…just like everybody else

I shifted my legs around to restore pin-prick circulation as the conversation stretched into its second hour. Coming-out was rarely a quick ordeal during those early stages of growth and he was only confidante number eleven, I believe. Equal parts disarming sincerity and riotous impulsivity, he had been a dear friend from the first month of college. And then, two years after he first learned my name, he learned my deepest secret.

As the conversation began to lull, he decided to change the topic a bit. Looking me in the eye he asked, in his typical directness, “So, are you attracted to me?”

Uh. I diverted my gaze and threw out my honest answer with a less-than-natural laugh, “Ha, no, you’re safe, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Worry about? Dude, I don’t care if you’re attracted to me. It’s not like it’d be a bad thing. I’m attracted to, like, lots of my close friends who are girls. I just wanted to know.”

Leave it to this guy to turn such an ill-advised question into one of the most profound offerings of grace I’ve ever experienced.

You see, at that point in my life I lived in terror of being attracted to anybody, especially friends. I mean, this is a common anxiety of coming out, right? That not only will those closest to you distance themselves from fear that you might fall for them, but also that, well, you might fall for them.

But more than that, I was still in the midst of a painful war with my body. While the rest of my hormonal peers were frolicking in their dopamine-addled pairing endeavors,* I was beginning to despair of ever feeling at peace because attraction, that bewildering spacial distortion that would sweep over me when I saw him, whoever he was, made me feel abusive and criminal.

It was, I think, the inevitable result of being told, and believing, that an uncontrollable, biological response is a willful act of sin. Like most underexposed evangelicals, I equated homosexual attractions with lust; they were one and the same – abhorrent failures of holiness to be avoided at all cost.

I remember ranting to my accountability partner (poor soul greatly to be pitied) time after time about my crush(es), “I have no right to even look at him, much less tell you his name! It’s disgusting. I just feel like such a monster.”

And to think this was during the “stable” phase of my college career. Good times.

But this is why that friend’s comment lingered so forcefully in my mind. By saying that it wouldn’t bother him if I was attracted to him because, duh, attraction happens to everybody and is totally not a big deal, he offered a distinct manifestation of grace that I had refused myself; the grace of being normal.

The grace of a common experience. The grace of not being a monster. The grace of being human, just like everybody else.

In the two years since we sat together in that light-filled prayer chapel, tears in our eyes, rejoicing in the goodness of it all, I’ve found profound healing as I daily live into my humanity – a lifetime of aching otherness slowly finding its place in the humbly unfolding narrative of becoming whole.

And lust? I’ve finally begun to understand what it really is. By binding that willful vice up with the inescapable neurological occurrence of attraction, I not only turned my body into an enemy of holiness but I also crippled my ability to effectively fight lust.

I used to conceive of it as little more than excessively strong attractions, something beyond my control, something that was ultimately about me and my “purity.”** Wrong. Lust is about ignoring the dignity and inviolable humanity of another and turning them into an object for my own personal pleasure. Lust isn’t so terrible just because it makes it harder for me not to type Google searches of questionable character, though that’s a part of it; it’s so terrible because it makes it harder for me to treat every person as the absurdly beloved-by-God people that they are, because it turns them into a “thing” and turns me into a hypocrite.

But what is more, I’m no longer hopeless in this struggle. Back when I thought it was lustful to even notice another guy, the overwhelming impossibility of “purity” haunted me. I think I knew then, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time, that to be free from lust as I defined it – as others had defined it for me – would require me to eviscerate a part of my humanity, to deaden myself to the very real desirability of others. But now, rather than fear I will lose my humanity in the good fight against lust, I am thrilled to see it come more vibrantly into focus and fullness as I reclaim the true purposes of the struggle and realize what is actually at stake:

that I might see each person, whether or not they possess that indefinable breath-sapping spark, as beautiful, worthy of love, full of dignity, and to be served with joy.

I’ll be the first to say that I’m a weak and rather pathetic “purity warrior,” but at least now I know that I’m not a lost cause, that I’m not some exceptionally broken screw-up with an entirely different set of rules. At least now I know, and at least sometimes believe, that my body is good and that there are much worse things I could do than realize someone has incredible eyes and great hair.

Jordan

* … or something like that. I might have been a little bitter at the time.

** I don’t really like how we use the word “purity” to almost exclusively reference sexuality, especially as it has historically contributed to the social marginalization of women. Biblically speaking, someone who is greedy or who gossips is just as fraught with impurity as is someone who has committed sexual sin.

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9 thoughts on “…just like everybody else

  1. I’m quite fond of Dallas Willar’s distinction between looking and desiring and looking to desire. Looking AND desiring is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Looking TO desire is where lust comes in, because you are looking in order to induldge a fantasy.

    I found that in Wesley Hill’s book, but since I can’t find my copy I can’t say what page…

  2. Dude. You hit the nail on the head. This is why it took me until age 21 to come out to anyone at all [a pastor] and then 24 before I told any of my peers. I was never afraid of all-out rejection. I knew these people loved Jesus, loved me, and would respond with grace. But I was afraid of being perceived as -different- from then on, as dirty or even perverse. I worried that other guys would worry about what I was thinking about them, that my roommates would feel like they had to start changing in the bathroom.

    This is such a beautiful story, and I’m sure your friend had no idea the power of the words he was speaking to you (although I hope he does now!) While none of my friends have put it quite so frankly, they have conveyed it with their actions. They have continued to treat me like one of the guys. They haven’t shut me out.

    I too struggle with finding the difference between attraction and lust. I still carry immense shame for feelings I have no control over. Yes, I have friends that I’m attracted to, very good friends, almost brothers. But what’s my alternative? To pull back? To isolate? To hide? No, that would just make it worse…make me feel even more -other- and different…and alone.

    Our friends need to hear stories like these. They need to be encouraged that the grace they show us has powerful implications. Thank you for sharing this, man. I was encouraged and reminded of the important things: loving God and loving people.

    Peace.

  3. OK, I’m pretty wiped out intellectually at the moment, so I’m not going to make a remotely smart comment. Nonetheless, I would like to say that I continue to enjoy/draw strength from this blog. It’s wonderful to see a reflection of my own thoughts & struggles, and the slowly building community of ‘people like us.’

    So, please, keep up the good work, and THANK YOU. And if you ever need some help or someone to contribute to the blog, I’d be game.

  4. Your distinguishing between the attraction, or passion, and the use of that attraction reminds me a lot of St Maximus the Confessor’s distinction between natural passions and the use of passions: we have natural, inborn desires for things like food, beauty, strength, etc. Where things can go well or wrong is in how we respond to those desires: eating too much or too little, or eating well, for instance. Virtues and vices are framed around how we respond to what are, at root, good natural desires. Your attraction or perception of what is beautiful is a good thing—it’s how one responds to that perception of beauty that makes a difference. What you point out with this is totally on target.

  5. “I don’t really like how we use the word “purity” to almost exclusively reference sexuality, especially as it has historically contributed to the social marginalization of women.”
    And I don’t like how purity and sexuality have in a weird way been used almost exclusively with regard to women…
    Or how women are so often talked about only in that context.
    Women’s bodies presented only in that context.
    Etc.

  6. I’m glad you founded this grace! It kinda came to me when I realized been complete dazzled by a man was the very same when it happened with a girl! although the overexposure in media kinda made me oversensitive to looking at a woman bc, bro, I don’t like be seen as an object either! but slowly thank God, this revelation came to me, and yeah, at least I feel that sometimes we do see ourselves as an equivalent to a criminal when we get attracted to someone of our same sex, but then again, it might be part of how we make an association -me and blaming on the media again- of attractions leads to sex! houston we got a problem :O!!!!
    sorry I’m making a quite disjointed comment XP, but again glad God placed you in my path!
    God bless ^^

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