You and Me Together…
Today in the USA is “The Day of Truth“. You’ll see the little advert on the right-hand side of the page. Essentially, the idea of the Day of Truth is to follow the “Day of Silence” (a day when students in US schools go around saying nothing as a protest against homophobia – quite valid a thing to do in some places I think) with a day where “the truth” is shared. The truth of course in this case being the “real” truth behind homosexuality, that it’s not a fixed thing, that people can change their orientation and move from gay to straight.
I’m broadly in agreement with that viewpoint. I do think that sexual orientation isn’t a fixed thing, that one’s sexual and emotional life isn’t dictated by genes, chromosomes or biology or even one’s current affections. But the canny amongst you will have noticed that unlike Exodus and it’s ilk I describe myself as post-gay and not ex-gay. Why is that?
I think the main problem with ex-gay is that it is an ontological statement. It presents, intentionally or not, the one who calls himself as ex-gay as one who’s sexual orientation has changed from gay to straight. He/she is claiming to have gone from one state of being (gay) to another (straight). And while that is the case for many who are ex-gay, for others it isn’t so clear. For some their sexual desires move more towards those of the opposite sex but not to a point where they are exclusively heterosexual in their attractions. That then raises more questions of an ontological nature – are they really “bisexual” (though one wants to ask where the bisexual/heterosexual continuum switches – 95% hetero, 96%, 98.64738%?) and not gay? Are they therefore lying?
I think “ex-gay” also presents a pastoral issue for some who undertake that journey. If the ex-gay ministries promise change to heterosexuality and that change doesn’t occur, does that mean that the ex-gay model is fallacious? While there is a pretty impressive “success rate” for those who go through ex-gay ministries, there is also an equally large number of people who drop-out or reject it. While some of that drop-out is embittered and angered other parts of it are intelligent and articulate and raise a number of important issues that need to addressed.
So this is my problem with “ex-gay”. It seems to suggest a bi-polar, ontological model of sexual attraction – gay to straight. In doing so it unfortunately sets itself up for a fall with those for whose experience that bi-polar model doesn’t seem to fit. So what is the alternative model for those of us who want to affirm the redemption of same-sex attraction and broken sexuality?
The alternative is “post-gay”. Post-gay isn’t an ontological statement, it’s a vectorial statement. For those uninitiated in the deeper arcane magicks of mathematics, a vector is simply a description of a direction and magnitude. It describes a movement, not a position (which is ontology). Post-gay then is less about being straight or gay and rather about a choice of a journey.
Perhaps a personal example to clarify. I’m post-gay because I chose to leave “gay” behind. I chose to no longer accept “gay” as an explanation of who I was and instead to begin a journey away from it. I chose to do so because I was convinced from the Scriptures that “gay” wasn’t a suitable way to describe myself, that it wasn’t a valid way for a Christian to establish identity. I was compelled not just by reading the normal passages on the subject but also from the story in John 8:1-11 of the woman caught in adultery. In particular Jesus’ last words to her are “Go now and leave your life of sin”.
He doesn’t magically transform the women from a harlot to a saint (and contrary to common belief, there’s nothing to associate this woman with Mary Magdalene) but rather simply gives her an instruction of direction – leave this place you’re at (adultery) and move on from it. His command is vectorial, not ontological. It is the call of discipleship – it says “follow me to wherever I take you – I don’t promise you riches or immediate perfection, but I do promise you hope”.
This is why post-gay is a far better description for those who have left homosexuality behind. It describes a journey away from a false identity constructed around one’s emotions and a true one constructed in following Jesus. For some of us that journey involves changes in our sexual orientation, perhaps marriage and kids. For others they see no change in their sexual attractions, but they have left behind the place of false-identity, of seeing themselves as “gay” and that as a defining a unchangeable aspect of their being.
Some aspects of that journey have been clearly marked for us. A dispassionate reading of the Scriptures shows very clearly that God didn’t intend for us to have sex outside of the marriage of male and female. So I could see very clearly that that life option (same-sex activity) and those things that celebrated it (“gay”) were not the direction God wanted me to take. But other parts of the journey only become apparent as we set out to walk the road God has called us onto.
What’s interesting in my case is that I only walked the first of those two possibilities above (change and celibacy) after having reconciled myself to the second. I remember on my post-gay journey reaching a point where I was seeing no change in my attractions and was getting angry with God about it. Wasn’t this ex-gay choice meant to work? Shouldn’t God be doing something about it? God challenged me over the course of a few days with a clear message – “If I want you to stay like this for my purposes, why can’t I do that? Will you follow me wherever I take you, not just only to the places you want to go?” That night I surrendered my sexuality and future to God, reconciled to a life of celibacy but not a life of “gay”. It was only in the surrender to God’s path for me that I then later saw him taking me on the journey to where I am now happily married.
Now the one challenge you might still make to me from an ontological perspective is whether I still have same-sex attraction. Am I 100% heterosexual or not? But as if that matters on the journey. The idea of gay/bisexual/straight is an attempt to ontologically categorise men and women and normally continues into trying to define morality as dependent on ontology. It sees “homosexual” as a statement of one’s being and therefore prescriptive of the “normative” behaviour that derives from that being. Post-gay rejects that way of thinking about sexuality.
A friend of mine is an alcoholic. He hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol in over 20 years, he runs a successful rehab centre, but he would still freely call himself an alcoholic when each week he attends his 12 steps meeting. Why? He knows that he could always return to drinking alcohol to solve emotional and relational issues in his life – it worked in the past and it could work again. In the same way, I’m happy to be described as a homosexual. I know that when I’m down or tired or feeling inadequate I could seek catharsis in the embrace of somebody of the same sex in an attempt to shore my own masculinity. But I’ve also, like my friend who realises that he’s an alcoholic, discovered that that behaviour is counter-productive in the long run because it is simply catharsis and not actually redemptive.
So post-gay is quite happy to admit to a myriad of sexual attractions, but it refuses to be defined by them, not least because the Bible never refers to men and women as homosexual or heterosexual. Rather it is defined by a direction, a journey, a path towards God and his will for our lives.
On the way back from a wedding on Saturday evening I was listening with my wife to Judge Jules on Radio One and a fantastic remix of a Jimmy Somerville / Bronski Beat track was played – You and Me by Blue Ray. Absolutely loved it and the words are still as powerful as they were over 20 years ago. “You and me together, fighting for our love”. While that might in the past have been a call for gay pride, now for me it’s a rallying cry for my post-gay journey and the journey of others. We want to love in the way, reading Scripture and listening to Him, we understand God made us to. We’ll step out on the journey away from polar definitions of sexual identity, whether gay or straight, and instead we’ll simply go where God calls us, trusting for now what’s he already given as sign-posts and waiting upon him for the rest. Our mark of success will not be defined by reaching a certain goal (“straight” or whatever) but rather by still being on the right road, despite whatever comes at us before Glory.
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A sensitively written, personal, brave and pastorally responsible approach to a vexed topic, Peter. I appreciate your integrity to the call of Jesus on the issue of sexuality. Wise words for all, gay or straight.
A homosexual shouldn't suppress their natural feelings. The Church fails here.
Of course, the discussion begins with "What do you mean by natural"?
How you feel; which gender you are attracted to.
Which gender but not which sex? Is there a difference? How can you tell you are attracted to a particular gender/sex? This is a much more complicated subject then simple pat answers allow for.
Totally agree with you on this – thanks for sharing!