several of these friends eventually challenged me on this, suggesting that it was sinful to have such a dismissive attitude toward something that God had created and called “very good.”  It was fine for me to point out that I wasn’t attracted to any man, and that I would likely never be, and that in such a case singleness would make a lot of sense.  But I was going further than that.  I was personally scorning heterosexuality as being beneath me, as being entirely out of character for me, and in the absence of a clear divine call to celibacy, such an attitude was sinful.  If I loved God and trusted Him as God, they argued, then I ought to see heterosexuality and marriage–His creative intent for humanity–as beautiful, excellent things, and not just for those I looked down upon as “normal” women.  I didn’t necessarily have to marry, but I had to at least be able to raise the question for myself, to see myself as the sort of person who could marry a man, if the circumstances were right.

My friends’ arguments seemed plausible enough, so I decided that I needed to try to open up my heart to the possibility of heterosexual relating and marriage.  Not that I needed to seek those things or pursue them, and certainly not that I should enter into them without some significant changes occurring first. But just that I needed to be ready and willing, if direction and opportunity arose–in the same way that we ought to be open to any call from God.  That I should prayerfully consider the possibility that God might take me down such a path in my future.  That I should consciously and explicitly submit my own comfort in my exclusively homo-attracted state to His will for my life.  I didn’t need to be straight to be a Christian, but I needed to be willing to be straight, or married, or whatever, in the unlikely event that God should so will it.

I had already sought to make my heart open to go wherever God called me to go, in a literal, geographical sense.  (Many of my friends at the time were feeling the pull of overseas missions.) I had striven to make myself willing to do whatever God might call me to do in terms of work/career.  I had tried to ready myself to renounce whatever privileges God might ask me to give up for His sake, whether money, or prestige, or whatever.  But my attitude toward all things hetero stood in stark contrast to those postures of submission.  When I tried to contemplate the possibility that God might someday make me start to like a boy and call me to go the hetero marriage route, I watched my heart crouch defensively, its hackles raised and its teeth bared.  And to see that was to know that my gay identity had to get put down. 

As part of a broader commitment to letting the Bible interpret me, I had to see myself as a woman created by God, and therefore a candidate for marriage to a man, if God placed a suitable one in my life and so led me.  I could no longer see myself as a special kind of creature automatically guaranteed exemption from the heteronorms God had instituted in His creation, even though that was central to the conception of myself that I had fought so hard for and treasured for so long.

I would go even a little further and say that I came to the conclusion that I ought to desire heterosexuality and marriage.  Not that I necessarily had to spend time and money and effort pursuing them, especially when the available methods were of dubious efficacy, but simply that I had to see them as things I would welcome and delight in if they came my way.  I had always mocked the young straight women who dreamt of their future husbands, their Prince Charmings.  While there were no doubt elements of unrealistic escapist fantasy and idolatry in their reveries, I had to recognize that in their seeing marriage as a beautiful, eminently desirable thing, the sort of thing one could easily stumble into fantasizing about, their hearts and minds were more closely conformed to the heart and mind of God than mine were.  Similarly, I had always despised the older, thirty-something single women who were panicky about their prospects, priding myself on how superior I was to them in my attitude of self-denial and willingness to accept singleness.  While I was probably right that some of them had some serious contentment issues, I failed to realize that they were light-years ahead of me in their appreciation of the goodness of God’s design, their conviction that they were meant to have spouses and families, their sense that their singleness had something to do with the world being out of joint in some way.  Truly virtuous self-denial does not arise from a despising of God’s creation and blessings, from deeming worthless what He has called good.  Rather, it comes from acknowledging and rejoicing in the goodness of what God has made, yet being willing to lose all lesser goods for the sake of gaining Christ.  My gay-pride style of resignation to celibate singleness was no more pleasing to God than the most pathetic marriage idolatry of a straight woman; in fact, her inordinate love of a particular good was probably better than my having no love for it at all.

My gay identity thus proved to be a double impediment. It made me cling to my same-sex-attractedness, unwilling to consider the possibility of changes in my life that God might call me to, and thus made me less open to following wherever He might lead.  (This may not seem like such a big deal, but for me as a believer, one who professed to love Christ with all her heart, mind, soul and strength, it was incredibly distressing to realize that there was something I simply would not do for Him, something I would flatly refuse to give up if He dared to ask it of me.)  And it made me less open in another respect as well–it made me less able to receive what God had to say about who I was and who I ought to be.  It made me less able to embrace what I could see Scripture teaching about men, women, sexuality, and marriage.  Regarding those subjects, while my gay identity held sway in my heart, I could not truthfully say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

18 Responses to Why I Forsook Gay Identity, Part 3: Openness

  1. Off the main topic of this post, but I’ve learned that there are ways of nudging yourself in a more optimistic direction, when it’s useful, without turning completely sunshiney. One way is to attempt to interpret negative events narrowly – any time you find yourself taking a negative interpretation of some event, ask if you might be seeing the bad thing as more pervasive than it is, or more enduring, or more personally tied to you. And then pick as non-pervasive, non-enduring, and not-really-about-you-personally an interpretation as you can plausibly justify as realistic.

    Of course, I’m in the cautious, pessimistic, waiting for the other shoe to drop camp on attraction change myself, so it’s not as I’m in love with optimism as such :-).

  2. Jay says:

    I am absolutely loving this series of posts, DM. I’ve linked to it in my latest post: http://collegejay.blogspot.com/2007/04/complexities-of-identity.html

    Is that called a trackback? I tell you, I’m still such a newbie when it comes to blogging. Keep up the good work, girl.

  3. Lynn, thanks for the pointer. Yeah, as obnoxious as I find optimism, I think I need to be able to go there from time to time. :)

    Jay, thanks for the trackback! It’s weird that blogger doesn’t let you do them automatically (which I just spelled “awtomatically”–yikes I’m tired!)

  4. David Blakeslee says:

    I am struck by the fragileness I experience when I am with God and my pride at the same time…

    how useless I am, how my efforts to bolster and prove the efficacy of my identity and my agenda and my scenario have brought me to nothing.

    The pain and relief of facing Him is indescribable.

    I sense that also in your writing

  5. David Blakeslee,

    Amen. Not sure what else there is to say. :)

  6. NNR says:

    This isn’t really a comment in response to this post, but a musing on the nature of the ex-gay state. I was watching that newsclip of Diane Sawyer interviewing an ex-ex-gay woman (http://www.comcast.net/providers/fan/popup.html?repeat_search_query=cure%20for%20homosexuality&v=266604735&pn=1&viewmode=fullScreenMode) and I really got to wondering whether actually ex-gays and er, regular GAY-gays aren’t actually somewhat closer to agreeing about ex-gayness than they think. Reading this blog, and many of the commenters (“Ongoing Struggle”, for one), it seems like ex-gays are being increasingly honest that choosing to live their lives the way they perceive God wishes (by not having homosex, by being either celibate or heterosexually married) is a matter of making a deep and profound daily sacrifice for their religious beliefs. There seems to be an increasing willingness to acknowlege that God typically does not sweep down and whisk away their homosexual desires leaving them completely straight feeling and acting, but more that he gives them the strength and resilience to suceed in a chronic struggle to stay sinless in this aspect of their lives as it is for other sins experienced by every human. (DM, I was fascinated by your description of your current relationships and feels about women. It’s remarkable.)

    I found myself a little frustrated by her explanation that becoming ex-gay was a falsehood because reparive therapy was more about changing a behavior than an orientation, as it seems that many/most (all?) ex-gays appreciate this but make a daily choice to try to stay faithful to their belief that God wants them to avoid homosexuality. So what if being ex-gay is about changing behavior rather than orientation? Are we saying that someone who’s been off heroin for 10 years is a fraud just because they still struggle with a desire to get high occasionally? It seems like such an odd argument…

  7. kentuckyliz says:

    As one who is single for the Lord, not renouncing something as a negative action, but embracing something else for which I am freed, I totally get what you’re saying about marriage-idolatry. There’s a lot of Christians who engage in this idolatry and who need an education.

    God speaks through circumstances, including misery as a giant blinking neon cursor pointing me away from this and to that. Misery is a two-by-four, and so is joy. God kept whacking away with the two-by-four, and it takes such whacking, cuz ya know, sin makes you stupid.

    Joy doesn’t necessarily mean happiness, but transcends it, even though it starts out white knuckled and through gritted teeth. But once freed for “poor in spirit” and “pure in heart,” peacemaking and pursuing righteousness, ah, here comes that sweet beatitude.

    Yikes, I’m rambling, it’s late, I have to go to bed and get my rest so to go and serve tomorrow! God is good; His mercy endures forever. God bless you and all your readers.

  8. Saul says:

    kentuckyliz,

    The Desert Fathers couldn’t have said it better!

  9. NNR says:

    Gosh, and here’s the flipside: a very out professionally gay-GAY (Charlene Cothran, publisher of a magazine for Afrin-American gays) recently became ex-gay and gave this interview with blogger Clay Cane:

    Clay Cane: So, what about you now really makes you heterosexual?

    Charlene: Nothing. My prayer was not, “Fix me, repair me, and make me straight”—that was not my prayer. My prayer was, “God make me whole in every sense of the word. . . . ”

    Are you saying that you are not heterosexual? I am saying that I am celibate right now. I’m not saying there won’t ever be a man in my life. You’re asking me about where I am and that’s all I can speak to. Today I am celibate . . . But . . . there is one thing I can say and one thing I will go on record and say—I will never be entangled with the bondage of lesbianism again. . . .

    Are you physically attracted to men? [Pauses.] I am physically attracted to the spirit of Christ right now.

    Are you still attracted to women or is that attraction completely gone? I would say after 29 years of walking in the sin of lesbianism that if the devil were going to try and tempt me that he’s probably not going to send a football player, if you will, because that didn’t do it for me. You follow me?

    So basically we have a recently ex-ex-gay and a recently ex-gay apparently completely agreeing on what it truly means to be ex-gay: it typically means renouncing the behavior, and struggling with the temptations (or intrisic orientation, depending on which politically loaded set of vocabulary one uses).

  10. NNR: Yeah, that’s an interesting issue, which deserves a post of its own. I would say that there’s a lot of agreement out there, but also a lot of confusion. I think you get a very different impression if you talk to exgays personally, than if you listened to the sorts of messages presented on Christian radio, at Love Won Out events, etc.

    kentuckyliz:Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, wisely and beautifully expressed. I also needed a great deal of whacking…I’m always baffled by my brothers and sisters in the Lord who don’t seem to need to learn everything the hard way. :) You’re so right about the happiness/joy thing. I feel like I spent way too long on the gerbil wheel of chasing personal happiness.

    Saul:I didn’t know you were into the Desert Fathers. Tell me more!

  11. Saul says:

    It reminded me of a speech Father Maximos (who was a Mt. Athos monk and then the Bishop of Cyprus, not a desert monk) gave in Gifts of the Desert, by Kyriacos Markides, pp. 280-295, during a synaxis, a meeting of the monks.

    To summarise: Being a real monk means cutting oneself off from everything in the world, he said, including parents, friends, things, habits, ambitions, …, complete and utter self denial. This process of emptying results in what he calls a ‘psychic chaos’, ‘a terrible void’, ‘a darkness’, ‘a hell’. At this point, the only source of hope is God. In a sense, we empty ourselves to leave the maximum space for God, and after a while, we manage to fill this space with the perfect relationship with God, leading to perfect relationships with all human beings.

    I haven’t done it justice here, but I guess the point is one made often, that it can be a tough, tough road to the perfect relationship with God, and though for some the road is short, for others, it may take a lifetime to travel.

  12. NNR says:

    “I think you get a different impression if you talk to exgays personally rather than listen to the sorts of messages presented on Christian radion, at Love won out events…”

    Yes, exactly. If you listen to the organizations, you get the impression that the typical, desired result is that “successful” exgays are freed of their SSA impulses (see “Ted Haggard is now completely heterosexual”), whereas the reality is usually a lot more complicated than that (from celibate exgays who struggle daily with profound temptation, to married exgays who struggle occasionally, to people who are completely cured and never have another homo thought. Actually, I don’t know of any of these – do they actually happen?). So why don’t we all just state that being exgay IS in fact primarily about a change in behavior, and that the majority of those who are exgay for religious reasons are douing so in (their perception of?) obedience to God’s law. Enough of whether it’s a biological, immutable characterisitc, or a sinful lifestyle choice.

  13. Edwin says:

    Yo DM. Just wanted to say that alot of what you’ve described is almost exactly where I am today. I think it’s true that we need to be “ready and willing” to accept God’s call for us, whether it be to stay a homo or become hetero. Unfortunately this is can be quite a hard ask. As a gay 19 yr old, I’m actually glad I don’t fit into the gay stereotype….but that doesn’t mean I don’t cling to my sexuality sometimes (ok most of the time!). I think one of the hardest thing for me, is IF God really intended us to live as celibate/heteros, how are we meant to tell our friends who are currently in perfectly happy couples? What are your thoughts on that DM?

    NNR: “So why don’t we all just state that being exgay IS in fact primarily about a change in behavior, and that the majority of those who are exgay for religious reasons are douing so in (their perception of?) obedience to God’s law.”
    I think alot of people do know this, both gay and ex-gay, but often ex-gay’s portray this as an ORIENTATION change, rather than just a BEHAVIOUR change. Perhaps its because ex-gays are afraid of gays going “A HA! I knew conversion therapy never worked!”, or maybe its because most of the testimonies we hear are from those who found change ‘easy’ (At least they seem to speak the loudest). Because only God knows the motives of our heart (sorry Christian reference), we can never know if an orientation change truly did result. IF all ex-gays did reveal that it was mainly only a behaviour change then this would cut alot of confusion. Until then shuold we believe them or not? It’s a bit of a tough decision.

    Hope my comment was coherent, and hope to hear more from u DM!
    Ed

  14. Yo Edwin,

    I’m not sure if I’m understanding your question. Are you talking about sharing your own beliefs and struggle as they relate to yourself, or about trying to persuade your friends to our point of view?

    If the latter, I have to honestly admit I don’t do too much of that, trying to argue with and persuade them. Maybe I should do more, I don’t know. Right now it’s sort of irrelevant anyway, because I don’t really have any close friends who are gay Christians who are in relationships now. But in general, my approach to gay Christians has been as follows:

    Mostly I just try to be present in their lives, be their friends. As part of sharing myself with them, letting them get to know me as I get to know them, I am upfront and honest about my faith and my belief that all homosexual sex is sin. But I try not to do it in a preachy way, but more in a way of sharing where I am coming from. Which is easy to do, because my conviction about homosexuality has shaped my life in signifcant ways. (It would probably harder for a straight person to bring up his convictions about homosexuality as a sort of personal sharing.)

    Once that belief of mine has been clearly communicated, I tend to leave it up to them. If they want to argue with me about it, I try to give thoughtful and reasonable explanations for why I believe what I do, for why I read the Scriptures the way I do. If they don’t want to argue but are curious about what I think, I try to share my views humbly (one sinner to another) but straightforwardly. Most of all, I try not to condescend to them and treat them as though they’ve never opened a Bible before. :)

    But mostly I pray for them, as I pray for myself–that God would guide us all more fully into His truth, and soften our hearts wherever they might be hardened. And I try to encourage them, as I try to encourage all my Christian friends, to grow in the faith.

    In my experience there’s not much point to constantly nagging and picking fights over this, or by getting all fire-and-brimstoney. But maybe I just never nagged long enough? I do worry about this sometimes, that I have not been enough of a “watchman.”

    But I just feel there’s not too much to be gained by arguing unless *they* are interested in the argument and in thinking about these issues. If they don’t want to think about it, they won’t, no matter how logically and Scripturally devastating you may be. And while I don’t want to overgeneralize or judge others’ hearts, I can confidently say that for myself, my own past struggles with embracing what I believe the Bible teaches about homosexuality were NEVER about intellectual issues. I wasn’t periodically drawn to the pro-gay arguments because they were rationally compelling, but because they offered me “cover” for what I so desperately wanted to do. So those who tried to argue with me and talk sense into me were sort of missing the point. Again, I don’t want to overgeneralize or project, but I suspect I’m not the only person who has ever done that. :)

    dm

  15. John says:

    I am the director of a ministry in Philadelphia which seeks to walk-along-side those who have decided that pursuing homosexualty is not God’s best option for them. We don’t do ‘reparative therapy’ or therapy at all for that matter— although all attempts to look at our hearts and boldly discover what fuels them to go to emotionally and spiratually harmful places in the supportive company others is, in reality, therapetic; that is can set the tone for deeper understanding of Christ’s love for us and his desire for our health and wholeness. I deeply appreciate this website and the insights shared. They are honest and sincere. I have enjoyed this series.

  16. [...] D.M. (AKA Disputed Mutability) is one of my favorite thinkers on the issue of homosexuality. If you have not taken the time to explore her blog, I encourage you to do so. She has a fresh perspective and doesn’t succumb to clichés or Christianese. She wrote an excellent three part series on Why I Forsook My Gay Identity. Read Part I and Part II and Part III. [...]

  17. maxwell says:

    It is also very important to remember that being gay is not a choice- gay people are born gay. Perhaps God will require someone to be heterosexual in order for him to use them the way he wants to use then in a particular context. But Also God might require someone to remain gay because he needs them to be that way for his own particular purpose in a particular context. Point is if God willed someone to be born gay than it means homosexuality is not a sin at all- infact its part of God’s mysteries that the small human mind can not even grasp.

  18. desmognathus says:

    DM, thank you so much for these posts. I stumbled across your blog tonight and have very much enjoyed it. I have never experienced SSA, but your posts give me pause for thought on a lot of other fronts. For example, this one made me think of the parts of my self-image that I might be overly attached to, to the detriment of my relationship with Christ and my willingness to love things that He calls good. Your other posts have given me lots of great stuff to think about too, in many ways that have nothing to do with sexuality. I won’t be able to post on them all, but I really appreciate it, and God bless. :)

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