“But I’m Gay!”

An interesting article from a secular perspective:

We’ve all heard the heartwarming stories-women and men who, after years of oppression, repression, and fear, realize or admit that they are gay and come out of the closet. In a culture that still has more than its fair share of homophobia, this is both a courageous act and a political one, and these men and women are generally not only celebrated but welcomed as a part of the community. They’re “one of us” now.

But what is less celebrated and, generally much less talked about, is the flip side. What happens when you’re gay, out, and happy, and much to your surprise you develop an attraction or feelings for someone of the opposite sex?

How did this happen?
If you’re gay and find yourself falling for a member of the opposite sex, you might feel shocked and confused. But the truth is that, despite how strongly we may identify one way or the other, sexual orientation and sexual identity are more complex than we often admit. Ellen Schecter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who conducted a research study on long-time lesbians who partnered with men, says that researchers have found that several of our assumptions about sexuality simply aren’t true. She says, “There is an assumption that sexual questioning is a one-time event that happens either in adolescence or midlife and always terminates with the permanent adoption of a straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity label. That’s not always true.

In a culture that has trouble with “gray area,” acknowledging that sexuality can be fluid is often challenging. And this isn’t just true for heterosexuals. Gay-identified folks often have to develop a strong identity partly in response to heterosexual bias. Notes Kimeron Hardin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Loving Ourselves: The Gay and Lesbian Guide to Self-Esteem, “It’s often threatening to the person who has formed a lesbian or gay identity to acknowledge that his or her sexuality is on a continuum. Sometimes as you become more comfortable with who you are, you may explore outside of the rigid internal identity that you set up for yourself. You may become less black and white about the way you think about life in general.”

How does it feel?
In some sense, acknowledging your attraction to someone of the opposite sex isn’t all that different from beginning to realize same-sex attractions. You may be intrigued and excited, but also feel panic, confusion, fear, and stress. “Looking at a new aspect of your identity throws off all the familiar parts of yourself and makes you begin to question almost everything,” explains Dr. Hardin. A purely sexual fling or casual “experimentation” may be easier to dismiss, but if a relationship becomes more serious, so may your turmoil. “You feel conflicted because you have your feelings for this other person, which are positive, and dislocation from your gay or lesbian life, which feels negative,” says Dr. Schecter. “Having both of those going on at once can be really confusing.” Agrees Tricia Johnson, 31, from Philadelphia, “When I first went out publicly with my current boyfriend, I wanted to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t what it looks like! I’m not really straight!’ In my heart, I was starting to wonder who and what I actually was. I felt totally out at sea.”

To deal with the conflicting emotions, Dr. Schecter and Dr. Hardin both also suggest finding a safe place to talk and process your feelings. This might be in the context of counseling or by turning to a trusted friend.

Do I have to come out again?
Revealing your new relationship to family and friends – particularly those who are gay – can present additional difficulties. “I felt like a traitor,” says Daniel Wright, 32, from Los Angeles. “I thought, ‘I am going to lose my friends, and I’m going to lose my community.’ It was like coming out all over again.” And it may indeed be hard for your gay friends to accept your new relationship. Dr. Schecter says, “In general, the gay and lesbian community is a minority community. It fights hard to be treated equally. There is strength in numbers, and any potential loss of a member of the community is threatening.” There might also be a perception that a person who enters a heterosexual relationship has taken the “easy way out.” To deal with negative reactions, Dr. Hardin recommends allowing these friends to express anger, shock and hurt, and beginning a dialogue about it once their initial reaction has passed.

Telling family members about your new relationship can have complications of its own, particularly if they were not accepting of your gay identity. Samantha Lewis, 37, from Providence, RI, says, “The religious members of my family were ecstatic. They never fully accepted me for who I was. It was just another slap in the face.”

There is also the unique factor of whether to come out to your current love about your gay identification and relationship history. The best approach to this situation is – you guessed it – honesty. “You may have a range of feelings that are going to impact the relationship,” observes Dr. Schecter. “Your new partner needs to understand that and have some context for your varying feelings.”

How do I see myself?
As a gay person in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, you might struggle to find an appropriate label. Does this mean that you’re straight or bisexual? Can you be dismissed as a “hasbian” or “yestergay”? In the end, your identity is something that only you can define. Dr. Schecter says, “There are people who retain lesbian identity while in a committed relationship with a man. Others do not. Identity is shaped by individual meaning.” Your current situation also does not invalidate your past relationships or mean that you are or were “going through a phase.” Tricia Johnson says, “I struggled for so long with what to call myself. Eventually I thought why do I have to have a label? My experience is more complex than a single word.”

In the end, your attractions to, feelings for or relationship with a member of the opposite sex might be something that you explore for a short time or it might develop into something more significant. In either case, give yourself some credit for being willing to explore feelings that may surprise you. Says Samantha Lewis, “I would say go with your heart. If you don’t pursue opportunities out of fear, life just stops.”

Tracie Potochnik is a writer living in Providence, RI.

12 Comments on ““But I’m Gay!”

  1. Hi Peter and all,

    does anybody remember Bob and Rose? It was an ITV drama from a few years ago, written by Russell T Davies (yes, he of Queer as Folk fame) about a gay man (played by Alan Davies) who fell in love with a straight woman (Lesley Sharp) and stayed with her – in fact if memory serves the last episode showed them with a baby. It doesn’t get the fanfare that QaF (and of course Doctor Who) get, probably for the reasons this article gives – indeed Bob and Rose dramatised some of those “additional difficulties” itself. I suspect this article has a great deal of truth in it though I don’t have first-hand experience of its subject.

    But (predictably it might be thought) I don’t think that this negates the experience of those of us who don’t find our sexual orientation changing / being changed and don’t fall for a person of the other sex. And I’d like to suggest that Rowan Williams’s question still stands: “What is the nature of a holy and Christ-like life for someone who has consistent homosexual desires?” (from his presidential address to the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council). I’m not sure that this question has received much detailed attention – but if that’s so, maybe it’s not going to get such attention just at the moment, given how very polarised things are within the church.

    in friendship, Blair

  2. Funny thing Blair, Bob and Rose was the first thing I thought of when I originally read the piece!!

    You’re also absolutely right that Rowan’s question is supremely important. What does chastity mean for someone who has consistent homosexual desire? I think that’s where possibly my “post-gay” identity statement is more useful than “ex-gay”.

  3. Hi again Peter,

    thank you for the above comments and links. Found Russell T Davies’s article very interesting!

    I note that you re-worded RW’s question, substituting “chastity”. I point this out partly because I do like what the Catholic catechism has to say on chastity:

    “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (from #2337);

    and “The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech” (#2338).

    Not sure if this helps – but it might ‘fill in’ the question a bit. Is there anything in being gay that makes “successful integration of sexuality within the person” impossible; does same-sex sex always, in every context / circumstance, impair “the unity of the person”? Tentatively I would say no… and if that no can be maintained, I don’t think that a post-gay path can be right for all of us who, if you will, start from same-sex attraction. RW’s question, after all, does refer to “consistent” homosexual desires.

    Well, as I say, not sure if that helps… but just one more thing: I said above “I would say no” and am aware that in your most recent post, Peter, you refer to “What does God say”, and the need to be theological and scriptural. I think there are enough ‘reasonable doubts’ about what I’ll label the traditional view on this issue, that my tentative no from the last paragraph could be maintained. Moreover, quite a few of those doubts may spring from a close reading of some Scriptural texts, not abandoning them.

    This post must be long enough already…

    in friendship, Blair

  4. OK Blair, this is too spooky because, yes, I did deliberately reword Rowan’s statement and yes, I was thinking of that definition of chastity!!!

    Stop it now…

    Anyway, I don’t see anything about a homosexual orientation which would imply that chastity was a problem. I think what you’re pushing for though is a recognition that a same-sex relationship (so an activity rather than simply being same-sex attracted) might not be something that injures “the inner unity of man”. Of course, I’m going to disagree because I would say that any inappropriate sexual relationship outside of marriage is going to damage one’s relationship with God.

    Post-gay is less about seeking change in orientation and more about walking away from letting one’s life be dictated by one’s desires. In some sense a willingly celibate gay man is “post-gay” because he has rejected the idea that some how he has a right to an intimate relationship with another human being (which would most probably be with someone of the same sex). “Gay” no longer dictates to him what his rights are. Rather the Scriptures inform him what holiness looks like.

  5. Eek – too spooky indeed!

    And of course you’re right about what I’m “pushing for”.

    I have some awareness, from your story and explanations elsewhere on your site, what you mean by post-gay. Interested to see some of the language you used later in that paragraph – “walking away from letting one’s life be dictated by one’s desires”. Would suggest that this could be applied to those of us who say ‘I’m gay’ – it could link back to that integration of sexuality spoken of in the Catholic catechism. Would like to say something similar about ““Gay” no longer dictates to him what his rights are” – it must be possible to be gay but not believe that one (anyone!) has a ‘right’ to an intimate relationship of any kind.

    Must go now – work soon…

    in friendship, Blair

  6. Blair,

    I agree with you, but with one qualifier. “Post-gay” rejects the anthropomorphic argument that “given I am gay and am not going to change, I am entitled to the best relationship I can manage give my situation” – the local moral optimum argument as I call it.

    I’m going to respond to your point on the other thread about malakoi as soon as I can get Greek and Hebrew fonts working on this blog!!

  7. Evening Peter,

    just quickly, and at the risk of being too argumentative… I think it’s possible to say ‘I’m gay’ and also reject what you call the ‘local moral optimum’ argument. If same-sex desire can mature and be integrated into one’s personality as same-sex desire, then, just as ‘straight’ people can, gay people can grow towards being able to give themselves to another person in a committed relationship. (I’m fairly near square one in such growth, I should say). It seems to me that growing toward being able to give oneself in such a way, is not about claiming an entitlement. This would also be about rejecting the ‘local moral optimum’ argument in the sense that that argument seems to assume that same-sex love is inevitably and always second best to love between a woman and a man.

    in friendship, Blair

  8. Blair,

    Absolutely, except of course that to express it sexually would be unholy. In fact, I would go as far as to say that to seek to be in a position to express it sexually would be unholy.

    (But you knew that would be my response)

  9. Hello again,

    indeed yes, I did know :)

    …but I would like to ask, if you agree with what I was saying about same-sex desire, on what basis would it be unholy to express it sexually? Or as Rowan Williams put it: “But if you do not accept that homosexual desire is itself a mark of disorder, can you confidently say that the presence of this desire must always be a sign that sexual expression is ruled out?” (from ‘Knowing myself in Christ’, in The way forward?, ed. Timothy Bradshaw). Have I misunderstood though – would you accept that homosexual desire is a mark of disorder?

    in friendship, Blair

  10. Yes, I would happily say that homosexual desire is a mark of disorder. So that means that Rowan’s initial question becomes a touch more sophisticated, namely “What is the nature of a holy and Christ-like life for someone who is disordered and sees no change in that?” The answer of course is to let God be God and to seek to honour him with Biblical lifestyle choices.

    Of course, I’m of the opinion that practically everybody who is disordered in some way (which is 99.999999% of us) can find some healing of that when we let God show the wounds that are the source of the disorder. God reveals to us the wounds, heals them and the disorder dissipates. Of course, no one ever is perfectly healed of everything, and people fall by the wayside or reject this traditional approach often because their demand upon God (you must heal this specific thing in this specific time-frame) is not met. Or, more seriously, they deny the things that Scripture tells them that are ungodly and disordered and claim that that which is immoral is in fact holy.

  11. Hello Peter, me again…

    just quickly as it’s late:

    I’ll risk saying I don’t think we disagree that God can heal and transform; but that we do disagree in how we characterise same-sex desire and therefore in how that healing and transformation ‘play out’ (for want of a much better phrase).

    So i too would say that God heals and transforms same-sex desire – but in the same way that other-sex desire is healed and transformed, as I was trying to say in post #8 when talking about growth towards being able to give oneself to another. Whereas, from what I’ve picked up, you would say that God heals and transforms same-sex desire by empowering people to journey beyond it, whether that be to a change towards being straight or to a healthy celibacy – but in either case where one would not be defined in any way by same-sex desire and wouldn’t seek same-sex sexual relationship. Is that a fair summary…..?

    I’m bringing that out partly to say that (excepting the last sentence, which I’ll come back to) I’d accept what your second paragraph says – what i’m saying isn’t about denying that God heals and transforms.

    And on reading Scripture I realise we disagree – I don’t think that same-sex sex in every time and context is rejected in Scripture, and I don’t think such a reading means Scripture is devalued or distorted. I know this doesn’t quite follow on – but it’s interesting that some evangelicals have cogent questions to put to Robert Gagnon’s arguments, for instance (e.g. David Atkinson).

    Enough, enough, they cried…..

    in friendship, Blair

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