Aaron Taylor wrote a recent two-part piece (part 1 and part 2), discussing pastoral responses to same-sex attracted youth. Eve Tushnet has suggested that several of us continue that discussion by reflecting what it was like to be that teenager ourselves, and I would like to do that here by discussing my life early in my teen years. In this piece, I will discuss that part of my life, and in a follow-up piece, I will offer some reflections on what would have been helpful. Before I get to the teen years, though, I want to discuss more about my environment leading up to that time.
I grew up in a Christian home, in a stable family. Although it’s not like everything was perfect all the time, I had very good and healthy relationships with both of my parents. I first learned about sex and sexuality from having “the talk” with my dad. I was given the expectation that as I hit puberty, I’d really start to have a “hunger” for girls, and that the ultimate end for that was to be married to a woman and to have sex within that context. I was taught that my sexuality would ultimately be a good thing, but that I would face struggles with lust and sexual purity.
Homosexuality was never on the radar during these discussions. There were other times when it came up, though, like when some LGBT-related news item came up on the radio. I was basically taught that some people rebel against God’s plan by choosing to become sexually active with others of the same sex. It was clear that these people were basically the enemies of Christians. There wasn’t any discussion of the possibility that someone like me could simply find himself attracted to other guys. And within my public school peer group, it was clear that being gay was something to be made fun of and disdained.
As I hit puberty, while I did find myself being attracted to particular women and often desiring sexual intimacy with them, I was also blindsided by finding myself massively attracted to certain other boys. I had no categories to process the idea of a Christian kid growing up in a stable home being gay or bisexual. That was basically just taken to be something that never happened. As a result, my initial reaction was one of staunch denial, even to myself. I didn’t really have a good explanation for what I was feeling, but I was certain it just couldn’t be that.
I was about fourteen when the denial came to an end and I really started to realize that I wasn’t straight. I came to recognize too readily that I was indeed having significant crushes on particular guys. I recall the question often popping into my head – “Why is he so sexy?” My emotional reaction to that was one of deep shame. I believed a lot of what I was told about LGBT people, which meant that something must be horribly wrong with me. I tried to seek out some Christian responses to homosexuality from what I had on hand (this being before I had any reasonably private Internet access), and all I was finding was about how it was against God’s plan. I didn’t feel safe talking to anyone at all about what I was going through. In fact, I lived in constant fear of anyone ever finding out. For example, I tried to be keen on making sure I never got caught staring at another guy, much as I often wanted to stare. I feared that people would shun me if they actually knew about my sexual attractions.
Some things made it difficult for me to process my sexuality in light of my faith. I knew that I had not chosen to be attracted to other guys, but in fact I was. There was a lot of fear in Christian media about homosexuality being “normalized” – did that mean I was a freak? Were there others going through the same thing, or was I somehow uniquely awful? Was I uniquely incapable of sexual purity, as a lot of Christian discourse seemed to indicate I was? I didn’t really have any role models for what life as a same-sex attracted Christian could look like.
I can’t blame my parents for all this, though. They had simply accepted the messages that broader Christian culture was sending about homosexuality. My parents were not equipped with the knowledge that one of their sons might not be straight. They were doing the best they could, given the flawed information they had to work with.
In a follow-up piece, I will discuss some practical insights about how my experience can inform our response to today’s kids.
Jeremy Erickson is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He previously studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.
Looking forward for second part !! ^^
Thank you for sharing this. It helps me understand our seventeen year old son who is SSA. His story sounds so similar. God bless.
Hi Joshua, thanks for this. I find it helpful because my experience is very similar in that I was taught by my parents growing up that homosexual attraction was a pubescent phase which most people passed through and that being gay was making a political choice to rebel against God and the church in our sexual behaviour. Unlike many teenagers today who seem to presume that sexual orientation is something you are born with, I grew up believing that the idea that some people might be “gay” was a myth invented by political lefties in the 70s to justify their own actions, and that there was no scientific evidence for homosexuality at all. So as a teenager, I didn’t believe anyone was gay, just that I was plagued with same-sex temptations most of the time and that was the devil’s way of getting at me. It was only when I was 26 (I’m now 28) that I accepted for myself that maybe I was more long-term homosexual in a way that most other men aren’t. The challenge for me is how to help my parents understand that I feel I am gay when this doesn’t fit with their understanding. My mum is very concerned about me because she thinks I have been corrupted by LBGT propoganda, which is preventing me from “growing out” of my “phase” of same sex attraction. She hopes that I will eventually get used to the idea of dating girls and fall in love with one. I wonder whether there need for more dialogue to be had between those of us that are younger and experience same-sex attraction, and those who are perhaps of an older generation who have a framework of sexuality which doesn’t readily accomodate the idea that some people may have a more lifelong same-sex attraction and may not marry. I certainly could benefit from thinking more about how gay children and their parents can communicate better in this regard, and look forwards to your part 2.
Sorry I meant to call you Jeremy not Joshua – need to read my replies to posts better!
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