what’s in a word pt. 2

I completely agree with everything that Jordan said (in addition to enjoying his humor —- this blog would seriously be so dry and boring without him!), but I wanted to add a couple of thoughts.

I think the main reason why Christians get hung up over the term gay is because of all of the baggage and negative connotations that can come with that word.

Before I actually knew gay people, let alone admitted to myself that I was gay, the word “gay” would instantly bring these (now ridiculous sounding) cliché stereotypes to mind:

-people having rampant, wild sex with their own gender
-people dying from this rampant, wild sex
-people hating God
-drugs, drugs, and more drugs
-people going to Hell
-rainbows, rainbows, and more rainbows

Not really things any Christian would want to be identified with (besides maybe the rainbows). I am largely convinced that this aversion is the main reason why Christians do not want to associate with the word “gay.” I think this is true because…

(a)    Whenever I tell Christians “I’m gay” – 50% of the time the tension sky-rockets in the conversation and they get really concerned,  make a judgmental face, and start asking me if I plan on pursuing a relationship (euphemism for — so you will have/have had sex with guys?).

(b)   Whenever I tell Christians “I experience exclusive same-sex attraction” I almost always have a favorable response.

(c)    When I tell the person in (a) that I don’t plan on being in a relationship and all that I mean by the term “gay” is that I am exclusively attracted to the same sex, he or she suddenly stops being concerned and the tension in the conversation evaporates.

In all honesty, that’s why I didn’t use the term “gay” – because it made my Christian peers too uncomfortable if I did. I have found three major problems with this:

1.       I was motivated by “the fear of man.” I constructed my language in a certain way not because it helped me in my faith but because it made me feel more at ease with coming out to people. This “fear of man” was one of the biggest barriers to uncovering a holistic understanding of my sexuality because it distracted me from focusing on God and who I am in Him.

2.       I felt forced to talk about myself in a certain way because of a power differential. I believed that the heterosexual Christian cultural majority would treat me better if I talked this particular way, so I did. That’s a problem. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong for Christians to have an opinion on how I should talk about myself, but I shouldn’t feel emotionally threatened if I do not talk that way.

3.       Even if I did admit to my Christian friends that I was participating in all of the cliché gay stereotypes or that I did plan on having sex with guys, I still shouldn’t feel emotionally threatened. Sure, my Christian friends would have good reasons to be concerned for me, especially if my behavior is dangerous to myself, but I should never feel emotionally threatened or less valued by them.

Granted, I do understand and have grace towards people if their reaction does feel slightly negative at first after I use the term “gay.”  I mean, for some of my friends, I am the first gay person to come out to them, and it’s difficult not to act weird about something with which you’re completely unfamiliar or about which you are ignorant. We’ve all been there, wishing the other person would have grace with us.

But I just can’t help but think that these people want me to avoid the term “gay” not out of some holy desire for me to nuance my language but because they are afraid of gay people, and avoiding the term helps them dissasociate me from gay people, hence making them feel better about interacting with me. And that’s a big problem.

I’m not saying this is always true; intuitively I just feel like it has been true some of the time.

So besides having reasons for not saying “I am same-sex attracted,” why have I landed with saying “I am gay”?

1.       I’m also lazy, and it’s easier.

2.       It isn’t a sin to be gay. Yes, my identity is in Christ and Christ does take away my sins from my identity in the present. But since I use “gay” to communicate “exclusive same-sex attraction” and nothing else, this isn’t something that is actively being taken from me becuase it isn’t a sin. It is a part of my existence; it is part of my identity, at least at this point in eschatological history.

3.       I want to defy the stereotypes of ”gay,” and I think it is helpful for me to identify with all gay people regardless of religious affiliation because we do share some common social realities simply because of our gay attractions.

4.       I think the phrase “same-sex attracted” should be reserved for those who are not exclusively attracted to the same sex but do experience those attractions in some way. If someone is exclusively attracted to the same sex, it would be easier to just say “gay.” “Gay” just makes the most sense to me if it means a “consistent sexual attractions to exclusively the same-sex.”

I hope this has helped.

-Tony

what’s in a word pt. 1

We’ve had a few people ask us why we would use the label “gay Christian” when it is so charged and controversial, and I thought I would give a brief explanation of why I personally have used that phrase:

I’m lazy.

That’s a big part of it, really. Out of all the possible labels, “gay” is the most convenient, and I can hardly muster the energy to type all the extra words every time to provide the proper nuance. (It should come as no surprise that I failed miserably at Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.) Saying “I’m gay” is immediate and effective. Aside from the two or three Shakespeare majors who will think I’m just having a good day, everyone understands what I’m trying to communicate: that I’m attracted to men. We can hash out all the little details throughout the conversation.

I do need to say that “gay” is not the only charged label. Saying that “I’m a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction” is often perceived as code for “I really don’t want to be gay. I might try therapy. I probably have depressive tendencies. I find rainbows terrifying and plan to move to New Mexico to avoid them.” (Too dramatic?)

“I have SSA” (same-sex attraction) is a common shortcut that usually betrays a conservative ethic. But a lot of people have no clue what SSA stands for, and I usually just end up saying, “It means I’m gay.”

“I’m a Christian who is exclusively attracted to men” is clunky, but I have used it to initiate conversations when I wanted to avoid any possible political overtone. It’s the least charged of the options, but it’s about as convenient and time-efficient as a trip to the DMV.

I’m actually more or less comfortable with any of those. But be careful, there are some people who refuse to identify as gay (I used to be like that), and there are others who will be offended if a “less charged” term than “gay” is offered. Listen to how people talk about themselves. Let them guide your vocabulary. Be flexible, and slow to judge.

Now, there’s another massive question attached to all of this. Should we even call ourselves “gay Christians?” Why identify ourselves by our struggles? Doesn’t this take the focus away from what Christ is doing in our lives?

I will hopefully write more about this later, but being gay does not just raise moral questions;  being gay is a social reality. I don’t think there is any weighty, theological equivalence between sexual orientation and skin color, but there is definitely a social equivalence whether the church wants to acknowledge it or not. Though I do not align myself with the LGBTQ community per se, we share some common life experiences. A group of Christians who are all attracted to the same sex is not the same as a group of Christians who struggle with anger issues because the “angry Christians” haven’t been wrongly marginalized or abused for struggling with anger like gay Christians have been for their sexuality.

This is absurdly over-simplified, but I hope it’s making some sense. I am willing to, at times, say that I’m a “gay Christian” because it conveys a social existence that would not be effectively communicated otherwise.

It’s not like I wear this as a title that I always use to qualify my Christianity. Not at all. It is Christ and only Christ who defines my identity. I am being renewed and conformed into his image and by his overwhelming grace alone have I been labeled a son of God. That is my only essential identity. But, we live in a world where it is very helpful to have other identifiers, and I do not feel like I am cheapening Christ’s work in me at all by sometimes using those three letters.

I only say “gay Christian” when I am specifically talking about my experiences as a gay man or about the topic of homosexuality as a whole. It’s not like I see “gay” as its own denomination (but if it were we would never have taupe carpet, ever!).

I had a hard time writing this because I’m not sure it makes sense unless you’ve personally experienced being gay in Christian circles… but hopefully this helps somehow. I want to do justice to the very real social difference of being gay without making it essential to who I am in Christ. This usually means evaluating conversations moment-by-moment and trying to figure out the best way to express myself to whomever I am talking. It’s a tricky thing to navigate.

So most importantly I just ask that there would be a willingness to listen and not force meanings onto labels people use until they define them. The church, and society, have been unilaterally forcing meaning and stigma onto gay people for a tragically long time, and it’s always nice to have a little freedom from that pressure. See my previous post on listening for more about that.

It is difficult for me to speak in that tension between wanting to humbly accommodate the perspective of whoever I’m talking with, making sure they are understanding what I’m saying and feeling welcomed in the conversation, and wanting to be consistent in my own self-referential vocabulary. It’s hard, and can be really frustrating when people refuse to believe I can call myself a “gay Christian” without sinning, but I’ve found it is most important to communicate the astounding goodness of God and how my life, my identity, is fully caught up in his transforming work. I hope, at least, that I have accomplished that much.

Jordan