This post was actually written about two years ago, in response to the the musings of a Soulforce member about the nature of sexuality. It includes very personal information, but I think it’s worth the risk for the discussion.
I think Daniel’s notion of a continuum is immensely important. I also think it explains a lot of fear on the part of people who are concerned about where they fall on that continuum. I dare say that if we look at any line that represents a continuum, very few of us are found at either extreme. I am an introvert who is reasonably confortable being extroverted. I am an intellectual who is driven to do physical things – woodworking, gardening – in order to feel complete. There are so many scales that this kind of analysis could go on forever, but hopefully I’ve made that point.
Sexuality is, I think, one more continuum, just as Daniel (and others) pointed out. Lesbians who are butch; lesbians who are princesses; straight women who are butch; straight men who are effeminate on some scale (I qualify here); gay men who are “manly men”. These are just a few of the massive number of possibilities.
In church, a man got up to express a joy. He was dressed immaculately, groomed handsomely, spoke with a very distinct and expressive lilt in his voice, and guestured in what would generally be considered effeminate ways. I would not have been surprised to see this 50+ year old man in a gay bar – I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see him there – but it wouldn’t surprise me. Well, he got up and beamed – absolutely glowed – as he gave thanks for his new granddaughter born on he and his wife’s 30th anniversary. He cried with joy.
He resides somewhere on a continuum that is expressly suitable to who he is as a child of God and, when talking with him later, is perfectly comfortable with his place on that continuum. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. So many of us can’t claim that comfort.
It is not unusual at all, matter of fact some developmental psychologists say it is very normal, for young pre-teen boys and girls to go through a period of same-gender interest. I refuse to call it “gender confusion”, because I think it is a passage to our self-definition. When that period is accompanied by someone else’s criticism or debasement, or when it is impacted by significant family or social events or bias, the results can be soul-crushing shame that is carried throughout life. Shame on that magnitude can be toxic.
I had a friend Jimmy, at that age, who I thought the world of. We were both different in many ways than our schoolmates. Jimmy was the adopted child of a retired couple, and (looking back) he seemed to have no doubts that he was loved and loveable. He was himself. It was friendship, nothing sexual or romantic, but we showed affection for each other in many ways and spent huge amounts of time together. It was, nonetheless, deemed inappropriate by my father.
Also during that time, I became seriously ill and was hospitalized for a long period, followed by a long recovery spent mostly in bed. I learned to crochet, since my hands were about the only part of my body that didn’t scream with pain when I used them. I became very proficient at it (I was, by the way, taught by my married uncle who was also an Airforce commander).
Neither one of these pieces of information are earth-shaking.
My parents reacted in completely opposite ways to that period in my life. My mother was as encouraging as it is as humanly possible to be. My father was livid. He told me frequently what an absolute embarrassment I was to him, and I was forbidden to be seen outside the house unless I was on my way to school or work. He also became intent on “beating me into manhood.” He instilled shame to the deepest level of my being, and I hated him for it.
As I grew older, I found my sexuality. It was decidedly heterosexual. Men held no sexual attraction for me whatsoever – but women, that was a different story. At 52, I am in love with my wife, and I am fascinated with her whole person – body being very included in that fascination. I’ll give you just a moment to have a stiff drink or whatever will help you get over the yuck factor if you’re differently inclined. Sorry.
My point is that I have spent an inordinate amount of time recovering from that earlier period of my life. I was, for much of it, a true homophobe – I was nasty, judgmental, and verbally abusive. Years ago, however, with the help of a shrink, I found the source of that visceral hatred for gays – it was fully lined up with my hatred for my father (now there’s a surprise, eh).
I was conditioned to be homophobic because, at my core, I was uncomfortable – bull, I was ashamed – of my place on the “sexual” continuum. I reeked with self-doubt and I expressed my emotional agony over that in truly hateful behavior towards innocent people who just happened to ACT in a way that I was told was “revolting” and “of the devil”. I even, remarkably well I might add, crafted a theology that lines up with my emotional state. God hated gays as much as I did. I created a hatred in God that made me feel accepted and lessened my shame. I committed idolatry to make myself feel better as a person.
I am here to tell you, a failed suicide attempt included, that God heals – God takes our hand as we wander through the shame filled hallways of our mind, and brings us to the place where we can love others as ourselves because God first loves us, then we learn to love God, then God teaches us how to love ourselves, and then and only then how to love each other.
God does not hate fa-s, no matter the claim of that horrendous website. God hates hatred.
Authored and written by Rev Andy Little.