Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Burden Of Overreacting

First things first, I apologize for this most recent gigantic gap in blogging. Junior year is in full swing, and the past few weeks have been a roller-coaster ride of projects, assignments, papers, social events, meetings, interviews, on-campus programs, and the like. I've run an emotional gamut and frankly, I've kind of forgotten about this thing. It's a good think I'm e-mailed about comments because otherwise I would not have responded to some folks, and if there is anyone who I haven't gotten back to about anything, sorry about that! Here's to hoping I can get into some more regular blogging soon.

Anyway, the other day, I happened upon a blog post by Tim Challies, who was reviewing a portion of a book by Al Mohler, who was expanding upon an idea by Anthony Esolen. Got all that? Good. The post was about the burden of "perverse assumptions." Mainly, the idea was that increased cultural acceptance of homosexuality has led to the decline of close male friendships. For example, guys don't show affection towards each other nowadays because they are afraid of being labeled as "homosexuals."

On the one hand, the post made a good point. It is likely today that when two men are being affectionate towards one another, it's going to be looked upon strangely. Challies' post makes a few references to "The Lord of the Rings" characters Sam and Frodo, whose platonic love for one another was the subject of many jokes when the movies were being shown, even though it was clearly always meant to be nothing more than a close friendship between two men (um, hobbits) in the mind of author J.R.R. Tolkien.

However, that's really as far as I can go in saying that this line of thinking about "perverse assumptions" is good. It really, really isn't. For one, since when do Christian men let the culture define our relationships anyway? If one is afraid of being mistaken for a gay person, what are the reasons for that fear? In my mind, it's one of two things: the man doesn't have a strong sense of his own masculinity, or he's afraid that being labeled as gay will put him at risk of ridicule and possibly even violent crime.

Neither of these really speaks well for the Christian man. If the first is true, then the man is basically admitting to himself that being gay makes one less of a man. Actually, that's not a shocking opinion; a lot of Christians seem to hold it. It's condescending, of course, but the irony here is that it's a view that has been more or less spread by Christians themselves. Therefore, if a Christian's sense of his own masculinity relies on others' opinions about him, and more than that, relies on their belief that he is straight, then in a lot of ways he really only has to blame conservative Christianity itself.

If the second is true, and the man fears that he will be ridiculed or injured, then that's even more ironic, mainly because Christians have been rather silent about crimes against gay persons for quite some time, only really speaking out against them in afterthoughts, and usually fighting hate crimes legislation that would give the same benefits to gay individuals that Christians already enjoy (also note that I'm not a fan of hate crimes legislation in general, but if we have it for religion, we should have it for sexual orientation as well). This is a shame, because if anything, Christians should be the first people to speak up for those being hurt, and it turns out more often than not that we are the ones doing the hurting.

The second issue I raise with this line of thought is that it seems pretty exaggerated. I know many Christian men who have very close relationships, and don't seem to care what others think at all. In fact, these are the guys I like best. They're confident, assured, and don't care what the world might think. They also don't mind making fun of the fact that they might be perceived as gay. There is the whole idea of "bromance" going around nowadays, and that's actually a pretty good way to reclaim male friendship in a time when romance has been emphasized over all types of relationships.

The third issue I raise is probably the most important. Where do some Christians get off thinking that this is the worst kind of thing one could assume about them? Rising cultural acceptance of homosexuality might mean that two men who go to dinner together might be seen as boyfriends by passing strangers, but it also means that those passing strangers aren't likely to give a hoot. And like I said, a Christian man shouldn't give a hoot about the thoughts of the passing stranger, either.

This rising cultural acceptance is also good for Christians like me who are also attracted to the same sex. In another time period, fears that I could lose my job or even life if I came out of the closet would have probably either driven me to abandon my faith or enter a sham marriage to throw people off the trail. Nowadays, I can give myself fully and openly to God without that fear. I can tell people my story without being afraid of their reactions. I can make an informed decision and decide that celibacy is both the most theologically sound and realistic way to live out my life, and I can get the support I need for that. In other words, this cultural shift has been a good thing for me and for people like me, and I'd like other Christians to recognize it.

Unfortunately, some just don't. There's a great little exchange between a commenter named Bon and another commenter named Nathan, who also struggles with homosexuality, at the end of the comment thread on the Challies post.

Bon: The sexualization of male friendship is a great evil. I am deeply frustrated that referring to the good friend whom I run a business with as “my partner” invites raised eyebrows. What a thing has been done to us, or should I say we have allowed to happen. It is a conspiracy of cynicism.

Nathan: Such horrors for you and your partner, Bon!

When I tell some people that I have an attraction for men, they assume that I kidnap and eat children… or at least recruit them to do nasty things… or that I purposefully chose to slap God in the face… or I want to mutilate my body to change it into a female form … or I’m a disease ridden animal clawing the fabric of civilization apart… or I’m the cause of terrorist attacks…

You get the idea — I get more than a raised eyebrow. None of those assumptions are even remotely true nevertheless they are allowed to happen to me. Talk about the burden of perverse assumptions …


That's right folks. You want to hear about perverse assumptions, talk to Nathan. Talk to me. Talk to any other gay or lesbian you know. Sure, the world has a lot to answer for in its twisting of things that are innocent like friendship. But that's the world; they don't know better. Let's not forget that Christians have a lot to answer for too.

18 comments:

aujaharris said...

Nice article. As a gay man, I sometimes struggle developing relationships with straight men. I think its because they think I want to have a romantic or sexual relationship with them. I have a same sex partner of many years and I have no intention of hitting on straight men.I am not sure what the hang up is for some of them. So, in a way I know what you are saying.

Gay Christian 101 said...

Good post Jay. You and Nathan zeroed in on a perverse attitude of so many non-gay Christians - that all gay people can be stereotyped as God-hating weirdos who made a choice to disobey their Creator.

Even when Christian celebrities have a gay family member, their perverse attitude toward gays in general seems not to change (although they know better).

The level of dishonesty in their anti-gay efforts is breathtaking.

Rick Brentlinger

Pomoprophet said...

Thoughtful post!

"the idea was that increased cultural acceptance of homosexuality has led to the decline of close male friendships"

This is another example of someone being so narrowminded in their approach. This is not about cultural acceptance leading to the decline of male friendships. This is about American culture as a whole! Guys have never been close, atleast not in recent decades. And not like in other parts of the world. In Africa or Asia where guys walk down the streets holding hands. Its not a gay thing, its just closeness. And I think the lack of male affection leads to lots of issues.

All because I'm gay doesnt mean I still dont need close guy friends or hugs or emotional intimacy. Unfortunately (As you pointed out in your post) all of my Christian friends have abandonded me and used their perverse assumptions to feel better about it.

Brian said...

Thank-you for addressing this square on. Aside from Challies's analysis being problematic, his premise is off as well.

I don't think it is *acceptance* of homosexuality that could make close male friendship unstable but rather *exposure* to homosexuality. It is in that awkward stage between exposure and acceptance that males are most often reticent to display close friendship. As you rightly mention, this may happen to Christian men--of their own making!

Amongst my affirming friends (Christian and non-Christian alike), closeness between males is not a problem. Not only between straight males, but also in my interactions with my straight male friends.

Happy to share in frustration with you, man.

David said...

Excellent post Jay - you wouldn't be surprised to learn that I agree 100%. And I am glad you brought up the modern concept of 'bromance' - in fact, I am a great proponent of the bromance and (relatedly) 'mandates', and am very grateful for bromances I have had (and currently have with a dear friend), as they make life fuller and singlehood more bearable. Closeness between men has been scant in the modernizing western world for a while, and I would blame our individualistic and counter-communal culture more than anything else - my parents grew up well before the public exposure and acceptance of homosexuality and I see the same thing among them.

otrolado said...

I like this post! It was definitely worth the wait.

It is a shame more close male friendships don't exist. My best friend and I are probably mistaken for a gay couple (even though he is hetero) because we go out to dinner just the two of us. However, it does not matter. The bond we have is vital and guys must have close relationships with other guys.

Jay said...

Aujaharris & Gay Christian 101: Thanks for the comments!

Pomoprophet: I've actually been very blessed in the Christian guys I've had in my life, who have been great. Of course, I know a few homophobes (who doesn't?) but largely I've had it better than a lot of guys. I'll agree that the whole problem with male closeness didn't start with cultural acceptance of homosexuality.

Brian: Even amongst my non-affirming friends (which is not to say non-loving... I mean, when you get down to it even I'm not affirming), there are those who aren't so self-absorbed as to worry about what others think of their relationships. I think that's the big problem.

David: Yeah, "bromances" are kind of cool. I think that the idea of close relationships with anyone is kind of hurt by the American ideal of staunch individualism. I don't think there should be that kind of "all or nothing" attitude, but there sort of is. Thanks for stopping by!

Otrolado: Thanks for being patient! Yeah, these relationships are vital to all men (hetero or not), so it's kind of sad when they are lacking from the culture at large.

Rachael Starke said...

Hi Jay,

I weighed in on that post too, as my life experience intersected with it on a number of different levels. I actually grew up in Australia, where gender-separate schools are common - I spent jr. high and high school at an all-girl's boarding school, where it was common for girls to walk with arms around waists, holding hands, etc. And Australia also has a very interesting male culture -with men devoted equally to "mateship" and a pretty fierce aversion to homosexual behavior. Then, in college I majored in English, thankfully at a pretty decent Christian college, where we spent a lot of time studying literary criticism from a variety of secular and Biblically-centered persepectives.

All of that to say, I was a little confused by the way Tim laid out his case, and your own comments now help me understand what I think he was trying to say, vs. what he did say, and consequently how you read it. I think he got it a little backwards by talking about Christians' (yes, totally agreed) wrong reaction to a modern issue, because he didn't describe the issue well. As I see it, particularly for me living in the Bay Area with a pretty heavy concentration of homosexual activism, there is a boatload of literary revisionism being done in the name of mainstreaming homsexual behavior. IOW, two males expressing in any way a close relationship automatically equals a homosexual relationship. Bert and Ernie, Frodo and Sam, David and Jonathan, etc. Forget the original intent of the author (e.g. in the David and Jonathan case, ahem, God) - what matters is what the reader thinks. It's pretty classic post-modern lit crit, and I don't know where you're going to school, but it's pretty much everywhere.

So that's at least a big part of the problem. But I do totally agree - the solution to that problem is not more of the same faulty logic on multiple, increasingly damaging levels. And, BTW, it's not just SSA folks that deal with this issue. I once had two guys in a discipleship relationship from my church kindly offer to babysit my then 1 and 3 y.o. daughters when i had a sudden need. One of them had a sister the same age, and was preparing to get married, and was thus both interested and pretty experienced at taking care of little girls. When I mentioned how delighted I was about this to a couple of my girlfriends, they actually were mortified that I would leave two men alone together with my daughters. Two straight, godly Christian servant-hearted men = potential child molesters. I was pretty shocked, and insulted for my two guy friends.

And so, here I go again - I'd argue the solution for both the Christian man who doesn't struggle with SSA, and the Christian one who does, is to view one another through their identical identities as children of God. Different outside, same inside, and thus called to pursue relationships formed and governed by that reality first. Which means, as you say, not thinking about what the world thinks, but about what God thinks. And as we talked about last time, Jesus and His disciples did have a very close relationship. It's just a matter of discerning through His Word, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what that looked like. I'm pretty sure if they'd gone to the movies together, they wouldn't have been sitting with empty seats between them, for example. :)

Robert said...

Jay,

This is an interesting topic where the proverbial sword cuts both ways. Certainly, straight men are capable of deeply loving one another without that love becoming sexual. While on one hand the feminist and gay rights movement have made mainstream America more aware of homosexuality -- and the implication that two men who love each other might be lovers -- it has also made that jump to conclusion far more acceptable.

I know a number of straight men who have been misidentified as gay. For the most part, it seems that they acknowledge the misidentification in a matter-of-fact way and do not see it as an affront to their manhood. (I would add that I am speaking of men who would not be identified as "fag stags" -- i.e. straight men who choose to surround themselves with gay men.)

Straight and gay men will continue to love other men regardless of whether or not that love leads to a bounce in bed. If people occassionally come to the wrong conclusions about that love, the impact seems to have little to no effect upon today's man.

P said...

Nice work, Jay. I don't know where I'd be without my close male friendships, although I find the term "bromance" to sound, for lack of a better word, a little gay ;)

I remember having dinner with a straight friend a couple of years ago at a restaurant where I knew the owners and staff. Luis, the owner, set a bottle of good Tequila on the table for us to enjoy and after some time I developed the liquid courage to come to that friend. His FIRST response was a nervous "do they think I am gay too and that we are on a date??"

"No, John." I replied. "They all know I have much better taste than that."

Jay said...

Rachael: I'm an English major at a fairly liberal university, so of course I know all about reader-response and how people are likely to put a homosexual twist where there originally was simply a deep male friendship (my most recent encounter with this was between Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice). I don't really consider that a big part of the problem I'm talking about, though, since only those who are seeking to find that kind of connection will find it, and most non-English majors pretty much shrug it off as ridiculous.

I do think that guys in general get a bad rap, and that's true whether we're SSA or not. There seems to be an assumption that men just naturally lean towards sexual deviancy, while women are naturally pure. Those assumptions do no good to anybody involved. And of course, I think you're right in that though our outsides are different, inside we are all children of Christ. Thinking about people who make you uncomfortable is difficult, but I guess one has to sort of grin and bear it. :)

Robert: If people occassionally come to the wrong conclusions about that love, the impact seems to have little to no effect upon today's man.

I would agree, but of course it depends on the age, social circumstances, and maturity of the man.

P: Now that's a funny story. :)

Jon said...

I must be the most naive person on earth. I went out with male friends to eat many times during college and boy did I never think anything was inappropriate.
I never felt awkward--ever.

Devlin said...

Jay,

Men having problems being male bonding friendly due to the gay evolution is probably a very fitting thing, being we as a nation were born of puritans right off the Mayflower.
Before I comment I need to clarify my stance on religion. I was born and raised Catholic, went to Catholic school through 8th grade, and was a stellar alter boy. My two brothers and myself drifted away from religion in high school / college years with little fanfare as we were not fundamentalists in any form. Our family structure, loving and militant (my dad was major army for many years), had a live and let live policy that worked quite well. I pretty much had forgotten about religion all together, accept midnight mass at Xmas which is every gay guys dream, all the fanfare and cool outfits, ;) and was leading a great fulfilling life, then the religious fanatics came out of the wood work to start attacking gays. My stance now on religion is viewing a very confused state of affairs regarding sex, while holding a sincere affinity for Jesus's original intent, to teach only love.

That being said, my take on your position regarding gay sex is quite opposite from mine. I know gay sex is just fine, a normal body function, and is not against any God's will. My relationship with God is very powerful and fulfilling, and I am also naturally sexual, there is no respite. The body to me is neutral. It's the labels of good or evil that we put on it that creates our digression. This leads me to your post. Since you are a non-sexual gay man who believes gay sex is wrong, (which can be seen as anti-gay) it would seem to reason that this stance has affect on men becoming closer, straight or gay, because you are advocating gay sex in all its beauty, as inherently sinful. This brings confusion into the mix and may not resolve conflict completely for anyone. From what I can tell you live your life "on guard", in constant conflict and negative thinking about your sexuality and it's natural ramblings. And that this constant negative sexual stewing, and the "hopeful" relinquishment thereof, is a very serious commitment. Though this may sound rather crass, it seems either a gay Christian is going to get nailed in the bedroom or nailed on the cross (or both) and a choice must be made.

So my quest for anyone fighting with the nature of sex is; do our individual beliefs promote fear or peace on a long term basis? We're pretty much over interracial marriage angst, and peace has ensued. So in the plight of the current sexual confusion and the beliefs that hold it in place, does that help our brothers be more at peace with non sexual holding of hands or cuddling in an afternoon nap, or not? As long as it might be considered "wrong" if it potentially crossed over to sexual intimacy, fear may continue to rule the roost.

I have great empathy and interest in your plight, though I do stand back at times and shake my head and smile. Know that this is not in any way condescending, as I feel a sincere sweetness in you and your hard lined convictions, of which I find endearing. Nevertheless, my feeling is that as long as there is a "charge" on gay sex, some men will not feel comfortable being affectionate if they think they could be wronged. So I submit regarding your post; are the very things you believe, i.e. that those that engage in gay sex are sinners, causing more harm to the intimacy within the human race, than good? I am not seeking for you to change your stance, but say a bit on what effects your beliefs (your emotional interpretation rather than mental) about gay sex etc (religion aside) may have on brothers and sisters in the world who may listen to your sexual stance.

Peace, Devlin

PS I don't consider you an isolate on an island, but a voice in the daylight for all to hear.







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Jay said...

Jon: Good for you! More guys should be like you, then.

Devlin: From what I can tell you live your life "on guard", in constant conflict and negative thinking about your sexuality and it's natural ramblings.

Well then you obviously haven't been able to tell very much about me. Most of my main conflict with my sexuality comes from living out my life in the conservative church and the struggles that go along with it (i.e. the awkwardness of being honest about my journey, the search for intimate friendships in a culture that has long forgotten them, etc.) Of course I struggle with lust and temptation, but I don't think to any more extent than a straight guy does.

In other words, I have no problem if I find a man attractive. God's creations are beautiful and it's not a sin to recognize that. However, lusting is a completely different ballgame, and it's equally sinful for the straight guy as for the gay guy.

I honestly don't think that the view that gay sex is sinful really hurts male friendship, unless the two guys involved are worried that they will be perceived as being sinful, but again, we shouldn't care about others' assumptions.

You seem to be saying that straight men fear emotional intimacy with other men because they fear "falling into sexual sin" with them. I just don't get that. I have no desire for women and similarly, straight men have no desire for each other. I don't think that's really a valid argument.

Hope that helps. We obviously have very different beginning ideas about God, the body, and the nature of good and evil, so I doubt we're going to agree on too much. Thank you for your compliments, though.

MR said...

Jay,

One time several years ago I was eating in a restaurant with a pastor who knew me very well. At one point he told me that he believed most of the people in tables around us thought we were boyfriends. I told him I didn't think so, but I could tell he was worried. Since that incident, I don't think we have eaten together in a restaurant at all without his wife being present.

One thing to remember is that even today pastoring is one job you can definitely lose over homosexuality. Even if a congregation suspects a pastor is gay and has no proof, they may fire him. I wonder if that pastor was living in fear because of that issue.

Could it be that pastors are over-cautious in friendships with men, and that over-cautiousness is imitated by others in the congregation?

P,

Haha, you have great taste in humor as well!

MR said...

OK I can't write about straight guys worrying about being perceived gay without thinking about this comedy video "My whole family thinks I'm gay":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZoO8LyizLA

I am humor-impaired but this guy Bo Burnham found a way to reach that underdeveloped part of my brain and made even me laugh. As he says in a rap, he “can really find your…spot”

WATCH HIS FACE ! He does a hilarious impression of teen angst. Jay, sorry about this shameless promotion but I couldn't resist.

Mephibosheth said...

JAY!!!

I haven't read your blog in a while. I still hate you for being young and erudite.

I posted on Esolen's original article here (I link to it in my post, I didn't actually see a link to it in Tim's):

http://andalsowithyou.blogspot.com/2007/11/requiem-for-friendship.html

I suspect Mohler may be taking Esolen's name in vain somewhat. I don't think Esolen makes as sharp a distinction between secular culture and Christian culture as some--in other words, I think he might agree with you that "Christians have a lot to answer for too."

For a lot of reasons, my best friends have always been straight Christian guys. While it hasn't always been the case for me, my parish men's group, particularly the guys I am most intimate with, is a surprisingly accepting and affectionate place--we have something of a reputation around town as "the touchy-feely group". It's sad that it is the exception rather than the rule--and I'm not sure how much that has to do with Esolen's premise. But tomorrow morning at Bible study as usual I will exchange a hug and a kiss with several of them--and they all know my "junk".

God bless,

Frank

devlin said...

Hi Jay,

Sorry for the delay. I meant that two guys might woryy about being perceived as being gay, not that they would worry they might have gay sex. My question to you boiled down to whether you belived your beliefs that gay sex is wrong, fuels the pool of hatred upheld by the church towards gays ingeneral, and whether that pool of belief (which seems to throw some into hysteria at the thought of SSA) makes it harder for guys to be authentically bromantic (non-sexual) without the fear of being stigmatized. You may have answered the question with a no, but thought I would clarify just in case I wasn't clear.

Robert - - "Fag Stags"? Now. I've heard. It all. Too funny.

Happy Halloween.

DB