This Huffington Post article, by Michael Hobbes, on “gay loneliness after gay rights” has been making the rounds. I first saw it when a friend of mine sent me the link last week, and I was truly moved by it. Here’s a taste:
The term researchers use to explain this phenomenon [of disproportionate experiences of depression, loneliness, and suicide among gay men] is “minority stress.” In its most direct form, it’s pretty simple: Being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort. When you’re the only woman at a business meeting, or the only black guy in your college dorm, you have to think on a level that members of the majority don’t. If you stand up to your boss, or fail to, are you playing into stereotypes of women in the workplace? If you don’t ace a test, will people think it’s because of your race? Even if you don’t experience overt stigma, considering these possibilities takes its toll over time.
For gay people, the effect is magnified by the fact that our minority status is hidden. Not only do we have to do all this extra work and answer all these internal questions when we’re 12, but we also have to do it without being able to talk to our friends or parents about it.
John Pachankis, a stress researcher at Yale, says the real damage gets done in the five or so years between realizing your sexuality and starting to tell other people. Even relatively small stressors in this period have an outsized effect — not because they’re directly traumatic, but because we start to expect them. “No one has to call you queer for you to adjust your behavior to avoid being called that,” Salway says.
James, now a mostly-out 20-year-old, tells me that in seventh grade, when he was a closeted 12-year-old, a female classmate asked him what he thought about another girl. “Well, she looks like a man,” he said, without thinking, “so yeah, maybe I would have sex with her.”
Immediately, he says, he panicked. “I was like, did anyone catch that? Did they tell anyone else I said it that way?”
This is how I spent my adolescence, too: being careful, slipping up, stressing out, overcompensating. Once, at a water park, one of my middle-school friends caught me staring at him as we waited for a slide. “Dude, did you just check me out?” he said. I managed to deflect — something like “Sorry, you’re not my type” — then I spent weeks afterward worried about what he was thinking about me. But he never brought it up. All the bullying took place in my head.
The whole article is worth your attention, and it’s already prompted a lot of conversation in my circles, but I just want to make two brief points that I haven’t seen others making in quite the same way.
In the first place, those of us — like me — who believe, for Christian theological reasons, that gay sex is morally wrong and therefore have a sort of vested interest in seizing on articles like this as proof of sin’s deleterious effects need to exercise extreme caution — both as we read the articles themselves, paying close attention to any potential confusion of correlation and causation, and as we talk about them with others, especially those who aren’t Christians or who aren’t convinced of the goodness of traditional Christian sexual ethics.
Much of the “traditionalist” Christian writing I’ve seen on homosexuality from the past few decades seems to follow a similar tack: as a preliminary step, they describe all the undesirable consequences that allegedly are caused or exacerbated by same-sex sexual behavior, and then, for the punch line, they say, “But following the traditional Christian sexual ethic will spare you all of that — so, come to Jesus!” This approach often appears to relish the lurid details of the seamier side of gay life and sometimes seems to gleefully fixate on supposed physical dangers associated with particular sex acts while neglecting to talk about any goods in gay relationships, and, on the flipside, it can easily present the gospel as a “fix” for human psychological ills. On both of these fronts, I’m dubious about it.
I’ve written elsewhere about the problem of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “religious blackmail”: “those styles of evangelistic preaching that seek first to persuade people how wretched and miserable they are,” as Ian McFarland describes them, “and only then introduce Jesus Christ as the cure for their condition.” We should avoid this type of blackmail, regardless of any pathologies, imagined or real, that may beset the gay community. The gospel of Christ is a message of forgiveness and healing and eternal life — but not necessarily or straightforwardly a “solution” to any temporal maladies, though we may wish for and work hard for its benefits to be known and felt in the here and now (as in social justice work, and much else, that would help ease the suffering of gay communities). Robert Jenson has put the point with his characteristic pungency:
Conversions to other religions or yogas or therapies may in their own ways be describable as “forgiveness” or “liberation” and so on. To such possibilities the gospel’s messengers can only say: “We are not here to entice you into our religion by benefits allegedly found only in it. We are here to introduce you to the true God, for whatever he can do for you — which may well be suffering and oppression.”
Alas, I fear he’s correct.
The second point I want to make is a slightly hazy one that I am trying to feel my way towards: Reading this HuffPo article made me want to talk with my gay friends who aren’t Christians about the possibility of a shared loneliness. One of my primary experiences as a same-sex attracted man — and I really do think it is somehow deeply implicated in my homosexuality — has been, and is presently, loneliness. And if this article by Michael Hobbes is at all on the right track, then many irreligious gay men also experience loneliness at a basic, defining level. And my instinct is to say, Here is a possibility for real solidarity between us, somehow, in some way.
One of the ways I think about my task as a Christian is that I am called, in Tom Wright’s words, to enter into “the pain and puzzlement of the world, so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point.” I am to participate in the world’s own groaning, including the groaning of my fellow gay men who aren’t Christians. But — and here’s the thing — I am not to do so from a place of superiority, as if my speaking the gospel to them has to involve an uncomplicated “before-and-after” testimony of how to escape gay loneliness, as if I can look down from a height I’ve scaled and offer assistance from a posture of carefree safety. Rather, if my deep human pain and loneliness has been shared by Christ — if in fact He has entered into my pain and born it on my behalf — then my calling, in union with Him now, is not to extricate myself from the human suffering He chose to share but rather to share it too, as a way of loving others, as a way of Christianly standing within (not apart from) the world’s brokenness.
Christ became human not so that my Christian life can be a release from the world’s humanity but so that, through baptism, I might now stand with the world for the world’s healing. Baptism, as the Episcopal priest and writer Fleming Rutledge has written,
means adoption into God’s family, lasting fellowship with him and the other brothers and sisters, the forgiveness of sins, empowerment for a life of joyful service, and the promise of eternal life — but it also means, inevitably, entering into a life of identification with the world just as the Son of God did…. To be a baptized Christian, then, means to be actively involved in the world as Christ was — not standing apart from it while it goes to hell, but taking its wounds, scars, and afflictions upon ourselves.
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. If gay loneliness can be alleviated through greater understanding of its causes, then by all means let’s pursue its alleviation. If any homophobia or bigotry, Christian or otherwise, is contributing to the alienation and marginalization of gay men, then by all means let’s renounce those things and redouble our efforts to fight against it. I hope I’m not advocating quietism here. But, as we fight, and as we experience the travails of the status viatoris, the ache of not having arrived at our destination yet on the pilgrim road, I hope we can cultivate some empathy and solidarity in the meantime. Wright again:
We [Christians] are to stand or kneel at the place where the world [is] in pain and need, and, understanding and feeling their sufferings, to pray with and for them, not knowing… what precisely to ask for, but allowing the Spirit to pray within us with groanings that cannot come into articulate speech.
Reading this HuffPo article on gay loneliness, in short, made want me to compare notes with my gay friends, especially my gay friends who aren’t Christians. It made me want to say, “I feel this loneliness, or at least a deeply related kind of loneliness, too.” If in some small way that instinct can lead to any kind of deeper hope, for all of us, and maybe also some kind of deeper camaraderie or loyalty between us, I would be glad.
On my reading, the point of the HuffPost article isn’t really that there are bad consequences to same-sex sexual activity, but rather that there is a characteristic pain and loneliness that gay men experience REGARDLESS of whether they act out sexually with other men. This does not point to some overarching claim about specific sex acts, but rather it suggests (at least theologically) that same-sex attraction is in itself a disorder. If we have a scratch that no amount of itching — or not itching — will remove, then this is reason to believe that we are deeply wounded.
I have spent a long time sitting on the fence about whether same-sex attraction is a psychological malady, or just an ordinary variant of human desire, but I must say that Hobbes’s article makes me lean toward its being a malady. I have known that I experience the desire for male intimacy rather compulsively, and that no amount of scratching seemed to assuage the itch, but I always imagined there were a good number of “out and proud” men out there who didn’t always feel like something was missing, who found the gay community rewarding, stable, and sane. Spiritual Friendship tended to confirm this sense of there being a grassy green haven of happy gaiety out there. Even if homosexual sex is wrong, I thought, the desire for it isn’t bound up in a lack of health.
But Hobbes certainly knows better than I do. I’ve never been a part of the gay community, and my few encounters with it have never been “grassy green”. I’m a bit concerned that — if Hobbes is speaking accurately — Spiritual Friendship might be doing some degree of whitewashing.
Does this mean I advocate spiritual blackmail? I don’t think so. First of all, there are absolutely no guarantees that a same-sex attracted person can gain ANY earthly comfort by forsaking gay sex, and I don’t claim any such guarantees. If the loneliness is endemic to the desire, then we should not expect quick fixes to come from not sinning. Secondly, Christians have always taught that sins do have earthly consequences, and that has been painfully evident in my own life. Simply pointing that out is hardly blackmail. There is nothing “blackmailish” about telling a thief that she might feel better about her life if she stopped stealing.
That said, I’m open to evidence that the picture is not as dark as I have painted it. But it would be hard to convince me that Hobbes is being dishonest, and the picture he paints is not a very bright one.
“The term researchers use to explain this phenomenon [of disproportionate experiences of depression, loneliness, and suicide among gay men] is “minority stress.” In its most direct form, it’s pretty simple: Being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort. When you’re the only woman at a business meeting, or the only black guy in your college dorm, you have to think on a level that members of the majority don’t.”
If the problem is minority stress, then that doesn’t indicate that it is a disorder, since the black guy or woman in the example would also experience it for reasons that aren’t disorders…
Daniel, I have to second Cassandra’s response. This article could have been written about any group that experiences minority stress. I think it’s a stretch to say that all such groups are disordered. What seems to be disordered is a society where the rings of power are only held by certain people. That’s going to make minorities experience a disproportionate amount of stress, which has disparate mental and physical health outcomes.
The way I see it, the big takeaway from this article is that the wounding that gay people experience simply by being minorities isn’t just washed away the minute they become affirming and find the LGBTQ+ community. Just as Black people building community doesn’t eliminate the pain of police brutality (as an example).
DJ, thanks for the comment. I don’t know if I can see a complete explanation in your suggestion, though. Black people and women do not experience the levels of depression and mental illness that gay men experience. It’s not even close. If minority stress affects everyone equally, why the disparities?
I *am* open to explanations that do not suggest a disorder; I just don’t think that “minority stress” can be the only component of such an explanation.
Hmmm. I think you may be overestimating the levels of depression among LGBTQ populations. What statistics are you drawing from exactly, particularly in comparison to other minority groups?
As for other minority groups, they do tend to have levels of support not afforded to gay people most of their lives. For example, most Black people, women, etc. grow up in homes where they are not outsiders in their own homes. They have built in family and community support that gay people don’t generally have access to until much later in life when they are autonomous and can seek it out on their own. So years of being alone and discriminated against can take a larger toll.
But again, I think you need to look at a larger swath of data. For instance, minority stress research demonstrates that when you control for various factors (e.g., internalized homonegativity, family support, community support, etc.), the levels of mental health disparities aren’t so abnormal at all.
Blacks and Hispanics are FAR less likely than white people to commit suicide.
Black people are less likely than white people to experience depression.
Women are more commonly depressed than men, but LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be depressed as either group.
As for your claim that most gay people grow up outsiders in their own homes, that claim does not account for the fact that these depressive outcomes are persistent in the context of gay-affirming societies.
The article focuses on gay men and the complaints of that group haven’t changed in the 30 years since I first ventured on to the gay scene. I’m sure you could find an article from the 1960s with references to the same “feeling of empitness”. Their problems arise from the fact that they are a group of men. It isn’t specific to their gayness.
In that sense, gay culture as a whole is “proof of sin’s deleterious effects”.
Also, the first two generations of out gay men didn’t aim to emulate straight people – so they didn’t have the same expectations of “success” in relationships.
You and I must have read completely different articles. Sure, the statements from gay men may not have changed over the decades but this article for the first time offers evidence of possible reasons for the loneliness and unhappiness that some gay men, and others in different minority groups, experience which have nothing to do with an inherent wrongness in their differences from mainstream culture.
There isn’t any “evidence” referred to in the article. It’s all talking points – not science.
The talking points are being made by people who are either familiar with or performing studies surrounding this issue. The points have some basis in science.
Actually I think Daniel you and in a smaller sense Wesley miss the point of the article. One of the underlining reason many gay people suffer from this is not because of their sexual orientation but how their sexuality has been shaped by Christians as something as less than. Ever before we realize we are gay religious people like those on here devalue gay relationships. As a little kid we are brainwashed to believe our love is less than. We see this in any marginalized group and members of this group contribute to that. It is actually amazing that many couples like my husband and I do so well. It probably helps that we are atheists and have done away and fight the shaming seen on sites like this.
In which case gay life would be entirely different in places that have been entirely pro-gay for more than a generation (Netherlands, Sweden etc)
Interestingly enough, “gay life” often disappears once the social marginalization passes. In many ways, it simply becomes absorbed into what is normal. A gay friend was once commented to me about a trip to Europe: “It was so disconcerting; every guy seemed to be gay.” What he was noticing was the fact that gay male preferences in terms of clothes, hairstyle, physique, etc., had merged with straight male preferences for the same. We don’t yet see that in the US, although we’re moving that way.
Andrew Sullivan once commented that male homosexuality is primarily about feeling a persistent desire to connect emotionally with other men. In that sense, it is parasitic off of male heterosexuality, which requires men to swear off any such desires. But, truth be told, most men probably fall somewhere in between. Few of us probably fit neatly into the normative straight and gay scripts that have predominated since the 1970s. So, as the culture ceases stigmatizing homosexuality, putative heterosexuals no longer feel a need to avoid social conduct once primarily identified with homosexuality. As putative heterosexuals do this, people begin to fill in the social space between male heterosexuality and male homosexuality, thereby eliminating the utility of those terms.
In a recent study on male gender fluidity, gay and straight millennial men were relatively open to the concept of male sexual fluidity. gay millennial women were also open to the concept of male sexual fluidity. On the other hand, straight millennial women expressed hostility to the concept. In fact, most straight-identifying guys admitted to adopting social scripts that were more characteristically heterosexual because they feared social rejection from women if they came off as too gay. But if all men start shifting toward some middle ground between what we have come to know as heterosexuality and homosexuality, then women’s preferences will have to shift as well.
I travel a lot for work. I’m a thinner guy. I generally dress fashionably in tailored clothing, most of which hugs my body pretty closely. I also have a poofy hairdo. In the US, I have very little success at attracting women at a bar. Even last night, I was talking to a woman at a bar. She assumed that I was gay merely because of the way I dressed. A week ago, I was sitting in a bar in Hong Kong, and every women I talked to assumed that I was straight. The same thing happens in Zurich, Geneva, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Singapore, and London. Women generally assume that I’m straight, except in the US.
I think this explains why same-sex coupling doesn’t tend to rise much–and may even decline–following increased social acceptance of homosexuality. After all, I’m of the view that heterosexuality and homosexuality are largely social constructions. There may be underlying biological realities that may lead one to adopt one script over another. But as people venture outside of those scripts and begin to populate the space in between, it invariably changes life. That’s why the remains of “gay life” in Copenhagen or Amsterdam are edgier and smaller than before. That’s because much of the erstwhile homosexual script in those places has become absorbed into the “normal” male script. If anything, “straight life” has shifted dramatically to favor the metrosexually inclined.
Thank you for the calm tone of your comment. I am open to the hypothesis that the mental suffering of gay men comes primarily from social shaming, but I haven’t seen conclusive evidence for that hypothesis. As Joe says, that ought to show up in studies of accepting cultures, but it doesn’t. Thus I think it should be a live hypothesis that the suffering is *statistically* endemic to the condition of same-sex attraction.
Is such a hypothesis offensive? Only if science is offensive. Does it reinforce the social shaming, as you say? I don’t know. On your story, I would be a self-hating person, since I think that being attracted to men is an unhelpful condition that complicates my life (though God can work through it), and since I believe that I should not act on it. But I’m not self-hating, and I’m gentle with my attractions. When people criticize gay relationships or gay attractions, I don’t feel personally offended — though I do want them to realize that gay people can have life-giving relationships, and that same-sex attraction does not somehow disqualify one from loving male friendships.
You have proposed the hypothesis that social shaming accounts for gay unhappiness. I am open to evidence for that hypothesis. Let me ask you this, though: are you open to evidence for the hypothesis that such unhappiness is somehow endemic to homosexuality, at least in men? And if you’re not, why not? Do you have strong evidence against the second hypothesis?
“On my reading, the point of the HuffPost article isn’t really that there are bad consequences to same-sex sexual activity, but rather that there is a characteristic pain and loneliness that gay men experience REGARDLESS of whether they act out sexually with other men.his does not point to some overarching claim about specific sex acts, but rather it suggests (at least theologically) that same-sex attraction is in itself a disorder.”
This is a complete misinterpretation and misappropriation of the article and the evidence presented. The article, if you read it carefully, offers SO many more plausible reasons for this loneliness and unhappiness experienced by some than that there is some inherent wrongness to same-sex attraction. In fact, the article and its evidence refutes decades of evangelical ideas about the causes and wrongness of same-sex attraction. The article also doesn’t say that all gay men suffer from this kind of loneliness, whether they are in a relationship or not.
Also, the article highlights evidence that shows the negative experiences and feelings of some gay people are not necessarily unlike those seen in other minority groups – which suggests not something inherently bad in same-sex attraction itself, but something else
Jay, the author of the article is clearly worried about the UBIQUITY of gay loneliness. Although he does not say that ALL gay men suffer from it (and I have not said that either), he clearly thinks that it is worth mentioning as something distinctive about gay life in the West. He is not happy with the status quo.
You’re right that he does suggest some social causes for this, and he is clearly invested in the cause for this malaise being socially caused. But to say that his article “refutes” the idea that this malaise is caused by the condition of homosexuality is absurd. At best, he presents anecdotal evidence, and that anecdotal evidence is not convincing. I would be interested to hear which hypothesis of his you found so convincing.
The evidence he presents in this article as the possible causes for the loneliness and depression experienced NOT just by some gay people but by others in different minority groups (I emphasize, this isn’t just about gay people) is MUCH more solid and studied and less anecdotal than anything I’ve seen that has ever been put out by a religious or evangelical group to suggest that these symptoms point to some kind of inherent wrongness in same-sex attraction (*that* is a decades-long argument by religious types that needs to go away) – By doing this they are ignoring, as this article points out, that these symptoms and others tied to them are seen not just in the gay community but in a variety of other minority groups.
And while the article goes on to talk about issues specifically dealt with in the gay community, I feel the reasons it gives make more sense than anything else I’ve heard/read. All minority groups share some common stressors and symptoms and ALL also have their own unique challenges and problems that come from being different, from being “the other” and from a mainstream society that knowingly or unknowingly puts pressure on them. It makes great sense to me that so many gay people who grown up being bullied do, sometimes and in some ways become bullies themselves – that’s how abuse often works – they pay that pain forward. There’s more but I need to get to church 🙂
Jay, I looked back through the article for the evidence you’re referring to, but I couldn’t find it. It would be helpful if you cited quotations from the article to support your claim.
You say that his evidence applies equally to gay people and other minority groups, but he specifically denies that, in the following two quotations: (1) “But minority stress doesn’t fully explain why gay men have such a wide array of health problems” and (2)
“For other minority groups, living in a community with people like them is linked to lower rates of anxiety and depression. It helps to be close to people who instinctively understand you. But for us, the effect is the opposite.”
Those quotations complicate the notion that the adverse symptoms found in gay men are merely caused by socialization and stigma. Mind you — and I want to be very clear about this — I am NOT saying that the bullying and isolation that gay kids (and adults) experience is excusable. It is completely inexcusable. But I do not think any of the evidence Hobbes presents suggests that social mistreatment is the only (or even the prime) reason that gay men experience loneliness, addiction, depression, and the like.
Perhaps the cause isn’t intrinsic to homosexuality, but rather extrinsic. It’s still disturbing, and far from the typical “blame heteronormativity” narrative. If anything, Hobbes’s observations suggest that a major cause of gay loneliness is that gay men are not accepting of other gay men. Why is this? Are you curious about the answer? I am.
“But I do not think any of the evidence Hobbes presents suggests that social mistreatment is the only (or even the prime) reason that gay men experience loneliness, addiction, depression, and the like.”
You don’t think this, why? This article is full of very possible, nay plausible reasons for why “some” gay people experience the intense loneliness and depression they do. Just because minority stress doesn’t FULLY explain these symptoms doesn’t mean that it doesn’t partly explain them. And the bullying that gay people experience must indeed be part of the rest of the answer. To ignore that it might be (or rather probably is) is dishonest.
“If anything, Hobbes’s observations suggest that a major cause of gay loneliness is that gay men are not accepting of other gay men. ”
This article addresses this and the possible for reasons for this as well. And I’m not sure where you got the idea that this article somehow suggests that gay men not being accepting of other gay men is some “major cause” – does he actually say this or are these just your words and interpretation? If you read the article he describes how bullying can be the direct cause of this behavior.
“But Hobbes certainly knows better than I do. I’ve never been a part of the gay community, and my few encounters with it have never been “grassy green”. I’m a bit concerned that — if Hobbes is speaking accurately — Spiritual Friendship might be doing some degree of whitewashing.”
There is nothing in anything you’ve written on this thread that makes me believe that what you said earlier is true: “I have spent a long time sitting on the fence about whether same-sex attraction is a psychological malady, or just an ordinary variant of human desire”
My take on your posts is that deep down, you’ve never really given any weight to the idea that homosexuality is just a normal variant of sexuality. You propagate old ideas. I see nothing in what you’ve written so far that makes me think this quote of yours is true – I think you truly believe and have always probably believed, that there is something inherent in SSA that causes all of these problems. I think you have to believe that for the rest of your beliefs to make sense. And if this is not the case, I at least think your religious beliefs have tainted your outlook, not of just this article, but of SSA in general.
Is doubting my sincerity really the best way for you to proceed in this conversation? OF COURSE, I’ve wondered whether homosexuality is just a normal variant. I could point you to dozens of posts on various sites (including this blog) where I claim that it IS just a normal sexual variant. And the question is quite independent of whether I think same-sex sex is morally permissible. I don’t — but I could very well think it is psychologically normal and morally impermissible.
Articles like Hobbes’s article have convinced me that these negative outcomes are not fully caused by the marginalization of gay people. You keep telling me that he offers other explanations, but you haven’t told me what those explanations are. I couldn’t find them in the article, myself. Can you illuminate them for me?
“This article is full of very possible, nay plausible reasons for why “some” gay people experience the intense loneliness and depression they do. Just because minority stress doesn’t FULLY explain these symptoms doesn’t mean that it doesn’t partly explain them. And the bullying that gay people experience must indeed be part of the rest of the answer. To ignore that it might be (or rather probably is) is dishonest.”
That is a mistaken portrayal of what I’ve been saying. I’ve never denied that minority stress may be ONE cause for the data. I just don’t think it is the only cause. In that sense, I *think* we agree.
“You propagate old ideas.”
Gosh, I’m flattered. Old ideas are often — not always — the very best ideas to propagate, and I hope you learn the value of them.
I honestly think we could have a very thoughtful and kind conversation, you and me. Maybe it could begin by my asking you a simple question: do you think that I have something against gay people, or do you think that I hate myself for my attractions to me?
I think you jump to conclusions not alluded to in the article. When the author says that the problem for gay people isn’t simply because of minority stress, it’s clear that what he means by that is that the community’s response to minority stress (e.g., relying on free-wheeling sex to soothe the pain) has not solved the stress.
The internalized homonegativity experienced by gay men has such a tremendous effect, and affects us at such deep levels, that it lies hidden. Unable to recognize those effects, we invest and act in ways in the gay community that reinforce the problems, not solve them. This is not because of inherent disorder, but it’s because a nascent community needs a few decades (centuries?) to work out the kinks of dysfunction caused by being a minority in a system that has traditionally oppressed them.
When you spend your entire life believing there’s something wrong with you because you’re gay, you will find ways to see the wrong in everyone else who’s gay. So even we you begin the journey of self-acceptance, it takes a long time to root out the nasty hatred that’s been dormant in unknown crevices of the heart. But that nasty hatred strongly influences you to treat even your own like sh*t, because deep down, you still think of yourself as a piece of sh*t.
The socially constructed narrative that out + proud = problem solved is dangerous. Because it’s not true. I don’t know that there’s any true “problem solved” for minority groups (e.g., how long have we been working at racism in this country, and STILL we have disproportionate outcomes in education, wealth, mental health, physical health, jobs, etc.). But there can be some moving in the right direction towards healthiness. And out + proud can only get you so far. Self- and other-acceptance gets you farther. Finding a community that embraces you is key towards that. And unfortunately, BECAUSE OF homonegativity + minority stress, the gay community is not yet a place that embraces all gay people (the embrace is one where you’re accepted if you’re white, fit, masculine, etc.)
Here’s where the church COULD be of great service. It’s an institution that is hardly perfect in its embrace of all people, but it’s had a couple of millennia to work out some embrace kinks and learn how to be a loving, accepting community. If it could manage to extend that embrace to gay people, I think you’d find the “gay community” to be a much healthier one indeed.
DJ, you said that “if [the Church] could manage to extend that embrace to gay people, I think you’d find the ‘gay community’ to be a much healthier one indeed.”
I agree. I just think that — once you DO restore gay men to a place where they respect themselves and one another, once you DO root out those self-judgments and self-hatreds, once you DO expose these men to a loving community of believers — I think that these men will no longer feel that same sort of need to have “a community”, as if being gay was of any importance whatsoever. I’m not saying they won’t find other men sexy, and I’m not saying they’ll never act out sexually. But I am saying that anything like the “gay scene” will be utterly obliterated. Maybe a new type of bourgeois homosexuality will emerge, but I doubt it. I think that the whole notion of homosexuality as being central to one’s identity would disappear. There would just be some men who found other guys hot, and some who didn’t. People would stop planning their lives around the whole thing.
In other words, we would return to a Shakespearean experience of sexuality — where it can be a creative or destructive force, but where it is never something that marks out the path for a person’s future. That is something I would love to see.
Interesting concept, Daniel. I can’t say that I agree with it, but I’d like to know what you’re basing that opinion on.
The reason I think it’s incorrect is because within churches, there are ALWAYS tons of affinity groups: women’s groups, men’s groups, youth groups, singles groups, etc.. Gay people would be a minority in churches, even if embraced, and humans are quite tribal by nature…we feel safest when we’re surrounded by at least a few like-minded people. We will seek them out. So I think there would still be queer groups within churches (just as there are in denominations that are open and accepting of LGBTQ people).
I think we feel safest around groups that accept us. Usually that IS some sub-group, but it needn’t be. I think many gay men have experienced — however rarely — how dignifying and wonderful it can be to be among a small group of straight men who make him feel completely comfortable and at ease. I certainly have experienced that, continually throughout my adult life. Because of those kinds of experiences, I have never felt ill at ease in “mixed orientation” environments.
I wish we could refocus people’s efforts to make people accept all things gay — in some abstract, not-in-my-living-room way — into an effort for people to actually share their lives with LGBT people, even if one is morally opposed to gay marriage and the like.
Clearly mental illness is a complex thing, Daniel. Suicide, for instance, is known to have a socially determinative cause (e.g., clustered suicides). So some follow up questions based on the stats you presented:
1. By your argumentation, based on the first set of stats, do you also believe there is something disordered about white people?
2. The link you provided doesn’t show Blacks have less depression than Whites. Did you mean to provide a different link?
3. The final stats you provide are consistent with my explanation in my last comment (women aren’t outsiders in their own homes and communities by default).
Lastly, I think you fail to take into account that even in progressive countries, there is still such a thing as social shame about being gay. Most studies I know of show that internalized homonegativity is still a significant factor in mental health even in countries that have been more progressive than us on gay rights. Also recall that those countries have only relatively recently enshrined gay equality into law. It takes decades after laws are enacted for social attitudes to change (and as you can tell from racial issues in this country, even many decades down the line doesn’t get us very far socially necessarily).
Oops! Looks like I replied in the wrong spot! Sorry about that.
Since I’m adding a comment, perhaps some more added questions.
I’m curious…since you believe that being gay may be inherently disordered, what exactly do you think the basis of the disorder is? That is, what biologically, psychologically, or environmentally is the cause of “gay dysfunction”? Additionally, evidence consistently indicates that bisexuals tend to have worse mental health outcomes than gays/lesbians. Why might that be? Wouldn’t your theory suggest that have a little more straight in them would make them more mentally stable?
DJ, glad we’re having this conversation. 🙂
With respect to the one link, thanks for the correction. I had meant to say that black people were less likely to have mental illness than white people, according to that page, not depression. As for whether being white is a disorder, I’ll opt for no. I think that white people are more likely to commit suicide because of cultural factors. I’m open to explanations of how the depression and mental illness gay people experience is cultural, too. I just haven’t seen adequate evidence, and what you’re presenting is essentially an unproven hypothesis.
But you’re right to ask the question, “What is the basis of the disorder?” My answer is that the basis is epigenetic. The best science is pointing to sexual orientation being developed in the womb, after the basic chromosomes of the child are already in place. (Hence twins with different orientations). I think that something “went wrong” with me in the womb, and my attraction to men proceeds from that unfortunate event. I’m not all that worried about it, but I do think it is a disorder. I don’t think that “being attracted to women and men” is somehow less of a disorder than being attracted to just men, since the disorder is the attraction to men, not the lack of attraction to women. I wouldn’t (pre-evidence, at least) think that being asexual is a disorder.
“Lastly, I think you fail to take into account that even in progressive countries, there is still such a thing as social shame about being gay.”
WHY is there such shame, DJ? Can you explain that? My hypothesis is that there is social shame, in these situations, because being gay IS a disorder, and because people sense this and act like it is a disorder, even if they vocally say it is not a disorder. I suppose you could say that this shaming is the vestige of past social judgments, but I don’t see how you could convince a skeptic of this point. At a certain point, you are just appealing to a mysterious social cause, and using ad hoc amendments to your view to explain away any claim that suggests that this cannot be the sole cause. I’m willing to admit that my explanation might not be correct, but I do think my explanation is easier to pin down and falsify than your cause is. (If gay people over the next 5 decades settle into stable relationships and stable mental health patterns, my explanation is 100% false. If gay people don’t, you could continue to claim your explanation, and just continue to say that “there are vestiges of homophobia” whenever someone objects to it).
I do wonder, though, whether part of the loneliness doesn’t find its home in the lack of plausible social scripts that permit the fostering and developing of close same-sex relationships between men.
I tend to believe that there’s a fair bit of diversity in our sexual, emotional, romantic, and aesthetic attractions. Yet our culture tends to assume that committed relationships must necessarily find their consummation in sex. And, admittedly, there are gay people who experience sexual desires toward people of the same sex. But I run into just as many whose same-sex desires are largely emotional or interpersonal. We still may desire a committed same-sex relationship, but for reasons very different from what the culture –and the folks at CBMW–necessarily suppose.
So, yes, there is a certain stress about the shame of coming to terms with the fact that you may be different from others in a way that, at least until recently, made one the per se object of negative moral judgment. But there’s also the stress of coming to terms with the fact that it’s going to be much harder to find a committed partner in life. There aren’t ready-made social narratives into which one can opt. And being a pioneer is tough.
Thank you for your thoughtful post Evan
Wes, I wish I could simply meet you and process through all these experiences together. I am extremely thankful for your ability to articulate what is going on in your life, how your respond to other writings and simply to allow me to recognize that I am not alone in how I experience life. More and more, those of us who struggle and yet pursue Christ are diminishing. The acceptance and development of side A individuals has left many of us who are holding fast to the truth of scripture even more alone than ever before. Thank you for putting yourself out there and using the gifts God has given you to be a voice to those of us who still remain in the shadow.
Writing things like “those of us — like me — who believe, for Christian theological reasons, that gay sex is morally wrong” are the CAUSE of gay emotional distress. Your words are the problem. Therefore you can’t be part of any solution. Your suggestion that you are somehow outside of this dynamic is irresponsible. You are responsible for what you say. You must accept the consequences. Those include rejection of your ideas by ‘those of us – like me – who believe, for reasons of human moral equality, that love is love.’ Your words here are antithetical to any recognizable human morality I know.