Saturday, November 01, 2008

What It's Not Always About

I think sometimes conservative Christians do a disservice to those struggling with SSA (same-sex attraction) by writing off this struggle as simply a sexual one. Now, of course it is largely sexual, and the sex is often what people have a hard time moving past. It's the starting point for everything else, and, for conservatives, it's the part that the Bible condemns. But for me (and I think I can speak for guys and girls like me), there is a lot more to struggling with SSA than just the sexual aspect, and truthfully, the sexual struggles pale in comparison to the other stuff.

At least for me, it's really the easiest thing to deal with. That might be because it's the most defined. It's not difficult to control one's behavior, especially when you don't put yourself in situations where your desires can get the better of you (as I did when my ex-boyfriend and I stumbled). It's also pretty clear to recognize sexual temptation when it comes along. The line between appreciating a man's God-given beauty and lusting after him is, to me, pretty easy to see. That's not to say it's easy to avoid, but that when I do cross it, I know what I'm doing and that I'm sinning. In other words, there isn't a lot of fuzziness with the sexual side of this struggle. Either you are sinning sexually or you aren't. Either you are thinking impure thoughts or you aren't. If there's middle ground there, I haven't seen it.

Unfortunately, SSA isn't just the sexual struggles. On paper it might be, but when you add together everything else -- from cultural issues to issues of celibacy, contentment, and one's role within the Church -- then you've really outweighed the sexual stuff, in my opinion. One example of this should exemplify all, I suppose, so here we go:

The reason I'm celibate is because I'm SSA. I believe what the Bible (and tradition) says about human sexuality and God's created order, and I intend to follow that. However, simply following doesn't take my SSA away. My relationship with Christ allows with me to deal with it in the same way that we all deal with unwanted desires (sexual or not), but it hasn't disappeared and, most importantly, I still don't have any romantic or physical feelings for the opposite sex. This means that I am likely to be celibate for a rather long time, if not for the rest of my life.

But it doesn't stop there. Just because I'm celibate and committed to that doesn't mean I'm not still human, and for some reason it's hard for folks to understand that sometimes. I have the same desires for love, affection, and companionship as anyone else. This ranges from the seemingly superficial (wanting to hug, cuddle, spend ridiculous amounts of time and energy searching for just the right Christmas gift, etc.) to the downright necessary (the need for companionship, purpose, having a witness to my life and memories, and being witness to someone else's). Those desires aren't the same as the sexual ones, and they need not be lumped in with them. It's odd enough to deny one's sexuality, but denying these desires, well, would just be impossible.

The struggle, then, becomes more about how to fulfill these desires in a God-honoring, Christ-centered way, even if I stay celibate and single for the rest of my life. Honestly, that's the hardest part about all of this, because according to the surrounding culture the only way to fulfill those desires for affection is to pair up in marriage or lifelong partnership. In other words, there just isn't a model for fulfilling those desires outside of romanticism, and romanticism is something I can't have.

I don't have the answer to how I can find what I'm looking for, but I have to have faith that I will. Simply, I don't want people to assume that when I'm feeling lonely or sad about my prospects, it's because I'm pining away about sex. That really, really isn't what I get sad about. At all. Actually, this kind of brushes against another topic, in that Christians often sell men short (all men) when they neglect the fact that, hey, we have emotional needs too. Guys aren't just out looking for sex; they desire committed companionship just like anyone else. I don't care what people say otherwise.

Of course if you're an SSA guy or gal reading this, you know this already. If you're liberal, you think that I should just go ahead and get a boyfriend (sorry, not going to happen). I guess I'm mainly speaking to those conservative Christians out there who have never dealt with SSA and are trying to learn more about the subject, so I encourage people like that to comment. Hope you have a great November, everyone! I'm going to try to post more often this month.

19 comments:

Ophir said...

Perhaps I'm stubborn but I still don't understand your thinking on the issue of romance and relationships (not sex!). If it is only the sexual aspect of homosexuality (or same-sex attraction, if you wish to remove all references to sexuality) that is not compatible with your religion, why does that mean that you cannot have a non-sexual romantic relationship?

I'm not socially liberal but yes, why not go ahead and get a boyfriend? You don't have to have sex with him!

It should be obvious that I'm not saying that you should just hook up with any guy who might be willing, just as if you were straight you wouldn't hook up with any girl. But if you find someone who is similarly-minded and who you see as potentially someone who you would wish to spend the rest of your life with (no need for any ceremony or official public recognition), then why not? You yourself have stated in this post and in others that there is much more to love and the human desire for romantic companionship than merely sex, so why deprive yourself of all those other aspects?

JadedSapphist said...

You’re so right! There are many in the conservative church who can’t really wrap their brain around the idea of SSA not being all about sex. I think part of that has to do with a lack of understanding of SSA folks as being real people – just like themselves. It’s a sad reality of many Christian Churches.

I can relate to your struggle: wanting to honor Christ in your life and relationships and the deep desire to have a meaningful, long-lasting relationship with someone. We all want someone to invest in us –and I think most of us desire to invest in others. We were made for relationship. It’s part of being human. That was indeed God’s creative intent for his children.

The difficulty comes in trying to balance the acknowledgement of one’s feelings/desires/attractions and yet be committed to denying them to be fulfilled in the way that seems most accessible (and likely appealing). I have been in those shoes. Ultimately, I have chosen a different path on this journey and have a different viewpoint than I once did.

However, I have great respect for those who have the integrity to live out what they say they believe – especially when it comes at such great personal sacrifice. I believe, whether or not homosexuality is a sin, to violate one’s conscience certainly is. I pray that you find greater peace on the journey than you have ever dared to imagine was possible!

muted disputability said...

Yeah, jadedsapphist is right -- for too long those of us of a conservative bent have avoided those who don't conform to our "boundary marker" behaviors instead of interacting with, befriending, and caring for others in biblically informed and Christ-like manner.

Jay: Thanks for providing a place where these topics can be discussed in a civil manner.

bryan said...

Well, as you already know Jay, I greatly respect your beliefs on this issue. I totally agree with what you said about how the struggle with being gay actually is not mainly sexual. People don't actually realize that there are so many other internal things going on inside of you. This is why some people don't understand why coming out is such a huge deal. I'm extremely proud of anyone, especially those from conservative backgrounds, who have the guts to be able to say this is who I am. Aside from sexual struggles, there is also the struggle to accept yourself regardless of what others say. So many people miss this by focusing on the external part of homosexuality, when the internal part - the self-loathing, shame, and fear - is so much more important.

On another note, Jay, I feel like you have posted things similar to this before. And I've got to say I'm a little bit concerned. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you come across as being lonely or unfulfilled in terms of relationships. I'm sorry if that's the way it is with you, and I know that it is harder with you especially with your beliefs.

I know that it would be so easy to just tell you to change your mind, get rid of your beliefs, and then go live a life that makes you happy (which part of me wants to do, because I'm certain that you would actually be very happy if, against all odds, that really happened). But changing your beliefs solely to get what you want out of life is a selfish reason to change your mind on something, so I would not encourage you to do that. However, I'm concerned that you might be isolating yourself out of fear that you might fall for a guy, especially a gay guy who would be open to having a relationship with you, and then not knowing what to do with yourself. I hope I'm not assuming too much there.

I just had the most random idea. Haha. What if, you found an amazing straight guy who loved you and felt totally comfortable about showing you affection, but was still straight? (I have no idea how you could find such a man, but hey, maybe there are some out there.) That way, you could fall in love with him all day long and he would be able to show you affection also, and you wouldn't have to worry about sex, because he's straight. Hehe. I don't know, just thinking out loud. Maybe it will work.

devlin said...

Jay,

From a conservative Christian standpoint regarding scripture, men are forbidden to "lie with other men", and that I would take to include cuddling. To a conservative evangelical Christian, the thought of two gay men setting up house, even if there is no sex, is not appropriate to God or the belief system and would create confusion. Such a thing is only one man one woman traditionally.
Though your plight may be simple on the sexual level, I think the rest of the puzzle is the suffering you must take to God, and refrain from doing. With practice, you might find it easier than you think.
Also, if a relationship were non-sexual but still romantic, it could put you at risk of stumbling, creating difficulty for you and yours. I'm sure you've noticed that the colors of sex and romance, are only a few thin shades apart. You would always be the subject of speculation by others, also x-ing out God's plan for being with a woman.
In this instance of grapling with having everything else but the sex, I think the conservative church, and the people in it, would say, it's all or nothing.
Traditional celibacy is and has been regarded as no sexual or romantic attractions whatsoever, no sexual thoughts or actions, and all sexual and romantic energy is channelled to the heart and goes completely to God. You might want to consider living as if a priest or nun, with full traditional celibacy in place, thereby making your relationship with the divine your primary focus. I know if I were in your shoes, I would absolutely have to sincerely rechannel sex/rom energy for it to truly work toward God's plan for me, and for me to feel complete with God. For you to take all your romantic and sexual energy and give it to God, would please him very much and keep you within his guidelines, which you seem to sincerely want to do. Your intent is honorable. Traditional celibacy could be extremely rewarding for you, as it has been for many.

grace said...

Jay,
This is a great post. You did a great job at articulating the entire dilemma.

You know I've become pretty "liberal" about this whole thing in many ways. I believe sin happens in our heart, not in our actions. Which means that sometimes the same action/behavior can be sin or not sin depending on the state of your heart.

All that said...I'd never tell you just to "go get a boyfriend". I really believe you need to continue to follow your heart...which sounds really cliche'...but...oh well.

love you!
pam

RikFleming said...

Jay,

Well written... and I wish I could get my friends who know about my "issues" to understand this and to some extent I think that they are beginning to realize that "this" is really about "that." (to borrow a phrase from Rob Bell).

Rik

Jay said...

Ophir: Well, I guess you could say that I simply know myself. I know that, at this stage of life, I wouldn't be able to handle that kind of relationship in a God-honoring way. There is no Biblical basis for such a relationship, nor is there really a social model for how that kind of relationship would work, and there would be quite a lot more variables than simply "a boyfriend without sex."

I don't know how I'm going to fulfill my emotional needs, and I'm certainly not looking to deprive myself of them. I'm simply saying that even if I never come across a romantic relationship, there must be a way to have those needs met. I don't exactly know what it is, but I'm sure it's out there.

Jaded Sapphist: I pray that you find greater peace on the journey than you have ever dared to imagine was possible!

Thank you very much for your prayers, and please stop by again. :)

Muted Disputability: You are very welcome, and thank you for stopping by!

Bryan: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you come across as being lonely or unfulfilled in terms of relationships.

Well, in this particular instance, you're wrong. I'm not speaking about what's going on in my life right now, because I'm actually pretty happy. I'm talking about how conservative Christians in general seem to ignore the fact that SSA Christians have emotional needs that need to be met, and how we need to work together to find ways to meet those needs outside of a romantic model.

I don't know if your idea about falling in love with a straight guy is really the most appropriate thing for a Christian, but I am always open to close friendships with any kind of person. :)

Devlin: Traditional celibacy is and has been regarded as no sexual or romantic attractions whatsoever, no sexual thoughts or actions, and all sexual and romantic energy is channeled to the heart and goes completely to God.

Celibacy simply implies not having sex. If I didn't have any sexual feelings at all, I'd be asexual. There's a difference. I'm not really working to become asexual, but if it happened, that would be fine with me. However, even if I had no sexual thoughts at all, I'd still need companionship. I'm not talking romance here, I'm talking a deep relationship with someone.

Plus, the prohibition to "lie with other men" specifically refers to sex. If you're going to be that literalistic, then I've sinned when I've gone camping, or slept in the same bed as my brother on vacation. That's just silly.

Grace: It sounds cliche, but it's good, so who's keeping score? Thanks for the comment. :)

Rik: I don't know if "this" is really about "that." I just think that "this" and "that" are different things, if that makes sense. Perhaps I'm naive, but I think that even if my emotional needs were met, I'd still be a human being and I'd still have sexual feelings. They'd just be easier to deal with because I'd have the supportive relationships I need. I'm glad you liked the post!

Ophir said...

I know that, at this stage of life, I wouldn't be able to handle that kind of relationship in a God-honoring way.

That's perfectly reasonable. I too, for many reasons, am not pursuing any romantic relationships at the moment. But, I don't at all discount the possibility of having such a relationship in the future. If you're putting a temporary moratorium that's fine, but it seems like you're completely discounting the idea of having another romantic relationship with a guy, even when you're 25 or 30 or 35.

There is no Biblical basis for such a relationship, nor is there really a social model for how that kind of relationship would work, and there would be quite a lot more variables than simply "a boyfriend without sex."

There isn't a Biblical basis for lots of things, that does not mean that believers are exempt from trying to find scipturally-appropraite ways to deal with them. Theologians do this all the time, as do religious scholars in legalistic religions like Judaism and Islam.

True, I'm not a Christian, but I just don't think there's any reasonable reading of scripture that would mandate such strict asceticism for male homosexuals. That's certainly not my understanding of the Hebrew Bible and unless the Greek Bible passages on homosexuality are more restrictive than Leviticus, I don't see what could warrant such a strict interpretation.

Keep in mind also that I don't discount other options. There is more than one way to find happiness. Some people may find it easier to settle down with a woman, perhaps one with similar struggles, than to pursue the challenge of a same-sex relationship. As long as the solutions are honest, that's fine. Some people may also find sexual and romantic celibacy their best route, that's fine too - as long as they don't do it because they feel it's the only option. Perhaps you disagree with me, but I think it is one legitimite option, not the only one.

As for the argument that being in a relationship within the bounds of scripture (no sex) would lead to temptation and make it easier to stumble (give in to the sexual urges) - that's true of everything else in life and is not unique to this particular "sin". Not stumbling is of little value if there are no steeples in your path. You're not likely to covet your neighbor's wife or commit adultery with her, but other men might.

I don't know how I'm going to fulfill my emotional needs, and I'm certainly not looking to deprive myself of them. I'm simply saying that even if I never come across a romantic relationship, there must be a way to have those needs met. I don't exactly know what it is, but I'm sure it's out there.

It is of course entirely possible to have a full and happy life without romantic companionship. Many people do just that for many reasons. I'm reminded of this article I saw linked somewhere recently.

Whatever you end up doing a year from now or ten years from now, I hope you find what you're looking for.

Joe said...

Hey Jay,
I have been reading for a while now but haven't commented yet. This particular post I really resonate with though. I think you really articulated and summed up the struggle that goes on.

I also agree with Rik that I really wish I could get my friends who know about my "issues" to see that "this" is really about "that." Sometimes I don't think others try to understand because they don't want to its not something they have to wrestle with.

Your post sums up alot of what has been going on in my head. The relational issue, how celibacy works out while still meeting though intrinsic needs, as you brought up. I also struggle with where my role is within the church. It can be discouraging sometimes, and I really want my friends to understand. I really enjoy reading your Blog!

Joe

MR said...

Jay,

Thanks for putting into words what is so hard to express about the non-sexual part of our struggles.

I, too have had heterosexual friends who just didn't get it. With one now happily-married straight guy in particular, after we had been close friends for years he finally understood. That understanding has led to an even stronger friendship which has been very fulfilling to me.

My advice to any same sex attracted Christian is to build friendships with other Christians. Sometimes it takes patience but eventually you will find friends who understand your need for non-sexual affection. You can express and receive affection in many ways that are satisfying but not tempting. I like to give compliments, especially on character qualities, hug, pat on the back, poke, shake hands, hit fists, slap hands, whatever they are comfortable with. I have to draw the line at cuddling, though. It is too close to sexual for me.

devlin said...

Hmm ok. Is passionate kissing part of the companionship relationship you seek and is that ok in this relationship model? Was it part of your relationship with Hitch and if so, done with or without guilt?

kurt_t said...

Well, I guess we are just going to get ALL up in Jay's business today!

Thain said...

Jay- great post. These are the exact issues I brought to my father when I came out to him, and are the same issues I try to get across when dealing with people on the other side of the argument.

To me, it just seems too easy for people to write the issue off as being about sex, when really sex is just a part of the puzzle.

Brandon said...

I think sometimes the non-sexual feelings is really what leads me most of the time to those sexual feelings or stumbles. I get to feeling lonely, just wishing I had someone to share my life with, I get sad knowing that'll probably never happen, and then I begin thinking sinful thoughts I know I shouldn't. I see an attractive guy and long to be with him. The attraction is there, but it's more, at the start, just a longing for companionship. Then that longing leads to the sexual thoughts if I begin lingering on them too long.

Anyway, I enjoyed this post. I wish more people would make an effort to understand all this better.

God bless ya. :)

Jay said...

Ophir: Well, I do hope I eventually have a family of some sort (whether with a wife or adopting on my own), so I don't think I'll end up like Clara Meadmore, bless her heart. :)

I do realize I have plenty of options, though; even though a lot of people see my choices as an ultimate form of restraint, I'm glad at least some people recognize that I do have freedom and plenty of chances to be happy and fulfilled within them. Thanks!

MR: Thanks for sharing; that's very good advice.

Devlin: No, I think passionate kissing is too easily a chance to stumble sexually. I don't really have a "model" for the kind of committed relationship I want because, like I said, the only real model out there is marriage or lifelong partnership, both of which involve sex.

Oh, and I am purposefully vague about what Hitch and I did and did not do in our relationship. In a post last year, I said we stumbled, and I've mentioned that a few times since then simply because it is a part of my story, but I'm not going into more details than that. I have too much respect for him and our privacy.

Kurt: Yeah... I understand that I'm pretty transparent but I still try to keep some semblance of my personal life private.

Thain: I think my parents understood pretty easily that this was more than about sex, but what can I say? They're liberal. ;)

Brandon: I can definitely remember a point when that was true for me as well... I guess I've just moved on to where I've kind of separated my sexual and emotional feelings. I don't know if that's good or not, or if it will even last; it might just be a "phase" of some sort. Either way, it's definitely true that these issues aren't as separate, in general, as I've made them out to be.

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Jon said...

I would go further and say that the only real choice is obedience. When you wake up every morning you should commit yourself to obey God through His strength.

For me, this removes any daily obsession about the future in this regard. I don't have to ask "How will I be celibate for the rest of my life? Who will take care of me?". All I have to do is look to God for strength today for today.

Jesus, talking about the Pharisees, said something like "Woe unto them who proscribe burdens for other men and do not lift a finger to help them."

This is an indictment of the church; but if yo believe that God is faithful, it is a message of hope. God will lift more than a finger to help you.

So I have turned over my emotional needs to God for Him to handle. God knows we have these needs and he is more than able to provide them.
How many people (straights) have run ahead of God in order too fulfill "needs"--real or imagined--and ended up in a world of hurt?

If God is real, His power has got to be real and tangible.

Jon said...

Also, I believe that happiness comes from obedience and complete trust in God rather than in doing whatever you feel inclined to do (however strongly).

I shudder to think that people who profess to believe in total depravity and original sin would hint about things like "The truth is inside your heart;" "Follow our heart;". What triggered this was a comment on your cross-post at Salon, where one commenter said:

"I know that it took many years of exploration before I found a denomination that reflected what I intuitively knew was right for me."

How can a sinful person "intuitively" know what is right at all when our hearts are evil and desperately wicked?

As such I do not trust any of my "solutions" for the "dilemma" that I find myself in as someone with SSA.

God bless you Jay. May God engage with you as much as He tries to engage with me.

The boy with the green tambourine said...

As an atheist, I cannot relate directly to your struggles, but I do come from a religious background (I was brought up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses). I hope I would have had the strength, the resolve, and the integrity to stick by the rules of that religion, if I believed they were valid.

I was very conscious to ensure I left the religion for real rational reasons, not just because it didn't suit me. I am confident I made the right decision.

And I'll finish by agreeing with JadedSapphist: I believe, whether or not homosexuality is a sin, to violate one’s conscience certainly is.

TRiG.