Sexual Attraction ≠ Lifestyle

Over the past few weeks, my journey out has set in place a number of conversations regarding religion and human sexuality. And in many of these [painful] conversations, those engaging with me have slung around the qualifier: ‘the homosexual lifestyle’.

I’ve resisted the persistent urge to say, “Honey, lifestyle is a condom.”

But let’s get on to meaningful discussion. The qualification of homosexuality as a ‘lifestyle’ is an attempt to invalidate this form of healthy sexual expression. It moves to other homosexuals, while keeping heterosexuals in the seat of the normal. I’ll just add that I’ve never heard heterosexuality referred to as a lifestyle.

Whom you are attracted to does not dictate lifestyle. You could identify as homosexual and opt for celibacy. One might be bisexual and lascivious. Some are lesbians and into traditional [same-sex] marriages with clear monogamous boundaries. And what of those straight people who have decided that they’d like to steer clear of relational commitment? Celibacy is a lifestyle. Sexual promiscuity is a lifestyle [No judgement here. Just be safe, people!]. Staying up late every night to watch The Golden Girls is a lifestyle. Being gay is not.

The most difficult thing for me, in terms of reconciling with my sexuality, was that I didn’t see any gay people who were living ‘healthy’ lives. Most of the gay people to which I had been exposed only seemed to be affirmations of my community’s disdain. It’s clear to me now that I was approaching them with a broken lens, but in my mind, gayness was equivalent to the death of a bright future. There was no person in my life like Dr. Julie in Boy Erased (Garrard Conley, 2017). No one to sit across from me and tell me that they knew “plenty of people who’ve accepted this part of themselves, and they’ve managed to make a good life of it.” That is, no one except my high school therapist, whose words I did not have ears to hear.

I needed someone to tell me that God loved me, and created me as I was. In those years, no one told me that—so, I’m telling you: You, honey, are loved and are a well-watered garden. You are a gift. Stay with us.

I’m thankful to have discovered a number of queer Christians to whom I can look. I’m grateful for Matthias Roberts’ Queerology podcast, which snatched me from the cords of death. Listening to his words [although broadcast from 1,000 miles] made me realize that there was someone else like me in the world. Matthias led me to Kevin Garcia, and his A Tiny Revolution. I drove my little white BMW to New York and cried listening to Kevin. I then learned of Broderick Greer, who hosted the Theology Live podcast. In all of this, I discovered Garrard Conley, whom I have already mentioned, and Nick White’s book How to Survive a Summer. It wasn’t just the work that saved me. It was the fact they responded to my emails and messages. It was like a community of gay men pulling me out of the choppy water, “Heave, ho! Heave, ho!

They were the pillars for me. Not the deacons at a local church, as my mother wanted. They were the men [and gender-fluid] of God.

So, standing here in the sun, still drying off, I speak in defense of my community.

These are my words.

Hate Mail

“Don’t come back to church.”

The toughest part of my coming out journey has been disappointing many of the people who have supported me. It is almost unbearable to consider those who now see me as reprobate, and lost. To the faith community of my childhood, I am pariah. The bitter gall is, however, I was once lifted up in their eyes. My mind floats back to Psalm 42, a poem I used to read at my bedroom window: “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise.” I once directed them in worship—arms here, eyes there, mind clear. I struggled to make them satisfied with the leading. I fasted. I prayed. I abstained. 

“You are a sad abomination unto the lord.”

It was because of my commitment to my local Christian community that I decided to pursue a seminary education. I felt that I was destined for the pulpit. Battling with my sexuality in the middle of my seminary career, I began to think that this was out of the question. From the beginning, I have only wanted to do what is right. During my time in Cleveland, I encountered a number of ‘straight’ Christian men who were married, but were having sexual affairs with other men. I decided that I would have no part in that. That’s the abomination, honey.

“Nobody is pleased.”

All of these were messages that I received in the days that followed my coming out. I learned, pretty quickly, that many of my childhood heroes were merely happy with me. They had not reached the depths of blinding joy by way of my existence. My then community was simply pleased by the choices I had made. The smiles were all undone by my expression of truth. I question what was actually there.

“You said you need help. I am here to help.”

Oh, blessed help! But, not that kind of help, sweetie. I am indeed a broken vessel, standing in the line for the Savior’s healing. But I am not broken in the ways that you might think. My sexual identity is not broken. I do not need to be fixed. Like the southern-fried counselor said to me: “Honey, there is nothing wrong with you.” If help and prayer means attempting to bend the individual back toward some sort of heterosexuality, then you’ve missed the point entirely.

Some of my dear friends have made staunch demarcations: if you are not LGBTQIA-affirming, then you are part of the problem. I cannot, with all my experience, state the same. You do not have to agree. Diversity of thought is what it’s all about. What won’t work, though, is to reach across the line to tell people that they are bound for Hell. It won’t work if you say it nicely, and it certainly won’t work when it’s meted into a spit-filled tirade from behind the wooden pulpit. However you dice it, it’s hate mail, and I ain’t here for it. You may disagree, you may call homosexuality a ‘lifestyle’ (very curious that we have the Christian ‘way’ and the homosexual lifestyle, as though these are polar opposites. It is doubtlessly illogical to compare a faith-system and a form of sexual expression; I think, however, that one of the principal reasons for this is a desire to demonstrate the supposed incompatibility of homosexuals and the life of the Church), but you still don’t have the final word.

Christ has the final word. And Christ affirms.