(See Part 1 & Part 2)
Part 3: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Community
I’m a verbal processor and am usually a miserable failure at not gushing most details of my life with anyone trustworthy who will listen. I must have shared about my feelings for Corey with dozens and dozens of friends those first first two years, even if it was difficult for me to find the right language. Many of my celibate friends empathized and connected through their own stories of heartache and longing—friends who listened to the same laments over and over again and friends who called things as they saw them. My Side A friends, who were open to same-sex relationships, were thankful that I was finally coming to terms with my humanity and experiencing what most typical boys experienced a decade earlier. They helped me know that what I experienced is merely a part of life and a part of growing up. I had few examples of what to do with romantic feelings as a celibate gay man, which made it difficult to know how normal or abnormal my experiences were. As I learned, falling in love and going through heartache and heartbreak is just a part of life, celibate or not. I was thankful for the advice and empathy my friends shared as well as their enduring patience with me.
As a celibate gay man, I never thought I was supposed to fall in love. Matthew Vines, the popular gay-affirming apologist, has said that one of the worst things that can happen to a celibate gay man or woman is to fall in love. I don’t know if it is the single worst thing, but I think it is an especially excruciating challenge for many of us. In the celibate world, there are few models or examples of just getting through experiences of falling in love, and as a result, few talk about that experience openly. More than one of my celibate friends have participated in the wedding of the man or woman they were in love with at one time. For many of them, that was a heartache they endured silently. What they were feeling was something they believed they needed to reject or fear. So often they endured these intense feelings silently and alone.
©️ Gregg Webb 2014
Some of my affirming friends lost faith in their convictions about celibacy after they experienced mutual romantic connection. It was easy to get caught up in the rush of feelings that you never thought were possible and a connection you never believed could really exist. In most cases they eventually experienced heartbreak but almost always didn’t stop pursuing romantic relationships after that first experience. The veil had been torn down, and they suddenly realized what, in a sense, they’d been missing. The challenge for celibate gay Christians is: How do you walk right up to the edge of the brink, look your feelings in the eye and acknowledge that they are real and important, but still choose not to walk down the path that these feelings are naturally inclined to lead? Continue reading
(See Part 1)
Part 2: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Heart
The second time I fell in love was with a new friend I met during my last year in St. Louis. I’ll call him Brad. This time, I wanted to learn from my last experience and decided to dive head first into the feelings and try and embrace them as best I could. My friends and counselors had been showing me all the ways I had grown callous and dismissive toward my emotions, and they encouraged me to try a different approach than repressing them. I was threatened by my feelings, and so if they didn’t make sense, or if it seemed pointless to feel them, I would try and reject or repress them. As the wiser voices in my life knew, though, rejecting and ignoring them only made them fester. This time I decided that I was going to take these newly learned lessons in emotional congruence and let my feelings be rather than fighting them. I was moving away from St. Louis several months after meeting Brad, and so whatever happened, it would have a firm end when I moved to Chicago.
Part of expressing what I was feeling was finding language for it. Unlike my experience with Corey, I more readily admitted to a few close friends my attractions to Brad and would effusively share with those friends around me about the feelings. I was a man who had a crush on (and eventually fell in love with) another man—it seemed simple enough. I had no intent of pursuing anything with brad other than, perhaps, a lesson in increased emotional intelligence. Even after my experience of falling in love with Corey, I still felt that I’d never fully accepted the part of me that was romantically attracted to other men. My lust and sexual desires were all too familiar, but I still largely resisted and ignored the more complicated side of my attraction to other men. This side of myself longed for a deep, intimate connection with another person, which I had largely ignored or repressed. I knew that all of us long for love and connection and that self-sacrifice and deep love can exist in friendship as well as marriage. What I didn’t know was if there was some goodness in my romantic feelings for Brad that could be genuinely loving and selfless without having to be rejected altogether.
©️ Gregg Webb 2014
I believe that part of why I was so emotionally shut off to my own experiences was out of a fear of what those feelings might mean about me. They scared and threatened me because they weren’t as clearly rooted in sin as my lust was. My lust was selfish and grounded in my own pleasure, but my feelings for Brad felt more connected to what I believed was selflessness—the same feelings that lead someone to forsake father and mother and give over their life to the good of someone else’s. This self-giving and person-focused side of my attractions was what I wanted to begin opening myself up to in a way that I hadn’t with Corey. I wanted to try and be more open to the parts of these feelings that could be pleasing to God, like selflessness. My faith told me that I was called to resist lust for the same gender, but it wasn’t as clear to me if these other parts of my feelings for Brad could somehow be good. Continue reading
Part 1: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Myself
How do you live with heartbreak when you were never supposed to fall in love? What happens when you fall in love with a friend and you don’t want to ruin a friendship? How do you find the goodness in loving someone even if those feelings are, at some point, also romantic? I still don’t think I really know the answers to these questions, although the circumstances of my life seem hell-bent on teaching me. Heartaches and heartbreaks have taught me about myself, about my heart, and about my community. These are lessons I’m slowly learning, and I hope that in these ramblings maybe you too will find some semblance of an answer. At the very least, you’ll find something that you can empathize with, because at some point, gay or straight, heartache and heartbreak happen.
Twice in my adult life I’ve fallen in love with a man. Early crushes may have happened before adulthood, nothing significant enough to write about. The first time I fell in love was for a writer I’d gotten to know through his blog. I’ll call him Corey. As much as I struggled not to fall in love with Corey, I eventually did. I was madly in denial about what I was experiencing because it felt so incongruent with my values and, in many ways, pointless. Hundreds of miles separated us, and he never reciprocated my feelings, so there were fewer kicks to the face emotionally that would have made the nature of my feelings more apparent to me.
©️ Gregg Webb 2014
Caught up in all of the heartache was fear. I feared what these feelings meant for me and for my future life as a celibate gay man. I couldn’t figure out which of the feelings I experienced were acceptable and which I was supposed to try and kill off. It took me over a year just to start finding language I felt comfortable with to describe what I was feeling. In many ways, because falling in love seemed pointless as a celibate gay man, I just wanted to forget about the whole thing altogether. My heart, and sometimes my dear friends, never really let me ignore it entirely, though I tried. It took Spotify listing my number one song of 2014 as “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else,” by A Great Big World, for me to begin accepting that even the music I was (cluelessly) listening to somehow expressed what I could not. Experiences like the one I wrote about in “Forsaking All Others“ also helped me come to terms with my myself and slowly began to help me identify what I was feeling. Continue reading
A few months ago I was invited to become one of the contributors to a new Eastern Orthodox blog called Orthodoxy in Dialogue. At the time I had just written my post How Should We Then Live? which was a response to conversations around Giacomo Sanfilippo’s post on Conjugal Friendship. Giacomo is one of the editors at Orthodoxy in Dialogue and asked if I’d contribute from time to time. They are hoping to “provide a space for the discussion of topics relevant to Orthodox Christianity.” Some of those topics, will overlap with Spiritual Friendship’s ongoing discussions around the place of sexual minorities in the church. One of their recent posts, “Transgenderism” Isn’t a Thing is in the same vein of subjects we’ve written about here on Spiritual Friendship.
I recently published my first essay with Orthodoxy In Dialogue continuing the themes of How Should We Then Live and wanted to share with you all.
Most often, the rehashing and restating of the Church’s concrete theological positions grate against me. It pains me not because I personally disagree with its conclusions; rather, I find it lacking in practical advice or teaching that actually helps make sense of the life I’m called to live. Discussions around celibate relationships, committed friendships, life in community, sexual abstinence, and many others just don’t happen. I’ve found the Church leery of engaging in these gray areas for fear of somehow failing a test of “Orthodoxy.” Simply even engaging with the lived experiences of queer people in the Church is dangerous, or has the possibility of contaminating what is seen as “pure” theology.
I want to affirm the need for theological preservation, and for ancient truths to continue to have a place in the teaching of the Church. But the problem comes when it starts to feel as if I’ve been forgotten by the Church or reduced to a theological anomaly.
You can read the rest of the post here!
The recent debate surrounding the essay “Conjugal Friendship” by Giacomo Sanfilippo has yet again reminded me of a the importance of dialogue surrounding sexual minorities in the Orthodox Church. I’m not an expert in the theology of Florensky so I will leave the theological particulars to Sanfilippo and other theologians. I do have experience though in how the Church discusses sexual minorities and interacts with the LGBT community. I have read a few critiques and seen several posts by Orthodox writers and clergy reacting to the post on “Conjugal Friendship.” Most seem to be reading into his essay or assuming the worst about it and lamenting what they see as just another attack on the Church’s steadfast commitment to the traditional sacrament of marriage. I would like to take this opportunity to offer a few reflections on how we as a Church can better discuss the various paths available to sexual minorities within the Church rather than Sanfilippo’s specific content or that of his critics.
©️ 2017 Gregg Webb
What I took away from Sanfilippo’s essay was less the specific arguments or case he makes for developing an Orthodox theology of Same-Sex love, and more the fact that he is attempting to find paths of living for sexual minorities within the church. As both a gay man and an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I wrestle daily to try and figure out what I am called by my church to surrender and to give up. I am constantly reminded of all that I am asked to forsake at the Church’s request of fidelity to its, and my own, understanding of same-sex sexual expressions. I don’t need to be reminded that the path my heart most naturally is inclined towards, that of pursuing a husband and a family in a same-sex partnership, is not available to me. I don’t need to be reminded that I am called daily towards chastity and celibacy and to remain steadfast in following all that the Church teaches related to sexual intimacy. I know these things all too well and those battles within my heart rage continually. I need no reminders of these battles or allegiances. Continue reading
Copyright 2015 Gregg Webb
It has been a difficult season for me. I’ve been transitioning cities, working through heartbreak, living with nearly constant heartache, beginning the long-term career job hunt, and learning to live life without the basic structure provided by classes and coursework. Many of my friends are also struggling through difficult break-ups, divorce, depression, addiction, and deep loneliness. Life is difficult and it is messy, but it also has profound moments of beauty and restoration woven between the pain and lament.
Copyright 2012, Gregg Webb
I don’t know what to do about homosexuality. What I do know, however, is that what I have written here is my understanding of what God and Christ would have us do, according to the scriptures, sacraments, and saints of the Orthodox Church. Perhaps I am wrong in my understanding of Christianity and Orthodoxy. Perhaps Orthodoxy is wrong in its understanding of God, Christ, and humanity. Millions of people, heterosexual and homosexual, certainly think so. Whatever the truth, and whatever God’s will for us creatures, I live with the constant awareness that I will answer for what I have written here. I will answer before God. And, in a sense even more terrifying, I will answer before Sharon Underwood and her son, and my friend, and all who try to make sense of life in this world, and to do what is good and right for everyone.
I ask all people’s friendship and forgiveness.
–Fr. Thomas Hopko, from the original forward to Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections recently published in Ancient Faith Publishing’s updated edition of his book.
As I think about what an Eastern Orthodox discussion of homosexuality and gay marriage should look like, this forward by the late Fr. Thomas Hopko comes to mind. Fr. Thomas speaks with both humility and with confidence in his words, but more importantly he speaks knowing that he is talking about an issue that impacts real men and women who are trying to live their lives as best they know how. Recently the Eastern Orthodox Church has had a surge in official statements on gay marriage as a result of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision by the US Supreme Court.
While all of these statements were theologically accurate, most seem to be written with only a passing nod to pastoral care for the sexual minorities within their communities. Rather than engaging in the difficult conversation of what effective pastoral care for sexual minorities within the Orthodox Church could look like, I feel that they took the easy road and restated the same, already published, views again. The last thing I want is for the theology and tradition of the Church to change regarding the issue of same-sex erotic relationships, but the time has come to look at how the Church practically ministers to its LGBT members.
A common critique of celibate gay Christians is the perception that we attempt to swap out romantic intimacy for friendship. Instead of having same-sex romantic partners we simply have spiritual friends and too often are seen as playing a semantics game. I believe though, as do many of my fellow side-B Christians, that friendship was never meant to take the place of the intimacy that comes about in romantic relationship. Much of what we do is an attempt to celebrate the beauty and benefits of friendship as a good in and of itself and not as a new outlet for romantic and sexual desire. Friendship and relationships in general are not some equal alternative to marriage where finding the right partner becomes finding the right best friend. Friendship inherently makes room for not only the “other” in relationship but for others. I have quite a number of friends who I am quite close to. Some I live in close proximity to and others live thousands of miles away. Each is different and as a unique experience and relationship is worthy of celebrating. Like all relationships there are certain people with whom the bonds of friendship are especially close which allows for deep intimacy. Within an exceptionally close friendship there can exist the full sense of being known, being understood, and being cared for. But at no point in that relationship does my friend’s identity merge with mine. There is no “one flesh” aspect of friendship. This I think is the beauty of friendship and its contrast to a romantic and sexual relationship.
For one of my graduate school classes last year we learned to create lists of goals with a counseling client, a process called “goaling.” Our professor went through the process with a classmate and then asked each of us to break up into pairs and work through goaling with our partner. After dictating to my partner, a close friend of mine, we were instructed to begin talking through how to order them and to make sure they were just hard enough to be difficult but not so difficult as to be impossible. After doing this together I had assembled what I felt was a good list. It covered the major areas of my life: spiritual, educational, personal, and financial. My partner felt that after looking at my list something was missing. He didn’t say what he thought that could be other than that it just felt like my list was missing something. At that point it dawned on me the things that everyone else in my class’s list included but were missing from mine. So I leaned over to complete my list that he had been recording on his laptop and wrote the following at the top of my list:
- To marry the man I love.
- To have a family who is centered on Christ and that we would grow closer to Him and to each other.
- To have a home that is a refuge for many.
After writing these it took me a moment to absorb the shock of actually verbalizing these desires. My friend was then satisfied that I had written an honest list rather than merely the list I felt I should write. After looking at it for a moment I then deleted the three additions and left the list as it was originally.
Copyright 2015 Gregg Webb
Copyright Gregg Webb 2012
There are a number of factors that contribute to my conservative views as a celibate-gay Christian. The traditional view of marriage that I’ve held my whole life rests on several things and goes beyond the main passages of scripture that are so often brought up. Scripture is of course foundational for many of my beliefs regarding my sexuality as are the consistent teachings of the Church for over two millennia; they aren’t however the strongest day to day reminders of why I’ve chosen celibacy as my path. From my Eastern Orthodox upbringing I’ve grown up with the stories of countless men and women who have followed Christ’s call to take up their cross, deny themselves and follow after him. These saints, and especially the ascetics, are my daily reminder of the well-worn path I pursue.
Certainly many of these saints followed celibacy, often in a monastic context, but it’s not for that reason alone that I feel convicted in my own celibacy. Rather, it is that each and every one of them saw absolutely nothing as being of greater value or worth than Christ. There was nothing exceptionally radical, or out of place in their belief that in their pursuit of Christ everything was on the table, including their very life. Because of their witness, and their lives which we listen to and sing about daily in the Church the idea that surrendering my own desire for romantic intimacy and the erotic expression of that desire was something too great to be asked to give seems less out of place or extreme. That isn’t to diminish the weight and the calling of the Church and of community to help each other bear whatever burden they may be called to endure, but rather helps me place my own suffering and my own self-denial in the ancient tradition of the saints of the Church.