end of the line

I’m sure that any regular readers out there will not find it a surprise that officially, I am no longer going to be contributing to the blog. This has really been going on for quite some time now as Jordan has pretty much been the only one posting the last five months. I’ve been very impressed by his consistency and reliability, not to mention how he finds something new and meaningful to write about.

I’m leaving for three major reasons:

-Writing exhausts me; it doesn’t energize me. When I started writing the blog, I had a lot of emotions pent up inside that I wanted to release through the text. Once those emotions got released, I lost the energy and drive necessary to keep writing.

-My life is busy with graduate school, and my focus is simply on other passions. My gayness actually plays a very minimal role in my life right now.

-I ran out of things to say.

Even though I’m not writing anymore, I am always willing to meet in person with any Wheaton student or anyone else wanting to talk with someone about this stuff. Verbal processing doesn’t exhaust me. If you’re in the Chicago area, I am too. I’ll check the email from time to time, but Jordan still checks it consistently so if you let him know, he will let me know.

When I started this blog back in May, I never thought how God would use it to impact and reach so many people, way beyond the scope of Wheaton College which was my original intended audience. I thank Him for the grace He has shown in my life to allow me to say something of worth on this topic and that He would choose to use me as a vessel to maybe bring healing or hope to someone else. Ultimately, I hope my words made a positive difference in someone’s life and that this difference will cause them to positively impact someone else.

I also want to thank Jordan for his willingness and enthusiasm to jump right into the blog. It was overwhelming when it first took off, and I am forever grateful that God brought him on board (it really was a God thing).

Well, to prevent this from becoming cliche and more cheesy, I’m going to end it here. Maybe in a few years when my story is public to everyone, I will have a personal blog with my full identity revealed. But that isn’t at least for a few years. Until then, God bless everyone, and truly know that no matter what life circumstance you are facing, God loves you, and He has redeemed you. All you have to do is accept that love. And I pray that others would show it to you so that you can show it to others too.

Love

Tony

Advertisements

LeVay pt. 1

LeVay pt. 1

Hello world. I’m still alive, and I’m doing well. For those of you wondering, the lack of posts isn’t because of a crisis of faith or a sudden change in views or because I started dating a guy (although I wish at times). I’ve just been busy (between work and graduate school), and the thing with me is that when I make priorities, whatever falls out of those priorities really falls out of my life. So I just need to make the blog a priority again, even when I have a ton of research articles to read.

One privilege of attending graduate school at a liberal arts college is that I get free access to the wide variety of lectures, and it just so happens that this campus is really into LGBT issues (like there are rainbows on the doors of professors who want LGBT students to reach out to them; compared to Wheaton, this is refreshing to be honest). This last week I got to attend a lecture by Simon LeVay. If you don’t know who he is, he is notoriously famous for a 1991 study where he reported on a biological difference between gay and straight men. He found that the cell density in a particular area of the hypothalamus was significantly different between the two (for those unfamiliar with statistics, meaning very, very unlikely that the difference was due to chance).

He didn’t just find it by accident. He was comparing hypothalami intentionally because this structure influences basic biological drives such as hunger, thirst, and you guessed it, sexual drives. Thus, if there’s going to be a biological reason for why a man would feel sexually aroused by another man, there’s a good chance it’d be found here. LeVay simply claims that the biological difference he found is one possible explanation for why the two group of men differed in their sexual orientation. He doesn’t claim more than he can; other people have erroneously done that for him. He went out of his way at the lecture to say that his finding does not provide a genetic explanation for homosexuality because the differences in cell density could be due to environmental causes, genetic causes, or both.

Of course, his study is controversial, and many people attempt to discredit it. But I believe that this is mainly because if it’s true, people fear the perceived implications that they extrapolate from it. My friend who attended with me and who went to a different Christian college for undergrad, said that one of her psychology professors vehemently attacked the study because the professor had a premise that homosexuality cannot have a biological root. Many other religious figures have likely attacked the study because they believe in the same premise.

The truth, at least in my opinion, is that this study is well done. Because this isn’t a scientific research blog, I won’t go into specifics as to why it is well done, but if people are going to attempt to discredit this study, then there’s a whole slew of other studies unrelated to homosexuality that they better attempt to discredit as well because they contain the same level of methodological rigor. Just as much as we can’t pick and choose which verses we want to uphold, we can’t pick and choose which scientific studies we want to discredit simply because we don’t like their findings.

When there is a conflict between science and faith, either three things must be truth: (1) the faith belief is wrong, (2) the scientific evidence is wrong, or (3) the conflict doesn’t actually exist.

It is my belief that when individuals get all “up in arms” about research that supports biological factors for homosexuality because based on their religious beliefs it cannot be true, they have created a conflict between their faith and science that doesn’t actually exist.

There is absolutely no conflict between gay attractions having a biological root and the Christian faith.

The argument for this is simple:

(1)    We are biological beings (Genesis 1-2), which influences all aspects of our conscious experiences

(2)    Sexual feelings are included as being part of biological experiences (brain cells fire when we have an attraction!)

(3)    Because biological development is malleable and not everyone’s develops the same way, it is certainly plausible for the biology of certain individuals to develop to have attractions towards their same gender.

(4)    Even if Christians believe that God never intended for people to have gay attractions, we know from the Fall in Genesis 3 that the world is currently not how God intended things to be and part of the effect of the Fall is that the biology of all creatures (not just humans) does not always develop in the way it was intended to develop.

So there’s no reason for any Christian to fear LeVay’s research. Do I believe some people are destined to be gay the moment they are conceived due to their genetic combination? Absolutely. Do I believe the hormonal environment of prenatal development can cause gay attractions? Yes. And do I also believe that one’s family environment or choices later in life could also influence a gay orientation? Definitely.

Do I also think that if someone is destined to be gay because of their biological programming that this gives him or her moral license to express their sexuality in whatever way he or she wants?

Not if the person has a bigger moral and theological framework to frame their gay attractions, such as Jordan and myself.  And that is the real issue (rather than seeking to refute research that shouldn’t be refuted).

I have more to write about LeVay and will do so at some point (hopefully there won’t be another two month gap).

Blessings,

Tony

link: open letter to LGBT or SSA freshman at Christian schools

Wesley Hill posted a link to this on his Twitter account, and I thought it was wonderful, especially as Wheaton begins classes this Wednesday. If you’re one of the intended recipients of this very truth-filled letter, know that we are praying for you. Cling to the goodness and trustworthiness of God and don’t ever, ever, ever let go.

http://oddmanout.net/post/30103321758/an-open-letter-to-lgbt-or-same-sex-attracted-freshmen

Jordan

why gay is not choice: we are biological beings

I am furious.

As he posted on our Twitter account, my brother Jordan was told by a counseling pastor to his face (and to his mother) that he chose to be gay and that he might not be saved. Are you kidding me? Are you serious? For starters, if you knew Jordan in person, you would know that questioning his salvation is just foolish; he gives ample evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. It is clear that he is saved.

I have difficulty taking seriously individuals that hold to beliefs like this. I question their theology, and I even question their intellectual capabilities. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that these individuals have been taught a heavy anti-psychology bias. Every mental issue becomes spiritualized. Feel depressed? You must not be seeking the joy of the Lord. Anxious? You clearly aren’t casting your fears unto the Lord. Paranoid? You must not trust God.

To assume that people have “willful” control of every emotion they experience, of every impulse they feel, of every thought that crosses their mind is flat out heresy.

It’s heresy because it denies that our conscious experiences —- our thoughts and emotions —- do not have biological components. It denies that we have bodies, that we are physical beings. Everything that we do involves neurons firing in our brain. If I activated certain neurons in an individual’s brain, I could make them feel certain emotions, even make them move certain body parts. If you drink a bunch of alcohol, you will exhibit certain behaviors, regardless if you want to or not. If I give you a sedative, you will feel more relaxed and act more subdued. If I kept you awake for several days, you would be unable to sustain attention.

The reality is that all of our brains have been wired in particular ways. They’ve developed that way due to the genetic code that we have inherited, the chemicals exposed to that genetic code, and even how our cultural environment has interacted with us. Some people’s brains become wired in ways that make it easier for them to exhibit acceptable behaviors. Others don’t. Would we expect people who are mentally challenged to be able to grasp complicated concepts? No. Would we expect a child on the autism spectrum to always act socially appropriate? No. Would we expect someone who has no brain area for producing speech to suddenly talk? No.

So then, tell me, why do some churches/Christians expect some people who are consistently depressed, or have a high level of anxiety, or who experience same-sex attraction to suddenly have volitional control over these areas?

Some of you, same-sex attracted or not, have been spiritually abused and manipulated when it comes to whatever mental calamity or deficiency that your suffer from. You’ve been told that you’re not trusting God enough, not turning to Him, that you simply need to pray more for whatever you’re experiencing to go away.

Sometimes our struggles are the result of our failure to turn to God. But sometimes, no matter how many times we pray, our brain cells are going to stay that way and things aren’t going to change. And this isn’t because you’re doing something wrong; it’s because you live in a world that has gone wrong.

I’m not trying to be a pessimist. I’m not trying to say there isn’t relief for people who suffer from mental anguish. But to assume that people are only experiencing brokenness because they haven’t prayed in the “proper” way is dangerously tinted with shades of a triumphalism that does not do justice to the confusing depth of human suffering. To assume that every conscious experience of ours is spiritual (or within our control) is naïve, it’s bad theology, and to be blunt, it’s stupid.

When it comes to being gay, we have a part of our brain that is devoted to sexual arousal (the hypothalamic region). If I’m correct, all mammals have sexual arousal response systems in this part of the brain. In humans, it is a less “advanced” part of our brain, meaning we have less control over it. It isn’t part of our outer cortex. So it should not be hard to believe or come as a surprise, that there are males who have wiring that causes them to be sexually aroused by other males and that there are females who have wiring that causes them to be aroused by other females. Biologically, this could easily develop. There is sexual arousal in other parts of the brain too that is more plastic (changeable), and maybe this is why some people’s homosexuality is more malleable and flexible.

My point is that believing that people could be attracted to the same-sex isn’t a complicated concept. It’s not rocket science. Forgive me, I know I’m coming across as arrogant, but I’m so frustrated that there are people who refuse to believe this, especially those in some churches. It just makes Christians look dumb.

Now practically, no matter what we face in our lives, we are still called to turn to God — to trust that He is control of our lives, to trust that our God is bigger than anything we face, to trust that He can still use us despite any mental deficiency that we may face. And believe it or not, focusing on God’s love for an individual could help rewire a depressed person’s brain (thoughts have power to change connections and chemicals released). And focusing on how God is in control of our lives, could relieve some anxiety. But it may not bring complete relief. Some people’s brains are fairly hardwired, especially in regions that are less influenced by thought. They may always have a level of anxiety or perhaps a level of depression or perhaps a reduced ability to control their emotions.

But even with whatever affliction we face in our lives — whether it’s in our brains or pain in our joints or nausea in our stomachs — God is still God over our lives. He still loves us. He still uses us. And He will still set everything right someday.

I just wish that some Christians and some churches would stop denying the influence of our biology over our feelings, emotions, thoughts, and yes, even sexual attractions.

-Tony

sinner

Recently, I’ve been having difficulty writing for the blog.

It’s partly because I’ve been busy. There’ve been family functions, apartment searching, and lots of work.

It’s also partly because I’m not always exactly sure what to write about. When I first started the blog, I had many thoughts and feelings about homosexuality that were pent-up inside of me and that I desperately wanted people to hear about because I was so exhausted and frustrated by the ignorance around me. I felt like I had to do something about it. The first month of the blog and the wide range of its impact has somewhat satisfied that appetite, at least for now.

But as I’ve reflected on why it has been so hard for me to write, I believe a deeper reason is that I feel like a fraud, like I’m unworthy to be doing this. The truth is that during the last month, I’ve struggled with my faith. Except for a few momentary exceptions, God has felt distant, and I don’t really know what I’m doing right now to serve and love Him. There isn’t any passion in my faith, no excitement for how I am contributing to the Kingdom. And when it comes to my same-sex attraction, I am letting my thoughts go too far. In short, lust has been an issue, more so than usual for me.

And for whatever reason, I feel that if I want to maintain integrity while writing this blog I need to have my faith in order, especially when it comes to my homosexuality. I seriously feel like I should only write a post if I’m not struggling, if I’m not having any lustful thoughts.

Now after seeing that last sentence written out on my Word document, I see the absolute absurdity and arrogance of it. Since when did I ever expect myself to be perfect, or think that I could be flawless? Since when did I expect myself to be beyond sinning (or at least to never pass my arbitrary “acceptable allotment” of sin). How prideful of me. I’ve been sinning in how I’ve been viewing my sin.

If I try and present myself as the “perfect” gay Christian who never struggles with lust or wrestles with depression and doubt, then I defeat the entire purpose of this blog. The point of us writing has always been to tell our narratives truthfully so as to shed light on a group of people that many conservative Christians have no idea actually exists. More than that, we also want to help the Church (and the rest of the world) understand, a little better, what it’s like to be a conservative Christian who is attracted to the same sex. Experiencing lustful thoughts about men is a reality of my life, and thus I have no idea why I felt like I needed to “hide it” from the blog.

I’ve believed the lie, like I have many times before, that God can’t use a sinner – that God only uses people who have their lives put together. This is entirely false, and the Bible unequivocally speaks against it. As I write this, I’ve been thinking of the many sinners who God has used for His Kingdom, like Peter, who denied knowing Christ, or  Paul, who went from killing Christians to writing most of the New Testament.

What has made this “lie” have more power in my life right now is the nagging fear that perhaps my theology of homosexuality is the catalyst for my struggle with lust. Maybe I’ve been wrong this whole time; maybe those with more fundamentalist views on homosexuality are right and I really do just need to try and “stop” being attracted to males. I fear that my admission of lust will give credibility to these people, or that someone could be reading the blog and think “see, he wouldn’t be struggling with lust if his views were right, so he must be wrong.” I know this isn’t true and that whether one is struggling with sin is not really an indication of correct beliefs. After all, the Bible says that even the demons acknowledge that Christ is Lord, yet they don’t follow Him. Correct belief does not always equal appropriate action, and I think Satan really wants me to believe that I wouldn’t be struggling with lusting  after men if I had the correct theology. Satan would rather I believe that my same-sex attraction is the real sin (rather than lust), and that I need to wallow in guilt every time I have any inclination towards a guy because I am choosing to be attracted to him, somehow. This would take me out of the picture, turn my focus away from  pursuing Christ, and prevent me from contributing to the Kingdom.

God always wants to use us to bring redemption and healing to the world. No matter what we’ve done, He’s ready to forgive us, to put us back on the battle line. His arms are always open wide, waiting for us to return to Him.

This doesn’t mean we take that for granted. As I believe Paul says, we shouldn’t keep on sinning simply so that grace may increase. And ultimately, our behavior can be an indicator of how much we actually love God (John 14, 1 John 2). If we love Jesus, we will obey Him. I know that I must keep on fighting the sin in my life by pursuing Jesus more determinedly. I will only be able to face the lust in my life if I am strengthened by Jesus’ overwhelming love, which is why the first thing I must do in this fight it is turn to Him.

There’s a strange tension between not falling into despair when we sin (i.e. realizing we are still human) and not taking grace for granted. This tension is true for everyone, including me, a sinner.

Tony

 

 

accepted

I currently work at a secular place, which for better or worse is unusual for me. Since I was in 7th grade, I’ve been inundated in Christian environments. I went to a Christian junior high. I went to a Christian high school. I went to a Christian college. Last summer, I worked in a non-Christian place, but our job was so intense that there wasn’t much socializing.

So this has been a change of environment for me. And there has been a drastic difference with how my coworkers interact with homosexuality than with how students on Wheaton’s campus interacted with it. I’ve had to adjust and be flexible with how I talk about my homosexuality and homosexuality in general without compromising my beliefs. I know that some of our readers are used to these differences, but for those who have been exposed to mainly conservative Christian environments (like me), I figured it would be helpful for me to expound on my experiences.

Those who are gay are very casual about it. I work with four gay male coworkers. I’m not used to people being so open that they’re gay. I mentioned to a coworker, whom I suspected was gay but didn’t have any confirmation yet, that I planned on moving to a different suburb. His response was, “Oh, my boyfriend lives there.”

I was taken so aback by how casually he said this. It was sort of like, “of course I have a boyfriend, duh.”

Because of my surprise, I responded with “wait, your WHAT lives there?!”

Another gay coworker happened to overhear the entire conversation and burst out laughing when he heard me say this. I was almost embarrassed by how surprised I reacted, and I had to explain myself in case they were wondering if I had a “problem” with it. It probably helped that they suspected I was gay too, so they didn’t suspect that I had any offensive undertones to my reaction.

I’ve only actually admitted that I am gay to a few coworkers, and it’s interesting that when I have, I am very hesitant about it. I tend to say it in a hush tone and make sure that only the person whom I’m speaking with can hear me. Because I feel safe as a gay person at work, I have concluded that this hesitancy to out myself is likely residue from my experience at Wheaton and other Christian environments in general. At Wheaton, I was always careful with whom I told and attempted to do so inconspicuously because I never wanted any potential unsafe person to overhear.

Those who are not gay at my workplace are very relaxed about there being gay people. It isn’t a big deal to them. And the few people whom I’ve told have told me that they already knew before I told them. This isn’t because someone else told them; it’s simply because they can sense it from the way that I interact with women and men (or also perhaps from some of my mannerisms). People here understand that gay people exist, and they notice it. My experience in Christian circles has been for most people to assume that no one is gay, and thus, most people don’t go out of their way to be sensitive to this.

It’s refreshing for people here to just accept me this way and not be surprised by it. I haven’t felt the slightest judgment whatsoever. In fact, I mentioned to one of the guys that it’s not something that I really bring up to people unless it’s pertinent to the conversation, and he said, “yeah, I completely understand; I mean, I don’t tell people that I’m straight when I meet them, so why should you feel pressured to tell people that you’re gay.” This statement made me feel like an equal with him — like he attempted to understand my perspective.

My experience here has made me feel more accepted and comfortable than I ever have in Christian places. I’m talking about at an organizational level. I don’t go to work feeling guarded about my sexuality. When I’m in Christian environments, I feel guarded. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have been blessed with Christian friends who don’t make me feel guarded and who provide intimate fellowship that I can’t find among non-Christians. But despite of this, I still feel guarded within Christian groups.

This experience helps me understand why LGBT people would not turn to the Church for their community but rather secular environments. The acceptance in this secular environment, at least related to my sexuality, is overwhelming. (I’m not saying a secular environment is more accepting as a whole because there are definitely other areas where there is less acceptance but with sexuality differences, there is definitely more acceptance). I know there are people who will never turn to the Church as long as the Church does not condone same-sex marriages, but since I don’t even espouse to same-sex marriages and still feel more accepted (in regards to my homosexuality) in a secular environment, this tells me that there is a problem with the Church.

I guess the question for the Church is how do we make people feel valued and accepted but yet also be faithful to Truth? I know we have many things that we can learn from non-Christians, and I will be vigilant in the upcoming weeks to observe what specific behaviors from my coworkers make me feel comfortable with them.

I also ask for your prayers because I haven’t actually attempted to explain to anyone yet that I am chaste and don’t plan on ever acting on my gay attractions. They all assume that I will have a boyfriend (or could have a boyfriend). I will attempt to explain this to some of them when the timing feels right, and I feel like it will lead to productive fruit. I also know that it will be a very strange conversation and will seriously confuse the heck out of some of them. It also has the potential to offend some of my gay coworkers, but hopefully I can build enough trust with them before I share this so they aren’t automatically on the defensive.

I’d love it if some of you commented on your experiences with how secular versus Christian environments have interacted differently with homosexuality.

-Tony

day of silence

On Friday, April 20th, 2012, I did something I never dreamed I would do: I wore a Day of Silence t-shirt.

The Day of Silence raises awareness about LGBT bullying and harassment. It is an absolute fact that LGBT people get harassed because they are LGBT. Perhaps this is why gay youth are four times more likely to commit suicide. This is serious, and lives are at stake. Everyone needs to realize that the way we interact with LGBT people is a social justice issue.

One of my friends has a close gay friend. This spring, that friend was walking about a mile from his campus when he was suddenly kidnapped, stripped naked, beaten, had a gun waved in his face, and threatened with death. And this was all because he was gay. As tragic, disgusting, and unbelievable as this is, it is true.

But LGBT harassment does not just encompass extreme examples like this. It includes the casual “faggot” dropped in conversation. It includes the jokes about “no homo.” It includes the apprehensiveness towards gay people. It includes the way gay people feel silenced, unable to talk about their experiences because of the fear  of how people will respond. It includes the way that I have felt silenced– the frustration of having to lie that I’m “just tired” because I don’t know if someone is safe.

This needs to stop.

Now I know that some people don’t support the Day of Silence. Largely, this is because they are afraid that they’re endorsing something they don’t agree with. Hopefully (hopefully), it isn’t the anti-harassment message but rather the fear of supporting gay marriage or the apprehension that this encourages someone to embrace a life that isn’t best for him. Or maybe it’s just that some people are really confused what to think and just sit it out because of that confusion.

Before participating, I too was concerned that maybe I was supporting something that I didn’t really support. I read up on the event. I talked to people about it. I was still skeptical. I think largely because I had never before taken part in a gay advocacy event, so I was waiting for marriage equality signs to start popping up (at the time I was undecided about my stance on this issue, which I will post about my stance on this in the future). Then I saw the shirts, and my fear dissipated. The whole point of the day just clicked.

Here’s what the shirts said: “Day of Silence” on the front, and then on the back: “LGBT? SSA? Questioning? Ally? I’m here to listen.”

There was absolutely no stance being taken, no message about the morality of anything, no provocative statement. In fact, the shirt was even inclusive of identification by including same-sex attraction.

“I’m here to listen.”

That’s it. That’s the whole point of the Day of Silence. This is the first step to ending bullying, to making people feel valued as human beings, to respect the dignity of individuals. It’s to listen to them.

Four simple words that communicated to people that you’re a safe person, that they can express what they’re experiencing, that they can wrestle through the tough questions of their sexuality with you. I wish that when I was a freshman there had been a Day of Silence — that I would have seen there were people who I could finally divulge the most distressing part of my life to — that the silence that suffocated me would have finally begun to be broken.

I hope that day changed someone’s life.

And now looking back on it, I see no reason not to support the Day of Silence. The Church must realize that regardless of any moral disagreements, creating safe places for people to be heard should be a priority. Not only is it simply the right thing to do, but if gay people (or anyone for that matter) can’t feel safe to be listened to by the Church, then who else is going to listen to them? Who else are they going to turn to? Non-Christians? Do we want non-Christians to be the only resource for LGBT people?

I have sensed hesitation from administrators and church leaders who think that allowing dialogue about homosexuality and making it safe for gay people to be open will ultimately result in gay marriage being okay. This is not the case. In fact, I believe that suppressing and silencing the “gay” conversation and gay individuals actually kindles support  for gay marriage. If gay people can’t have full community with a church that isn’t affirming of gay relationships because they must be silent about an aspect of their life, then they will by all means turn to churches that are “affirming” of gay relationships or turn away from the faith completely. And it’s not just gay people that feel this way. Some non-gay Christians do as well because they see their gay brothers and sisters in distress in churches and institutions that silence them. I know of some straight Christians that have almost left the faith because they cannot reconcile the mistreatment of gay people by the Church.

So my admonition to everyone is regardless of your moral stance on gay relationships, work to be a safe person and work to fight against the injustice of how gay people are mistreated. Affirming the dignity of someone is not the same as affirming gay relationships. And that’s why I participated in the Day of Silence.

-Tony