Saturday, April 28, 2007

Musings about "gay identity"

It's fascinating to chase down "bunny-trails" in the blogosphere. One link leads to another, and another, and all of a sudden you're thirty blogs away from where you first started - and my reaction usually is, "Now how the hell did I end up here?"

One recent trail started at Gay Christian Network, on Christine Bakke's appearance both in Glamour magazine and Good Morning America talking about her struggles with the ex-gay world, and the start of the Beyond Ex-Gay website. Her partner in Beyond Ex-Gay is Peterson Toscano, who is known for his one-man show Doin' Time in the HomoNoMo' Halfway House and his blog, A Musing.

That led me to Jay at Adventures of a Christian Collegian, and from there to Disputed Mutability, a Christian woman who identifies herself as ex-gay. And that, for now, is where the bunny-trail ends, because I got hooked into the discussion of DM's concept of "gay identity." I started half a dozen comments between the two blogs, and then realized I had enough for at least one, if not two, posts back here. So DM and Jay, here's at least a first volley.

Before I begin (for those who are reasonably new to this blog) I have to admit first that I am no spokesperson for whatever the heck passes for "gay culture" or "the gay lifestyle." (In fact, I really dislike both of those phrases, because I really feel they are simplistic and sweeping generalizations about something more multifaceted than a diamond.)

But I really struggle when I hear phrases like "gay-identity." It seems like a dodge or a feint around the topic, and here's why.

I've come to believe that homosexuality is much different than homosexual activity, and much different still than homosexual activism. One, in my experience, is an orientation toward potential mates or sexual partners of the same sex. One describes basic "tab-A/slot-B" sexual acts; and one falls into the "marching in parades" category. (And yes, these are probably also simplistic generalizations, which are more or less proof of Mark Twain's ideas about generalizations in general.)

Here's where I'm coming from - a blunt confession: I haven't had intimate relations with a man since Ronald Reagan's first term. (That's 1983, for my younger friends.) ( In fact, I have't had any intimate contact with anyone since Bush The Father was president.)

But not having had sex with a man doesn't mean that I haven't wanted to - nor does it mean that I didn't spend years fighting the acceptance of that as fact.

In my simplistic mind, that means that I am a homosexual (adj; sexually attracted to members of your own sex - WordNet).

I am not (nor ever have been) a Romans 1:27 kind of guy, because I have never forsaken God for idols, nor have I ever "abandoned natural relations with women." I've never had what people call "natural desires," no matter how hard I tried to manufacture them. I tried telling folks I wasn't gay. I did a lot of things (which hurt a number of people) to try to change how I was. I wanted to change.

But wanting something and getting it just aren't the same thing. I wasn't acting like a duck; I wasn't swimming like a duck, or quacking like a duck. But I was thinking like a duck...

...and most importantly of all, I was physically attracted to other ducks. And in searching and fearless moral inventory, I find that even at times when I should have been physically stimulated by female sexuality (whether it was physical intimacy with a woman, straight porn, even Baywatch...), it just wasn't there.

Doesn't get much simpler than that, does it?

I don't (can't) argue with Disputed's discussion of her experience with "gay identity" over here. But I think it's important to testify that my experience has been completely different.

Being gay wasn't something that was important; in fact, for me it was especially important that I not be gay. I didn't find "gay" to be cool, or tribal. In fact, the only reason I looked in the mirror and saw myself as "fag" or "queer" or "homo" was because that's what I heard growing up, time and time again. Come on, Steve, don't be a pansy - time after time. It was exactly NOT what I wanted to be.

And I surely did not feel "a part of" as a result of being gay - largely because I didn't fit any of the other gay stereotypes. (Well, except the ones about show-tunes and Barbra Streisand...can't miss 'em all, I guess.) But I definitely felt like the anti-QueerEye guy - unstylish, unsophisticated, complete un-self-assured. Blah, blah, blah. (Yeah, we better just revoke his gay card....)

The part of DM's discussion that I found most foreign to my own experience was this:

I used to think that my gayness lay at the very heart of who I was. That it was somehow tied to my essence, in a way that was unlike almost any other desire or trait. More essential perhaps than even my gender/sex. (Gender was a collective social fantasy, but sexual orientation, now that was real. That was BIOLOGY.) Certainly on an entirely different plane than any other kind of sexual preference or taste. I can hear the voices in my head even now: "How dare you call it a taste? How dare you suggest that it is a preference? It's at the core of your being! Your bones are gay! Your soul is gay!"
Again, I am not denying DM's experience. But or me, gender had nothing to do with "a collective social fantasy," but instead was all about parts. My parts as a male were far different than their parts as female. I have always been a male, and have had no "transgender" desires whatever. My being gay was not at the core of my being - in fact, it was something that I shunted aside and denied for years.

I remember distinctly a discussion with my "coming out mentor" Tom S., back more than two years ago. I was telling him that it didn't matter whether I was gay or not - because gay or straight, I believed myself physically undesirable and (as such) more asexual than homo- or hetero-. As I told him that , it didn't matter if I was straight or gay - I was still going home alone. Game over.

At the time, Tom tried a number of different metaphors (none of which clicked at the time) to show me that whether I liked it or not, my sexuality was part of every facet of my life - my work, my faith, my recovery, as well as my personal relationships (romantic or otherwise). It was a bigger part of some parts of my life than others; it was almost non-existent in some spheres. But while it was not at the center of any part of my life (other than my lack of sexual activity), it definitely was a part (however small) of every part of my life.

Today, I get it. Sexual orientation is a part of who I am; it is absolutely not all of who I am, or even the center of who I am.

The first image that stuck on this topic was that my sexual orientation was like the chili powder in chili. While being gay is a very small part (by weight or volume) of what I am, it flavors every part of what I am. And when I've tried to neutralize that part, it made my life flat, bland, and utterly devoid of any spice whatsoever. Furthermore (exactly like the chili powder), it's not something I can scoop out (like you could with beans or onions or chopped peppers). Like Prego, it's just in there; it's a part of the mixture - period.

Another image I've used is that my same-sex attraction is like the blue in a tartan-plaid fabric. You could (with a great deal of effort) remove the blue from tartan-plaid fabric - but in doing so, it would cease to be tartan. Possibly, it could still be fabric - but most likely it would probably just fall apart. Being gay is not a dominant part of me - but it's a thread that's shot through the fabric of my existence.

This image of threads in a fabric is particularly interesting because I recently watched the movie Twilight of the Golds. The basic premise of the movie is that a woman named Suzanne who has a gay brother gets pregnant, and during some advanced genetic testing on the fetus, the woman finds out that her fetus will likely be gay. (While this level of genetic testing isn't fact yet, it's not very far from fact. In fact, it's much more science than fiction at this point...)

No one - not her husband, not her mother - no one will say "the baby might be gay;" the closest they can come is "It will probably be like David" (the gay brother) or "it will likely have that trait." The rest of the movie is about what the couple's decision will be: will they keep the baby? Will they abort? If Suzanne keeps the baby, will her husband stay? It brings up (but doesn't club you over the head with) topics of genetic testing, eugenics, and some troubling but prevalent images of gay as a defect/disability versus the understanding of gay as just another facet of personality.

In one powerful scene, David (the gay brother, played marvelously by Brendan Fraser) confronts his sister Suzanne about the choice before her. He shows up at the upscale clothing shop where she works:
Suzanne: "What are you doing here?"

David: "That seems to be the question, isn't it? What if Michaelangeo's mother thought the same way that you do? What if Tennesee Williams' mother thought the way you do? Or Herman Melville? Cole Porter, Martina Navratilova? What if Stephen Hawking's mother didn't want a handicapped child? What if Orson Wells' didn't want a fat one? The point is, you have got to stop looking at this as some kind of curse. It isn't. What it is, is a challenge..."

S: "...Look, David, I know how hard your life has been. I've heard you tell me how lonely and scared you have been. I've heard you talk about people with AIDS, people getting bashed - now I'm not going to put someone else through that -"

D: "Don't make me regret sharing my life with you! Everybody else has problems!"

S: "Not like that, they don't! Now why isn't it more humane for me to wait until I bring a child with no disadvantages into the world?"

D: "Because we'd lose too much!! Everything that you love about me is tied to that one element that makes you queasy. Every human being is a tapestry - and if you pull one thread, or one undesirable color, then the whole fucking thing falls apart, and you wind up staring at the walls."
While I understand the reason for people like Disputed to discuss their ex-gay experience, and I wish her (and so many others like her) well, I can't go there. I am done waiting; I am done questioning what would happen if my faith was somehow good enough to be cured. These are the cards I have been dealt.

One of the songs I always hated in the so-called praise-and-worship music genre was a song called Change My Heart, O God:

Change my heart, O God
Make it ever true
Change my heart, O God
Let me be like You.

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray...

For years, what I thought that song meant for me was, "Fix me, change me, take this ugly pottery and smash it down so it can be remade the way it should be, the way everyone says it should be."

Now, I hear it differently: Change my heart, God. You've made me this way; help me see myself as your creation, as the child of your heart.

Way too many people have told me that they've been touched by my understanding of God, of Christ, and of faith for me to believe that I'm the useless piece of human sewage I used to think I was twenty years ago. Today, the song of my credo is Chris Tomlin's The Way I Was Made:

Made in Your likeness, made with Your hands
Made to discover who You are and who I am
All I've forgotten, help me to find -
All that You've promised, let it be in my life

I want to live like there's no tomorrow
I want to dance like no one's around
I want to sing like nobody's listening
Before I lay my body down
I want to give like I have plenty
I want to love like I'm not afraid
I want to be the man I was meant to be
I want to be the way I was made

May it be so, Lord, today and always. Amen, and amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ah, the homosexual agenda!

I've been spending a lot of time over at, and haven't been posting as much as I should be over here. It's been very, very cool for me to spend time with other people who are struggling with the same topics as I am - and it's been cool to be able to point them to some of these posts here, and show how I've wrestled with things.

Today we look at some great information on the oft-claimed "Homosexual Agenda" or "Gay Agenda."

First, take a look at this great summary of the "gay agenda." Make sure you cursor down to read all the bad puns that go with it...

Then go over here and read straight-but-friendly author Mark Morford's summary of our so-called agenda. It's pretty funny, and str8 (forgive the pun) to the point.

But for pure classic delivery, this animated cartoon is great. It's nearly 2 years old, but it's definitely worth the 2 minutes or so to watch it. (Warning - there is sound to this, so you might want to turn it down or put the headphones on if you're at work...)

More to come soon...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Lessons learned at TWC

I started this post a week ago, and somehow left it in draft mode (what folks in tech support would call a SUE - stupid user error). But I wanted to follow up on my experience at my first-ever gay/lesbian recovery conference - the "Together We Can" conference in Troy, MI.

It's been amazingly eye-opening. My exposure to a whole bunch of people in recovery - some of whom have been out for years, and some of whom have just come out (like me, or even more recently) was a real blessing. And I've learned some real truths about myself - not all of them pleasant.

From the very early parts of my life, one of the seeds of my addictive insanity was an insatiable desire (from a very early age) to be approved-of, to be "good enough," to be validated. And yet at the same time (8 or 9 years old) I had a deep sense that I was not-right, that I was evil, that the essence of what-I-was was wrong in some undefinable way. For years, I believed it to be some kind of basic understanding of original sin or something. (At least that's how I rationalized it.)

I now know the reason that I felt "wrong" in my life was because I knew, deep down, that I was gay. Even before I understood what it meant, I had that sense of being what one dear aunt called "a bubble off square." And even then I understood, from everything around me, that being that way (though in that day, it wasn't "gay," but instead was being a queer, homo, sissy, pansy, or fag) was wrong. It was unacceptable. And the one thing I didn't want to be was unacceptable.

The other thing I've come to learn a bunch about is my resistance to physical intimacy. In this way, I do fit the stereotype of the absent father (though I hate like hell to admit that I fit any stereotype!). My father was gone a lot while traveling for his job, and my mother depended a lot on me. I know now that my relationship with my mother fits under the category of covert incest - a situation where a dependent parent effectively makes their child their partner. (I've got a lot to learn about covert incest...a friend here recommended the book Silently Seduced, as a starter. I've got lots of work to do on that topic...

My relationship with my mom had to be asexual; the "friendships" I made with other boys had to be asexual. So the lesson became: deny what you feel; you're good so long as you lie. That's how I learned relationships were. (Just in case you were wondering, that's not a good thing.)

Resisting inappropriate affection led me into marriage with a woman who cared about me deeply, who was committed to the relationship, and whom I desperately wanted to be "right" for. The problem was, I was absolutely incapable of being a passionate partner - I was a lousy lover (which was bad) and I knew it (which was worse). That tragic self-knowledge left me with a big dollop of shame and self-hate - which was great fuel for my journey deeper into alcoholism.

Even once I got sober, the pattern continued. I tried, time after time, to find romance and passion with women, and ended up friends every time. The friend I went to live with kept trying to fix me up - I told him that I didn't want another relationship, and he kept saying, "So how 'bout some cheap gratuitous sex, instead?" He couldn't possibly know it was the sex I feared as much as harming another person in a relationship again.

And though the church fed my need to be needed and wanted in many ways, they also fed me the same message I'd been getting - intimacy is not right, celibacy is the norm. "True love waits." It's great to be straight, bad to be "bent." In addition, people-pleasing was disguised as "servant leadership" or "sacrificial giving." The churches I joined after I got sober were themselves needy, codependent, addictive groups whose drugs of choice were over-commitment and overwork. And I just continued to stick the needle in my arm...

I knew the "real me" would be unacceptable, so I became a star in service, in teaching, even preaching. If the church was open, I was usually there. But I hid my true self away - unable even to bring myself to the secret sexual releases so common to gay men in the church. It was only after the church rejected my candidacy for ministry (on financial grounds, not on any moral or sexual issue) that I allowed myself to even consider the possibility of coming out.

It took the efforts of two caring, honestly-open-and-out gay men to show me that "being gay" wasn't about who I slept with (since I'd been celibate for a decade) or what stereotypes I fit (because I didn't fit most of them). It was about who I was, and who I was attracted to. And if I was going to be honest, I had to come out. Tom and Michael were (and are) definitely gifts from God to this crazy, mixed-up homo...

So there I was: a week shy of fifty years old, at this conference. On the one hand, I found the freedom and the honesty almost intoxicating. Simply having the chance to see attractive men, and to be able to look, without fear of being harrassed or bashed, was amazing. But with that freedom came the knowledge (once again) that I wasted 35 years - fifteen of them sober, and in supposedly-loving communities of faith - hiding in fear. Loveless, affectionless days wasted, never to be reclaimed.

And while I celebrate my sobriety, and the chance to grow in faith and love, I also find myself furious - with my family, with my church, and with myself - for perpetuating the lie that I was (and at times, still feel) undesirable and unacceptable.

On Saturday night, the conference held a dance. I haven't actually gone dancing with anyone in fifteen years - and have never danced with another man, ever. I've never kissed another man in public. And once again, I was 14 years old and full of insecurities - again. I thought I was past this - but it all came screaming back that night. Quite a serenity buster, actually.

The Friday night Alanon speaker spoke of the promise of Joel 2:25 - "I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten." I don't think for a minute that those 35 lost years will come back - and I have to live with the consequences of a life lived in fear. But her words were a reminder that perhaps, this day, I can begin to live a new life - the life God always intended for me to live.

The dance came. Partly, the fear won - I just couldn't bring myself to ask anyone dance for the few slow dances. But I did actually get out on the dance floor for a number of songs; it seems I have at least part of a groove thang left (though I'm definitely going to have to get in better shape before the next conference, just from an endurance standpoint!) I won't ever end up on American Bandstand or dancing on anyone's bar anytime soon - but it was good. Score: B-minus/C-plus, overall.

I have to admit, it was interesting to see some of the other people God put in my life through this conference. Another guy named Steve - who is easily 1/3 again bigger than I am - was one of the most loud-mouthed, boisterous, out-and-in-your-face gay man I've ever met. He made Drew Carey look like an introvert! And the one moronic twink self-centered young man who kept referring to anyone over 35 who looked at him as "old trolls" would have been cruisin' for a bruisin' with any group but this one. Not to mention the group of close-cropped lesbians who looked more like twinks than some of the was, well, diverse, to say the least. But a blast nonetheless...

And I found that I have much to share in my recovery community, despite my lack of homo-experience. That still felt good. The fellow who roomed with me was a 40-year-old HIV-positive fellow who's 11 months sober, and unemployed. He wouldn't have been able to go if I hadn't already had the room, and a group of folks from my home group got him his registration. It was just so cool to see the light of his new life start shining into his mind. He'd never seen 300 people in recovery together - let alone 300 GLBT folks in recovery. It was great to watch.

So now, the challenge is how to carry this new knowledge into my daily life. It will be an interesting head-to-the-heart journey, I suppose. But for now, I am blessed to know that there is hope, even for a guy like me. Thank you God, for that beautiful gift!