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.”


Haggard’s Cure

February 12, 2007

Addendum/Correction: 

When I wrote this post, I assumed that the person who informed the press that Haggard was “completely heterosexual,” someone who was acting in an overseer’s capacity over Haggard in some respect, would accurately relate Haggard’s own view of his progress.   At the time that seemed like an obvious assumption–what motive could his church have for exaggerating or misrepresenting his healing?  Why would they risk getting egg on their face and looking like dupes again, by making some over-optimistic claim that Haggard wouldn’t even make for himself?  Wouldn’t they be more likely, as those overseeing and counseling him, having been burned by his deception in the past, to encourage him to be more humble, more cautious, more moderate in his views of himself?   I sort of imagined it in my head as Haggard arguing with them, “Guys, I swear!  It’s for real this time! I’m completely heterosexual!”, and the committee only grudgingly, gradually relenting and agreeing to convey this news to the press.  I was angry at them for agreeing to go along with this lunacy.  (Unless it was a miraculous transformation.  Even then, I think a little caution in declaring this miracle authentic would be wise.) 

But the more that I think about it (Eve Tushnet planted the seed of doubt in the comment thread below), the assumption that the overseers would necessarily accurately convey Haggard’s view of his sexuality seems slightly less obvious.  It has occurred to my inner cynic that perhaps the overseers in the church (and the special team of people who agreed to oversee his counseling/healing process) just might want to make this whole thing disappear, get it over with, rather than deal with the messy long term reality of the struggle.  Let’s just say he’s fine, and ship him off to the Midwest!  I’d hate to think that they would do this, but it’s possible. 

I see that the email  that Haggard sent to some members of the church–two days before the “completely heterosexual” statement hit the presses–seems extraordinarily restrained in its claims about healing, and the word “heterosexual,” not to mention the phrase “completely heterosexual,” does not appear.  He says, rather, “As part of New Life’s efforts to help me, they sent Gayle and me to Phoenix for a three-week psychological intensive that gave us three years worth of analysis and treatment. We all wanted to know why I developed such incongruity in my life. Thankfully, with the tools we gained there, along with the powerful way God has been illuminating His Word and the Holy Spirit has been convicting and healing me, we now have growing understanding which is giving me some hope for a future.” 

So, if Haggard doesn’t think he’s completely heterosexual, or healed, or whatever, much of what I have to say below may not apply to him.  If it is his church overseers who decided themselves to declare him completely heterosexual, I am doubly (or more like octuply!) horrified at them for making a statement that I believe is likely to bear destructive fruit.

Anyway, I’ve edited this post in order to correct it accordingly–making explicit my assumptions in some places, and getting rid of them in others. 

***********************************

 The “same new reader” has requested a post on Ted Haggard’s cure.

Well, I don’t think it’s likely that he’s completely heterosexual, if that’s what you’re asking.  Of course, we have to remember that “completely heterosexual” can mean almost anything in certain exgay or evangelical circles, depending on whom you talk to.  But let’s assume that it means that his sexual attractions are solely directed towards women, that he has no sexual interest in men whatsoever.  And, let’s assume for this discussion that “completely heterosexual” is how Haggard would describe himself, something which is not clear, as the assertion of his complete heterosexuality was made by a church overseer and not by himself.

The way I see it, there are three possibilities at this point:

1.  He was instantaneous, miraculously changed.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand why God would change Haggard instead of the many other people I know and love who would be delighted to experience such a transformation.  But, then again, I’m not God, and there are a lot of things that God does that I don’t quite understand. 

2.  He’s flat-out lying, intentionally b.s.-ing everyone.

I know it’s not nice to suggest this.  I’d point out, though, that after the scandal broke, he was stunningly deceptive and slippery in his statements, always denying everything until denial is totally futile, and then admitting to as little as possible.  More like a politician than a shepherd of souls, if you ask me.  I would put more stock in his honesty if he had been forthright from the beginning. 

3.  He genuinely feels and believes that he is fixed.

There’s two ways this could be brought about.  I don’t know what took place in his intensive therapy, but perhaps it was some sort of Clockwork Orange thing.  I think it’s entirely possible that at least in the short run, a man could be made to believe that he is completely heterosexual through aversion therapy or programming or the like.  I’m inclined to think that in the short run, any sort of belief or behavior can be produced in a human being. 

Or perhaps (this is the second way) it’s not a matter of therapy at all, but simply the good old time-honored techniques of self-deception and wishful thinking.  In the short run, when we want to badly enough, we can believe almost anything about ourselves–even without a professional’s aid.  It is very easy to take a temporary fluctuation or easing up in our attractions as proof of a “cure”.  It is easy to reinterpret our feelings, in the short run at least, treating them as something other than they are. 

This sort of thing is fairly common among people who desire attraction change.  If I had a nickel for every person who ecstatically shared with me how much their attractions were changing, how much they were experiencing God’s healing touch, and then months or years later told me it was all a crock (usually on their way back to embracing homosexual relationships), well, I might not be rich but I would definitely have a lot of nickels. 

There can be a lot of fluctuations in our experience of our sexuality (over days or weeks or months) that don’t necessarily mean much.  So, for example, as I’ve discussed before, my sexual attractions evaporated almost completely in the residential program.  And there were times outside of that when I discovered that wasn’t attracted to a particular woman, or that I took a certain sort of interest in a man, and made it out to be something much bigger than it was.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying seasons of lessened attraction to the same sex or increased interest in the opposite sex.  But I think we set ourselves up for serious disappointment if we take any of these things as conclusive proof of permanent healing.  You can very easily find yourself a week or a month later right back where you were. 

This is not to say, however, that attraction change is impossible, that all experiences of fluidity are but fleeting and deceptive. I do not think we have evidence for saying as much, and my own story suggests otherwise, at least to me.  I know other people who have gone through exgay ministries and/or therapy who tell me they have experienced attraction change that is meaningful to them, even if it isn’t “complete heterosexuality,” and in many cases I believe them.  (I’m baffled by the tendency of some to take all exexgay/antiexgay testimonies at face value, and to dismiss all exgay testimonies.  It seems to me that both groups in general could have motives and reasons for seeing things through somewhat distorted lenses.)  Furthermore, while I don’t know any of them personally, I have heard of several instances of perfectly ordinary gay people (both male and female), thoroughly embracing their homosexuality, who one day find themselves falling in love with and sexually drawn to a person of the opposite sex.  My understanding is that most gay people would acknowledge such examples of random fluidity, although they might dismiss it as bisexuality.  (“REAL gay people could never fall in love with someone of the opposite sex.”)  I’m not opposed to calling it bisexuality, as long as it is acknowledged that it is a stealthy, surprising sort of bisexuality, with which you can have attractions and experiences identical to that of a thoroughly homosexual person for many years, and then suddenly start feeling something else out of the blue.  None of us, no matter how gay, can know for sure that we aren’t that sort of “sleeper” bisexual.     

I don’t think we can always neatly sort the fleeting from the non-fleeting, or the deceptive from the real.  As I’ve shared before, I put off Mr. DM’s talk about marriage for a while, not sure whether I could trust my feelings toward him or not.  And while we ought not be permanently paralyzed by the uncertainty of the future, as I eventually decided in connection with Mr. DM, I do think that we ought to be cautious, circumspect within reasonable limits.   This proclamation of complete heterosexuality, to me, indicates an unfortunate lack of caution. It’s a little hasty, to say the least.  And to talk about “complete” anything, this side of heaven, sounds awfully sketchy to my ears. 

Regardless of what the correct explanation is for the announcement, I suspect it will turn out to have bad results.  The way I see it, either people won’t believe that Haggard is completely hetero, or they will.  If they don’t believe it, and find those claims preposterous, they may be inclined to tar all of us who profess to have experienced some sort of change and/or who are simply seeking to honor God through celibacy with the same brush.  I fear that Haggard’s example will be brought up to mock and discourage those who are pursuing celibate or exgay paths, in a way that might be hurtful to them.  And if people do believe that Haggard is now completely hetero, as I fear some evangelicals might, this will make things even worse for the homo-attracted believers.  For without any qualification, the announcement suggests that change isn’t all that hard, that anyone can do it, in three weeks even!  What’s wrong with you, O homo-attracted Christian?  Why aren’t you straight yet?  Perhaps you don’t have enough faith?  Or perhaps you don’t really want to be healed?  C’mon, we’re getting impatient!

A church of New Life’s size must have dealt with some “strugglers,” must be aware of the complexities surrounding these matters of faith, homosexuality, and change.  I wish for the sake of the homo-attracted in their own congregation, as well as the church at large, they had been more careful to make a nuanced statement which acknowledges the realities of life for the majority of homo-attracted people, if not Haggard himself.


What Has Stuttering To Do With…?

January 5, 2007

The Internet Monk has a post up called “Remembering the Stutterer.” When I started to read it, I was like, “Ho hum, why exactly am I reading this? Who cares about stuttering anyway?”

But then I got into his discussion of what he learned from his experience as a stutterer, and found it startlingly relevant to the subject matter of this blog. Here are the point headings within his discussion.

1. I’ve learned what it’s like to have your imperfections unavoidably noticeable.
2. I’ve learned what it’s like to live with a problem for a lifetime
3. I’ve learned that a problem or flaw can become the occasion for sin.
4. I’ve learned about human cruelty and the power of love.
5. I’ve learned about the fellowship that exists among the those with persistent flaws and problems.

The whole thing is very much worth reading, but I was especially struck by his reflections on his point #3 (emphasis below is mine)…

Yes, believe it or not, my stuttering didn’t entirely work for my good. At times, it became the reason I excused and tolerated sin in myself.
One of my co-workers was, for many years, a missionary to a particular disabled population. He had worked at a school for this disability and always pointed out how this disability made those who had it particularly difficult, bossy, selfish and aggressive. When I first heard this, I thought, “How mean!” But he was undeniably right, and not just about that particular disability.

All of us who have to live with an imperfection need to face up to the fact that our “suffering” isn’t automatically redemptive. Satan comes to us and presents particular kinds of sinful choices that are tied to that flaw.

Are you overweight? From a dysfunctional family? Poor? Single? Are you old? Neglected by your children? Not compensated appropriately for your work? All of these are occasions to trust Christ and move forward in his grace…or opportunities to sin, be demanding, self-pitying and manipulative.

He is so right about this. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but this was me in spades, and it still is me a lot more often than I’d care to acknowledge. There’s a part of me that felt a tiny bit robbed after falling for Mr. DM, going “straight,” and getting married, because it really took the wind out of the sails of my self-pitying pose. There is an ugly part of me that so loved playing the “nobly” tragic sufferer, destined to never have what her heart longs for. There’s a part of me that loved to imagine that people who saw me thought, “Wow, isn’t it amazing that she’s following God so faithfully in the face of this difficult struggle? Even though she’s going to probably end up spending her whole life alone, never again knowing romantic love or physical intimacy, all because of her love for God?” Now, in retrospect, I can mostly laugh at the ridiculously self-obsessed arrogance in that. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t feel a twinge of sorrow at my newfound ordinariness every now and then. Who could possibly be impressed by my love for God now, after He’s blessed me beyond my wildest imaginings, after I’ve hit the ex-gay jackpot? To that insidious part of me, being happily married is almost something of a letdown. My struggle with homosexuality has spawned all kinds of prideful and self-centered thoughts like these.

And boy did I ever use my struggle as a reason to “excuse and tolerate sin in myself!” I too often fell into a terrible attitude: If I have to give up my sexuality and any hope of a future relationship, well, that’s all I’m giving up. If God’s asking this hard thing of me that He isn’t asking of all these other people, then He has no business holding me to the same standards as He’s holding them in other areas. I would use my struggle as a way to try to shame my heterosexual brothers and sisters into silence when they tried to hold me accountable regarding other areas of sin in my life. What do *you* know about difficult obedience, little straight Christian? What do *you* know about counting the cost? What do *you* know about suffering for righteousness’ sake?

I love this line especially: “All of us who have to live with an imperfection need to face up to the fact that our ‘suffering’ isn’t automatically redemptive.” I know it sounds dumb, but I used to sometimes think that just because I was miserably celibately same-sex-attracted, I was getting closer to God. I was, obviously, wrong. It was an opportunity to get closer to God, but an opportunity that had to be seized and put to good use, by a holy (i.e., not self-pitying) response to my predicament. My difficult situation was an invitation to loosen my grip on the things of this world, and turn my longing and attention toward the things that are eternal, but it was an invitation that I chronically declined. My struggle opened the door to a deeper reliance upon the grace of God, a deeper trusting in Him, a deeper thirsting for Him, but more often than not I refused to walk through that doorway. Looking back, I realize I wasted a lot of time and treaded a lot of water because of this confusion.

I also liked the iMonk’s thoughts under his point #4:

Of course, at the heart of Christianity’s story is the cruelty of those who humiliated and executed Jesus. He had prepared his disciples for this by repeatedly teaching the power of forgiveness and love towards enemies and persecutors. Those of us with public flaws and imperfections will have opportunities to see these kinds of people with the eyes of Jesus. Jesus taught that it was a great privilege to suffer for him. It’s our privilege to take cruelty aimed at us over lesser things and to transform it into opportunities to be like Christ in forgiveness and grace to others.

I’m not going to talk about my middle school experiences as a queer kid, because I can’t talk or write about it without shaking, and I’m just not really in the mood to shake right now. I’ve worked up the nerve twice in my life to tell the whole story, once to a psychiatrist, and once to a staff member in the residential program. I think I could probably die happily without ever telling that story again.

But recently, one of my lesser tormentors from that era has come back into my world (though rather peripherally), so I’ve had occasion to casually and superficially meet him again, after all these years. He has turned out to be a normal and nice guy, as I expect most of them have. Somehow I doubt he even remembers what he did, or even remembers me at all, although I haven’t asked so I don’t know for sure. (I don’t plan to, either.) In any case, I find myself needing to remember this: It’s our privilege to take cruelty aimed at us over lesser things and to transform it into opportunities to be like Christ in forgiveness and grace to others.