My Day of Silence 2009 Post, A Year and A Month Late

May 12, 2010

Last year I was determined to write something for the DoS, about my own bullying experiences and my frustrations with common Christian attitudes on the subject.  But I had to quit working on it, because it was messing me up, as I mention below.  Mr. DM persuaded me that I had to forget about it for the time being while he worked hard to comfort me and reassure me of my worth and preciousness to him while I was drowning in memories of worthlessness.  I wonder how many hetero-married women get roses from their husbands on that day!

So what you see here was 95% written then, as were the other bullying related posts which should follow this one shortly.  I figure I might as well put them up now.  They’re melodramatic and sloppy to the point of incoherence, but I just want to get them out of my system, so I can move on to blogging other things.  (All the better that I put them up now, before anybody starts reading again!)  So…feel free to ignore!

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I’ve been reluctant to say much about the Day of Silence and bullying and gay youth issues.  I mean, I’m fourteen years out of high school.  I’m not close to any middle/high school age kids–my social circle is pretty sparse when it comes to the over-4-and-under-25 crowd. So I don’t know what it’s like today.  I hear from conservative Christian media that things have been completely upended, that gays rule the roost now while Christian students are intimidated and muzzled by teacher and fellow pupil alike, that the Day of Silence really isn’t about addressing anti-gay bullying, which apparently no longer happens, but rather about persecuting Bible-believing Christian kids.  I admit I’m a little skeptical.  I know attitudes towards homosexuality have shifted enormously, but I also remember that conservatives were complaining about the gay takeover of the schools back when I was getting my eleven-year-old ass kicked for being such a dyke.

So, with the frank disclaimer that this may have nothing to do with the lives of young people today, I’d like to talk about my experience, and follow that with some other posts offering related thoughts about conservative Christian reactions to the Day of Silence, including the Day of Truth.  Which, for those who don’t know, is a day (held around the DoS) where Christian students are encouraged to “respond” by  letting people know that Change Is Possible.  [2010 update:  Wow. Exodus, having taken over the Day of Truth  from the Alliance Defense Fund, has apparently removed the change stuff from the message, or at least toned it down!]

Also, I think my experience was pretty  average.  I know lots of people who have been through much worse.  So I’m not trying to say I’m special or throw myself a pity party.  I just want to give some background about where I’m coming from before I start tearing apart the sorts of things that Christians say on the subject.  If I seem unusually angry or irrational on certain points, there are reasons.

I know I’ve said before I don’t want to talk about the bullying because I can’t do it without shaking.  But I found that if I keep on pressing through, the shaking eventually passes.  Sure, it’s replaced by severe headaches, insomnia, panic attacks, and out-of-nowhere fleeting suicidal ideation.  But hey, my hands are steady enough to type!

So here we go…

I first learned words like “gay,” “lez,” “bi,” and “fag” in elementary school.  They were insults, but not especially serious ones, and they had an air of ridiculousness and fantastical unreality about them, like dragons or unicorns.  We knew what the words meant, but the possibility that boys could love other boys and girls could love other girls was beyond our comprehension.  I don’t think hardly any of us knew any out gay people.  There was a boy in my class who got called “fag” a lot; he was *really* annoying, lisped, sucked at sports, and had an obnoxiously protective mother.  (Like, if he pushed you or pulled your hair, and you shoved him back, he would take this dramatic spill in the dirt and start bawling, and he would run and tell her and she would be all over you!)  But I don’t think any of us seriously thought he liked boys.

I was a tomboy during those years, but nobody seemed to think this was a problem.  Nobody seemed to think it was gay.  I had plenty of male and female friends, and was on seemingly good terms with pretty much everyone.  I did get called a “lesbo” once, but it was a friendly tease from an older girl, made just because I absentmindedly held a friend’s hand for too long.  We all laughed about it together, though I suppose I did drop the other girl’s hand pretty darn quick.

But in sixth grade the world pretty much caved in on me, as it does on a lot of kids gay or not.  I went from reasonably well-liked to despised in a couple of weeks, betrayed wholesale by my friends as they realized that in the tough social environment of middle school, they could not be seen with anything other than contempt for me.  I wasn’t just excluded and ignored, I was actively harassed and bullied on a constant basis.  And the worst of the bullying centered on the fact that I was perceived to be gay.

It hurt so badly in part because I was at that time secretly coming to terms with my sexual orientation, which was indeed unmistakably homosexual, struggling with shame, fear, and confusion in the anti-gay (though not very religious) world I found myself in.  My peers’ homophobic remarks made me feel found out and exposed, as if I had “sick pervert” written in neon lights on my forehead.  I don’t know how anti-gay bullying feels to a straight kid, but to a gay kid who hasn’t come out yet, it’s kinda like living the nightmare where you show up to class in nothing but your underwear, only worse, and endlessly repeating.

I wasn’t out in the sense that I hadn’t made any declarations.  But I never bothered to deny the accusations either, partly because they were true, partly because I was butch enough (in a skinny-drowned-rat-with-a-swagger sort of way) that no one would have believed my denials, and partly because I turned beet red and stammered every time a pretty girl spoke to me.  (It was all I could do to avoid getting caught staring at her chest if she had any.)  Sometimes I would play chicken with self-disclosure, dropping hints, *almost* telling.  So, for example, in 8th grade I told a classmate who asked what I was going to be when I grew up that I was going to work for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. (Yeah, I know, Nostradamus I ain’t!) In the middle school peak bullying years, I never bothered any girls or did anything intentional to make anyone uncomfortable.  (I did go through a little bit of a leering-and-harassing phase later in high school, after I came out.)  But it didn’t really matter what I did or didn’t say or do, because it seemed that everyone around me had decided I was a big homo.

So, what did my bullying experience entail?  I heard every insult about homosexuality that you could imagine, and many more that you probably couldn’t (adolescent and teenage boys have exceptionally colorful imaginations and vocabularies regarding these things), often accompanied by barrages of punches and kicks.  Thankfully, the effects of those never went beyond moderate bruises.  I was spit on.  I was sexually harassed (sometimes with certain male anatomical regions pressed up against me or shoved in my face) with remarks about what I really needed, along with charming sweet nothings excerpted from the lyrics of 2 Live Crew.  And I was threatened with everything under the sun, including death.  In retrospect it seems ridiculous, but at the time I took the threats seriously and lived in terror.  I was shocked by the intensity of the hatred I encountered.

At home, when I wanted to get some fresh air or walk the dog, I had to do so in the back yard, hidden behind the house, because otherwise the neighborhood kids would invariably line up along the curb to taunt and threaten me from the street, sometimes even in front of my family.  (My family, as I’ll describe below, tended to respond with embarrassment and shame.)  I loathed and feared time without adult supervision.  The bus ride to and from school, lunch, recess, the time between classes, all were a pit of endless torment.

My misery came more from the universality and constancy of the bullying rather than the intensity of any one particular episode.  I don’t have the horrific stories some have of nearly getting killed, or getting seriously injured or raped.  But day in, day out, many times a day, every day without fail, I was reminded both verbally and physically that I was disgusting, worthless, and queer, and it really got to me.

I tried to escape when I could.  I joined the art club (even though I don’t have an aesthetic bone in my body!) so that at least one day a week I wouldn’t have to take the bus home.  I set up chairs for band practice during recess time so I wouldn’t have to go out with the other kids.  I stayed inside whenever I could.  When I had to be in public, I tried to make myself disappear, become invisible.  I would hide behind the rest of my family when we went out together.  I would run from the front door to the car when we left the house, and did the reverse when we came home. I begged to stay home from school at every possible opportunity (in my defense, I did feel genuinely ill all the time thanks to the bullying) and had my wish granted often enough that my report cards were full of complaints about my absenteeism.

But only so much physical escape was possible, so I had to complement it with mental escape.  And while I’m embarrassed to be so dramatic, there’s only one way to put it:  I died inside.  Often days would go by without my ever opening my mouth to speak–I spoke so rarely that my voice felt rusty with disuse when I did.  I stopped playing even solitary games.  When I got home from school most days I would sit on the floor of my room and just stare into space, opening and closing my fists, hating myself, hating everybody, hating everything, and trying to numb out to get away from all that hatred.  And I would do that for hours and hours on end, coming out only when summoned to eat dinner or do chores.

It didn’t last forever.  Most of it stopped after three years, though there were occasional reminders throughout high school to keep me in my place, and sort of a grand finale one night at the end of my senior year, when a bunch of neighborhood guys–I’d guess about a dozen–drunk with end-of-school-year revelry came to my house, gathered underneath my bedroom window, and kept me and my family awake and trembling for what seemed like hours with a rousing chorus of taunts.  It felt almost like a lynch mob.

But by then it didn’t hurt so bad, in part because I had made some friends again and had found the strength to really come out.

Well, maybe that’s not quite right.  I liked (and still like) to picture myself as having emerged unscathed from that adolescent-and-early-teenage hell, but I probably just got a lot “better” at transmuting pain and sorrow into a slow-simmering anger.  I remember when I was 18, in the middle of an argument over who was going to use the phone, my sister called me a “f***ing bulldyke.” I beat the living daylights out of her as I yelled “There’s a lot of people I have to take that from, but I sure as f*** don’t have to take it from you!”  Which suggests I was still carrying a bit of baggage from my victim days.

I feel silly writing about this, that I’m making a big deal out of something that wasn’t, that everybody has it rough at that age, that plenty of kids, gay or not, have it a whole lot worse.  But all I can say is that the experience devastated me, however weak or oversensitive that makes me.

I think part of what made the antigay bullying so awful was the way it dovetailed with my family’s and my teachers’ attitudes.

My teachers never actively joined in on the harassment or endorsed my peers’ actions, but they made tons of gay jokes and cutting remarks about homosexuality and gay people.  The cool teachers entertained the class with their faggot impressions–homosexuality was hilarious to most adolescents, and teachers would exploit this to try to get on the kids’ good side.  They also had a field day making fun of an openly gay teacher (lesbian, girls’ P.E., surprise surprise) in the school.  In health class, when homosexuality got its sliver of curriculum time, the teachers would simply let the class have a free for all discussion, with no instruction or direction whatsoever.  I think they were afraid of getting in trouble with parents if they said anything one way or the other  But this just meant that the ignorant bigots in the class (and I don’t use those terms lightly or loosely) carried the day while I slunk deeper and deeper into my seat, wishing I could melt into the floor, while the teacher just sat there with his tranquilly neutral smile.  In high school a friend reported that one of my favorite teachers (in an unrelated subject) lectured one of her classes (not mine) on the abominableness of homosexuality.  When I tried to talk to another favorite teacher, she just laughed and told me I was just confused, that I wasn’t really “one of those people.”  (I suppose she’s having the last laugh now, but let’s set that aside.)

My parents’ feelings about homosexuality were emphatically negative.  I didn’t start coming out to them until high school, but my mom would scold me years before that for dressing and acting “like a dyke,” and for shaming her by being mistaken for a boy.  She would drag me out on makeover expeditions to the mall and complain about me to the salespeople.  Around the same time, when she gave my sister and me the “monthly-visitor”/facts-of-life talk, she warned us about lesbians, who apparently were fat, hairy, and ugly monsters who would touch and hurt innocent girls, so we should watch out for them and make sure to tell her if one of them came anywhere near us.  My dad said very little on the subject, but what little he said showed disgust.  My younger sister, bitter about the embarrassing disaster of a big sis she had been saddled with, taunted me homophobically and derided me for my failure to be a real girl.  Later on, after I had come out at school, my sister complained to my parents about the comments about me she was having to deal with in school, and my parents responded by reprimanding me for my insensitivity and thoughtlessness in refusing to hide in shame.  How could I do this to THEM?  What were THEY supposed to say to people they ran into in the grocery store?  How were THEY going to survive? My mom didn’t even want my grandparents to come to my high school graduation, despite the fact that I was giving a big speech and winning a whole slew of awards, because she thought that there would be homophobic heckling from my classmates, and she didn’t want them to suffer that humiliation.

(To be fair, my parents almost certainly did not appreciate the magnitude and nature of what was going on.   My early efforts to talk to them about my troubles at school and my sexuality seemed to make things worse and not better, so after that I tried to keep them out of the loop as much as possible.  If I had tried harder to talk to them more, maybe they would have understood better.  They can’t be blamed for that.  But I’m not trying to talk about blame here, only about what it felt like to be me back then.)

What I’m trying to get at is when it came to the anti-gay bullying, there was no refuge.  Everyone I knew seemed to loathe gays.  Not even my family was willing to be on my side!  So I couldn’t rationalize my peers’ hatred away by saying, “Well, they’re just immature, stupid, sexually frustrated, insecure boys overwhelmed by a rising tide of testosterone.”  The world agreed with them.  Most days it all ran together–the bruises from my peers, my mom’s snarky laments about my looks, the angry preacher on the TV ranting about “lezzzzbians and homoSEKshuls,” the gay jokes from a teacher, whatever the news and the polls said about the American people’s persisting disapproval of homosexuality.  Older, wiser, and with a bit of distance, I can sort out cruelty, ignorance, disgust, fear, awkwardness, and honest conviction into neatly distinct little piles.  But at the time it pretty much all felt like hate.  It felt like drowning in a sea of hate.

There was no one I could helpfully talk to.  It would have been nice to have someone affirm that I did not deserve to be treated the way I was being treated, that it was not my fault.

If there had been a Day of Silence, it would have blessed me immensely.  Just to know that someone cared.  That someone thought that what was happening to me was wrong.  And you know, it would have been especially wonderful to know that someone cared about anti-gay bullying in particular.  Because frankly, so often I was made to feel as though my sexuality made me an exception to the human race, that I didn’t really count as a person.  (Kind of like the fine-print exclusions on the back of a “30% Off Everything* In The Store!” coupon)  So I’m not sure that a generic statement of opposition to bullying or a generic affirmation of the Golden Rule would have made much impact.


Post-Ex-Gay

October 15, 2009

I am officially no longer ex-gay identified.

Now, before anyone starts either panicking or dancing in the streets, let me say that nothing has really changed. My lifestyle, my loves, my convictions, my feelings, my views, are all pretty much where they were when I left off. I just finally realized that I haven’t been much of an ex-gay for a while now. (Which, yes, some of you have been trying to tell me for years.)

For those who are wondering why I ever snuggled up to the word in the first place, well, it did some things I needed it to do back in the day. After my religious conversion, I felt exiled from gaydom, very dyke-without-a-country, afflicted with a ridiculous traitor-guilt complex. (What a crippling loss for the gays! How will they ever get by?) I craved a new tribe to latch onto, and the ex-gays were there for me! Also, they were the folks who had been primarily responsible for bringing me to Jesus, and the folks I imprinted on as a young believer trying to figure out what it meant to walk with God, so it made sense that I would see myself as becoming one of them. And “ex-gay” allowed me to get a little emotional distance from “gay” without having to be normal. (Celibacy I could accept. Assimilation never!)

When I was going through some really difficult seasons of struggle, which was most of the time during the early years, the hardness and combativeness of “ex-gay” both reflected and reaffirmed my resolve to stay faithful to my convictions and the path that I believed most honored God, and my efforts to intentionally reject and disown “gay identity.” (No, I haven’t forgotten the series. Yep, I know I need to finish it.) Using the label “ex-gay” was my way of trying to be tough about what I was leaving behind: “Screw you, gayness! I never really liked you anyway!” And what to do about girls and my feelings for girls was, for better or worse, an issue which dominated my thought and life for years. It was my battle. “Ex-gay,” I think, did a good job of describing that. Whether or not the issue should have dominated my life so is a trickier question to answer.

I never ever thought the word meant “straight.” When a friend asked me shortly after my religious conversion what an “ex-gay” was, I replied, “Oh, that’s what evangelicals call their gay people.” It never occurred to me to consider it misleading. The self-identified ex-gays I knew were all over the map on how much attraction change they claimed to have experienced, and for the most part they all seemed honest (and obvious!) about where they were at, at least in private conversation.

I’m still unconvinced that the word is inherently deceptive. From what I’ve seen, when someone hears it for the first time, they don’t assume it means “purely heterosexual;” rather, they look puzzled and ask you what it means. In all my time blogging as an alleged so-called “ex-gay,” I’ve only had one woman mistake me for a “heterosexual,” and I wrote to her right away to clear things up, because we can’t have people thinking that!   In general, I believe that presenting ourselves and our lives with honesty and integrity and faithfulness is what matters, and I feel I’ve more or less successfully managed to do that on this blog, even though it has been infected with the dreaded “ex-gay” label for quite some time.

(There’s an interesting parallel here with evangelical hang-ups over ssa conservative Christians who have renounced homosexual sex and relationships who nevertheless call themselves “gay.” As I’ve said before, there may be issues with at least some forms of gay identity for the repentant believer. But throwing hissy fits because someone has dared to describe themselves as “gay” is missing the point completely. You have to ask what the person means; you have to discern what is going in their minds, hearts, and lives.)

Why did I stick with “ex-gay” for so many years, even as I became keenly aware of its limitations?

For a while I did it precisely because I was frustrated with and embarrassed by a lot of the stuff going on in the ex-gay movement. It seemed like a useful exercise in humility, a way of clobbering my ever-burgeoning intellectual arrogance, to force myself to identify with folks who were driving me nuts with the sorts of things they were saying and doing. Along similar lines, I kept calling myself ex-gay (at least in the blogosphere) because I didn’t want to be a coward who ran from the movement as it became increasingly scorned, pitied, and reviled. It is better for my soul for me to be counted with the unpopular, with the losers, with the fools. (Side note:  I highly recommend this Catholic prayer!) And I kept it up in part because of my dislike of the trend where more and more ex-gays insist on abandoning not only the “ex-gay” label but apparently all descriptive words for talking about our sexuality. “I’m not ex-gay, I’m not gay, I’m not straight, I’m not bisexual. I’m just me!” Or “…I’m just a child of God!” Look, I appreciate that we’re all infinitely complex and unique little snowflakes who can’t be reduced to any one label, and I appreciate that for the believer our identity in Christ is the most important thing, but I’m not cool with forsaking the use of adjectives to describe ourselves and the facts of our lives. I don’t think that’s a viable way forward.  Being a faithful Christian cannot mean that we must refuse to discuss or name any other aspect of our lives.  And honestly, I feel that this is what the anti-labelling movement among ex-gays often amounts to.  It means making coy allusions to the “possibility of being tempted again someday” and to the fact that we will “never be as though we never were.”  (And yeah I know some people argue that our same-sex attractions are irrelevant and that talking about them and answering questions about them is making too much of a concession to the world’s and the gay activists’ priorities.  But isn’t keeping silent about our same-sex attractions sometimes making too much of a concession to straight ‘phobes in the church, who want us at least to give them the freedom (by our silence) to imagine us as fully heterosexual, even if we can’t manage to actually be fully heterosexual for them?)

And I guess I also stuck with “ex-gay” because I didn’t have an alternative I preferred.

Peter Ould has been trying to introduce his concept of “post-gay” as a replacement for “ex-gay,” the fundamental idea (I think) being that we should not think of ourselves in terms of gay or straight, that we should not let ourselves or our lives or our walks with God be defined by those “un-Biblical” categories. Also, he sees “post-gay” as putting more emphasis on direction rather than position: what matters isn’t one’s precise location on the Kinsey scale, but which way one’s journey is headed. As he puts it, “I’m post-gay because I chose to leave “gay” behind. I chose to no longer accept “gay” as an explanation of who I was and instead to begin a journey away from it.” (I believe commenter “Eddy” on Warren Throckmorton’s blog has on several occasions defended a similarly directional understanding of “ex-gay,” but I don’t have a link at the moment.)  There’s some helpful stuff there, but I’m not completely sold–another post for another day. In any case, my big problem with “post-gay” is that I learned an older definition first, many years ago as a young dyke. So when I hear “post-gay,” I instinctively think of someone who doesn’t want to be burdened with gay sensibility and culture, but plans to keep on having homosexual sex. Which, if you think about it, is pretty much the opposite of an ex-gay: Camp is all we’ve got left!

As I’ve said before, “bisexual” is fine in many contexts, and I use it in those contexts, but I often found myself wanting a word that hinted at more of my story. The thing is, either I didn’t become bisexually-attracted until around my 26th birthday, or I was so stupid that I didn’t realize I was bisexually-attracted until around my 26th birthday. I had tried to find some feelings for the other half of the species on several occasions before: first as a teenager, in order to try to appease my mom and get my peers to leave me alone a little (after years of getting kicked around for being such a queer), and later as a young twenty-something evangelical convert, in order to see if I had any chance of escaping the doom of celibacy. All efforts failed dismally. So my early ex-gay years were as frustrating and scary as anybody’s, and have shaped my life, my perspectives, and my attitudes in ways which are relevant to my writing here. For example, if I had been more bisexual at the time of my conversion, and thus had an easier transition and a more hopeful attitude about the whole business, I think I would be much more pro-ex-gay than I am today, and have much less empathy with the celibate queer crowd and the former ex-gay crowd.

Some folks like “people with unwanted homosexual attractions” or some variation on that. But the thing is, I’m not sure that I “unwant” my homosexual attractions. At least, I doubt that’s a helpful way to think about it. We normally call things “unwanted” that we can at least in principle do something about. Things we can intentionally get rid of, or at least reduce significantly. Unwanted gifts, unwanted pets, unwanted pregnancies, etc. I guess I don’t think that homosexual attractions really belong with these. It’s not that we have to want them or ought to want them, it’s just that it’s not terribly helpful to dwell on whether we want them or not.

So yeah, no great ideas for a replacement.  (I have a soft spot in my heart for “failed homosexual,” but don’t really see it catching on.)  But I need to ditch “ex-gay” anyway. It just feels wrong.

Partly it’s because of an inevitable lifestyle shift and a resulting shift in spiritual focus. Gay/ex-gay stuff just isn’t my battle any more. Yes, I’m “still” attracted to women, though to be honest, what with chasing a 17 month old around all day and the nausea and exhaustion which come along with another on the way (19 weeks), I have lots of days when I feel pretty much post-sexual. But even when things are more libidinally lively, ssa just isn’t that big a deal. In fact, it’s not a deal at all. I have the utmost respect those folks who talk frankly about lifelong struggle and a need for daily prayer about this stuff, but that’s just not where I’m at. I like some girls, I like some guys, and I’m in love with my man. So the warrior-toughness of “ex-gay,” which was a big part of my motive for adopting the label in the first place, seems irrelevant now.

I’ve had people chide me for this, perhaps rightly so, but I don’t really have much interest in eradicating or diminishing my homosexual attractions. Maybe if I were radiantly holy, and the only thing that was even slightly questionable about my soul was my lingering love for the ladies. But you know, I’m not really all that sanctified. I have huge spiritual struggles with pride, greed, unrighteous anger, sloth, “fear of man,” selfishness, etc. And all of those, unlike my ssa, are a daily threat to my walking in faithfulness and obedience to God, to my enjoying close fellowship with Him, to my growing in faith. So honestly, I can’t really be bothered with growing into full heterosexual maturity and wholeness or whatever given that I’ve got all those to deal with.

But the biggest reason for ditching “ex-gay” is that my blogging journey has led me to a place of deepening alienation and confusion with respect to the broader ex-gay movement, what I have sometimes called the ex-gay mainstream, including but certainly not limited to Exodus and its referral ministries.  (I’m not suggesting that they all march in lockstep, I know there’s diversity there.  The general feel of the “movement” is what I’m talking about.)

There are two aspects to this alienation.  The first is that my dissenting views have become more fleshed out and solid.  So, for example, I think I’ve always been uncomfortable about the developmental theories and how they are used/administered in ex-gay ministry.  I’ve always thought that ex-gay involvement in the culture war and in efforts to oppose gay-rights measures was a bad idea.  And I’ve long been troubled by a tension I sense between the pursuit of healing for ssa on the one hand and the pursuit of discipleship and Christian maturity on the other.  (Of course true healing of one’s real wounds is not incompatible with discipleship and Christian growth!  But I worry that the efforts and approaches that ex-gay ministries advocate in the “healing” area may hinder and sabotage their efforts in the “discipleship” area.  My own journey had me leaving ex-gay ministry to put myself in a non-ex-gay Christian residential program in order to find meaningful growth as a believer.)  But before my blogging, my stances on these matters were relatively fuzzy, because I hadn’t taken the time to think about them.  Over these years of trying to work out my views and share them with others, these vague discomforts and worries have crystallized into strong convictions.  And this has made my sense that I don’t fit in with other ex-gays much more acute.  Whereas before my joining an ex-gay group or attending an ex-gay conference would have been fundamentally a happy and comfortable event tainted by a little awkwardness and conflict, now it would be mostly uncomfortable and perhaps even painful for me, mitigated by some sense of commonality of experience and faith.  It would not be fellowship; it would be dialogue.

The second and more serious aspect of my alienation from the ex-gay world…sigh.

I’ve written and rewritten this section of the post many times, trying to find a way to articulate my thoughts that is both charitable and gracious and gentle and yet honest about what I’m seeing and feeling.  I haven’t figured it out yet.

But maybe I can say this:  There’s a sense in which the sorts of disagreements I mention above were/are a relatively small problem.   I could understand where the ex-gays stood on those matters, and why. I could see how given their experiences and perspectives and personalities, they could arrive at the positions they did while still being fundamentally decent people and sincere lovers of Jesus.  Sure, I noticed that there were often errors in their beliefs and reasoning, and that they often put their trust in sources that didn’t deserve it, and that they were sometimes too hesitant to question things that obviously should be questioned, and that their brains would sometimes short out if someone got too close to threatening one of their sacred cows.    But these are simply intellectual foibles which afflict all of us.  I’m sure others can spot plenty of places where I am guilty of them.  Our differences didn’t used to strike me as a difference of heart.

So maybe the safest way to phrase my concern here is that I just don’t feel I understand the heart or values of Exodus any more.  I once believed that we shared the same heart, that we cared about the same things, that we cherished and pursued the same virtues, in spite of all our disagreements.  I felt that our fundamental goals were the same, even if we had some different ideas about the best ways to reach them.  That’s why I could say in my old and horrifically-out-of-date “About Me” page that I saw myself as “pro-ex-gay in the deepest, truest, and purest sense.”  Now…I just have no idea.  Sometimes I find the things they say and do so baffling that I can’t come up with a charitable interpretation.  The fault may well lie in my own lack of comprehension rather than in Exodus, but the end result is still the same:  alienation.  The confusion lamented in this post has only grown more intense.

Which brings me to the last reason for my decision to move past “ex-gay”:  I’ve found new community for thinking about these issues through this and other blogs. Yay!  I’ve encountered all these awesome gay/ssa folk who more or less share my religious convictions about homosexuality but mostly situate themselves outside of the ex-gay movement. And these are the people that especially interest me–that’s where the cool stuff is happening! These are the folks I want to think through and talk through and wrestle through these issues with.   I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with them all on everything, but I feel like we see the same problems and are asking the same sorts of questions.  And this is a very exciting and happy thing for me, which is why I am ending my list of reasons with it.  For so many years I felt like a minority of one, maybe sometimes part of a minority of two or three.  But mostly folks just looked at me kinda crazy when I tried to articulate my views and concerns, or worse, patronizingly assured me that I would understand someday when I had progressed further in my healing.  Now I know that while I may be wrong, I’m not crazy.  And if I’m not healed, well, I like the company I’m in!

(Gay-affirming friends and readers, please do not feel neglected by the above paragraph.  You know I love you and delight in your presence, real and/or virtual.  It’s just that I always knew that you were out there.  It was an enormous and wonderful surprise to discover that so many other people like me with my convictions exist.)

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So where does all this leave me? Well, I don’t think I’ll be able to completely abstain from using the word “ex-gay”. It still is the most widely known expression for referring to people like me or to the issues I talk about here, and it’s certainly the easiest shorthand.  And it brings home the Google bacon, or at least it used to back when I updated this blog monthly instead of yearly. But consider this the beginning of a deliberate move away from it when possible.

This also means that I have to redo the About Me page, which is now a complete wince-fest for me anyway , given all the different ways in which my perspective has evolved.

And now I will get to work on another post.


Update / “DM-lite?”

September 23, 2008

Life seems determined to thwart my very best attempts to sit down and think and blog.  I’ve been “up to my a** in alligators” as my momma likes to say.  I could give you the list of everything that’s gone wrong, but it’s mundane and really really long and not very gay.  And of course it’s all sort of silly in light of the REAL suffering going on all over the world.  But I’m only capable of so much perspective, and right now dealing with chronic joint pain (knees and ankles and wrists and hands) and an endless parade of new-homeowner woes has been grating on me a bit.  And yes, it’s a real blessing that we own a home, and ours is a beautiful one, and yes I need to be more mindful of that and less ungrateful.  But sometimes I hanker a little for our old apartment, with the maintenance guy to keep everything barely functioning and no yard to resurrect (or fancy expensive lawn mower to keep having issues), except that there would be absolutely no place to put Baby DM.

The marriage and the baby feel pretty much like the only two things that are going right nowadays, and I suppose if you can only have two things go right, those are good ones.  Mr. DM and I have recovered from our newborn-induced squabblefest, and now that the baby sleeps through the night more often than not we’re finally quasi-consistently getting both sleep and, um, quality time together, the first being a bit of a prereq for the second, which has made ALL the difference in the world. Our third anniversary was our most joyful one yet.

Baby DM is very healthy, very happy overall, and she’s gone from cute to drop dead gorgeous, turning heads wherever she goes.  She’s very curious, wants to look at everything, wants to touch everything, wants to put everything in her mouth, wants to meet everybody.  The girl who two months ago couldn’t do anything besides swat at stuffed animals now picks up her toys and turns them around in her hands, examining them carefully, looking for the best part to chew on.  Her great-grandparents gave her an Elmo “cellphone” which makes terrible noises which she is absolutely in love with.  They also introduced her to television while we were all on vacation together, which of course she loved, much to Mr. DM’s and my chagrin.

Her talking hasn’t evolved too much.  She makes a lot of noise, but it’s basically just laughter and merry yodeling.  She can roll over from back to belly but gets stuck there and eventually gets frustrated and starts to squawk.  She also seems to have to developed some secret method of getting around–I have never actually witnessed her moving in any way besides the half-roll, which obviously doesn’t get her very far, but today when she was playing on this big blanket I have spread out for her and my back was momentarily turned, she somehow got mobile.  I turned around to find her completely off the blanket, licking one of my flip-flops.  (UGH!)  I felt like the absolute worst mother ever, but she seems okay, and I have learned my lesson.

On to the matter at hand….

So, it’s become painfully apparent that my old style of blogging doesn’t fit so well with my new style of living.  It’s not so much that I don’t have any time at all–it’s just that what time I do have generally comes in 15 minute segments.  (Baby DM has little to no interest in napping.)  And really, it takes me almost that long just to find my place in a typical DM draft and reacquaint myself with what I’ve been saying, which leaves zero time for actually writing or editing or thinking.  And yet I really do want to blog somehow.

So I’m not quite sure what to do about this.  Maybe I could do “littler” posts–both in the sense of lower word count (and all the people said, “Hallelujah!”) as well as in the sense of being less ambitious–less premeditated, more random, shallower, maybe more personal and less analytical.  I think I just need to lighten up a little.  I’d like to finish up some of the many dozens of drafts I have virtually piled all over, but I think they’re all a bit too complicated for my brain, my schedule, and my surplus energy level right now.  Maybe I should just put up the chunks I have or something.   We’ll see.  I never wanted to sacrifice quality for quantity, but this is getting ridiculous.  I figure I should just blog really badly (but more frequently) for a while, and hopefully get back into the swing of things eventually.  So consider yourselves forewarned.

Anyway, I know metablogging is really annoying, and that it’s almost all I’ve put out lately.  Sorry about that.  Just wanted to let everybody know what was up…that I’m still here, that I still care about blogging and the issues.  I just have to figure out how to make it happen.


Medical Consequences of What Heterosexuals* Do

October 23, 2007

So basically I’ve been getting clobbered by morning sickness. Which, despite the name and contrary to my previous misconceptions, can (and in my case does) apparently last all day long.   Sometimes I have about an hour at night when I’m feeling okay; otherwise, it’s been well over a month of unrelenting wretchedness.

I’m sorry I reneged on my promise of blog content.  I thought that once I got my PhD  (yay!)  and had a chance to rest up a little I would have time and energy to blog like crazy.  I didn’t count on getting pregnant right away and getting my butt kicked by it so badly.  I’m having a hard time getting through work and the stuff I have to do each day, and when I’m done with that I mostly just want to curl up in bed.   Sorry for being such a wimp–I guess this hetero lifestyle has made me soft or something.

Anyhow, I’m trying to fight through it and get back to blogging.  I have a lot I want to say.  I’ve got stuff on the early years of my exgay experience, on “the right to change”, the rest of the identity series, exexgay series, etc.   (After some reflection, I don’t think I should say much about Jones and Yarhouse until I actually get to read the book, and I’m just going to borrow Ron’s copy after he’s done with it.)  Also, God willing, I might get to hang out with Peterson later this week, so that could provide some inspiration and/or motivation.   

So, if you’re still reading, I appreciate your patience and understanding.  I sincerely hope to get some posts out soon.  But I’m not going to stress about it. 

As far as the pregnancy goes, it’s still the first trimester, and a lot can go wrong, since timewise this is the miscarriage “danger zone.”  But I figured I would tell you all what’s up anyway, so you’ll know why I’ve been so scarce.  And so those who like to pray can pray for me and the baby if they feel so led.  I could especially use prayer for my eating–at some point I kind of need to stop losing weight, which means finding foods I can keep down, which is proving rather tough.  Apparently, the “average woman” theoretically should start to feel better in the next couple of weeks or so.  I sure hope I am an average woman at least in this respect!  In the meantime, I’m taking comfort in the fact that everyone says that my being really sick is a good sign that the baby is doing well.

So that’s what’s up with me. 

*The title is making fun of a notorious pamphlet by Paul Cameron, and should not be read as implying that the author seriously considers herself a heterosexual.


Good News, Bad News

August 16, 2007

So the good news is that this big thing which has been weighing on me for a looooong time and has been keeping me increasingly busy (and has nothing to do with the subject matter of this blog) is rapidly coming to an end.  It now looks like I will be done with it sometime in September, hopefully early September!

The bad news is that until then I might be too crazybusy to blog at all.  It’s not so much that I don’t have time, it’s more that my work has been so intellectually exhausting that by the end of the day I’m lucky if I still know my own name and and can do basic arithmetic. So yeah, please be patient, and trust that your patience will be rewarded.  I have tons of stuff to say, so look to be crushed by a juggernaut of DM content in about a month, maybe sooner.  I should be more “present” then than I have been for a very long time. 

Anyhow, I know these personal posts which don’t really say anything are completely annoying, but I just wanted to let you all know what was up.  No, I haven’t forgotten about the blog, and no, I haven’t backslidden, and yes, I’m okay, just kind of massively stressed and running on fumes when it comes to anything that involves thinking.   

On a side note, I did have a lovely real-world meeting recently with Christine Bakke of Rising Up Whole, as she notes on her blog.   (she’s great too.)  


Trying to Write About Exgays vs. Exexgays

July 7, 2007

(I’m going to use the word “exexgays” instead of “exgay survivors” in this post and the ones that will hopefully follow it.  “Survivors” is just too weird for me.  I mean, if they’re the survivors, what does that make me?  A mortally wounded victim, with only a few gasps of life left in her?  A corpse?  A zombie?  Or am I a survivor too?  I honestly don’t mean this snarkily–it’s genuinely perplexing to me.  I’m not criticizing them for their terminology.  I understand why they use it given their perspective.  I’m just trying to explain why I don’t feel comfortable using it myself, given my perspective.)

So, watching the fur fly in the Drama of the Dueling Conferences has left me with this burning desire, which I am kind of preemptively regretting, to do some posts on exgays and exexgays and how we (often don’t) get along. 

It’s kind of a scary topic for a bunch of reasons: 

1. For many of us exgays and exexgays, the choice between exgay or exexgay has been one of the most difficult and pivotal decisions of our lives.  We all know this ain’t trivial stuff.  So this question of exgay vs. exexgay is one which we can be very sensitive about, especially around those who chose diffierently than we did.  None of us really like to have that agonizing choice we made questioned again, even if we’re happy now and don’t really think of ourselves as folks who care what other people think. 

The easiest way to piss off an exgay is pretty much identical to the easiest way to piss off an exexgay–start criticizing and questioning and challenging their decision to take the road that they did.  (I say this as someone with life experience pissing both kinds of people off.)  One of the few times in my adult life that I have ever completely lost my temper and said terrible things to someone was in an extremely heated argument with an exexgay whom I considered a friend, and he lost his temper even worse and said worse things to me.  We set each other off with low-blow insults regarding how we came to our current beliefs and life choices. 

2.  I have watched so many people I care about deeply go exexgay in my nine years as an exgay, and it hurts.  A quick count-off of the ones I can remember off of the top of my head uses up all my fingers and gets a good part of the way through my toes.  And those are only the ones I have watched turn exexgay–it doesn’t count any of the many people I have met as exexgays.  I’m going to go into more detail in a later post, but here I will just say that watching people you love and/or look up to turn exexgay can be really hard and painful for the exgays “left behind.”  I’m not sure I would have used the tone Alan Chambers did in his post, or said quite the same things that he did, but…his hurt is not alien to me.  Which makes it kind of hard to write about this stuff.

In fact, a few minutes ago I just got reminded of how powerfully emotional it can be.   Running down my list of exexgays, I wondered about one of them from way back in my past, who I hadn’t really been in touch with since he told me over coffee seven or eight years ago he was done with the exgay thing and had gotten himself a boyfriend.  A bit of google sleuthing dug him and his blog up, and he’s apparently back on the straight and narrow, and a husband and a father to boot!  Now, of course I’m not stupid enough to think that means that it’s all necessarily sunshine and roses, but I’d be lying if I told you that a wave of relief and delight didn’t wash over me at the thought of a prodigal son returning home. 

3.  We are soooooo frighteningly similar.   It’s been pointed out that vocal exexgay critics of the exgay movement are difficult for exgays to handle because they know what we’re all about.  (As opposed to ignorant straights or gays who have never done the ex-thing.)  I’d agree with that, but I would point out that that’s a two way street–exexgays have an unusual amount of insight into exgay life and experience; and exgays also have an unusual amount of insight into at least some aspects of exexgay life and experience.

We have both “been there” in a lot of respects.  All exexgays by definition were once exgays, but many exgays have also tried the exexgay path as well, at least dabbling in it. (Many exgays are really exexexgays, or exexexexexgays, etc.)   Most if not all of the exgays I have known questioned the exgay path and explored their alternatives at some point in their lives.  It’s not like it has never occurred to us that we could be doing something different with our lives!  :)  We probably don’t know everything about what it’s like to be exexgay, but we know quite a bit. 

I’d suggest that our relationship is sometimes uncomfortable and antagonistic precisely because we understand each other so well, we have so much in common, so much shared experience, and yet in spite of that an enormous chasm of disagreement still divides us.  And we wrestle with that, as we encounter our doppelgängers on the other side.  How can you be so like me and yet so unlike me, so close and yet so far? 

In the same year, for example, the notorious Christine Bakke and I connected with the same two exgay ministry leaders, who inspired/led us (completely independently of each other) to take up exgay journeys.  Today, here I am, and there she is.  What happened? 

There are some neatly packaged easy answers, of course.  You could say that our paths diverged because I loved God and she didn’t.  Or you could say that our paths diverged because she had integrity and courage and I am simply a weak-willed, cowardly, self-loathing, self-deceiving little weasel of a dyke.  No doubt there’s much to be said in favor of that second hypothesis, but ultimately I think they’re both cop-outs.  As exgays and exexgays, we often have a hard time grappling with the reality of each other’s lives.  We want to tidy up each other’s stories so they fit more neatly with our own. 

And sometimes we feel like we know each other so well that we imagine we know everything about each other.  I’ve heard exexgays speak very presumptuously about what this or that famous exgay is really feeling or really thinking, as if they could read their minds.  It’s a little arrogant, but it’s perfectly understandable–they sense so much commonality between their own experience and the exgay experience that it’s hard for them to keep from going all the way and assuming that they know us better than we know ourselves.  And I will personally confess that I often go through the same exact struggle with exexgays.  I feel so much empathy, so much fellow-feeling, so much commonality with them, sometimes it is a real temptation to edit what they say about themselves and their experiences, using my own interpretation instead, because I think I know better.  “Hmmm…I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that movie,” I think to myself.  “He just didn’t get that part, or he just isn’t remembering it correctly.” 
**********************************************

So, all those difficulties duly noted, here’s the plan for future posts on this whole exexgay question:

I’ll start out by giving some background which should help explain why I feel so much empathy with exexgays.  People often get the wrong idea when they see me happily married now.  They think I was just some bisexual girl who casually and conveniently switched to men once she got religion.  But as regular readers (and old friends) will know, that’s not how it went down at all.  To say that the first three years of my exgay journey did not look very promising would be a colossal understatement. 

I then hope to share my view of the exgay path and exgay ministry and the potential harms and suffering involved, speaking primarily from my own experience.  (I do not feel it is my place to tell someone else what did or did not happen to them or hurt them.)  I know I’ve touched on this here and there, but given that so much of this conflict is about people getting hurt, I want to take the time to just look specifically at that question and explain my view.

After that, I want to do a pair of posts on “Their Pain” and “Our Pain”.  You’ll understand better what I’m getting at when you see them, I think.  I have struggled as an exgay with how to respond to the pain that exexgays report (i.e., “Their Pain”), as well as with the pain that their choices can create for us (i.e., “Our Pain”).  In both posts, I want to focus on my responsibility as an exgay woman to treat exexgays well and respond to them in a way that respects them and glorifies God.

And finally, I want to talk about where we can go from here.  That’ll be hardest because I’m not sure what to say yet.  Maybe it will come to me as I work through the others.  Those who know me know that I am dedicated to dialogue and promoting peace in the culture war.  But exactly what that should like between exgays and exexgays, people with a lot of baggage and a lot of common history and a lot of intense disagreements, is a really tricky question to answer.  With any luck I’ll have something to say about dialogue and working together, what sorts of unity and relationship I think are posssible and what sorts I think just aren’t. 

Okay, so that all sounds rather ambitious given that I’ve been averaging a post or two a month and haven’t finished replying to everything that needs replies in my inbox yet, and I’m going to be working even harder in my “real life” in the coming days/weeks than I have been.  But hey, I can dream.  And they’re all at least two-thirds written except the last one.

For those who think exexgays are boring, garden-variety apostates, um, there will probably be other posts interspersed on change and identity and stuff.  And to some degree you’ll just have to put up with me and my personal obsession with mutual understanding and respect and being willing to hear and learn from each other. 


WIFGI 4.2: Why Hating the Church Was a Bad Thing

May 30, 2007

(continued from 4.1

(Quick note:  I’m mostly concerned with only one facet of the church in this post–the church as our spiritual family, as the local fellowship of believers who we shouldn’t forsake meeting with, the Hebrews 10:25 sort of thing.  I’m dwelling on the affection/camaraderie/fellowship aspect of the church here because that’s what I had trouble with.  I wasn’t turned off by the sacraments, or by the Word preached, or by the other aspects of corporate worship offered to God–I was turned off by the people, by my brothers and sisters.  Similarly, I’m dwelling on the local (i.e., late 20th and early 21st century American evangelical) aspect of my church experience because that’s what I had trouble with.  I didn’t have issues with the church in all the richness of her global, historical, and cultural diversity–I had issues with the people sitting on my right and on my left .    All that’s just to say, yes I know the church is bigger than the ragtag bunch of evangelicals who happened to be in my immediate vicinity, and yes I know that church is about more than just family and fellowship.  I’m just talking about what’s relevant here.)

I’m not sure when exactly I realized that the situation I describe in the previous post was a problem that was going to have to be dealt with.  I mean, I knew from the beginning that I was supposed to see Christians as my spiritual family and love them as such, and while I still could and should be friends with gay non-Christians, that I was supposed to be somehow different now, not quite as much one of them as I used to be, a little bit alienated even.  But that was just a bullet point in a long list of dogmas that I theoretically accepted but had no idea how to make real in my life.   Gradually, some little annoying problems in my Christian life grew bigger and bigger, until I was pushed to confront them.

1.  Alienation from and hatred of the church left me vulnerable to attacks on my faith.

My alienation from the church and my dislike of straight believers was a vulnerability that Satan (and my sinful heart, for that matter) exploited time and time again.  I heard lots of little whispers in my soul asking what I was doing with those stupid Christians and their Christ anyway.   “Look how shallow they are!  Look how naive and innocent they are, so out of touch with the real world!   That one actually believes the universe is less than ten thousand years old!  Look how lame they are, all the things they don’t do, all the words they can’t use, all the movies they won’t watch!  Some of them don’t even kiss their boyfriends/girlfriends!  Look at what passes for music and art in their sight!  You don’t belong with these people.  This certainly isn’t the God or the religion for you–could these pathetic people have any handle on divine truth?”

Satan never got me to flat-out doubt my faith this way, but he sure got me to waver.  He got me to lose my fire and passion for God. He got me to grow lax in my spiritual disciplines, which gave him countless more opportunities to assault and weaken me.  He got me to skip Sunday services and Bible studies and fellowship gatherings.  If he can’t make you doubt, he will settle for making you ashamed, and I found that being ashamed of my brothers and sisters quickly spilled over into being ashamed of my Father and His Son, the firstborn among many brethren. 

I just couldn’t separate Jesus from His Christians so neatly, loving Him and loathing them.   After all, He is the one who is supposedly working in their lives, so whatever I think about them and their lives reflects in some way on Him. The church is what the Holy Spirit has to show for Himself.  Worst of all, Christ has fixed his love on these fools and delights in them, and is commanding me to do the same!  If my heart is to be conformed to His, then I must love what He loves.  So hating the imperfect church and loving the perfect Jesus, while so very appealing at first glance, was not a tenable long-term policy.  Either the hatred of the one breeds a hatred for the other, or the love of the one breeds a love for the other. 

By love of the church, I don’t mean that I ought to pretend she’s better than she is, to ignore her faults and go on vapidly cheerleading no matter what.  But I mean that I ought to look at her sin maybe a little bit like how God looks at my sin–with compassion rather than disgust, with sorrow rather than schadenfreude, with a desire to see repentance and redemption rather than final judgment.  I serve a God who does not delight in the death of the wicked.  And most importantly (and here the analogy to how God looks at my sin goes right out the window), I must look at her sin as my sin.  There is no major sin in the straight church that doesn’t have a home in my own heart.  (And yes, the reverse is true as well–but the refusal of the straight church to realize that and come to terms with it doesn’t relieve me from my obligation to stand with her in humility.) 

2.  I needed TO love in order to obey God and in order to grow.

The exgay literature told me that I needed the love of Christians, that I needed to be loved by them.  I never found that very motivating.    Let’s face it, the church wasn’t overtly gushing with love for me, so if I urgently needed love right then, the most efficient way to get it wouldn’t have involved her.   I’d be better off getting my love elsewhere, or just sucking it up and doing without.  The church at least initially was far more likely to provide me with relational frustration and disappointment than anything else!

What worried me more was realizing that I needed Christians in order to love THEM.  You can see this even in the quote from my residential program application at the beginning of the last post.  The Bible’s clear message that we ought to love and serve and bless our fellow believers was starting to weigh on me and keep me up at night.   Jesus’ statement about who His brother and sister and mother are.  Paul on doing good especially to those who are of the household of the faith.  1 John’s constant emphasis on the importance of loving our brothers.  The very metaphor of family and household itself stresses the importance of this relationship.     The Bible of course doesn’t suggest that we should love only believers…but it does give them a huge place of priority.    “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Of no other behavior or action does Jesus say this, to my knowledge.  He doesn’t say “People will know you are Mine by how you care for the poor, or by how boldly you proclaim the gospel, or by how chastely you control your sexuality.”  He says that the sign of His disciple is his love for the other disciples.   (I can’t remember who brought this to my attention first, but I suspect they got it from Francis Schaeffer.) What good was it doing me to fret over my struggle for sexual obedience if I was going to blatantly ignore the love of my fellow believer that mattered so much to Christ? 

Not only that, but I also needed the church to help me fulfill the general command to love those outside the church, to love my neighbor (as opposed to my brother) as myself.  I believe God intends for us to minister to the world corporately, not primarily as lone-ranging do-gooders.  Mt. 25:35-36 is completely overwhelming and discouraging if it’s your personal, individual to-do list, as is Mt. 28:19-20.  But to get involved with the church in doing those things, while they’re still a lot of hard work, can be somehow encouraging and even energizing.  You’re a part of the Body of Christ, alive and active, advancing the Kingdom–not a severed pinky toe flopping around trying to make the world a better place.

One of the staff in the residential program would always say to me “A step of obedience, a step of healing.”  She meant that the two were the same thing, that it was a mistake to split them as we often do.  We think (or at least I thought):  “I need to get healed and grow in the faith so I can then go obey and serve and glorify God.”  But really, it’s through obeying that I grow.  And this was no less true in this matter of loving the church and serving with her than in anything else. 

Working with the church (and I include para-church ministies here), either by ministering to those within or serving those without, did two awesome things for me.  First, it forced me to stand in identification with the church.  Doing service or “outreach” in partnership with the church to those outside, when people saw me they saw me as the church.  At first, on the inside I felt like I didn’t belong, that I was nothing like the other Christians I was working alongside, that I would stick out like a sore thumb, an obvious impostor, but in my experience the unbelievers never noticed the difference!  However I felt about myself, they identified me as one of the Christians, as one of the church people.  Not only that, but when I got involved in ministry to other believers, they also saw me as the church blessing them.  And how others saw me powerfully influenced how I saw myself.  Furthermore, serving with the church crippled my ability to indulge myself in my old ultra-alienated stance.  She was my church now, not just a group I peripherally hung out with or a building I sat in.  With work came a sense of responsibility, and with a sense of responsibility came identification. 

Second, it forced me into a daily realization of my emptiness and need for Christ.  Nothing pressed me to seek more holiness and more of God than the sense of inadequacy that washed over me when I tried to serve others as a part of the Body of Christ.  The realization that these people, whether they were neighbor or sibling, needed me to show Christ to them, to channel the love of God to them in some way, smacked me upside the head with the awareness of how feebly I reflected Christ, how little of the love God had showered upon me got passed on to anyone else.  (Uh, this is all still an ongoing thing for me, FYI.)  If you want to be spurred to grow in the faith, just try serving others with what little faith you have!  And the natural, God-ordained place to do this is in/with the church. 

3.  I needed allies who shared my faith and convictions.

For me The Fellowship of the Ring breathed new life into the word “fellowship.”  It’s not about coffee hour and chit-chat after the service.  It’s about comrades on a dangerous and difficult shared quest.  If I wanted to take the quest seriously, I had to take my comrades and my need for them seriously as well.  

I have always had close non-Christian friends.  Truly awesome people, in whom God’s common grace shines brilliantly.   Friends of whom I most definitely have not been worthy.  I get pissed off when lifelong Christians who have always been cozily ensconced in the church declare that unbelievers are basically crappy people not worth getting to know. (Until you’ve saved them, of course!)  This is just ridiculous.  I don’t want to deny the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of God’s special grace in the lives of believers, but at the same time I refuse to deny the love and the goodness in the unbelievers I have known.  If you like having me around, sure you can thank Jesus, but you’d also better thank my heathen friends for saving my sorry ass on more occasions than I care to count. 

And unbelieving friends are a special blessing on this path because they can give you a sort of “reality” check.   So, for example, when I started dating Mr. DM, I was really anxious.  It sure felt like love to me…perhaps with a slightly different tint or flavor than love as I’d known it before…but powerful nonetheless.  But how could I know?  Maybe my mind had finally cracked, maybe I had fallen to desperate self-deception and denial.  It seemed unlikely, as the months and years immediately preceding had been ones of increasing peace and contentment in celibacy, but the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, so who knew?  My Christian friends were so excited for me and were sure it was the real thing, but they were hardly unbiased.

Then I got together with an old friend (like, since-my-pre-conversion-days old friend) who knew me incredibly well, but who had been out of town for a while and didn’t know the whole Mr. DM thing, which had happened so fast.  Over lunch, as she inquired what was new with me, I said, “Well, I kind of met somebody.”  “Girl or boy?”  “Uh, boy.”  As I stammered out a brief description of him and what he was like, she scrutinized my face, my mouth, my eyes.  And all of a sudden she squealed and interrupted me, “Oh my God, look at you!!! You’re IN LOVE!!!!!” 

The point is, her random exclamation did more to reassure me than anything a fellow Christian could say.  In general, when I’m doing crazy things related to my faith, I like having one of the heathen to process it with.  A second opinion, an outside perspective, etc.  Even if they think I’ve completely lost my mind.  (Which I suspect they mostly do, although they’re very nice about it.)  So yeah, hip-hip-hooray for the unwashed!

But…when unbelievers were pretty much the only friends I had, it was too easy to escape from the pressure of my convictions.  I could take off my “Christian hat” around them, and they wouldn’t care.  In fact, I was eager to set my faith aside, so I could feel closer to them, just like we used to be–I hated having that sliver of difference between us.  I only needed to put on my “Christian hat” for church and the exgay group and possibly for campus fellowship meetings when I bothered to go.  Those scant hours of superficially playing the Christian could not compete with all the rest of my time spent engaging energetically and authentically with unbelievers.  The company I kept influenced me.  They weren’t trying to, but it was sort of inevitable.  I wasn’t growing much in the faith, I wasn’t becoming much of a Christian.  It was sort of like trying to diet by eating salads for lunch and junk food the rest of the day.

As someone who felt convicted that homosex is sin, and trying to live that out in obedience to God, I needed friendship, community, and fellowship that made me stronger in living the life I felt called to, not weaker.   I don’t merely mean the specific and intentional things Christians could do to help me:  pray for me, offer spiritual counsel, talk about the Scriptures, etc.  All they really had to do was to just be with me to have an effect, just as my non-Christian friends just had to be in order to influence me the other way.  Being the sort of relational chameleon that I am, just hanging out with Christians helped enormously to strengthen my faith.   It encouraged me to wear my “Christian hat” more of the time.  And specifically regarding this struggle, it was great to have people who were on “my side.”  I didn’t need them to be experts on homosexuality or anything.  But it was a relief just to be able to look at the faces around me on certain occasions and know that each one thought I was doing the right thing.  Maybe that means I’m too much of a people-pleaser, but I don’t think so.  It’s just that when you’re constantly under a barrage of opinion that tells you you are making the biggest mistake of your life, it’s reassuring to know that some people think that what you are doing is sensible and right.  It took the edge off the isolated lunatic feeling that haunted me.  Sometimes we might have to go it alone in life, take on the world as a minority of one, but why put ourselves in that position when there are allies to be had?

And I needed to be in touch with believers who were having their own struggles, both similar to and different from my own.  I needed to be reminded that I wasn’t the only one fighting a spiritual battle, the only one trying to swim upstream against a ferociously swift current.  Sometimes it helped me to think of us as taking on sin as a team.  I was more encouraged to make holy choices in my own life if I knew that my brother D was fighting hard in his struggle against pornography and my sister K was confronting her spiritual apathy and laziness and my brother T was making war on his own greedy lust for Stuff.  Satan would have to fight us on many fronts!  More importantly, I needed the constant reminder that other believers struggle to avoid sinking into a morass of self-pity, the kind that says:  My own struggle is special, unlike anything recorded heretofore in the annals of Christian experience.  Resistance is impossible.  A cruel God has put me in this situation in order to laugh at me and finally doom me. Might as well give up now and go back to sinning, so I can at least have some fun on my way to hell.    What I realized from fellowship is that other people with other struggles could often see my situation more realistically and more hopefully than I could see it myself.  Similarly when I observed them overreacting and overdramatizing their own difficulties and struggles, it helped me realize that my own dark take on my struggle was distorted by despair, not an accurate perception.

4.  What mattered most to me?

I didn’t just come to worry about my gay identity and the inability to connect with Christian community that it caused for these practical reasons.  It also bothered me in principle.  What did it say about me and what mattered to me, that I found shared sexuality such a more powerful common ground and source of connection with other people than shared faith? 

I used to pay lip service to the doctrine that other Christians were my brothers and sisters.  But I didn’t feel it, and I sure didn’t live it.  On the other hand, while I accepted theoretically that gay people were no longer my tribe, my family, it still felt like they were, and I still lived like they were.  .  Homosexuality was far more important to me than Christianity in determining who counted as “kin,” who I enjoyed socializing with, what I liked chatting about.  I began to worry that this was an accurate barometer of where my heart was at, of what mattered to me.  (Isn’t that true in general?  What kind of Patriots fan would I be if all I wanted to do was hang out with Colts fans and rhapsodize about Peyton Manning’s brains and arm???)

There was a flash of recognition and excitement when I met a gay person, but nothing comparable when I met a Christian. I was generally unimpressed by those who shared my faith, especially if they weren’t gay or exgay.  It didn’t strike me as very interesting or significant that we believed the same things or worshipped the same God.   I remember complaining once that I couldn’t be expected to hang out with Christians when all I had in common with them was Jesus, as if He were somehow trivial, unfit to serve as a basis for conversation, connection, family. 

I’m not trying to repackage the exgay claim that people need to “grow into healthy relationships” with the hetero-attracted.  I’m just saying, if someone’s sexuality is always more important when it comes to determining how close you feel to them than their faith, I think it may say something about what matters to you; namely, that your sexuality matters more to you than your faith.  I understand that many people have mitigating and complicating factors—some have been abused and rejected by straight Christians, which would obviously make Christian fellowship harder for them, even if Jesus is way more important to them than their queerness.  But I know for myself it was a worthwhile question to ask.  I know for myself that as Christ and living a Christian life became more important to me, that my appreciation of the fellowship of believers (regardless of their sexuality) increased commensurately. 

If you had asked me seven years ago (i.e., a couple years after my conversion) whether I would rather be stranded on a desert island with 20 random gay non-Christians, or with 20 random straight Christians, I would have chosen the gays in a heartbeat, without any qualms.  If you asked me the question today, and if I were choosing purely based on comfort, I would ultimately choose the Christians, though probably not in a heartbeat.  It’s not that the gays are less appealing to me–heaven knows they aren’t!  But it’s just that the thought of living without Christians nowadays seems awful to me.  No one to pray with?  No one to study Scripture with, or to ask “Hey, what do you think this means?”  No one to sing hymns with?   No one to talk about God with, or the same God anyway?  No one to share my spiritual struggles with?  I’m not saying this should be a universal law or litmus test, but in my own life I think it was importantly revealing. 

I think early on my attitude was, “Hey, who cares how much I grow or how great a Christian life I end up living?  I’m saved by grace, aren’t I?  And sanctification is a lifelong process anyway, so what’s the rush?  I’ll live my Christian life as half-heartedly and half-assedly as I please!” But the problem I found is that the Christian life, lived half-heartedly, just plain sucks.  It’s the worst of both worlds–you end up losing the pleasures of the flesh (oh you can try to taste them again, and yeah there’s some fun there, but they just aren’t the same anymore), and you don’t get the joys of the Spirit that only come with a relatively pure and earnest devotion to Christ either.  I slowly learned the hard way that the world with its enticements had been ruined for me by my conversion, so if I was going to ever truly delight in life again, I was going to have to try the Christian way more seriously.  My life as I knew it had been lost, more or less; my only hope was that perhaps by losing it completely, Christ’s promise that I would find it again might be borne out.   Once I realized this, and consequently started to care more about my walk with God, I found myself naturally looking for spiritual brothers and sisters to grow with and learn from. 


WIFGI 4.1: How I Came to Hate the Church

May 30, 2007

Previous Installments:  (Part 1, Part 2Part 3).   

 Another character quality I would like to change is my fearfulness of and lack of love towards my brothers and sisters in Christ in general.  I don’t mean that I’m generally especially unkind or cruel or uncaring towards other Christians, or that I don’t cherish my few Christian friends.  But I have a tendency to be “pathologically shy”  (as one of my friends put it) around straight Christians…This fear keeps me from getting connected to the body of Christ, which I think is essential to my healing and growth, not to mention being essential to my obeying God’s commands to show love and kindness to my fellow believers. My hope would be that in a safe and loving community environment where I wouldn’t be terrified of judgment all the time, I could begin to overcome this.

 –from DM’s application to the residential program
(April 2001)

 

Reason #2:  My gay identity got in the way of my loving the church, and my identification with my brothers and sisters in Christ. 

(Okay, the length of this discussion got too unwieldy even for me, so I’m splitting it in half.  This post is about how my gay identity, my particular understanding of and attitude toward my sexuality, kept me from loving and identifying with the church.  The next post (WIFGI 4.2) will be about how I came to realize that this was a mistake.)

 Pre-emptive clarification:   I’m NOT saying we should abandon solidarity and empathy with gay people.

I believe that God has mercifully left us a blessing of common grace, in that we naturally feel a bond of empathy and connection with those who have life experiences and characteristics similar to our own.  It’s almost as though our fallen selfishness is tricked and cheated into loving and caring about others when we recognize something of ourselves and our experience in their lives.  I think it is a mistake to ignore or devalue the bond of common experience that we feel with other people who have homosexual attractions, and the fact that this will make us feel closer to them, and help us to more easily develop a comfortable rapport with them.  Am I so wonderful at loving others that I should forgo this instinctive, natural help?

So I find heinous the suggestion that homo-attracted people seeking to live chastely should cut off all feelings of empathy and solidarity with unrepentant gays.  Sometimes it sounds like conservatives would consider it ideal if we felt nothing towards gay people, if we just kind of looked past them with a glassy stare of non-recognition.  Or, worse, ideal if we primly cringed with disgust whenever we encountered someone or something gay, just like “normal” Christians would.  The thoroughly repentant homosexual, on this account, would react toward gay people and gay culture exactly like a straight person from the heartland who has never encountered either before in his life and is completely freaked out by both.

I have tried to be adamant here on this blog about the importance of not denying reality—the reality of our past, present, and likely future.  Based on the experiences that we have had, are having now, and are likely to have more of in the future, as human beings we are going to feel intuitive empathies towards some people more than others.  I don’t see the point in trying to destroy those, and moreover I believe it would be downright evil to do so.  If I have been blessed with insights into certain aspects of what it’s like to be human in this crazy fallen world, I shouldn’t try to blind myself to them in order to “normalize” myself.

So, when I loved gays more than my Christian brothers and sisters (yeah I know there’s overlap, but I’m talking about groups here!), my problem was not that I loved gays too much, but that I didn’t love Christians enough.   Picture me jumping up and down and waving my arms over this point:  This post is not about loving gays less or cutting oneself off from them, this is about me removing barriers in my heart that kept me from loving hetero Christians, from embracing my Christian family and my identity within the covenant people of God, within the church.

Background–my feelings about the church, and how they got there

I hardly knew anything about evangelicals when I became one. 

I had grown up occasionally seeing them on TV and reading about them in the news, usually with a bug up their rear ends about “homosexuals and lesbians.” They had their own funny way of saying it which I can’t really imitate, where they packed the words with maximum disgust, sounding meaner than the worst antigay slur, and yet at the same time they savored the words, like they were rolling them around in their mouths and finding them delicious. I thus had rather strong impressions of them as this frighteningly vast but largely invisible population of stupid fanatics, perversely and creepily fascinated by gay sex, who had declared themselves My Enemy.  I had literally no idea what they believed about Jesus Christ, except that it seemed that being “born-again,” whatever that meant, was very important.  (But not, apparently, as important as not being gay!)

I never met any evangelicals personally until college.  And even then, as you can probably imagine, I didn’t really move in the same circles as they did.  With the exception of a small number of ssa (affirmingly gay, celibately gay, and exgay) believers I met on campus and online–the people who actually led me to Christ–most of what I knew about evangelicals came from horror stories told by gays.  So my conversion meant joining a group that scared the !@#% out of me.  Despite the sameness of our faith, I was always conscious that I wasn’t one of them, that I was Other, a stranger in a strange land.  I felt doubly alienated, piling exile upon exile, not like a long-lost child who had found her way home. 

Was some of this straight evangelicals’ fault, their failure to sufficiently welcome me, include me, reassure me, and respect me?  Perhaps.  I will say that the reception I got walking into gay campus activities for the first time as a freshman was far warmer than the one I got walking into Christian campus activities for the first time (or the second, third, fourth, or fifth times) as a junior.  There’s no getting around that. 

But in hindsight I’ve come to see that a sizable chunk of this alienation was self-inflicted.  My gay identity hardened and thickened from social exposure to straight evangelicals.  I became extra-mindful of my differentness in their presence.  Hanging out with them provided me with endless opportunities to feel misunderstood, to get offended, to bristle with indignation on account of my gayness, and I rarely passed up any of those.  If they misstepped in their interactions with me and offended me, they were to blame for being such dumb bigots; if I misstepped in my interactions with them and offended them, they were to blame for being so incomprehensibly weird and oversensitive.  Heads I won, tails they lost.

I got into a feedback loop of refusing to give straight Christians a chance.  It went something like this.

  1. I’d start out with a suspicion/dislike of heteros.
  2. As a result of (1), at predominantly hetero Christian activities, I’d be closed off and aloof, maybe even disdainful.  But with queer people, I’d be warm and friendly, feeling at ease.  (Well, relatively speaking at least.  I’m socially awkward whoever I’m with!)
  3. As a result of (2), I’d get to know the gay people much better than the straights.  I’d know about their troubles and burdens and joys and complexities of life.  In contrast, I wouldn’t know much about the heteros, because of the distance I’d helped to put between myself and them.
  4. As a result of (3), I’d conclude that gay people had rich inner lives, and were authentic and friendly, while hetero Christians were simple, shallow, fake, and probably homophobic, reinforcing (1), which would start the loop again. 

Many ssa Christians have painful stories of rejection by the straight church.  I have no such story, because I never gave them a chance to reject me, but I didn’t hesitate to assume that they would if they could.  I was constantly judging the Christian community like this, comparing them to the superior instances of gay community I had known.  Of course, all that did was make me miserable about being condemned by my conversion to spend the rest of this life and all of eternity (!!!) with these people

I couldn’t let go of seeing them as The Enemy–wasn’t that my birthright as a dyke?  I couldn’t let go of being an outsider looking in (and down!) on them–wasn’t that another birthright, another privilege of my kind?  I groaned at the thought of having to trade my sexy queer alienation for lame-o Christian alienation–not being of the world, being hated by the world, having my citizenship in heaven.   Going from dyke to Christian (and the tackiest kind of Christian to boot!) was taking a huge step down in the eyes of those whose opinions mattered to me. 

You might think that connecting with the homo-attracted believers who had led me to faith in Jesus would have gradually warmed me up to the broader church, so I could make the transition to general Christian fellowship.  But you’d be wrong.   In fact, the same-sex attracted Christians, in my experience, were almost always communally seething about the foibles and failures of the straight church, which actually made me more rather than less scornful and distrustful.  Not having any fondness for straights or Christians in general to begin with, I joined right in their seething with them.

To hear us talk, you would’ve thought we were all the older brother, the “good son” in the parable, the less-enlightened heteros all prodigal sons.  Look at how those straight Christians screw it all up.  Look at what hypocrites they are.  Look at the rampant rates of divorce and adultery among them.  Look at how greedy and materialistic and selfish they are.   Look how they fail to love as Christ loved.  Look at their ignorance and bigotry.

This is, of course, eminently understandable.  Many homo-attracted folks have been hurt and overzealously scrutinized and judged by straight Christians, and the latter surely do fall short in the above and many other ways.  This makes the delicious revenge of judging them as harshly and condescendingly as they have judged us incredibly tempting.  But by obsessing about the sins and the unworthiness of straight Christians–particularly those I didn’t know at all except as stereotyped bogeymen– I was making the same pharisaical mistake they do when they obsess about other people’s homosexual sin.  I was succumbing to the same weakness that devoured them, that of finding another man’s sin problem more urgent and more fascinating than my own. Perhaps turnabout is fair play, but at least in my more level-headed moments, I’d rather have the gospel than turnabout. 

This attitude of judging the straight Christians and dwelling on their shortcomings (while ignoring the extent to which I shared their shortcomings) was of course antagonistic to real fellowship, to my ever feeling part of the larger church.  I was, after all, attempting to focus on how they were different from me, how they were worse than I was.  This made identification with them as my brothers and sisters pretty much impossible.

There’s a saying I heard, adored, and often repeated to myself during this time: “The church is like Noah’s ark:  if it wasn’t for the storm outside, there’s no way we could stand the stink inside.”  I dwelt on the stink, on everything I didn’t like about my “normal” fellow evangelical Christians and their culture and their quirks, all the while patting myself on the back for being so humbly and graciously willing to share a church, a faith, and a Lord with them.  It never occurred to me there was a problem with this attitude–in fact I genuinely thought it rather devout–until I wondered one day what it would be like if the shoe were on the other foot.  What if we imagine an extremely conservative hetero, homophobically uncomfortable with the repentant exgays in her church?  How would I feel if she repeated that saying to herself, thinking of me?  “Well, I’d get away from this nasty dyke if I could (this many years after her supposed “conversion” and she still can’t be bothered to wear makeup or proper shoes or carry a purse?!) but unfortunately, I really need the grace I can find only in Christ Jesus, so I guess I’ll just have to suffer her presence in the pew.  Lord, give me strength.”

While I don’t think that sort of attitude is good for any Christian, it had an especially devastating effect on me as a new convert.  See, most of these homo-attracted Christians I was hanging out with, especially the loudly griping ones, had been raised in the church.  So they spoke about it as angrily as they did in part because their frustration was built on a foundation of love of the church, or if not love of it, at least identification with it.  It was a conflicted relational squabble—something like a lovers’ quarrel, or perhaps a teenager’s frustration with his parents’ evident stupidity, unfairness, and uncoolness.  A lot of anger and ugly emotion, but ultimately built on a sense of identification and relationship, a family fight.  But for me, babe in the faith that I was, I had no context in which to put their anger and frustration in which I joined so enthusiastically.  There was no foundation of love, no background of identification, no sense of family.  My attitude toward the church wasn’t conflicted.  It was one of frightfully pure disgust and hate, and nursing my gay grudge against the straight church only fueled that hate.  Sure, I would make occasional exceptions to the rule, deeming decent those few hetero believers who bent over backwards to love me and bless me despite my frosty and prickly initial response to them.  But nothing they could do changed my attitude toward “the church” one bit.

(Incidentally, this is precisely how bigotry and prejudice work.  Every time you meet up with a counter-example to a generalization about a particular group, you ignore it or explain it away as an exception that doesn’t really count, rather than rethinking your generalizations.  For years it never occurred to me that maybe I was slightly wrong about straight Christians, despite encountering some flamingly obvious examples of awesome ones, and despite almost never having been personally mistreated by any.) 

So that was how I felt about my new Christian family, thanks to my gay identity.  I’m not saying that other kinds of identities can’t have a similar effect, or that gay identity would do the same thing to everyone.  But this being my story, that’s how it went.

Note:  I am very much aware that much of the straight church (individually and corporately) HAS treated ssa/gay people awfully.  I don’t want any of what I say above to be taken as a diminishment of that.  So, please…I’m not trying to minimize or divert attention from the very real and terrible wrongs that lie behind gay anger, frustration, and bitterness with the church.  That’s not what this is about.  All I’m saying is that given my particular experience, the emotional atmosphere of gay/ssa Christian circles in this regard was toxic as all get-out for me.  And that this is a problem.  However screwed up the (predominantly straight) church is, if Jesus is our Lord, then she is our family, and somehow we’ve got to work it out. 

(go onto part 4.2)


sorry for the silence (plus randomness on ssa-folk and the church)

May 8, 2007

Hey…sorry for being so quiet over here.  There’s kind of a gridlock of thoughts and emotions in my head, making it hard to get any of them out.

 I’ve run into a problem with the next installment in the identity series.  See, it’s supposed to be about how my gay identity got in the way of my embracing and integrating myself into the church, the Christian community.  I spent years feeling super-isolated, like a stranger in a strange land, a dyke among fundies, and it was mostly my fault.  I was always judging them, looking down on them, assuming they were bigots even when they weren’t, interpreting every little thing they said or did as uncharitably as possible–because I couldn’t/wouldn’t stop thinking about my gayness vs. their straightness.  And my Christian walk became so much richer when I started seeing myself as one of them, and started seeing them as my brothers and sisters, embracing them, opening up to them, trusting them, loving them, etc.  Realizing that straight conservative evangelicals are not the devil changed my life.

So I was writing about that.  But Ron helped me realize there’s a huge problem here.  I am confident that what I describe above is an accurate analysis of my own situation.  But the fact is that a lot of gay/ssa people DO get thoroughly burned by the straight church, and it ISN’T their fault.  Rejection, ignorance, hatred, fear, etc.  So there are plenty of people out there who would be entirely within their rights to think me a Pollyanna, or an insensitive jerk, or both, if I just said “I think we all need to open up to the straight church and love them.”  Sure it might have panned out well for me, but it backfires, a lot! 

I feel I shouldn’t worry about it too much, because I’m clearly just telling my own story here.  But at the same time, I’m no solipsist.  If I say something here on this blog, it’s because I think it might meaningfully connect with someone else’s situation, however indirectly. 

What makes it harder is that I don’t know the relative numbers of different kinds of churches.  How unusual is my positive experience of the church?  How common is the negative experience?  How many ssa Christians are getting burned by trusting the straight church, and how many are hardening their hearts and closing themselves off from the church unnecessarily because of an assumption that the people around them are evil homophobes even when they’re not? 

People sometimes tell me “Well you just got lucky in finding a good church.” Okay, except I’ve attended four churches since becoming a believer (because of moving, not because of church-hopping), so I’ve gotten lucky four times in a row.   Granted, three of those churches were in the Northeast:  New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.  But I live in the Midwest now, so you can’t use the “enlightened liberal northeastern folk” excuse anymore.  So you have to understand that from my perspective, I feel like I’ve been selling the straight church short all these years.  Every time a Christian was nice to me, I was always like, “Oh, I guess they’re just an exception to the rule.”  But here I am, almost nine years into my Christian life, and I have never been homophobically mistreated in real life by an evangelical Christian.  (Of course on the internet all bets are off!)  I have encountered some ignorance in the church, to be sure, but it wasn’t ill-intentioned, and when I took the ignorant ones aside and explained things to them, they responded fairly well.  And I have never heard a homophobic sermon in an evangelical church that I attended.  I have heard one sermon on homosexuality–in Massachusetts in the midst of the furor over impending gay marriage–but it was astonishingly irenic, and the pastor spoke powerfully about the importance of supporting/defending gay people’s ability to provide for and protect their families.

(In the interest of being fully honest about my church experience, I should note that I heard several homophobic sermons in the Catholic Church growing up.  In my teens, even though I was an avowed atheist, I often went to Sunday Mass with my mom, to keep her company and also to tease her about the superstitious folly of religion and the backwardness of the church.   And wow, this one priest did NOT like gays.  His fiercest vitriol was saved for Sundays before St. Patrick’s Day, to accompany the annual kerfuffle over gay groups wanting to be part of the parade.  Once he went off on the “sodomites” and “perverts” with such venom that my mom (who was no PFLAGer!) whispered to me, “Do you think we should get up and walk out?”  I said no, even though I was touched that she was willing to sin mortally and defiantly to defend my honor, because it was so amusing to watch that sorry little man foaming at the mouth over my existence.  It made me feel powerful.)

Anyhow, that’s the conundrum.  How do I talk about my own experience in a way that doesn’t insult others?   And what can I say to other homo-attracted Christians about embracing and loving the church (which I believe we are called to do!)  that would be helpful and not likely to blow up in their faces?  And what are they supposed to do if the straight church screws them over and treats them like dirt?  What does brotherly love (on our part) look like then? 


Why I Forsook Gay Identity, Part 3: Openness

April 12, 2007

(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.”


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