Monday, March 18, 2013

For the Fighters

I’ve been struggling lately to understand LGBTQ individuals who feel compelled to either fight against their gender/sexual identity (a la Christy McFerren) or choose to remain celibate (a la Wesley Hill), because expressing it within a relationship would be sinful.

Maybe "understand" is not the correct word, because I actually DO understand why someone who grew up in a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian environment would fight. I fought against this identity for many years before finally giving up the fight and accepting myself as an unbroken gay man. If I was broken, it was because of perpetual shame and (in order to cope) living in a closet of my own making. So I DO understand why there are people who are putting themselves through this emotional turmoil; it just makes me sad and angry that they feel they need to go through it.

In the article The F Word on the Red Letter Christians site (h/t Micah Bales), the author (who remains anonymous) explains what it is like to both (a) accept the reality of one’s identity and (b) choose to remain celibate as an act of obedience to God. The author describes a horribly abusive childhood home. At 14 years old, he realizes that he is gay; fortunately, a high school counselor "sympathized and explained that there were other people out there" like him.

The first week of College, he became a Christian. Instead of acceptance, he found the need to hide his orientation from his new Christian friends:

"In the college Christian group I was a part of, there were great people, but a large majority of them used the words homo, queer, and faggot. I was in some deep trouble. I had to hide the fact that I was gay. I mean, who could I tell?"
He remains closeted today, and celibate. He may believe it is the best path for him (and even for others for that matter), but he makes it clear he is not looking for an "atta boy" from commenters:
"Now, just so we’re clear: I’m celibate. I’m not planning on having a relationship. You might be thinking, 'Oh, good. You’re one of us.' Afraid not {emphasis mine}. And so we don’t get into a political quagmire that this blog isn’t designed to function for, I won’t get into the reasons why."
But near the end of the article comes the saddest paragraph I’ve read in quite some time:
"And I’d burn every earthly possession I have, empty my bank accounts, quit my job, and terminate every relationship I have for a pill to change over—in a heartbeat—I’d walk away from that pyre buck-naked, unemployed, broke, but straight."
This is so incredibly sad; unfortunately, I have been there. You know what's even sadder? This exact attitude is what many Christians want to hear before they are willing to accept someone as a true Christian. In the comments under the linked article, there are some who give the author an "atta boy" – not only for his stance on celibacy but for his attitude toward his identity. Other commenters are encouraging the author that he is not broken and that he is loved fully as a gay man, celibate or not.

Here’s the dilemma: while I believe that the author’s attitude toward his own identity is very damaging, I also want to honor his story and his journey. In my own journey, I went from (1) fighting against my orientation to (2) accepting my orientation but wishing to remain celibate to (3) extreme anger at being taught that my identity was wrong and sinful. I still struggle with that anger today, especially reading articles like this one. While I was in stages (1) and (2), however, I remember being frustrated by those who were telling me what I believe today: that God accepts me and created me as I am. I felt like they were endangering my identity as a Christian! I felt that if I gave up the fight for change or for celibacy, I would be rebelling against God and therefore God would not accept me. It’s an insidious position to be in!

So how does one talk to someone in stages (1) or (2)? The frustrating thing is that I’m not sure. I’m thankful that more and more Christians are realizing the damage that this obsession with sexual orientation is doing to people. I’m thankful that people like Justin Lee are becoming visible and able to share their stories. The best we can do is to love these fellow strugglers as best as we can; if you have such a friend or family member, by all means continue the relationship. It’s very possible that they will distance yourself from you, because they are fearful of giving up their fight. All I can say is: don’t give up on them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter! Share in the comments, or if you are having trouble you can always Tweet me or leave on comment on my Facebook page.


Micah Bales said...

Excellent post. Thanks for helping me to continue to learn about the challenges faced by my GLBT brothers and sisters in Christ.

paul said...

One of the comparisons many anti gay Christians use to explain tgt is it's like alcoholism (sure you've heard that one).

I see that sort of reversed. For me, my Christianity was kind of like alcoholism. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, went to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. All my friends were Christians. In high school, I had only Christian friends. We'd carry our bibles everywhere, sit in a circle and read the bible and sing songs about Jesus at lunch. At 17 I went to a Christian bible college. It's all I knew.

Like most gay guys, I knew of my attraction to guys from an early age, but my culture taught me that was sin. At age 19 I stood up in my church and 'confessed' I am attracted to guys, convinced that the reason I couldn't change was because I lacked humility and needed to confess my "sin."

I was addicted to my beliefs for decades. That's how long it took me to hit rock bottom, ground to dust. Alone, I wrestled with my beliefs and ideas about God, wrestled with not being able to get them to line up with reality. It took the persistent reality of being gay to show me my ideas and beliefs about God, the stuff I had been raised on were not God, just my and other peoples ideas and notions.

Some people take less time to hit bottom, others longer, others still die with their beliefs.

I think the best way to talk to someone struggling is to be a friend, acknowledge and tell them you are sorry for their pain and ask them if there is anything you can do. That is pretty monumental, that's a very alone place to be. But you know all this.

Kevin said...

Paul - thanks for sharing all that and for your thoughts on what to do for folks like that author. Do you ever read Peter Rollins' stuff? Your experiences sound a lot like what he writes about. (I follow him on twitter but I haven't gotten around to read any books by him yet.)

paul said...

Kevin, no, I am not familiar with Peter Rollins, but I see common threads running through all our tapestries, part of what keeps me less than atheist. :-)

I enjoy reading your thoughts and feelings, and more your manner of expression. Thanks for putting yourself out there.

Kevin said...

Check this out. This is his latest book which I would like to read soon: it's called The Idolatry of God.

paul said...

Ha! okay, I'm intrigued by some of those chapter titles, they sound familiar like my own thoughts. That common thread I referred to... remarkable how it seems we're connected.

Kevin said...

Hey Paul - just saw this posted on HuffPo by Peter Rollins - thought you might be interested! A Church of Non-Christians (haven't read it yet)

Dr. Trista Carr said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and concerns, Kevin. I totally hear your heart and have struggled with these things myself.

I think one of the things that is über important for the church as a whole is to know that there are people in their midst who are struggling with these things. Unfortunately there are still congregations that will ostracize and even verbally, spiritually and potentially physically abuse someone who has same-sex attractions regardless of whether or not those attractions are acted upon.

Thus, for that reason I think this person's story is crucial. It NEEDS to be shared and validated in order to bring awareness and hopefully a change of heart amongst other believers. I believe that it is when we are able to be in a loving community that is willing to sit with us in our struggles that we are more able to REALLY contemplate and process our thoughts, feels, and desires such that we can come to a place of acceptance of our selves in light of who God is and who He says we are.

You and I happen to have come to a place of accepting that these attractions are not going away. So now, how do we live as God wants us to live in light of our circumstances. We are not fearing for our safety in the same way as we used to or as this person is currently. Thus we have to have grace for where each person is along his or her journey with God.

There may be a day when the author of this post comes out publicly as a sexual minority or claims a gay identity, but then again, that day might not come.

So, how can we seek to support and encourage our brothers and sisters who are really struggling to live earnest lives before an all-loving God? We have to approach them and others and ourselves from a place of nonjudgment and acceptance. And we need to be agents of grace and mercy. So I would encourage all of us to take a stance of validation—-validating the stories and experiences of others-—and prayerful submission to how the Lord is beckoning each of us to act in response.

Thank you again for offering you insights and heart-felt inquiries.

Many blessings on you as you keep on keeping on...

Kevin said...

Thank you so much for your comments Trista! I really struggle with this and was hoping to hear how others might respond. You've given me a lot to dwell on. I do want to honor the process and take a stance of validation. And you're right--the man who wrote the original article is most likely not in a safe space to live without that "secret identity." I'm glad that his article has been read by many. I hope that my response didn't seem invalidating to this man or his process. Your advice, especially with your knowledge and experience, is so appreciated!!

Dr. Trista Carr said...

You are very welcome, Kevin. And, thank you for your kind, encouraging words.

I am glad I'm getting you to think. Using the ole noggin' is a good thing! :-) And so is using your heart--and that's where you write from and it's awesome! Keep it up!

Blessings on you as you continue to work out your own path with Jesus...

paul said...

Kevin wrote:
"Hey Paul - just saw this posted on HuffPo by Peter Rollins - thought you might be interested! A Church of Non-Christians (haven't read it yet)"

Howdy Kevin,
Good stuff.

I attended AA meetings as part of my clinical work and was very drawn to the communities, even wanting to be a part of it. Though I have never been drunk or stoned in my life, I felt at home at AA. I remember thinking that "this is how church should be."

I appreciate Peter's note that the early church was made up of (by todays christian cultural standards), non-christians. Peter writes:

"This leads then to the rather strange idea that the type of communities faithful to the writings of the early church in a Christian culture would be made up of non-Christians. For to be defined as a "non-Christian" in a Christian culture means to be defined as the outsider, as one who has no place on the inside."

I wonder if the early church was more homogenized?Something akin to AA? I like to think so.

The churches I am familiar with are more like a airline or luxury liner with distinct classes. Everyone is on the same jet to heaven, but the curtain between first class and coach remains un-rent.