Bisexuality and the Spiritual Friendship Conversation

Over a year ago, I wrote a post recounting my experience as a bisexually-attracted man. That post was mostly a reflection on my own experience, with some takeaways coming from that. I’ve been thinking for a while about writing a “part two” discussing how this interfaces with questions of the Christian faith and the broader conversation that Spiritual Friendship is contributing to. I recommend reading my first post before this one if you haven’t already.

Given that I do frequently experience attraction, including sexual desire, towards women, marriage is a significant eventual possibility for my life. Although every marriage has its difficulties, I don’t expect that I’d have significant difficulties resulting specifically from being married to a woman. One could describe me as “celibate” on account of the fact that I’m single and sexually abstinent, but my convictions do not point me toward lifelong celibacy as strongly as for others on here. This state in life may well be much more transient for me. So does this mean that the conversation happening on Spiritual Friendship is less relevant to people like me?

I don’t think so. One thing I’ve really appreciated about how Ron and Wes have run Spiritual Friendship is the way they have intentionally cultivated a conversation that is broader than celibacy. Two of our contributors, Kyle Keating and Melinda Selmys, have written about their experiences in marriages to people of the opposite sex. I’ve learned a lot from them, as well as from other people in similar situations, about what healthy marriages can look like when one spouse is a sexual minority.

There is also a great deal I share in common with celibate gay Christians, simply by virtue of being someone who experiences same-sex attraction and has traditional Christian convictions about sexual ethics.

For example, I still cannot avoid facing a lot of the same questions. Even at the most basic level, there is the question of what to do with my feelings for men. Even if I do get married to a woman and have a sexual outlet, that doesn’t make all the questions disappear. For example, what do these feelings mean for the potential to form friendships with other men? Do I have to set the same sorts of boundaries in all my friendships that a straight married man does in his friendships with women? How do I deal with the potential for sexual temptation in all-male environments? How do I deal with feelings of shame and guilt over my feelings? The list goes on.

Celibate gay Christians were among the first people I saw taking these sorts of questions seriously while remaining faithful to Scripture. Their writings resonated with me in a way that the writings of straight Christians never had. (There have been writers from several other perspectives that I have resonated with at different points, to whatever degree I still agree or not, but celibate gay Christians have been some of my biggest influences.) So in a lot of respects, I’ve found that I naturally identify myself with celibate gay Christians, even if my state is a little different.

Another extremely important aspect of the conversation that we’re having at Spiritual Friendship is not really about sexual minorities at all. The title of the blog itself references friendship, and much of the tradition surrounding friendship has been forgotten altogether. Deeper friendships are a great good for everyone, and insights related to faith are often applicable to all believers. Much of this conversation is relevant to me because I’m a Christian, rather than even with regards to my sexuality in particular.

This conversation has also helped me think through what Scripture teaches about celibacy. In general, I find that celibacy is vastly underappreciated in the Protestant world, despite the praise both Jesus and Paul give it in the New Testament. Having a sexuality outside the norm, and then getting to see how other Christians process celibacy, has caused me to look at these teachings more seriously. This has actually allowed me to see marriage as something other than a simple default for my life, so I’m still working to figure out how to discern God’s call in that regard. This is another area where it has been helpful to learn from the married members of our community, as well as of course the many married members of other Christian communities I’ve been part of. Seeing people live a broad set of vocations is helpful in learning about the different callings God gives.

Of course, many of the questions about celibacy are much more urgent for someone who does not experience attraction to the opposite sex, and I do believe that living according to the traditional ethic is more difficult in significant ways for people in such a situation. So I think it’s good and proper to have a discussion that acknowledges this and goes to special lengths to discuss the challenges of celibacy. However, this does not mean that I’m in a completely different category; much of what we say is quite genuinely at least an “LGB” conversation.

In closing, I want to say that one of the things I’ve found most life-giving about initiatives like Spiritual Friendship is the way that the group has taken me in as one of their own. Although I’m not in exactly the same spot as the celibate gay contributors, I’m not just an ally, either. I find that this is recognized, and I get the sense that others like Kyle and Melinda outside the “celibate gay” mold are included the same way. I really appreciate this, and I’ve genuinely loved getting to know the other contributors and numerous other members of the broader community. I feel so honored to be a small part of this work God is doing through us.

Jeremy EricksonJeremy Erickson is a software engineer in Wisconsin. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

13 thoughts on “Bisexuality and the Spiritual Friendship Conversation

  1. Jeremy, I fall in the category of being married to a woman while experiencing very strong sexual attraction to men. I don’t know that I have much wisdom to share other than a lifetime of experiences. I’m more of a survivor in spite of my same sex attractions, or should I say that my wife is actually the one who is the survivor. I’m now into my 21st year of my 2nd marriage and don’t consider myself as a good example, but hope that I am considerably more successful now than I was before. I am older and maybe that is a factor as well. I spent several periods over the past 25 years in Reparative Therapy with not a lot of results for change there. I find it much more workable and sensible to embrace celibacy for the gay part of my persona, or at least as well as I’ve been able to so far. However, the fact that I am married to a woman and seeking celibacy for my same sex attractions has not really made that pursuit a whole lot easier, but it at least makes more sense and I believe is also compatible with the teaching from New Testament Scripture. I would love to learn more from people in situations similar to mine and willing to share my experiences, successes and failures as well.

  2. It is wonderful and useful to hear your voice and testimony. I applaud you as someone who could “pass” and go have a conventional sex life that you continue to identify with the struggle of those whose prospects are different from yours. I especially appreciate your focus on the phenomenon of Godly friendship as a great, missing piece of modern spirituality. I have just started reading about Alcuin of York whose spirituality of friendship among and between men greatly influenced his very language about the sacred and the human part of the divine plan. I’d like to know what you think about him. Thanks be to God for your testimony as well as your sweet presence in our corner of the incredibly rich and diverse garden of Creation.

  3. I believe that this is an important conversation for any Christian to have. Genuine friendship is something that all Christians have a particular calling to, especially amidst this “throw-away” culture, as HH Pope Francis would say.

    Having said that, I also believe that different people have different stakes in the matter. I would say that for those of us who are gay, with little or no sexual attraction to the opposite-sex, the stakes are higher. That’s not to minimize a bisexual person’s struggle. I can only imagine the confusion it can bring. But there seems to me that there is some kind of solace because at least part of the yearning can be satisfied through Christian marriage. For those of us who are full on gay, there’s no such opportunity.

    The whole spiritual friendship ideal is beautiful and as Christian as it gets but there is a reality that just struck me recently. It’s a very queer ideal nowadays. Whatever interest most straight people have in it is usually fleeting. They see friendship as a lower relationship than marriage and almost as a waiting room for marriage. Like something temporary. I have close friends who value the discussions here and we even discuss spiritual friendship in our own lives. However, the truth is that to them this is a fun and interesting theological and philosophical conversation. They don’t expect, even if they say they do, to live in it too long because their eyes are fixed on the price of marriage.

    So, where does that leave us? In traditional church circles it is almost impossible to find other gays who are not closeted and afraid of the “g” word. I frequently feel like I’m literally the only gay one in my large group of friends. I’m pretty sure I’m not but there’s no way of finding others. What will happen with me, and others like me, when our friends all marry off? I’m going through that now. Many weddings the past few years. Frequently the newly married disappear into married-people land. They found their “best friend” and “soulmate” and suddenly everyone else is kept at arms’-length. Others don’t care that much because they’ll do the same thing. But here I am. Bitter and left out like a stray cat.

    Spiritual friendship is nice for everyone, but for some of us it’s our salvation.

    • I hear what you’re saying. I definitely wasn’t trying to say that I have it just as hard as others, as I tried to acknowledge in my second to last paragraph. On top of the fact that marriage is a realistic possibility, I’ve been fortunate to be in a situation where I’ve found some good community, including with several married friends. A lot of people don’t have that experience, and that definitely makes things a lot harder. Throw not being attracted to the same sex on top, and it’s definitely a more difficult situation than what I face. Your situation is far too common, and it pains me a lot.

      What I was trying to get across is that friendship should be an important good for any Christian. I don’t think it’s just people like yourself who are impoverished by the lack of deep friendships, though it’s much more poignant without the spousal friendship that others have. I think it’s also bad for straight married people to invest all of their emotional and relational energy in just one person. That’s not what we see pictured in Scripture or the tradition passed down through the centuries. I’m just trying to get across that there is value in this conversation for everyone, not that the value is equal in every way for everyone. (So I don’t think we’re really disagreeing.)

  4. Nice piece.

    I too am something of an interloper here. I have minimal sexual desires for people of either sex, but have a romantic preference for women and do experience some aesthetic attractions to men. I’ve generally identified as gay or queer because I lack strong sexual attractions to women and do experience some aesthetic attractions to men. In this sense, my identification has been more of a political assertion against the narrow, patriarchal, sex-focused script that our culture provides for men.

    I’m starting to rethink that strategy, however, as I think it probably belittles the struggles of those who actually experience sexual attractions to members of the same sex. I went to the GCN conference this past weekend to interact with other gay Christians. But I realized that I didn’t have a lot in common with most other gay Christians. They, like me, share a sense of social exclusion. On the other hand, they, unlike me, feel certain desires that can only be satisfied in a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex. Based on my own experience, I had generally accepted sexual orientation as a social construction. But based on my conversations at GCN, I’ve come to think that essentialism may be a bit more helpful than I’d believed. I also wonder whether it wouldn’t be better if I just referred to myself as asexual.

  5. Jeremy,
    It’s always good to read your thoughts. I can’t help but wonder how you “walk-it-out” from day to day. I’m exclusively SSA and choose celibacy, so I view all the machinations of the “straight life” with a combination of admiration, boredom, and bemusement. My impression is that you’re not like the proverbial straight guy who sees his destiny as meeting THE ONE, and until then life seems half-baked and incomplete (with particular interest in, and impatients for, having a sex life). However, you may have some friends like that and therefore feels the unspoken pressure to get-in-the-game, pair-off, and “get your life together.” Regardless, I hope you feel the abundance of Christ every day.

  6. Pingback: Spiritual Friendship and Julie Rodgers | Spiritual Friendship

  7. I can relate to this article, as a bisexual Christian who holds to a conservative sexual ethic. Even though my journey is not quite as difficult as that of a celibate gay Christian, I still very much identify with celibate gay Christians and have found books and articles on the topic incredibly helpful.

    I’m also very grateful that one of my closest friends is straight and married, but we can still talk for hours nearly every day and I feel incredibly blessed. She is a long-distance friend that I met online, but distance has been no obstacle for us.

    I also have another single, straight Christian friend from South America, who is very affectionate and gives me lots of hugs and cuddles. I don’t know what I would do without both of these friends! I also have a chronic illness so getting married is not as simple as it would be if I were completely healthy.

    I really feel for celibate gay Christians who don’t have committed, close friendships like these in their lives. I honestly don’t know what I would do without these friends! It’s also very reassuring to have friends who I know are invested for the long haul.

  8. Glad for these posts re: bisexuality and Christian friendships. The “B” in LGBTQ is the “orphan” – the least understood and often the least supported. I’m writing a book about this in light of continuing mis-characterizations of bisexual men as inherently promiscuous predators, even within LGBT culture. That could not be further from the truth! For the Christian who has settled the dilemma through prayer, counsel, spiritual direction and accountability in c

    • community, then the vow of celibacy or marriage is worthy of the same support as in a heteronormative context. In my case, 43 years of faithful marriage to one woman, mother of our two adult children, is the defining reality of my sexuality. I eschew the “mixed orientation marriage” label because my bisexuality has not “defined” our marriage, any more than my wife’s heterosexuality has. My same-sex attractions are managed in the intimacy of our relationship, through regular confession and spiritual direction, and in my own disciplines of prayer. It has been my privilege to have many men as friends & brothers in Christ, and many others as clients in coaching/counseling. When/if there is sexualized transference in these relationships, it is most often the occasion for deeper healing to the root of a psychological and/or spiritual wound. This is NOT reparative therapy, which I’ve never practiced nor been recipient of. Rather, it is classical discernment through focused prayer & study, within an intentional community Gestalt-a hybrid of Jungian psychology and orthodox spirituality (Aelred, Augustine, Benedict, Meister Eckhart, Herbert

      • , to name a few) and Mircea Eliade and William James, among others, in the arena of the comparative study of religions. We need a wholistic approach in this deconstructionist era! It’s difficult because no one can agree on the terms; the language changes daily and the partings and nuances are endless. The Holy Spirit is, on the other hand, infinitely reliable and trustworthy! [apologies for long windedness and textual fissures; my 70 yo fingers are still getting used to the IPhone keypad]

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