“non-“

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.

Jordan

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8 thoughts on ““non-“

  1. Hi Jordan. My name is Ally, i’m a twenty-something lesbian who’s read your blog for a couple of months but never felt the need to engage beyond that… ’til now.

    You could’ve written this about me. i grew up within conservative evangelicalism, so not only was i brought up on the idea that homosexuality is a choice and thus a sin but my parents weren’t even fond of teen romantic relationships. So i didn’t crush on the boys a) because i was a lesbian and just didn’t realise it and b) because that was *so* inappropriate! Or something. It took years for me to realise that i’m gay (i’ve only been out for about a year)– in fact, i was solidly in the “pro-gay rights” camp years before i made this realisation and for awhile, had i *had* to describe my sexuality, i would’ve said i was asexual. It’s still a huge struggle for me to talk about it in any real manner beyond “Christian and gay aren’t mutually exclusive” or “marriage equality is important!” i can talk about these vast, abstract ideas that relate to LGBTQ social justice, but i can’t talk about that girl i see in class who’s sorta cute. (Of course, it doesn’t help that i’m currently at a Catholic institution so….)

    My guess is… for those of us who grew up in evangelicalism, it’s a common problem. One the one hand, despite all the teen angst that goes on- it’s often drilled into us that (physical and emotional) purity is of utmost importance. And on the other hand, as gays and lesbians, it’s drilled into us that what we are– who we are– is a sin. So we’re stuck.

    Question is… how do we get unstuck?

    • Hi Ally!

      It’s so tricky, right? For me, “getting unstuck” meant, first of all, centering my efforts on living in accordance with what I know to be true about God and his will for my life. There are plenty of little miry details and questions within that bog me down, not the least of which is the fact that I often don’t *want* to obey God, but I’ve never felt as free or whole as I do now. The most integral aspect of my life, that which everything else must integrate into, my relationship with God, is a source of peace and not confusion as it so often is for Christians who find themselves attracted to the same sex. I think another good place to start would be for the church to stop using the terms “purity” and “impurity” solely for sexual things. Greed, violence, and pride (everything, really) are matters of purity before God. I think that is partly responsible for the feelings of being “extra” dirty that some LGBTQ men and women face.

      It sounds like you have quite the story! Thanks for being willing to share a little bit of it with me, I’m deeply appreciative. I definitely resonate with the disdain for high school relationships. I was all over that. So funny to look back on it and see what was really going on!

      Peace,

      Jordan

  2. As always, amen, amen, amen. Working this this very subject has been a regular puzzle for me over the last several months. I consider it a big part of the “so how then shall we live?” question. I’ve found that the less of a big deal I make talking about who I’m attracted to, or my “type” the less isolated I feel. Humor is a huge part of this as well. How can I joke, or make light of something I believe to be fallen? I’ve found though that laughing about things that I do that are just very “gay” is a way for my friends to acknowledge that difference in a non threatening way. The more casual I am about these things, the less taboo my sexual differences become. Maybe in a monestary or perfect environment this wouldn’t come up or be appropriate things but in today’s culture, interacting with friends, there needs to be ways of acknowledging that our experience of the romantic, sexual, world is different. I have no perfect answers other than to offer encouragement, and commend you for asking the hard questions and not being content with easy answers.

    Your brother in Christ

  3. Thanks as always for your thoughts and openness. I think that a lot of the time, this tension is more manufactured by society than anything else.

    At the center of our faith as Christians (at least a lot of Christians, anyway) is the idea of Jesus as fully-God and fully-man. Christ experienced what it was to be human, as we do, through his emotions: anger, compassion, joy, and sorrow. And through this lens, He was also able to be God, who is Love.

    We as Christians must embrace our feelings, I think. These feelings make us who we are. And physical attraction is one of these feelings. Now, it certainly isn’t the ONLY feeling we have (as some in society would have us think), but by refusing to acknowledge it is an artificial separation. It’s basically Nestorianism: saying that we need to separate our humanity from our pursuit of goodness. I like to think that we don’t need to deny our humanity to be Christian—we need to embrace it. It’s only through understanding who we are and what we experience as humans that any sort of Divine Love makes sense.

    I don’t see anything wrong with acknowledging human attractions and sharing them with friends. It’s how humans relate to each other and it’s something that unites us: everyone has been attracted to someone at some point in their life. We may find that we can’t act on these feelings because of our faith, but that’s no different than us pretending we aren’t hungry when we fast. Or pretending we aren’t sad when a love one dies, even though we hope for an afterlife. Christ himself expressed doubt, fear, and anger in the Gethsemane. And it was through this honesty that He was able to choose to do what He had to. Christ didn’t deny His humanity; He showed us how to embrace it as a way to holiness.

    Another blogger who talks about this subject a lot said that he longs for the day when his sexual orientation is the least interesting thing about him. I think that’s the way to look at it. And whether you cut off a part of who you are or, conversely, over-indulge this same part, either way you are fetishizing what is really just one facet of who you are. What matters is who you are as a whole person and the choices you make in your life.

    Sorry for the long ramblings and thanks again!

    PS: “hormonal maelstrom” would make an AMAZING band name. 🙂

    • Hi Preston! Thanks for the comment, I found it helpful.

      I think I especially liked your comparison to fasting. It also serves as a warning against going on too much about “all that I’m giving up” because it’s not about that at all! But still there is hunger because, praise God, we are human. The similarities end quickly (for instance I’m not going to die from going 30 days without romance/sex…otherwise I would’ve died, like, 270 times by now) but what similarities are there provide a nice little picture.

      And my Hormonal Maelstrom EP will be released soon! The track listing is as follows:

      1. Angst: Prelude 1:50
      2. Angst: Sonata 4:11
      3. Angst: Rhapsody in Angst 9:23
      4. Interlude: Funny Feelings :37
      5. Angst: Postlude 7:49
      Bonus track: No Seriously, Help Me 2:02

      Jordan

  4. I understand this all too well – an almost dualist way of looking at self. I’m in a similar process, learning what it means to recognize that my sexuality indeed exists and that it is valid. In doing so, I can begin to view myself as a whole person.

  5. great post…..it actually reminds me of the difficulties people have in expressing anger. I am a therapist and when I work with people who either have anger problems OR a problem showing emotions, we talk about how they only feel comfortable at 0, or (for the anger problem folks) 10…..(on a scale of 1-10)…but it takes much more restraint to express anger or other feelings at a 3 or a 6, We were created to have emotions, and they our only the response to what is really going on inside our complicated minds…..but to express those feelings in a way that is understood, appreciated and meaningful is not always easy. So, it sounds, like many people, you stuffed your emotions and denied them…..rather than risk them coming out too strong. Im curious, did they ever explode? Learning to express your feelings appropriately is tough for everyone, whether the emotions are about your sexual attractions, or anything else…..it does help to express things on a low level, and realize that it’s ok and people wont freak out, and you will eventually be able to share things at all levels 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I actually never exploded. I would sometimes fantasize about just lighting someone up, playing out numerous, incredibly caustic scenarios in my head, saying everything I wanted to say.

      But I never could, too aware that the kind of anger I was feeling wasn’t the constructive kind, and that the people to whom it would be directed were only partially at fault – if I just let it all out I would really hurt someone. In trying to contain it, though, I imploded several times. But with the help of mentors and the awesome grace of God I was able to, slowly and imperfectly, discern the real sources of my fears and generally sort my feelings out, so when I did confront certain friends on things they wouldn’t also be blamed for all my anxieties of the future.

      I like your example. Total repression or hiddenness is never good. The question becomes, then, “What is proper expression?” And there it gets tricky.

      Peace!

      Jordan

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