Why I Forsook Gay Identity, Part 1: Introduction

March 30, 2007

Last August I said:

But I found for myself that moving past gay identity was essential for living stably and contentedly according to my beliefs as a same-sex attracted Christian woman. So this part of the exgay teaching I found extremely helpful. I really need to say more about it, but I don’t think this post is quite the place to do it. So let me just say this: Abandoning gay identity doesn’t mean being in denial. It doesn’t mean “naming it and claiming it,” proclaiming that you’re “healed,” that you’re totally straight and happily heterosexual, while you’re still homosexually attracted. What it means is radically altering the role that the fact of your homosexual attractions plays in your thinking about your self and your life. 

Well, this is the place where more gets said.  The question of gay identity and what should be done with it keeps popping up in my posts here and there, and I feel guilty that every time I just do a little handwaving and move on.  If I’m going to run around talking about how great it is to nail your gay identity to the cross, I had better take the time to examine that idea and to clarify what I’m talking about.

In addition to fulfilling my intellectual responsibilities, I also want to encourage my brothers and sisters who feel similarly convicted.  In my experience, when you are struggling to give up your gay identity, nobody understands you.  Christians can’t grasp what the big deal is, why there would be any struggle at all, why you would ever be tempted to think of yourself as gay for a moment now that Jesus has liberated you.  And gays think you are being dishonest or that you’ve simply gone insane or that you’ve “drunk the exgay kool-aid.”  It can really suck to be caught between the “How dare you call yourself gay?” crowd and the “How dare you NOT call yourself gay?” crowd. 

I’ve wrestled with this subject off and on for a long time, but this post of Eve Tushnet’s is what inspired me (eventually) to sit down and try to hammer out what I think.  Virtually nothing of what I have to say will be a reply to her, at least up until my final post in this series, and even then it’ll be a rather oblique reply, more of a “yeah, but…” than a “no way Jose!”  Still, her articulation of what she sees as reasons for embracing gay identity really got me thinking, precisely because I mostly agree with her about all those things.  The intriguing question for me was:  Given that we share so many premises, how the heck did I end up here?  

 In the rest of this post I want to emphasize and explain how the posts that follow are a discussion of my personal experience. Hence the very me-focused title of the series.  This is not “Why Gay Identity Is Bad” or “Your Gay Identity Is A Stench In God’s Nostrils So Get Rid Of It Now Before He Becomes Very Wroth And Smites You.”  I expect that bits and pieces of what I have to say about myself and my life might have some relevance to others. But this is not an advice column, and it’s definitely not a lecture or sermon about what anybody else should be doing.  It kind of started out as an apologia, but it’s not even that now.  It’s more just, “Well, this is what I was thinking.” 

What follows reflects my Christian convictions and my convictions about homosexuality.

Everything that I am going to say assumes that homosex is sin. I know some readers are eagerly waiting for me to defend that assumption. Unfortunately, I’m really busy right now, and therefore reluctant to open the floodgates of controversy.  I suspect I would get many intelligent replies disagreeing with me, which I simply could not adequately respond to right now. I don’t want to start something I can’t finish.

What follows reflects what gayness meant to me.

I am aware that the gayness means different things to different people, which is why I think it’s a little silly to obsess about the word “gay” in the way that some do.  I spell out in my next post what being gay meant to me. What I have to say will probably have little relevance to those with a radically different view. I’d love to hear in the comment threads or via email how others saw things differently, but I don’t intend to take such differences to be objections to what I have to say.  Your Mileage May Vary.

What follows reflects my own positive experience of gay stuff.

Although I don’t get into it explicitly in this series, my struggle with homosexuality and gay identity has always been in part about the difficulty of giving up something valuable, something at least partly good.   This is confusing to some people.  I have heard well-intentioned Christians insist that true healing for the homosexual means “seeing through the deception of homosexuality,” which apparently means devaluing and despising every aspect of gayness and gay life as utterly corrupt and worthless.  So what I have to say in this series will seem to many to stop well short of where I should go.

As I’ve said before, if there was some extraordinary inherent awfulness and emptiness to gay life, God snatched me away before I could discover it. Yes, I converted when I was twenty, and maybe if I’d been a self-avowed unrepentant practicing homosexual until the age of forty or sixty or whatever my perspective would be different. But I can only talk about what I know. My experience of gay love, friendship, community, culture, etc., while far from perfect (hey, it involved me, so what did you expect?) was chock-full of common grace.   When I converted, there was rejoicing in my heart over my new life in Christ, but there was grief as well, a sense of great loss.  Maybe some of that grief was sinful, but I don’t think it all was.  God has made up to me richly and abundantly everything I gave up, but that doesn’t mean the things I gave up initially were worthless. 

I have heard some tragic and painful stories of others’ experiences with gay people, gay relationships, and gay life, and I know many more who were simply far less impressed with their gay adventure than I was.  It is not my intention in this post (or ever) to argue with anyone else’s story.  But again, I can only tell my own.

What follows reflects my observations of the “spiritual dynamics” of gay identity within my own life.

For me, I don’t think gay identity in and of itself was sin, but it wasn’t exactly innocuous either.  It was like Samson going to sleep in Delilah’s lap.  (Jdg. 16)  Temptation is an unavoidable part of life, but there are things we can do to put ourselves right in temptation’s hands (paws? talons?) so that it can abuse us, torment us, get an advantage on us. In this specific case, my homosexual temptations were perhaps unavoidable, but in continuing to embrace my gay identity I made myself more vulnerable to them, weaker agaisnt them. It made it harder for me to think clearly. It compromised me in a lot of ways.  Anyway, I understand that gay identity might interact differently with other people’s spiritual lives.

What follows reflects my own struggle, based on my own specific weaknesses

Abandoning gay identity was a last resort when my spiritual life was more or less in total meltdown. If I had been better at living a celibate gay-identified life, I probably never would have tried anything else. But I had some strikes against me which made that incredibly difficult, and turned my Christian walk into this constant soap opera of whether or not I was going to ditch God:

  1. I was spectacularly butch. Like, getting-repeatedly-barred-from-or-chased-out-of-ladies’-restrooms butch. (Once by a very large female janitor brandishing a mop handle, which was especially exciting!) I suspect that if I had looked a little more normal, I might have felt more comfortable with Christians, and vice versa.
  2. I was deeply ashamed of what a hard time I was having as a homo-attracted Christian. I did not make it look easy. I felt humiliated over being so much worse at something (i.e., being a Christian) than everybody else who was trying it. And I was totally ashamed of being associated with exgays and homophobic evangelicals. My pride kept screaming at me to go back to familiar territory, to what I was good at–as if my libido needed any encouragement! If I hadn’t been so prideful, maybe I wouldn’t have had such a hard time.
  3. I simply could not figure out how to sublimate sexual desire. I had some very patient long-term celibate friends who tried to explain it to me. I believe it’s possible, I really do. I just must really suck at it.  So I was basically super-sexually-frustrated all the time.  (uh, except when I wasn’t.)  

So, my particular issues with gay identity were the issues of a woman struggling fiercely, teetering on the brink of apostasy.  (You can read more about that here and here and a little bit here.)  They may not apply to those who aren’t doing such a crap job of living the Christian life, which most likely includes you, dear reader. 

Go on to Part 2


Okay, here we go!

March 29, 2007

From last September:

I’m not quite ready to take on “Why did I forsake gay identity?” yet.  I’ve been putting off thinking about how to articulate the answer to that question for years because I’ve always suspected that it would be really tough to do, and it sure is. I’m basically trying to translate intuitions and hunches and gut feelings into coherent reasons and principles.  Which is probably as futile an endeavor as it sounds, but I’m gonna try anyway!

The next post (tomorrow morning) will begin a series on why I ditched my gay identity which will probably span seven or so (!) posts.  

This has been a tough and prickly issue for me.  So tough that the only way to work up the nerve to make myself write about it has been to resolve not to write any other posts until I do so.  It’s that tough…

…partly because it involves taking a pre-established side in an existing controversy.  If you haven’t noticed yet, I prefer to sidestep the traditional partisan divides in what I write.  I like being slippery, tough to peg. Well, no matter how hard I try to qualify or soften it, there’s nothing slippery or maverick about my stance here. My position, at least regarding myself and my own life, is textbook exgay.  All the edginess I can muster is to say that perhaps my experience shouldn’t be generalized.    Wow.  Way to color outside the lines, DM. 

…partly because it’s so intensely personal.  I don’t intend to do much wallowing-in-the-past in this series, but since my decision emerged from some heavy-duty spiritual struggle, thinking about why I did what I did involves reliving some of the ugly parts of my life, even if I mercifully opt to spare you the details. (How low would you have to sink before you would sign yourself up for a humiliating residential program?)  And even if I could have made the decision in happier circumstances, the very nature of the choice has a kind of existential terribleness about it. 

…partly because my abandoning of gay identity has been a rather partial and incomplete process, and one I’m not in a huge hurry to finish.  I’m sure through this filter of plain text I come across as a paragon of straightness, but few who have actually met me in person take me seriously when I profess to have given up “gay identification.”  Suppressed chuckles are not uncommon.  As one friend retorted after I tried to explain why I no longer identified as gay, “Well, you’re queer enough.” Even my husband, when talking to me about gay-related issues, refers to the LGB community as “you people.”  None of that bothers me; in fact, I not-so-secretly relish it.  But it does make me feel awkward writing this stuff–who am I to talk about giving up gay identity? 

…and partly because I don’t really have clear answers.  As I said in the quote above, the decision was not an overtly intellectual one.  I gave up my gay identity because it felt like what I had to do.  In trying to write about it, I first hoped that once I really buckled down and thought it through, the rationality of it all would become obvious to me.  That didn’t quite happen.  Part of me wants to wait until I attain greater clarity of vision on the subject before posting anything.  But the other comment threads have proven so helpful to me that I think I’m better off thrashing blindly in the presence of others than holing up inside my head trying to figure it all out on my own. 

So, here we go.

Comment replies on previous threads will be my next priority once I get this new series of posts a little bit underway.  For those who don’t keep on top of the comments, I note that Jon Trott of BlueChristian.com and JPUSA (yay!) and Ron Belgau have reopened discussion on the Irresistible Force/Immovable Object thread, and I’ll be diving in shortly.  Not-so-new Reader, you’re going to have to wait a little while for my verdict on birth control.  That’ll feel like a cakewalk after this.

Haggard Update

March 11, 2007

Ron Belgau alerted me to this:

Another overseer, the Rev. Tim Ralph of New Covenant Fellowship in Larkspur, Colo., said he was “misquoted” recently as saying Haggard was “completely heterosexual.” He said he meant to say that therapy “gave Ted the tools to help to embrace his heterosexual side.

 So, I guess it was all a big misunderstanding.  In any case, I don’t think my previous thoughts on the subject are entirely without value, even though they may not apply to Haggard or the church he pastored.

Otherwise, things are quiet over here, as I’ve realized that I keep writing the easy posts in order to avoid thinking about and working on the hard ones.  There are all kinds of things I could say, and hope to say at some point, about stuff like this, this, this, and this.  But there are some tougher questions I need to wrestle with first.