Sometimes I forget that I’m gay.
Seriously. I’ll just be walking around, doing my thing, thinking about coffee or tennis or sleep or whatever, and suddenly:
Wait a second, I’m attracted to guys. Woah.
Then I resume my espresso daydream and life goes on. I probably don’t need to explain why such an occurrence is a little odd.
I mean, I’m going to just assume that straight people don’t know what it’s like to spend all day worrying over how straight they feel and wondering if other people can tell. “Oh crap, a beautiful woman! Was I staring? I think I was. Was someone watching me stare? Everyone must have noticed my eyes dilate. That man over there looks like he’s judging me. Great, now I have to leave the country…” “Did I play this sport too competently? Ugh, I hate myself…” “That old woman said she had a niece I should meet… does she think I like girls? How did she find out? Oh god, what if she tells my mom?” “Maybe if I just wear scarves and skinny-jeans no one will question my sexuality.”
But I could be wrong.
Either way, I used to be entirely preoccupied with image-control. I was almost always aware that I didn’t quite fit in and, therefore, pathologically tried to disguise that otherness, certain that should people find out I was gay the internal isolation that scraped and slithered around my brain would become an external reality and encompass me.
But a couple things are happening now: I am feeling less “other,” and my otherness is slowly shedding the fear and stigma of its youth.
I am not saying I expect, or even hope, to ever be “non-other”. Not at all. So long as I’m attracted to men, and so long as the late Jerry Fallwell’s elite team of ninjas succeeds in stopping President Obama’s diabolical plan to infect America’s drinking water with the gay gene, I will experience the otherness that comes from being a sexual minority until I die. However, such difference is no longer an inevitable occasion for anxiety because it is starting to reveal its role in the grand unfolding of God’s grace in my life.
(It is necessary to say that, even though I will be referring to “otherness” in the abstract, I can really only speak to my particular experience as an evangelical Christian man attracted to men – which is a reality that doesn’t externally mark me for marginalization. More than that, I happen to have inherited almost every other kind of socio-cultural privilege imaginable, which has, I am sure, significantly diminished the potency of my experience with “otherness.” While I may find myself occasionally camping in the margins, I do so with a $500 tent.)
The reason I’m even commenting on these brief flashes of “unawareness” or whatever-it-is, of not being consumed with feelings of “otherness,” is because this is the last place I expected to experience something like this. I flew down to Central America alone, re-entered “la bodega”, and have daily come up against rampant and incessant homophobia from the teenage boys I live with (and Central America’s machismo culture in general) – a recipe for angst and feeling super-gay and isolated. And yet…
I’m intrigued by the fact that I can feel so at home in my body while in a context where, honestly, I think bad things would happen if it got out that I’m gay. I’m experiencing almost-ideal self-perception in regard to my sexuality* in a less-than-ideal environment to be gay because, I think, they do one thing really well at the orphanage: work with the kids through diverse gifts and histories. I may not be “out” here, but the fact that I’m gay, and the way I’ve grown and deepened because of that fact,** has enabled me to serve these kids in a manner that is different from other staff members and yet still important and valued – namely, I tend to be more aware of how certain kids are being pushed to the fringes, more aggressive against bullying, and less rough in my behavior toward even the most obnoxious boys (one of whom, as I type, is randomly pressing buttons on my computer forcing me to engage in manic typo-prevention).
This is why I think the Church has so much to offer those attracted to the same sex.*** So many people can only dull the ache of difference by staying in communities comprised of those who are equally “other” and thus experience a kind of normativity.**** Though the Church does, in some ways, serve a similar function, it does not do so through the normalization or flattening of otherness; the Gospel is not about homogenization (this is one reason I think we have four notoriously idiosyncratic Gospels accounts), it’s about redemption, conformation, and scandalous equality before God.
I don’t love Christian community because I get to spend time with people “just like me,” though Christ-followers do share certain unshakeable foundations. I love Christian community because it reminds me that I am united in purpose and worship with a bunch of crazy people around the world who aren’t like me at all and who reveal Christ to me in ways that would be otherwise unknown.
In this community my otherness, once an occasion for feelings of distance and loneliness, can, and should, take its rightful place as a site of revelation of the goodness and beauty of God. And thus, somehow, otherness – the multiform, embodied experience of being wrongly marginalized for one reason or another – becomes a catalyst for a more profound unity and depth. And while I hesitate to ascribe any sort of moral exceptionalism to marginalization, we must acknowledge that we serve a Christ who seemed far more at home on the dusty fringes than in the cushioned halls of privilege.
There is so, so much more to this, and I apologize for all the nuance I couldn’t include in less than 1000 words.
But I want to finish by saying that I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the Church (specifically the North American church) will become less concerned with the maintenance of social power and position and more passionate about proclaiming the Gospel through myriad stories of redemption lived out in a community dedicated to loving service of the world.
Edit – Please do not think I am glossing over the gross sins of the church in regard to the LGBTQ community or the serious hurdles we face as we try to move forward in love. For slightly more critical posts, see What Is Love (which I think is one of the most important posts I’ve written), and Family Talk, among others.
* Almost-ideal not in that I forget that I’m gay, but in that my sexuality does not dominate my self-perception as it used to.
** Though such growth and depth are, I would say, the result of interacting with my sexuality through the primary and total filter of my Christian faith.
*** Aside from the, you know, relationship with Jesus and eternal life and all that.
**** I’m not saying such communities are bad. Not at all. In many ways they can be both necessary and life-giving. I greatly benefitted from my time in the gay student-group at Wheaton, which is but one example among many. I just don’t think they are an adequate substitute for what the church is called to be.