Over the past few years I’ve found that it’s one thing to talk about my general experiences of being gay – what it’s been like in the church, how my theology has developed, the struggles and joys of it all – and it’s another thing entirely to talk about the specific, daily reality of finding certain men attractive.
During the hormonal maelstrom of insanity (i.e. grades 6-12…and college) I constructed an identity of being almost “non-sexual,” as it were. I didn’t do this intentionally, of course, it was just the natural result of years spent sitting silently while everyone else talked about girls/boys without ceasing; I didn’t even know what was happening. In fact, while I was still closeted, my lack of participation in those “conversations” (a.k.a. objectifying sin-fests) gave me an inflated sense of self-righteousness, as if I were floating above the lustful mire in which my peers were happily glutting themselves. Meanwhile, gay porn. Let’s give a round of applause for cognitive dissonance and emotional stunting.
Because I thought it was literally impossible for me to be attracted to guys (despite some pretty substantial evidence to the contrary), I simply ascribed my lack of opposite-sex attraction to greater spiritual maturity – I thought, In college I’ll fall in love with a girl, it’s just that these ones are far too frivolous and strange for me.
But college was more of the same, especially for the first three years. It felt like the only things people consistently talked about were movies, predestination vs. free will, and dating, and I found myself telling lie after lie after lie after lie; “What’s the first thing you notice about a woman?” “Uhhh, hair.” “What’s the most attractive part of a woman?” “Uhhh, hair.” “Describe your ideal woman.” “Uhhh, she has a good personality…and hair.” Everyone else was able to go into great detail about their dream partner, their dream date, their crushes and their “types,” but fear and confusion and shame constricted my lungs and I could only manage short, shallow responses. Although I knew I came across as abnormally disinterested in romance, at least no one would find out the real answers to those questions.
Even now that I’m fairly open about everything, I’ve found that I still don’t know the proper place of my attractions in every-day conversations. I’ve put so much effort into not allowing my sexuality to “define me” that I’m afraid I’ve rendered it unhelpfully abstract. My sexuality is anything but abstract, and yet bringing it up in concrete, personal ways is fraught with ambiguities, questions, and doubts. It took me six months to finally tell someone who I had my massive crush on because I didn’t want it to become more of a “thing” than it really was (there are some hideously embarrassing stories buried in those six months, by the way), but keeping it a secret only reinforced my feelings of shame and isolation. I felt free to talk about the emotions I had to deal with every time I was near the guy, but for some reason it seemed unacceptable to actually say who it was and why I found him compelling. For what it’s worth, once other people knew, I became much less obsessive and much more peaceful; something that used to incite feelings of anxiety was transformed into an occasion for community and the extension of grace.
Maybe it’s because I’m so tired of feeling like I need to cover-up or ignore the fact that I’m a sexual being, maybe it’s because I hate hiding things from those who are close to me, or maybe it’s just because I haven’t realized that this may be something that falls under the category of “painful sacrifice,” but I think it does more harm than good to be so guarded about the specifics of my attractions, especially in the context of close and empathetic friends.
Toward the end of the summer, one of those friends leaned over to me in the middle of a wedding reception and casually asked if I was often attracted to people of different ethnicities. This led to a brief exchange that bounced around topics with ease. I was filled with a profound sense of gratitude and a little bit of wonder at how great it felt to be treated as someone acquainted with the common human experience of finding another person mysteriously captivating. The good intentions of trying to keep my homosexuality from dominating my self-perception were leading me to sever ties with my sexuality as a whole, with occasionally disastrous results. It may have made it easier to feel “in control,” but it definitely made it harder to feel human. To have my sexuality addressed with the nonchalant levity appropriate for the setting ended up being an unexpected gift for which I am still thankful (love you, K.!).
Is this a common problem? I’d like to hear your opinions on this because I’m still very much in medias res. How to simultaneously avoid both complacent “acceptance” of every aspect of my homosexuality as well as retreat into the simplistic-yet-harmful experience of appearing non-sexual? I imagine the word “tension” will show up at some point.
I believe this is something conservative evangelicals really need to think through carefully, for even though it doesn’t have any urgent theological significance, it deeply affects how we interact with our brothers and sisters navigating the complex and frequently confusing social wonderland of same-sex attraction.