It Gets Better for the Chaste, Too

Matthew Vines has assigned my book, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, as one of the core texts of his new training program, The Reformation Project. Matthew disagrees with my conclusions in the book, but he assigned it so that the participants in the program could hear from a gay person who’s trying to live within traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality.

These participants have noted, though, how much I talk about the difficulty of living within the bounds of traditional Christian teaching. There’s a lot in the book about my experience of loneliness, drawing on Henri Nouwen’s powerful writings on that theme, and those descriptions have caused Matthew Vines’ readers to wonder if my experience is typical of gay people who choose to pursue celibacy. Or, more precisely, I think, it’s caused them to wonder if I am baptizing a particular experience of shame- and guilt-induced loneliness and calling it “faithfulness.”

Two initial responses come to mind.

First, I intended the book to be a sort of travelogue or “report from the trenches,” not a generic “how-to.” I wrote the first draft of the book when I was in my mid-twenties, and it shows. If I were to rewrite it now, it would read much differently, given my different stage in life. But I thought there was value in offering a report in medias res, saying, “This is how I, and perhaps many others, are experiencing celibate gay Christian life now, even if we hope to move into a healthier, more hope-filled experience of it as we grow and change.” After reading the book, a friend sent me an email he’d received from a friend of his:

I suspect that it is common to feel a relative lack of joy and loneliness in the mid-twenties… I say that in part to encourage Mr. Hill that his book as-is is probably a very useful statement for people in that age range who encounter it and that they would not likely hear an account of the perspective of a 30-year-old-plus as effectively. No reason not to write the 30-plus book with more joy in it now, but it will probably speak to those people who have matured a bit and for whom the joyfulness resonates. The old book will probably still speak to the twentysomethings in relative misery. As a twentysomething, I would have had no interest in a book telling my how rich my life would be, for example, because of my children. I would have read a book that made sense of the loneliness I felt as adolescence gave way to nascent adulthood, even if by its nature it reflected my dire sense of mind and did not offer me a happier perspective “ten years on.”

(As an aside, I should say that I think there’s a danger in using my book, or a similar book, as a statement of “the traditional Christian view” on homosexuality, as the book has sometimes been used. There is certainly a place for defending the classic teaching, but my book doesn’t do that. Instead it offers a testimony of one person’s often-stumbling attempt to follow that teaching.)

But second, I think the book is, implicitly, a request for help. Describing my experience of loneliness was a way of saying to our churches that we need to work together so that gay young people who are just coming out and beginning to try to understand what their Christian faith means in the realm of sexuality don’t have to experience the same kind of difficulties I narrated—or at least, since loneliness isn’t something you can eradicate, don’t have to experience them in the same way.

Shortly after the book was published, a friend sent me an email saying that what I needed to hear at the time I was experiencing the hunger for close friendship I describe in the book was, “It gets better for the chaste, too.” And, I’m happy to say, it has gotten better. But it could be better still, and therefore there’s more work to be done. We can make our churches safer and more supportive for gay youth, so that the narratives of Christians who are pursuing celibacy ten or twenty years from now don’t sound like the one I wrote.

13 thoughts on “It Gets Better for the Chaste, Too

  1. Pingback: It Gets Better for the Chaste, Too » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  2. I first read your book last summer, when I was 44 years old, and I related very well with your twenty-something experiences. I’ve noticed that, though one matures in his or her faith, learning to embrace the reality of one’s same-sex attractions, the felt emotions of loneliness remain just the same in spite of one’s age.

    As for “it” getting better, I’m assuming the “it” refers to the loneliness or accompanying depression that sometimes plagues the celibate gay Christian. Honestly, I haven’t experienced it getting better but worse the older I get. Whether or not I have lots of friends or few of them, the loneliness and longing for one companion continues to grow, not lessen.

    I, too, look to Nouwen often for comfort, encouragement and support. He has trodden this celibate life ahead of me, and he attained his goal; though I admit he was far more faithful to the Lord than I have been. My “it gets better” has the renewed state in view rather than an achievement in this life.

    • Joe,

      I was really counting on a reply from Wesley to your question. I’ve noticed that there isn’t much interaction here with the author(s) of the posts with those who comment. If this is par for the course here, then I’ll probably stop commenting and/or reading SF. Why post and comment when it’s just a dead end? Ugh.

  3. Thank you for writing this book, and for your transparency ever since: it is greatly encouraging to me, in my mid-twenties, as I strive to walk in holiness as a “Side B” gay Christian.

  4. I agree with William, at 51 I identified with you book very strongly in spite of the age difference.

    I hope that as churches are more willing to offer friendship to those who are same-sex-attracted or gay (whatever the term of the day is) that it will get better.

    In the mean time, Christ did tell us we would bear a cross.

    On one level, it is of irrelevant whether it gets better or not. the bible says what it says and there is no way around that – the more liberal interpretations require me to give up things far more precious than sex.

    On another level, since much of the loneliness is, in fact, caused by other Christians and their behavior, it is necessary to confront them, tell them the truth in love, and ask that they better live according to Christ’s commands to love and offer us friendship.

  5. It would be very interesting to see an “It Gets Better (for the chaste)” campaign mirror Dan Savage’s. At its heart, the campaign has a beautiful message that has no doubt kept many young people from suicide. It is not right that such a beautiful message should be monopolized by those who advocate homosexual activity.

    And it’s not only gays who need to hear that “it gets better for the chaste.” Many who are called to celibacy struggle to live out that calling, especially when they are in their 20s.

  6. Wes, you write: “This is how I, and perhaps many others, are experiencing celibate gay Christian life now, even if we hope to move into a healthier, more hope-filled experience of it as we grow and change.”

    And your friend writes: “I suspect that it is common to feel a relative lack of joy and loneliness in the mid-twenties… I say that in part to encourage Mr. Hill that his book as-is is probably a very useful statement for people in that age range who encounter it and that they would not likely hear an account of the perspective of a 30-year-old-plus as effectively. No reason not to write the 30-plus book with more joy in it now, but it will probably speak to those people who have matured a bit and for whom the joyfulness resonates.”

    This line of thinking presumes that life is a trajectory. But its not. Whether or not we are lonely, grieving, struggling, joyful, or spiritually mature often has to do with circumstances in our life and the shifting and cycling and rhythms of life.

    Being a little older myself, I have to agree with both William and Matt that age does not necessarily make the struggle easier. Nor does a more supportive church community and friends necessarily alleviate the loneliness because what we crave is an intimate partner that we share life with on a daily basis.

    I have found that life has its ups and downs. I have gone through terrible miserable years, followed by exuberant years, followed by difficult years, followed by bittersweet years. Our struggles and spiritual life ebb and flow in different ways. Perhaps old struggles and joys of the past are gone but new ones arise.

    I actually get nervous when I hear young pups go through a season of “good years” and think their struggle is over and proclaim that all is well now. Or when people think that if they just get to a certain age then things will finally get easier or better. That is a set up for disillusionment.

    It seems to me a more helpful perspective is learning how to cope with and sit with whatever our life brings in the moment. Its not so much that suffering or joy acts in a predictable manner on a trajectory but how we respond to those unpredictable movements when they come.

    On another note: I wonder if your post is influenced in some respects by wanting to please the participants in Mathew Vine’s program or others who do not understand your book. This is not to say you wouldn’t write some things differently now–that is natural–but what you experienced at that time was real and is still real even if you are not personally in the midst of it at the moment.

  7. Wes,

    Reading your book inspired me to go out and purchase half a dozen books by Henri Nouwen which I am now incorporating into my daily reading. I have just come to realize at the age of 56 that I have a bisexual orientation and have suspected as much for as many years back as I can remember. I was even married for 26 of those years, to a man with whom I bore three sons. After divorcing, I began seeking therapy for what I knew would lead to this discovery of unwanted same-sex attraction, and it has.
    I am attempting to solidify what I believe about celibacy, “coming out,” and living the rest of my days serving Christ in the fellowship of His church. Your book has helped me a great deal, and I have found many blogs that have proven to be a balm for my healing heart. Thank you, Wes.

  8. Thanks, all, for these comments. I read all comments on my posts, and even if I can’t always interact in the depth I would want, I am still taking your insights into consideration, especially as I work on future writing projects that are related to these themes. With this post in particular, I don’t think I want to add anything right now. Given how personal this is, I think I need more time to ponder what y’all have said…

  9. Pingback: Coming Out Again | Spiritual Friendship

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