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.


  1. "...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."

    Brilliant, that.

    I love you Steve, I love your musings aloud, I your transparency. It twists my stomach in a knot, the premise of this woman's *deliberation* (in the movie) -- could it really come down to that? Are we mired in the muck of such a mindset to think that this would present a valid reason for abortion?

    What's next -- because the child may be a blonde with blue eyes?

    And we are so quick to forget that every human is made in His image and likeness. I fail to see in scripture any exclusionary clauses :)


  2. Apparently (don'thave a reference) the Los Angles Times recently reported that previous statements about Ted Haggard that he is "completely heterosexual" are now being disavowed by members of his inner circle. Perhaps he is discovering, painfully and unwillingly I do not doubt, that his sexuality is more part of who he is than he wants to believe. Pray for him and for all who still struggle to come to peace with their expereince -- whatever their experience may be. The truth sets us free -- but it can hurt first.

  3. I've got to get that movie onto my netflix list. Brendan Fraser playing gay is sufficient reason :) but the premise as you describe it is all the more.

    Thanks for the thinking aloud. Glad I found your blog.


  4. Just found your blog through DM's comment thread. I look forward to reading more.

    in Him,

  5. I'll second what was said about the tapestry analogy. One of the pivotal moments in my life was coming to the realization that, all debates over right and wrong aside, God loves me exactly the way I am and not only does he not care whether I ever become heterosexual, he doesn't want me to.

    It may take me a lifetime to work through all of the implications of that revelation, but I know now that being a whole person has everything to do with learning to accept God's unconditional love and nothing to do with trying to remake myself to match some human ideal.

  6. Steve, thanks for a great post! I love your chili powder analogy.

    I see myself in many parts of your story and look forward to learning more.

    Peace to you!