Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Complexities Of Identity

As I mentioned in my last post, Disputed Mutability is one of the most amazing bloggers I've ever come across, and her recent series on her struggle to abandon gay identity is a good reason why I admire her. I'm not sure she's even half of the way through yet, but here are the links to what she's done so far: Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Clarification, and Part 3.

I link to that series because I know that my own reflections on gay identity -- which I've been wanting to post for a while -- would probably fall short in terms of clarity. I have a hard time saying what I really mean sometimes, and DM and I agree on most things (although it should be noted that the series speaks about her experiences with gay identity, not exactly my own). Plus, she's simply a better writer. :)

But I suppose it couldn't hurt to throw in my own random thoughts about gay identity...I guess I can't make a post without stating some of my opinions. What's the point of a blog if I don't, right? ;)

For starters, I'm pretty sure that "gay identity" is not a common term outside of ex-gay circles. The concept might be (and could go by other names), but even then I think it can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. I have several gay friends whose sexuality is very low on their list of self-descriptive terms. They don't walk in parades or have any part in activism. They just date members of the same sex. Actually, a friend of mine has a saying to reference this: "Sexuality is who you DATE, not who you ARE." So, even though they are involved in what I believe are sinful sexual relationships, I wouldn't call them gay identified.

That's because I view gay identity to be something that is almost all-encompassing. When I think of the term, I think of someone who has "made a career," so to speak, of being gay. I take the term for what it literally should means: a person whose identity is centered around being gay. I don't think I have to describe that type of person. Most of you have probably come across them, but suffice to say not all homosexuals are what I would call gay-identified (and the homosexuals I know can become rather irritated with them, in a similar way that a Christian such as myself can get irritated with fire-and-brimstone preachers and conservative shock jocks).

Now, that's my definition. It's what I think of when I think "gay-identified." It is not, however, what I think of when I hear the word "gay." Gay, to me, is just another word for homosexual, and homosexual is merely anything that relates to people who like people of the same sex -- y'know, in a sexual way. ;) It does not hinge on intent or belief, and not necessarily action either (although for ex-gays who are married, such as DM, then I'll go ahead and say they're straight). Therefore, I think it's completely possible for someone (such as myself) to call themselves "gay" and mean nothing more than "I like dudes."

As you can see, I've rambled on and this has become rather confusing. But that could hardly be helped, since this subject, well, is confusing. Gay means different things to different people. So does "gay-identity." Attraction, action, and identity (the most abstract of the three) all blend together to make the different definitions, and since there is no standard, people get confused and arguments start. Personally, it would be great if people could do away with all labels of all types. But we're humans; we need to make things organized and neat and perfect, no matter how chaotic the situation actually is. Hope everyone understood this; I'll admit it's not my A game writing. But give me a break, it's Sunday and I'm tired. :)


James Reggio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Reggio said...

You raise a good point, Jay.

I also view there to be a significant difference between the terms gay and gay-identified, primarily because I believe that if someone were to ask me if I am "gay", they're essentially asking whether I'm attracted to members of the same sex (and not whether I'm some out-and-proud activist living "the lifestyle.")

You know, a previous comment from you prompted DM to write an excellent exposition on this topic.

Thank you for expressing your thoughts on this journey of sanctification.


Jay said...

...if someone were to ask me if I am "gay", they're essentially asking whether I'm attracted to members of the same sex (and not whether I'm some out-and-proud activist living "the lifestyle.")

That's pretty much what I was saying. Good to see you here!

MR said...

I've never been in an ex-gay ministry, but I just can't call myself gay, even though I regularly battle SSA. With the people I'm around, "gay" definitely has the connotation of actively pursuing gay sex. By God's grace that's not me. If someone knows me well enough to ask if I am gay, I assume I have the freedom to explain at least a little.

disputed mutability said...

While I think "gay-identified" is strictly an exgay thing, I believe discussions of gay identity do pop up occasionally in gay/pro-gay literature. I think it's hard to dispute that what ssa means to us Westerners in the 20th-21st centuries is very different than what it has meant in other cultures and epochs. One way of describing that is with reference to contemporary gay identity.

Anyhow, I think there are two factors to be considered when deciding whether to use the word "gay."

1. What is my relationship to the word, what are its associations for me, what does it bring up for me? I think for those who have been strongly "gay-identified" for a while, the word may have inescapable connotations which might make it best to do without the word altogether.

2. How does the person I'm speaking to understand the word? I know that in some circles, "gay" just means ssa. But in others it doesn't--as mr says, it "definitely has the connotation of actively pursuing gay sex". So I think it requires discernment to know who we're talking to, and in any case I think it's best if we explain where we are coming from.

And Jay, I'm horrified that you would say that I'm straight!!! :)

Jay said...

MR and DM: I think you guys are right on the money. I think, for me, the people who I would tell I'm "gay" are also the people who I would spend the most time with, and thus would know the "whole story" behind my so-called queerness. I definitely have reservations about saying "I'm gay" and leaving it at that, because it does connotate the "lifestyle" for a lot of people, and that's not something I'm pursuing.

Oh, and sorry if I offended you by calling you straight, DM. I meant it as a compliment. ;)

Warren Throckmorton said...

To follow along, for most of the people I work with clinically, to say, 'I am gay' would mean, 'I seek gay sex and approve of that pursuit.' For many older evangelicals, gay means approval of homosexuality and has a political connotation. I do wonder if some of the differences break down along generational lines.

Jay said...

Warren: I think it does break down along generational lines, as well as religious lines (evangelical vs. mainline, for example) and political lines. "Gay" is by no means a concrete term, so I think it's important for anyone to be able to judge who they are talking to when they use it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the whole notion of being in the "closet" in the past was related in some ways to some folks like Jay. They were aware of their attractions, did not prefer to act upon them or form a public identity around those attractions.

Probably too simplistic an assertion on my part.

David Blakeslee

Steve said...

MR wrote: With the people I'm around, "gay" definitely has the connotation of actively pursuing gay sex. By God's grace that's not me. If someone knows me well enough to ask if I am gay, I assume I have the freedom to explain at least a little.

That's part of the tragedy of gay stereotypes. For so many people (especially in North American Christian churches) when I say "I'm gay," it instantly seems to mean:

1) I want sex with a man.
2) I plan to have a lot of it, with lots of men.
3) I'm going to use a lot of illicit drugs to get that sex.
4) I'm going to make sure I drag every straight boy I can into the same lifestyle.
5) I'm going to get a disease, and die a slow, horrible disease.
6) I'll deserve that death, and I'll ultimately go to hell.
7) And good riddance.

Now, I know that even the act of naming those stereotypes might imply a dichotomy between "righteous Christian dweebs who think this way" and "Godless fags who deserve those thoughts" - prejudicial concepts that exist in fact, but not in general fact. Like every other gay stereotype, there's a sliver of truth to it, but it is not the bulk of real-life experience.

Especially in the blogosphere, I have found warm, loving, caring, light-and-salt Christians who have been willing to speak, and listen, with respect and more than a little curiosity. They have blessed my life in powerful ways.

I've experienced portions of those prejudices, and watched others experience them as well. I've had people who accept me in almost every other way beg me not to "come out" anywhere where someone connected with youth ministry might read it, for fear I'll be labeled as "yet another pedophile, trying to force the homo's agenda and pervert decent folks' kids." /sigh/

David B., in my experience "the closet" was a place to hide - yes, first from the desires, from the identity. But it also became a place to hide from everything surrounding the stereotypes and the prejudices - the Christians who would send me to hell, the bashers, the drug-crazed queens and tweaking circuit boys, you name it.

In the end, it was a place of dishonesty and masking my true self, in order not to be noticed as "other," or as someone who had "fallen into sin," "succumbed to the lifestyle," and subsequently would be cut out of the herd (especially in church) as a weaker, unfaithful and undesirable member.

As my "coming out to the Christian blogosphere" post shows (over here), my experience is so very far from that.

I'm sorry brother Throckmorton's clinical experience has led him to experience "I'm gay" as "I seek gay sex and approve of that pursuit." There are an immense number of celibate GLBT folks who would absolutely deny that as their reality. For every priest who dishonored his vows by abusing children, there are thousands of gay priests and ministers who have served faithfully, and chastely, with their members of all ages and genders. No one - especially in the Catholic church - wants to accept that. No one in the general Christian church wants to know what would happen to church music if all the gay organists and choir directors were to leave, either. But it's there - one of the greatest examples of Don't ask, don't tell that our culture knows.

Jay, thanks for your post linking to DM's blog. My response to the topic of "gay identity was way too long for here (God knows, this is plenty long enough!), so I posted it on my own blog over here.