broadening sexuality

I rarely see gay couples.

Almost every local environment I’ve lived in has been conservative and homogeneous. Wheaton, although it is becoming increasingly diverse from its immigrant population, hosts mainly heterosexual, middle-class, white families, and even though it is probably one of those urban-legends based on unfounded statistics, people also boast that Wheaton has the most churches per capita in the United States. Not really the best place for a gay couple to freely express themselves.

Recently I was very near Boystown, Chicago’s gay-friendly neighborhood. I saw rainbow flags denoting welcoming places for LGBT individuals, advertisements for the upcoming gay-pride parade, and, not surprisingly, two guys who clearly loved each other romantically holding hands.

This threw my heart and emotions into a mess.

I wanted that. I longed for a relationship with another man, like these two guys had. This wasn’t really a sexually charged longing — it was an intimate desire to be known, to be in love, to wrap my arms around someone and have him mean the world to me. It felt so right.

The rest of the night was rough. I felt so conflicted inside and argued with myself about why a gay relationship might be okay.

“How could something that feels so beautiful and natural not be okay?!”

“Maybe God does want this for me. I mean, only good could come out of it, right?”

These thoughts and feelings aren’t new to me. I’ve had them many times before. And I’ve seen gay couples before (I hope to become friends with some). There was just something about seeing a gay couple this time that made my heart bleed the rest of the night.

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All of us want to be intimately known. We were created that way — not just to be in relationship with God but also to be in relationship with other humans. The only thing that God said “wasn’t good” about His creation was us being alone.

So we need human relationships.

But does the answer to aloneness have to be a sexual relationship? Since I don’t think God wants me to be married to another man, am I destined to suffer in aloneness my entire life?

Ask anyone to define the term sexuality, and most people will give you an answer that centers around sex. I define sexuality as our embodiment as human beings that allows us to interact with one another in meaningful ways. Genital-to-genital contact is only a small subset of this sexuality. Think of it this way:

I believe a sexual relationship is only one way God designed us to be intimately known by someone. And when we hyper-focus on relational fulfillment being about romance and sex, we miss out on the much broader vision God has for our sexuality. We take the “sex” circle and force it to fill our entire sexuality circle. We give sex way too much power over the significance of our lives.

It’s easy to have sex with someone. It’s easy to move quickly in a romantically charged relationship.

It’s much harder to build a long-lasting friendship and trusting bond with someone — what I call friendship love. What’s a common reason people get divorced? Because the relationship was built only on romantic love, and as soon as that died down, there was no friendship love to maintain the marriage.

I think our society has a problem with knowing how to build friendship love. And I think this is partly because we have hyper-sexualized everything. When two people start showing affection to each other, we start attaching sexual connotations to the affection. We have a relational script in our society that says if you become really close with someone, it means you should probably become sexually involved.

This script has both damaged many relationships and hindered others from becoming closer. I think it may particularly stunt male-male friendships. Two men, regardless of orientation, might fear being affectionate or emotionally close because this means people may start questioning their sexual orientation. Or perhaps a male-female friendship, that was mostly void of sexual feelings, is terminated because people start questioning their intentions. Society quickly conflates any emotional or physical affection with sexual feelings.

Our worldview has been shaped so that we think the only way to experience intimacy is through a sexual relationship. The problem with this worldview for Christians that uphold the traditional sexual ethic is that we can easily think that our lives are lonely and relationally unfulfilling just because we aren’t romantically involved. “If I could only find someone and get married, then I would no longer hunger for intimacy.”

However, being in a sexual relationship is no guarantee for relational fulfillment. Some of the loneliest people are in marriages. And even those who do find relational fulfillment in a marriage likely still struggle with loneliness and yearn to be better known. I’m not trying to downplay the beautiful unity of marriage, but sometimes I think we forget that no one except for Christ can ultimately satisfy our desires to be intimately known.

But still, no matter how close we are to Christ, we need people. I just think our need for people doesn’t have to be sexual. It’s just hard to build intimately close relationships that aren’t sexual in a society that equates intimacy with being sexual. But it’s possible, and I believe I’ve already experienced degrees of intimately close relationships with several of my friends. I am blessed to be able to say that I have had many nights of epic conversations and fellowship with friends where I have gone to bed feeling overwhelmingly loved without a hint of loneliness. It is those nights where I’ve seen my sexuality be expressed in satisfying, meaningful ways that didn’t center on sex.

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Jordan and I emailed back and forth that night as my heart bled after seeing the gay couple.

Here is part of what was said:

Jordan: Seeing those guys is just, you know, life. It’s like every time I saw Sam. I couldn’t help that I saw him, and I couldn’t really help the surge of emotions and longing within me. It’s seems unfair that it would be wrong to indulge, but that’s how it is. The Truth is life, you’re so right. It’s crazy that those particular moments where entering into a relationship with a man seems so right can overshadow the immense catalog of God’s faithfulness in my life, where truth won out and filled me with joy. I have a short memory, I guess.

Sorry for your suffering. I’m kind of down too. Sigh… let’s pray for each other.

Me: You’re right. God has been so faithful in our lives. We both know that. And we’ve both encountered his overwhelming love for us. The other reality is that everyone has let down in their lives regarding intimacy. Very few people actually have sustaining, intimate relationships — gay or straight. Plus, fulfilling relationships don’t have to be sexual or romantic. There are so many relationships out there to make us feel intimately known; they just aren’t meant to be romantic relationships. Glad that you know and get what I’m going through. And that right there is evidence enough that God will provide us with relationships without them having to be sexual/romantic. Anyway, I have to go to bed now, but I will pray for you!

I still went to bed that night feeling melancholy, but the email exchange also gave me a sense of hope. Hope in the assurance that God loves me, hope that I will continue to experience His perfect love, and hope that God will continue to put people in my life to show me His love.

-Tony

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11 thoughts on “broadening sexuality

  1. I very much appreciate the realization that sexuality extends beyond genital-genital contact. I’ve long suggested that an appropriate understanding of human sexuality might be more akin to sexuality in bacteria — bacteria primarily reproduce asexually, but there are times when they reproduce sexually: bacteria will form passageways between each other, and then they’ll exchange genetic material. This kind of interaction, which leaves the bacteria mutually changed at the core of who they are, I think mirrors what human sexuality ought to be: comprised of experiences where different people connect on a deep level, leaving them fundamentally changed afterward.

    When I started thinking like this, I did so in a circumstance similar to yours: I was attempting to reconcile my sexual nature as an embodied person with my attractions to the same sex, which at the time I believed were prohibited. What I want to caution you about is that, in decrying the fact that people reduce sexuality to sex, you might unconsciously and hypocritically end up doing the same thing yourself: reducing a long-term relationship just to “a sexual relationship.” A relationship is about much more than sex, although that is an important component for most. You don’t crave a relationship with another man just because you want to have sex with him; if you did, then it wouldn’t be hand-holding gays setting off this internal crisis. You crave the relationship because you’re looking for love, commitment, someone to put up with your crazy, someone to share life with…and sex (which might be a slightly bigger ellipse than you drew it to be).

    You’ll find some of those things when you’ve intentionally established a network around you. But will that fulfill the desire for the holistic sort of relationship you so humanly want?

    One can argue theology about homosexuality until the cows come home; I don’t think a fully airtight case can be made from any angle. So then I think as evidence in the discussion, one should test the commandment by its fruit. What good (and/or bad) fruit come from the prohibition against a relationship that would otherwise be sanctioned, if only the two people didn’t happen to have similar genitals? (When answering that question, also include fruits at a societal level.) What good (and/or bad) fruit might be produced if the prohibition had been misinterpreted and misappropriated, thus vindicating that relationship?

    “Maybe God does want this for me. I mean, only good could come out of it, right?”

  2. I always appreciate your insightful comments, Benjamin.

    Your bacteria analogy is genious (and hilarious). You truly were a biology major. Did you come up with that on your own?

    You raise an important point about gay attractions: they aren’t just erotic attractions for sex, they are also strong emotional attractions towards the same-sex. A hug from my male friends almost always means more to me than a hug from my female friends (there are some female friends whose hugs mean more than some male friends, but my closest male friends win-out in the meaningfulest hugs); I don’t know how much this has to do with being gay, but I think it has to affect this.

    I think my point is that we assume emotional intimacy has to come out of a committed, monomagous relationship that includes sex (marriage). I am arguing that I believe we can find emotional outlets elsewhere without it having to be a marital relationship. I think you’re right that there will always be a type of emotional intimacy missing, certainly sexual intimacy, but also the heightened emotional intimacy that comes with two people who are romantically in love with each other. But I also think we romanticize romantic love — the good feelings that come from this don’t last forever, and there will always be some sense of loneliness and of not being known — at least when the infatuation dies down. However, because I believe we are bad as a society at developing close non-sexual relationships, I also think we sell-short and underestimate the amount of intimacy that could come out of friendship love.

    That night after seeing the gay couple, the loneliness and longing that I felt made me think that I had to have a relationship to feel better. That isn’t true —- because (1) I know from experience that close, meaningful friendships have brought me days of emotional wholeness and (2) just because I am in relationship doesn’t guarantee I won’t have feelings of longing again. I’m definitely not saying it isn’t easy to put up with the longing for a romantic relationship (it isn’t), but Christ never promised us that our lives would be easy when we attempt to follow what we believe His will is for us.

    I think you’re right that good can come out of a gay relationship. I get really frustrated with dialogue that paints these relationshps as horrible (partly because I know this can’t be true because I’ve seen gay relationships and have seen beauty in them). Even if people think that the sexual behavior of the relationship is sinful, they can’t claim that they think this spoils the entire relationship. If they do, then they are really saying that ALL relationships are bad (gay or straight) because every relationship has aspects to it that are contrary to what God desires. For this reason, I think this is why we do see some good fruits out of gay relationships because there are parts of the relationship that are good. I just think the sexual part is something that God has made to be only between one man and one woman in a marriage, which I have determined from biblical interpreation, and for that reason, it isn’t right — no matter how much it may look right or feel right, these feelings and thoughts aren’t necessarily good indicators for what is right or wrong. Granted, the biblical interpretation process to deduce this is also a human perceptual and cognitive process and may be prone to error, but everything comes back to human interpretation and eventually we just have to weigh the evidence for ourselves, come to a conclusion, and have faith in our conclusion. But we also have to know that our conclusion could be wrong, which is why I respect other Christians who disagree with my interpretation of the Bible when it comes to gay relationships.

    -Tony

  3. I came across a quote (I think it may have been another blogger) who said something to the effect of: some men love each other too much to have sex with each other.
    That’s a great way to think about what love looks like between two men. Incidentally, I’m not even sure two ‘confidently heterosexual’ men know what that looks like, either.

  4. Awesome article. The most beautiful love knows both when and how to practice self-restraint, and when and how to show affection.
    I am a (mostly) heterosexual female in a beautiful beautiful Platonic Friendship with a man. We almost lost the friendship several times because of other people’s opinions (his job was even in danger because of it.) I can’t explain what he means to me.
    Unfortunately, religiously, he isn’t sure what he believes: prayers requested, please.
    Anyway, definitely no sex between us.
    Sometimes if you really love someone, that is precisely why you practice self-restraint…If you love someone you don’t want to be the cause of damage to their soul and relationship with God.

  5. “i wanted that. I longed for a relationship with another man, like these two guys had. This wasn’t really a sexually charged longing — it was an intimate desire to be known, to be in love, to wrap my arms around someone and have him mean the world to me. It felt so right” Then why not have it? You whole assumption that you shouldn’t is seriously flawed from the beginning and is apparent that you have been brainwashed by your homogeneous conservative background. And Newsflash, friendship “intimacy” is trivial next to being in love with someone AND expressing that love in a physical and sexual manner. Again, from personal expereince there are a lot of committed monogamous couples that are deeply in love, are intimate friends and have an amazing sex life.

    • Hi Jaket.

      You’re absolutely, 100% right about one thing — there are committed monogamous gay couples that are deeply in love, are intimate friends, and have an amazing sex life. I 100% agree with you and cannot argue this because it is a reality in the world. I know from personal experience that these relationships exist because I have observed them. And believe me, I wish I could be in one.

      From what appears to be your worldview, I don’t expect you to agree with me or understand why I hold to what I hold. I beleive the Bible speaks to us about truth for how to live our lives, and I believe that Genesis 1 in conjunction with Matthew 19:4-6 speaks against me pursuing a gay relationship. This is something that I feel very firm about. Obviously we disagree, and I am totally fine if you think gay relationships are okay because we don’t share the same worldview. I don’t impose my worldview onto other people, and believe me, if I didn’t believe this, then I would definitey be in relationship.

      Could you give me evidence for why it is apparent that I have been brainwashed? I personally feel that I am anything but brainwashed because I have strongly challenged how the Church has approached and interacted with homosexuality. I have also personally evaluated arguments from both sides. In fact, my gay mentor at one point decided that gay relationships were morally okay, and I had to make a decision on my own whether or not I agreed with him. I have continuously questioned my beliefs in this area; believe me, there are days when I doubt what I currently believe. Brianwashed is when someone unquestionably agrees with someone or hasn’t been presented with alternative viewpoints. I can assure you that neither of these are true for me, partly because I am friends with gay people who are in relationships or plan on pursuing relationships.

      The language in your post communicates to me that you are defensive, so I am sorry if my posts struck a nerve with you or if they brought up memories of previously bad experiences with the Church.

      -Tony

      • 1) Defensive,, no, I seriously don’t think so. 2) I suggest you look up the definition of brainwashing, “any method of controlled systematic indoctrination, especially one based on repetition” . Having spent your entire life in an vanilla, conforming environment that is “conservative and homogeneous” and then choosing to continue in that environment “Wheaton, mainly heterosexual, middle-class, white families” it’s not a stretch to see you are just buying into the kool-aid. i.e straight relationships good, gay relationships bad; straight sex good, gay sex bad. 3) When you have been immersed in that type of environment your entire life it is not surprising that your thinking is rooted in a straight good, gay bad mentality and that leads directly to faulty logic and the need to infer things that don’t exist “Genesis 1 in conjunction with Matthew 19:4-6 speaks against me pursuing a gay relationship”. It’s not directly stated, and Jesus in his entire life never said anything directly about it, but if I squint and twist and turn the words enough I can interpret the words to talk to me that I shouldn’t be in a relationshp. 4) Sorry not buying it at all. It smacks too much of Uncle Tom-ism (at best). I’ll be a good boy masser, if I promise not to have sex will you still like me, will you let me stay in the club, will you accept me? The people who don’t like you because you are gay will still not like you whether you are having sex or not. And who effing cares what they think. The vast majority of people in the middle, those casual acquaintances from church and work, why do you care what they think? The majority couldn’t care less if you are in a relationship or not, and again who effing cares what they think. The ones that love you would want you to be in a loving relationship, and if they don’t, then they don’t really love you and who cares what they think.

    • Maybe you should also realize how much thought Tony has obviously put into the subject and respect him for it. This is his blog and he is just presenting his views and attempting to show others why he believes what he does. Why does it make you upset that he has chosen to restrain from homosexual sex because that is what he believes to be right? Maybe we should do a little more research and try to be a little more considerate of each other’s views, but not bash Tony with irrelevant comments. I am not trying to be rude, I am just reminding you that you can debate him logically without just yelling at him.

  6. (I know I commented in the “Wanted for Possession” but maybe this post is a more appropriate place to discuss this ; )

    I really love your posts, and I look forward to reading and learning from them. But I find I’m a little unsettled by your broadening of the term sexuality, given above. Given this definition, any number of meaningful relationships we find in Scripture could be termed “sexual” since in Scripture we find “embodied humans interacting with each other in meaningful ways.” The sacrifices that countless people in Scripture and in history have made for others, could be termed “sexual” and, since some of them have given the ultimate sacrifice, they could be termed very sexual.
    I can’t help but think that maybe by the phrase ‘broadening sexuality’, you mean becoming more human, more Christ-like. wouldn’t you say that growing and becoming more loving, more able to interact with others in meaningful ways, is to become more human? It just seems, then, that by trying to wrest the term ‘sexuality’ from a hypersexualized culture still leaves us open to the charge of (hyper?)focusing on sexuality.
    Could it be that in those moments when you’ve experienced your sexuality in healthy ways, you mean that sexuality, in its fallen state, ceased to be a problem and instead, you experienced a moment of wholeness?

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