(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.”