Friday, October 4

Gay and Faithful: Broken Roadmap

Being gay and faithful is simple from the outside. I don't have sex, try to be as awesome as I can be, and God will make me into an incredible human.

But there's a lot more to it.

Yes, as a guy attracted to other guys, I get powerful urges to be sexually active with them. The stereotype of gays as hypersexual is a broad generalization, but it's founded on indisputable evidence - many first dates in the gay community involve sexual activity, and there are accurate memes of gays waiting until the second or third date to trade numbers or share their real names.

But the real drive that draws me to men, and that has pushed me far outside my own comfort zone, has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with connection and love. Unlike my urge for sex, which waxes and wanes, my desire to truly connect with someone, to love and be loved, has slowly grown in magnitude until it sometimes becomes all-consuming.

And that's where the issue starts.

I'll be candid here. Befriending straight guys hasn't worked for me. My primary love language is touch, and my second is time... which means that both are central in allowing me to really feel connected with and loved by someone else. In in today's hypersexual society, touch between straight men almost doesn't happen. Touch between gay and straight seems to happen even less - the straight guy doesn't want to send the wrong messages, the gay guy doesn't want to send the wrong messages... and touch is the first thing to go. 

Perhaps men with other primary love languages find it easier to thrive, but in straight society I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place. I feel a mixture of draws: compelled to beg for connection, obligated to subdue my desire for it, afraid of the consequences for seeking it, pushed to seek it somewhere else.

I don't know about the experiences of other guys... but my desire for connection is overwhelming. When it hits hardest, I would readily trade my job, my savings, my health, and even my connection with friends and family for the kind of connection my heart thinks it needs. And I guess that makes sense - the Bible instructs a man and woman pursuing an ideal marriage, which is the epitome of connection, to forsake almost all else in order to truly be one.

Pitting the desires in my heart against one another, it's only a matter of time. If I'm unable to thrive on the scraps of connection begged from straight society, and unwilling to mark myself as a solitary martyr, I'll find myself drawn outside of my home in straight society into the gay.

But unlike my experience in straight society (and especially a religious straight society) where sex is a topic addressed by friends and family, in my experience in the gay world sex is often the beginning of the conversation. 

On the surface, the expectation for sex looks similar to the expectation in straight society: if a guy and girl fall in love, commit their lives to each other, and get married, then it's overwhelmingly likely that sex will be part of that.

In the straight world, however, intimacy comes before sex. It's fully possible, and often culturally encouraged, to save sex until after marriage, which means developing incredibly close, intimate bonds with someone and even pledging your life to them before being sexually active.

In the gay world, it comes after. 

The broad expectation in gay society is that I'll have sex with anyone if I really intend to get close to them. Before I get close to them. Friends are almost always friends with benefits. There are exceptions. But my overwhelming experience has been that, especially when mutual attraction is involved, sex is a gate, and intimacy and closeness are locked behind it.

Like I said at the beginning, being gay and faithful looks simple from the outside. I don't have sex, try to be as awesome as I can be, and God will make me into an incredible human. But if my desire to connect with someone overrides all other desires, and I can't find enough connection in straight society, then ultimately it will seem to come down to a choice between two options: 

1) Choose to not have sex, trust God, and live a life likely without love / deep connection with another person

2) Choose to have sex, develop love / deep connections with another person, and redefine / salvage my relationship with God

I know that God will love me no matter what I do. I don't know what the future holds, or how much my actions affect it. I also know that life can be absolutely miserable without connection, that "men are that they might have joy," and that relationships are the most important part of life.

Pulling all those apart, and faced with those two choices, it's not surprising that churches are seeing a hemorrhage of gay members leave their folds, or that some churches are redefining their doctrine to allow sex between men. Few people want to mark themselves as solitary monks, and none make that journey without developing an indomitable force of will over a lifetime... and even the most faithful religious leaders would be reticent to preach a solitary life as the golden standard that will lead to eternal happiness.

And so, while people's faith and will hold them, they live lives as quiet, closeted, struggling martyrs. They find meaning in their faith. They do incredible things. They believe. Many probably hope, as I once did, that by showing enough faith God would intervene and do some kind of miracle to make it all better. Or at least easier.

And when their faith gives out, or the desire for connection grows intense, many end up leaving the churches they once loved. Not because they don't believe it, but because their imperfect faith, or society at large, has failed them and left them feeling they have nowhere to go. Suicide seems a viable option to end the pain, and their religion - which promised eternal happiness and salvation at the price of faith - usually takes the biggest hit.

Back to my story.

Like many other people, my life has more than one problem. Being gay is only a subset of the circumstances in my experience. Over the years I've fought and lived with bipolar depression, autism, major anxiety, crippling fear of abandonment, and major memory loss. Each of those, by itself, has categorically crushed me, destroyed my psyche, left me reeling, and pushed me to the brink of death and despair.

Unlike being gay, though, for those conditions there was no way out. There was no temptation I could give in to that would make my life temporarily bearable. No journaling or introspection or therapy that could make it better. No action that would dull the pain. 

Nothing that could help. 

Which meant that, in my darkest hours, when family, friends, and life itself failed me, I turned to God.

And I found Him.

And my relationship with God is the one thing I am not willing to give up in exchange for a relationship with someone else. Everything else is on the table; I'd move to Australia and be a nomad in the desert if I had to; but my relationship with God, and the things He asks of me, I choose to put first.

I think one of the reasons that religious leaders may be loathe to preach a solitary life as the standard to uphold is that God is not usually a solitary God. In almost all cases, He expects me to reach out to others, develop friendships, and find meaningfully mutual experiences. Yes, I believe He teaches that sex leads to happiness only between a married man and woman. He doesn't bar me from love.

But that's as far as doctrines go.

Right now the thing I feel missing most in my life being gay and faithful is understanding where I'm trying to go. If I were straight, I'd be moving toward an eventual marriage. But I'm not. Which means that I literally have no idea what it is I'm supposed to do next. I'm sure this is a great learning and growing experience, but it's also candidly ugh.

Just two examples:

There is no doctrine on celibate partnership - a committed, romantic non-marriage relationship between gay men or women where both commit themselves first to God and don't have sex. It's a popular option in some Jewish and Christian circles.

The doctrine on appropriate boundaries of intimacy simply instructs people to follow the guidance of the Spirit, which can protect in countless unnamed situations, but can also make it difficult for people who aren't used to the Spirit. Leaving things open to personal interpretation also doesn't cover messy cultural discrepancies - example: if it can be good (since stuff is either good or evil; there isn't an in-between) for an unmarried guy and girl to kiss while they are dating, what does that say about two guys who are falling in love, who also plan to stay sexually pure? Regardless of culture, there isn't currently any solid doctrine on questions like that, which can make it difficult from both a social and personal standpoint to develop intimate relationships that are also within the bounds of faith.

There's no resolution in this post. Sorry. And the fact there isn't any amount of clear resolution is, I think, a core reason of why we are losing people. I'm sure it'll come someday; in the meantime this is what I've got to work with.