what’s in a word pt. 2

I completely agree with everything that Jordan said (in addition to enjoying his humor —- this blog would seriously be so dry and boring without him!), but I wanted to add a couple of thoughts.

I think the main reason why Christians get hung up over the term gay is because of all of the baggage and negative connotations that can come with that word.

Before I actually knew gay people, let alone admitted to myself that I was gay, the word “gay” would instantly bring these (now ridiculous sounding) cliché stereotypes to mind:

-people having rampant, wild sex with their own gender
-people dying from this rampant, wild sex
-people hating God
-drugs, drugs, and more drugs
-people going to Hell
-rainbows, rainbows, and more rainbows

Not really things any Christian would want to be identified with (besides maybe the rainbows). I am largely convinced that this aversion is the main reason why Christians do not want to associate with the word “gay.” I think this is true because…

(a)    Whenever I tell Christians “I’m gay” – 50% of the time the tension sky-rockets in the conversation and they get really concerned,  make a judgmental face, and start asking me if I plan on pursuing a relationship (euphemism for — so you will have/have had sex with guys?).

(b)   Whenever I tell Christians “I experience exclusive same-sex attraction” I almost always have a favorable response.

(c)    When I tell the person in (a) that I don’t plan on being in a relationship and all that I mean by the term “gay” is that I am exclusively attracted to the same sex, he or she suddenly stops being concerned and the tension in the conversation evaporates.

In all honesty, that’s why I didn’t use the term “gay” – because it made my Christian peers too uncomfortable if I did. I have found three major problems with this:

1.       I was motivated by “the fear of man.” I constructed my language in a certain way not because it helped me in my faith but because it made me feel more at ease with coming out to people. This “fear of man” was one of the biggest barriers to uncovering a holistic understanding of my sexuality because it distracted me from focusing on God and who I am in Him.

2.       I felt forced to talk about myself in a certain way because of a power differential. I believed that the heterosexual Christian cultural majority would treat me better if I talked this particular way, so I did. That’s a problem. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong for Christians to have an opinion on how I should talk about myself, but I shouldn’t feel emotionally threatened if I do not talk that way.

3.       Even if I did admit to my Christian friends that I was participating in all of the cliché gay stereotypes or that I did plan on having sex with guys, I still shouldn’t feel emotionally threatened. Sure, my Christian friends would have good reasons to be concerned for me, especially if my behavior is dangerous to myself, but I should never feel emotionally threatened or less valued by them.

Granted, I do understand and have grace towards people if their reaction does feel slightly negative at first after I use the term “gay.”  I mean, for some of my friends, I am the first gay person to come out to them, and it’s difficult not to act weird about something with which you’re completely unfamiliar or about which you are ignorant. We’ve all been there, wishing the other person would have grace with us.

But I just can’t help but think that these people want me to avoid the term “gay” not out of some holy desire for me to nuance my language but because they are afraid of gay people, and avoiding the term helps them dissasociate me from gay people, hence making them feel better about interacting with me. And that’s a big problem.

I’m not saying this is always true; intuitively I just feel like it has been true some of the time.

So besides having reasons for not saying “I am same-sex attracted,” why have I landed with saying “I am gay”?

1.       I’m also lazy, and it’s easier.

2.       It isn’t a sin to be gay. Yes, my identity is in Christ and Christ does take away my sins from my identity in the present. But since I use “gay” to communicate “exclusive same-sex attraction” and nothing else, this isn’t something that is actively being taken from me becuase it isn’t a sin. It is a part of my existence; it is part of my identity, at least at this point in eschatological history.

3.       I want to defy the stereotypes of ”gay,” and I think it is helpful for me to identify with all gay people regardless of religious affiliation because we do share some common social realities simply because of our gay attractions.

4.       I think the phrase “same-sex attracted” should be reserved for those who are not exclusively attracted to the same sex but do experience those attractions in some way. If someone is exclusively attracted to the same sex, it would be easier to just say “gay.” “Gay” just makes the most sense to me if it means a “consistent sexual attractions to exclusively the same-sex.”

I hope this has helped.

-Tony

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4 thoughts on “what’s in a word pt. 2

  1. Love it, especially the bolded part. I think it helpfully crystallizes how I have felt, too.

    For what it’s worth, I’m fairly ambivalent to the final bullet points 3 and 4. I don’t really care about defying stereotypes or “redeeming” a word, but it certainly does catch people’s attentions! And like I said in my post, I’m fine using “same-sex attraction” to describe even an exclusive homosexual orientation.

    But to each his or her own.

    You’re the man!

    Jordan

  2. I just posted about the word “retarded”.

    Do you find it at all weird that you needed to write this post. I admit it helps me because before I ever heard of SSA the word gay didn’t conjure up a sinful lifestyle, but now it does a little. I mentally say, “Is she saying she’s gay or SSA?”

    Having a child with Down syndrome creates an awareness about the sensitivity to the word “retarded”. I don’t mind it unless some jerk is saying something jerky. But that isn’t to do with the word so much as the punk himself.

  3. This is just beautiful. You seem to be a very empowered person as well as a wonderful word smith. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. My strategy for talking to conservative Christians has always been to avoid the “LGBT words” when I first start talking, although I’ll introduce them later and use them pretty freely when someone knows where I stand. I just don’t see the point in shocking them more than necessary at the beginning of the conversation – I prefer to get a favorable reaction, and then once I’ve got some authority in their mind to bring up the other issues you’ve discussed here.

    Still so glad to see this blog – lots of great stuff!

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