A Log of My Progress
I decide to study homosexuality. I begin with male homosexuality because, being female, I figure I will be less homophobic about it than female homosexuality. I decide I will look into lesbianism later, after I get broken in.
I go to the bookstore. There are lots of books by gay men. I avoid the ones with glossy photos on the covers. I crack open a few and see a lot of four-letter words. There is lingo that I don't get. Why do they call themselves "queer" and "faggot"? I thought those terms were supposed to be derogatory. The fact that I don't get it makes the whole thing seem more scary. Do I really want to go through with this?
I look around for something that will be straightforward and try to reason with me about this homosexuality thing. I pick out a book that seems to have a rational-looking cover. I don't see photos or four-letter words or lingo inside. It is called Virtually Normal by Andrew Sullivan. I like the subtitle which says "An argument about homosexuality." I take it home, looking forward to being argued with about homosexuality.
I read the prologue. I become convinced that homosexual attraction is not a choice.
I read the first chapter. The author attempts to deal with Christian arguments against homosexuality. His fair and intelligent handling of the discussion is impressive. Courageous, really. But the book is about political theory and is way over my head. I manage to hang in there until the middle of chapter three, then I put it down.
I try again. I buy The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture by Daniel Harris, another book with a simple cover design. In chapter one he explains about the "gay culture" of the older generation--camp, diva worship, drag queens, irony. This helps me understand why certain stereotypes about gay men exist. I don't finish the book because every chapter is a repetition of the same point (how the acceptance of gays into mainstream culture is destroying gay subculture). I also have to stop because he is getting graphic (but not gratuitously. His discussions of sex are always relevant to the thesis). I feel that chapter one made the purchase of the book worthwhile.
I am ready for another try. I buy Boys Like Us, edited by Patrick Merla, a collection of coming out stories. I read almost all the stories (there are 29 total) and note a few things: 1) Coming out is no fun. 2) Parents don't take it very well. 3) Coming out isn't a one-time thing. 4) The self-consciousness of the whole in/out thing can drive you insane. 5) Homosexual feelings don't seem much different from heterosexual feelings. 6) Most young boys are just seeking love and physical intimacy, not sexual intercourse. 7) No one bothers to protest that "this is not a choice," which itself seems to be the strongest evidence for the point. 8) Of all the writers, I like Michael Nava the best.
I locate the nearest gay and lesbian bookstore; it is in West Hollywood. I go there, browse through Nava's mystery novels and decide to get The Burning Plain. While I am at the bookstore three young guys walk in. They are loud. They have come to cause trouble, not buy books. The cashier orders them out. Later, I wonder about my safety being at a gay and lesbian bookstore. It occurs to me that gays and lesbians have to wonder about their safety all the time.
I read The Burning Plain. There isn't a trace of self-pity in the way the story is told, yet for two weeks afterward I mope around feeling depressed. Henry Rios's life is about survival, keeping his head above water amidst the corruption, tragedy and death that swirl around him. Being gay is somehow connected to these themes and contributes to a sense of doom that hovers over most of the story. One quote from the book stands out: "Life is a kind of exile and we all long to go home." In one scene, a gun is put to Henry's head and he thinks he is going to die. He later reflects on that moment of coming face-to-face with death, and says, "I felt not terror, but relief."
I search on the Internet for info on Michael Nava. His novels appear on a list of bestseller books for gay men. I notice a book called The Gay Man's Guide to Heterosexuality is at the top of the list. Next time I see it at the bookstore, I buy it. Much of it is over my head, but I get some of the jokes and even think they are pretty funny. My husband starts calling me "a gay man trapped in a woman's body."
I am ready for Virtually Normal again. I pick up where I left off and read to the end. The book is an argument for legalizing civil same-sex marriage. The idea seems radical but makes sense at the same time. The epilogue convinces me of the positive impact that the prospect of marriage would have on the lives of homosexual people in society. I reread the prologue and chapter one. I see the comments I had written in the margins of chapter one from the first time I had gone through it. They don't make much sense to me now.
I search on the Internet for info on Andrew Sullivan. People love him, people hate him. I find "The Independent Gay Forum" website. I read Sullivan's article "Why 'Civil Union' Isn't Marriage," written shortly after the Vermont decision. Using the logic presented in Virtually Normal, I start working on a conservative Christian argument in favor of civil same-sex marriage.
I go back to West Hollywood and purchase used copies of Nava's first two mystery novels The Little Death and Goldenboy to read during a short vacation. I learn more about what it is like to try to live your life as an openly gay man in society. It doesn't sound very fun. I start growing attached to this Henry Rios character. Now I can't bring myself to read the next book in the series, How Town, because I know Henry's lover Josh is going to leave him.
I read Love Undetectable by Andrew Sullivan. Difficult here to explain everything that I get out of it, except to say that for the next three weeks I cry myself to sleep every other night thinking about the book. Some thoughts (not necessarily discussed in the book): 1) If I had bothered to educate myself about homosexuality ten years ago, I wouldn't have responded so heartlessly to the AIDS crisis. 2) Whether I am educated about homosexuality or not, there still is no excuse for ignoring it the way I did. 3) There is a sense in which it doesn't matter that I am becoming educated about this now, because the hostility of the majority of Christians toward homosexuals automatically defines me in the eyes of gays and lesbians. 4) In a sense, they are right to so define me, because not long ago it was all true. 5) Why are Christians so screwed up?
Sullivan leaves it to the reader to decide how his three essays relate to one another. My own view is that the three essays form a case for homosexual love. NARTH's negative clinical diagnosis on homosexual love is flanked on either side by essays of personal experience and reflection that paint quite a different picture. The reader is left ultimately to decide what the true diagnosis ought to be.
I spend a lot of time on the IGF website reading articles, discovering other writers besides Sullivan. I like Jonathan's Rauch's dry humor. Paul Varnell is critical of the church and many of his reasons are depressingly valid. Why aren't there more lesbian writers? I need someone to explain the lesbian scene to me. This guy Bruce Bawer edited a reader called Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy. I try to order it. Why is it out of print? I get my brother to look for a used copy to send me for my birthday.
I have been putting off studying the biblical questions on homosexuality. I start reading with reluctance because it's so predictable what I'll find. On the theologically conservative side I read John Stott's Same-Sex Partnerships? which claims to be a "warm" and "compassionate" treatment. To me it seems rather offensive at points. On the theologically liberal side I read Scanzoni and Mollenkott's Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A better understanding of the human issues, but disappointing on biblical exegesis. Back on the conservative side I get through half of Thomas Schmidt's Straight and Narrow?, another "compassionate" treatment. Good on exegesis, poor on compassion. Chapter six is annoying, going on and on about the medical consequences of gay promiscuity, the statistics on AIDS and STD's among gay men, etc. Schmidt seems to think promiscuity is necessarily tied to homosexuality, and doesn't consider that it might be the consequence of social stigma against homosexuality. A picture is beginning to form: Conservative Christians know little of homosexuality but can exegete all the Bible passages. Liberal Christians are weak at biblical exegesis but better understand homosexuality.
Beyond Queer arrives. I read the interview with Andrew Sullivan about being gay and Roman Catholic, and the essay by Rabbi Yaakov Levado (a pseudonym) about being gay and an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. The sense of dilemma and contradiction expressed in both articles regarding religious belief and homosexuality is what I've also been feeling. I wish I could be satisfied with the simple, traditional understanding of the Bible and shut the books on this whole thing. It is easier than being torn, than having to wrestle. I'd probably get more sleep at night. But that would be turning my back on reality and the dilemmas of honest people, many of whom are in the church.
I purchase John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, Robin Scroggs's The New Testament and Homosexuality, and Pim Pronk's Against Nature. Pronk's book looks the most promising, but it is too advanced and exhausts my brain. I don't even make it past the first twenty pages. I'm too tired to try to deal with Boswell or Scroggs.
I continue working on a Christian argument for civil same-sex marriage. This leads to a study of gay civil rights, which leads to a study of the Hawaii court's 1993 ruling in favor of civil same-sex marriage. I had purchased a copy of Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, a reader edited by Andrew Sullivan, containing all the pertinent court rulings leading to Baehr v. Lewin. I manage to follow everything up to the Hawaii decision then get stuck. The logic of the ruling is lost on me. I spend an entire day giving myself a crash course in constitutional law: race vs. sex discrimination, strict vs. intermediate scrutiny, federal vs. state constitutions, suspect categories, compelling interests, the ERA. Finally I get it; the logic of the ruling makes sense. A few days later I am reading an article on IGF and discover the Hawaii ruling was thrown out last year.
I make an attempt at female homosexuality. I read Lesbianism Made Easy by Helen Eisenbach. The content is straightforward but the tone of writing is not. I am used to the frank and straightforward prose of the male gay authors I have been reading. Eisenbach is witty and entertaining, but she isn't leveling with me.
I read Bruce Bawer's "Lecture at St. John's Cathedral" in Beyond Queer. So much of what he says resonates with what has been building in my own conscience, I can feel blood rushing as I read. I understand the dilemma he describes, and agree with his vision of Christian love and acceptance. Yet I can't accept the liberal theological context in which Bawer presents his solutions because I think the liberal theological hermeneutic destroys the fabric and unity of Scripture. I think it even threatens the true foundations of Christian love and acceptance. But I haven't yet been able to work out a coherent alternative solution. Conscience toward my fellow human being leads one way, conscience toward my understanding of Scripture rips back the opposite direction.
November 19: I launch MusingsOn.com.
I am starting to figure out that the way to understanding lesbianism is through reading lesbian novels. There sure are a lot of them out there. I read Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest, an author Michael Nava often acknowledges at the beginning of his novels. My impression from the novel is that discovery of one's own lesbianism is, for some, a less clearly defined process than with male homosexuals, and involves as much a growing aversion to heterosexual relations as it does an attraction to other women. It is not clear whether this process demonstrates that female sexual orientation is "fluid" as some claim, or if it is simply the nature of the female sexual drive to be more subdued in adolescence, so that one's same-sex orientation is not clearly evident until later in life. Perhaps the latter theory is the reason why aversion to sexual relations with men becomes part of the self-discovery process; hence, the association of feminist politics with lesbian sub-culture? (It would be nice if some brave soul could write something that would explain all of this to me plainly.)
The following is an excerpt from a letter I recently sent to a gay Christian friend:
"You asked if I thought it's wrong to be gay . . . I've come to some conclusions that are somewhat satisfying to my own mind, but of course I'd like to know what you think because I know there aren't easy answers out there for gay Christians.
"When someone says he or she is gay, I understand that to mean that they feel an involuntary sexual attraction to people of the same sex. This is not the same as lust, which the Bible condemns whether it is heterosexually or homosexually oriented. Lust is sexually coveting another person in one's heart, and needs to be controlled by a disciplined act of the will. Sexual attraction is about sexual preference, or as some call it, orientation.
"For instance, I am heterosexually oriented not because I willed it to be so, or because I made a correct moral choice. I found myself to be this way as far back as I can remember. When I hear gay people talk about their sexual orientation, their experience sounds very similar to mine. They did not choose this, they just found themselves to be this way. You haven't done anything wrong by being gay because you didn't choose to be gay any more than I chose to be straight. I view sexual orientation as something that is mysterious and largely out of our own control, kind of like not knowing why some people find themselves left-handed and others find themselves right-handed. That's why Christians shouldn't condemn people for being homosexually oriented.
"Regarding the Bible . . . I understand the Bible to be against homosexual acts; that is, it is against acting on one's homosexual orientation. [I refer to the standard passages in Leviticus and Romans.] And so I'd have to infer that even though being gay is not a sin, it is not the way God intended people to be. Originally, God created sexual union to be between a man and a woman, between Adam and Eve. But ever since the fall of Adam, sin entered the world and now things aren't the way they should be. You might say that being homosexually inclined is 'unnatural' from a biblical standpoint; it falls short of God's original ideal.
"Because homosexuality is viewed as unnatural in this sense, the Bible forbids gay Christians from acting upon homosexual feelings. Being a Christian means we should try to live the way God intended human beings to live. Now some Christians think this means gays should become straight, but I don't think that's always realistic. Because if homosexuality is a result of the fall, then such things can't be rectified so easily. If a person can't change, I think the best thing he/she can do is accept the fact that they are homosexual, trust that God accepts them fully in Christ, and decide from there what they need to do to live the Christian life . . ."
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An excerpt from another letter I wrote to someone else shortly after:
"Basically, where I stand is that I don't believe the Bible's teachings against same-sex relations should apply to society, but only the church. Within the church, I don't think it's a sin to be homosexually-oriented and gay Christians should not be treated any differently than anyone else. I think ministries like Exodus are fine for people who really want to give it a try, that's their choice. But I wouldn't actively recommend it to anyone because I frankly think most homosexual people can't change their orientation, and the best evidence of this is the ex-gay testimonies themselves.
"As for solutions for gay Christians, that's a tough one. I feel safe with the celibacy position in that it is a position that stays clearly within biblical bounds, but I see so many practical problems with it that I would probably feel most comfortable simply supporting someone who made that decision for him/herself, rather than pushing the view on people. There are many Christians who advocate monogamous relationships or gay marriage within the church. That position makes sense practically, but biblically I struggle to find justification for it. Right now I don't think I can in good conscience recommend that solution to someone who is gay, although I would understand if a Christian brother/sister decided they needed to go that route, and I certainly wouldn't disfellowship from them [in terms of my personal friendship] for making that decision."
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Hardly a day goes by when I don't think about these things. I never before took notice when I would overhear someone make a disdainful remark about homosexuals. Now such remarks always turn my head. I never used to pay attention to those articles in the morning paper about gay issues and AIDS research; now my eye gravitates straight toward them.
Consumed with these thoughts, I have often felt anxious and alone, especially among other Christians, because the understanding I have acquired from my research is not the kind that is easily passed on to others. It is not easy to explain to people what a homosexual orientation is, let alone try to impart to them a sympathetic understanding of what it means to live as a homosexual person in society. So the knowledge became trapped inside of me and slowly began isolating me from everyone else. Lately, however, I have come to realize that I have nothing to fear because, for one thing, what I believe about homosexuality does not contradict the Bible in any way. Furthermore, my new understanding has freed me to be able to love and accept other people, regardless of orientation, the way I believe Christians ought to according to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. This has brought me great joy, and confirms to me both in my conscience and my understanding that the path I am headed on is right.
I've been doing less reading and have instead been learning mostly by talking with gay and lesbian people directly. In the beginning the books-to-people transition was hard for me, mainly because of my own anxieties about "the divide." I was afraid that I might unwittingly blurt out some offensive or insensitive remark. Undoubtedly I have had many stupid moments, but as I grew to understand better where gay people were coming from and more comfortable with my own position, my anxieties greatly subsided. People have been willing to conduct email discussions with me, and many have shared with me their personal stories. Some of those email acquaintances have became good friends. I have had phone conversations with people and have met over lunch. A couple of friends I already knew came out to me.
Last fall, one friend I had been corresponding with suddenly died. He was a Christian, and I take comfort in knowing that one day I will see him again. However, a lot of things changed for me after that, because that's when I realized how much I cared. Somewhere along the line the issues that were once merely intellectual, political or theological had ceased to be that, but became about real people whose lives mattered to me. Not just their lives, but their souls.
As a Christian, I cannot save anyone. But it is possible for me, through my conduct, to either draw people closer to the Savior whose life I represent, or to turn them away. I believe that God calls all people to be saved through Jesus Christ, and that Christians are supposed to demonstrate the love of Christ to the world. I do not think homosexual people are meant to be excluded from that love. To the contrary, I think the Bible teaches that God has a special love in his heart for the outcast, the downtrodden and the broken-hearted. Jesus certainly did. If I may dare say so, I think I'm beginning to know that love too. But I think it's something I've only begun to understand.
Updated on April 6, 2002
© 2000, 2004 by Misty S. Irons