In my previous piece, I described my experience trying to change my orientation. As promised, in this post I will discuss some practical insights, many of which extend beyond the ex-gay context in which I learned them.
The most immediate insight is directly about sexual orientation change efforts: change in orientation is not something we should promise. Hope in orientation change can be false hope. This is true even for someone who is willing to put great effort into trying to become straight and, more importantly, dealing with the sorts of issues often claimed to be behind a homosexual or bisexual orientation. It is important that we be honest.
Putting my hope into orientation change had less fallout for me than it had for many others. As a man who was already attracted to women, changing my orientation was never quite about being able to function in a marriage. Remaining attracted to the same sex did not have any particular implication about celibacy; it merely meant that I could not be as normal as I wanted and that I would face negative attitudes from some conservative Christians. I was able to come to an acceptance of this reality. However, other people do experience significant hurt. As I alluded to in the first part, even parents may be unnecessarily hurt when they take the blame for their children’s orientation.
Like several other bloggers on Spiritual Friendship, I had a period of my life when I was actively trying to change my sexual orientation. Although my perspective has shifted dramatically since then, I learned some important lessons through my experiences. In order to reflect on those lessons, I am posting a two-part series. In this piece, I will discuss my experiences with ex-gay approaches. In a follow-up piece, I will discuss some practical insights, many of which are broader than the ex-gay context in which I first learned them.
As I’ve mentioned before, I discovered the ex-gay movement during my later teenage years, and I initially understood references to being “formerly gay” or having “overcome homosexuality” as becoming completely straight.
Much of the ex-gay literature comes from a particular perspective about how same-sex feelings arise. I never really bought the most common claim, which was that my attractions arose from a defect in my relationship with my father. I knew that, while not absolutely perfect, my relationship with my dad was a good one. The prevalence of this explanation in the ex-gay literature, however, did cause some hurt and frustration when I first told my dad about my sexuality. Though I didn’t blame him, I could tell he was concerned he may have done something wrong.
It probably goes without saying that the conversation on faith and sexual orientation is a hot topic at many Christian colleges these days. A growing number of students are talking about their own experiences as sexual minorities, and many people both gay and straight are asking questions about the doctrines they grew up with. Particularly in the evangelical world, I’ve seen some encouraging trends coming from the leadership of some of these colleges, but also some trends that cause me great concern. Campus leaders should not try to hide or suppress conversation about sexual ethics and sexual minorities, but instead should seek to help the campus think through these things openly.
At best, some Christian colleges facilitate conversations on sexual identity openly and show that, as one Calvin College staff member put it, “we love our students.” At worst, some colleges try to hide these conversations as much as possible, sometimes to the extent of practicing overt censorship. I will not name individual institutions, but I’m aware of at least two cases in which Christian colleges have exerted power to prevent students from accessing unofficial student publications that include stories of sexual minority students. In those cases, some of the students did advocate for changing Christian teaching, but a primary purpose of the publications was for students to tell their stories. I also know of at least one Christian college at which the administration has prevented the student newspaper from publishing articles about sexual minority students online. I know for a fact that several of those articles did not advocate such a change in teaching. Any of this censorship not only throws sexual minority students, faculty, and staff under the bus, but it actually pushes people away from the traditional sexual ethic.
On the liturgical calendar of the Augustinian order, today is the feast of the Conversion of Our Holy Father Augustine. It’s a great time to return to the Confessions, and I have also been working on a (still somewhat rough!) poem to commemorate the feast, and thought I’d share it with our readers. For those who are interested, the Office for the feast can be found here.
Tolle, lege. These words begot a soul.
At last the man his sins begins to spurn.
Platonic books can teach, but not make whole, …
For still our very hearts to Truth must turn. Continue reading
A common refrain I see from certain conservative Christian commentators is that homosexuality is “celebrated” in Western culture and that people are “pressured” into accepting “the homosexual lifestyle.” In some sense, I can see where this perception is coming from. I’m currently studying at a large public university, and I have previously done internships in very gay-friendly corporate settings. In these contexts, I do feel quite a bit of pressure to change my beliefs and to affirm all loving, monogamous relationships, including gay relationships with a sexual component.
There are many ways that this perception is problematic, however. The biggest problem I see is that the pressure is far from being one-sided. Ironically, the same people complaining about pressure to affirm gay relationships are themselves often creating immense pressure in a different direction. This pressure is often encouraging me to go beyond holding to traditional sexual ethics, but also to change the labels I use, to try to change my sexual orientation, or to focus my efforts and attention on opposing the gay-affirming segments of society. In some ways, I feel this sort of pressure more acutely than I do the pressure to affirm sexual gay relationships. Rachel Held Evans recently expressed this point well while discussing some related issues: “We aren’t ‘giving in’ to the culture; our culture is evangelical Christianity. We’re struggling with that culture, and doing so comes with a cost.” The fact of the matter is that the social connections that matter the most to me are those of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
In my last piece, I discussed my own experience as an early teenager finding myself attracted to the same sex. Now, I would like to offer a few reflections on what this means for today’s kids.
We must always start by thinking about how to actually love sexual minority kids. Loving people does not merely reduce to preaching about sexual ethics. Instead, we need to take into account the entirety of Christian teaching. We should start by examining our own hearts. As I wrote about previously, even though I’m not straight, I’ve had to deal with self-righteousness and other negative attitudes towards sexual minorities. I’m certainly not the only Christian to have heart issues responding to sexual minorities, and we need to keep our own motivations at the forefront. Even when sexual sin (which should not be confused with mere orientation) is involved, we must make sure that doctrine matters to us for the right reasons and that we are not only focusing on the sins of others.
Having framed the discussion this way, I will now turn to discussing some specific reflections from my own experience.
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.
I wanted to follow up Kyle’s excellent recent post on the complexity of sexual identity with my own account of bisexuality. I’m certainly not trying to characterize Tom Daley or anyone else, but I wanted to give some picture of what it could mean for a man to have a bisexual orientation.
There’s a fairly widespread belief that bisexuality doesn’t really exist in men. From what I can tell, there are a variety of reasons for this belief. I think one of the more common reasons is that it is quite common for gay men to initially identify as bisexual. That leads to the suspicion that any man claiming to be bisexual simply hasn’t been able to accept himself as gay yet. Some skepticism stems from a 2005 study titled “Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men” that failed to find evidence that male bisexuality actually existed, although a 2011 study titled “Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men Revisited” using the same methodology showed a different result. I was always puzzled by the 2005 study, given that my experience contradicts the conclusion many people were drawing from it. There is also need for caution in interpreting the results of both studies, because the methodology used simply involved measuring genital arousal in response to certain forms of pornography. Thus, it only measured one part of attraction under artificial laboratory conditions and may not be reflective of someone’s full experience of sexual orientation. Given that I’ve never used porn, I’m actually not certain what results I would have gotten under the studied conditions.
And one more video.
While I was out in California to talk at Biola, I also spoke with Father Josiah Trenham, the pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside. Here’s the interview (with a rather intense-looking freeze frame to start, unfortunately!):
A couple of the commenters on my last post have pointed out that this line from Chris Roberts—“Classic, orthodox celibates are the adopted aunts and uncles of a generous, hospitable household”—could be taken as implying a one-sided notion of celibacy, whereby straight people condescend to bestow pity on gay people. Here’s one commenter: “Why are you assuming that a generous, hospitable household would be populated by heterosexuals?” And here’s another, much more pointed one: “In other words, take the short stick that is your lot in life gay person, and enjoy the charity of the straight people you idolize.” I see how Chris’ words could be misconstrued along these lines, but I want to respond by sharing two anecdotes.
The first is from last weekend, when I spoke with Chris face to face about these matters. Over breakfast one morning, I made a comment to this effect: “It always encourages me when I meet straight people who care so deeply about the flourishing of gay people in the church, especially when there’s no obvious reason why they would have to care.” I was thinking of people like—well, people like Chris. People who aren’t gay themselves, who don’t have any gay family members, and who could easily choose to “pass” on making this “their issue.” They wouldn’t have to be burdened with it if they didn’t want to. And yet they do care. They go out of their way to seek solidarity with people like me. They look for opportunities to express and deepen the unity between us.
Later in the day, though, Chris circled back to that breakfast conversation and gently tried to correct or qualify the gratitude I’d expressed. Here’s what he said (in so many words): “I don’t view my concern for gay and lesbian Christians as somehow removed from my experience. I don’t think I’m making some special sacrifice to care about something that doesn’t involve me. Rather, I think I need your pursuit of chastity to remind me of my own need for chastity. And your faithfulness is reinforced and bound up with mine.” There is “solidarity amongst the many ways of patiently cultivating chastity.”