In many ways, the part of my story that is being written these days, doesn’t look drastically different from that of the typical heterosexual Christian male. I have my little nuclear family, my wife is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools our daughter, and I lead a small group in our church.
And while I think our marriage is probably the healthiest it’s ever been, it isn’t without conflict. But the sources of conflict are usually things like parenting challenges, differences of opinion, personality differences, health-related stressors, or moments when one or the other of us is just being selfish. Typical, boring, mundane married-life problems. My sexuality doesn’t even make the cut.
But it wasn’t always this way.
When I started out on this Christian journey, I’d already spent a good portion of my childhood and teen years in guilt, shame, and fear over persistent and pervasive same sex attractions. But as a bright-eyed, newly born again evangelical college student, I was hopeful and determined to live whatever kind of life Jesus had for me. And as the traditional view was the most convincing to me, from a biblical and logical standpoint, celibacy seemed to be the path I’d be taking (though my evangelical self referred to it simply as “singleness”).
And after a couple of years and a few bumps in the road, I started to really find my footing. I had a strong group of likeminded Christian friends who were really like family to me. We could all be transparent with one another, and we encouraged each other in the faith. We lived together, ate together, laughed, prayed, sang, and struggled together. This is what I think of when I hear the term “Spiritual Friendship”.
But while this arrangement is quite conventional for college students and young twenty-somethings, modern American culture has little space for this kind of communal living in the long run. And besides, most of my friends had a desire to be married. And every time one of them would express interest in a girl, I’d feel a sudden wave of uneasiness come over me. Sure, the path I’d chosen was sustainable now, when I was part of a household of brothers, living out our Christian lives together. But once they all got married and cloistered off in their houses in the suburbs, their wife and kids now their “primary ministry”, I’d be left out in the cold.
In a fascinating plot twist, I was the first of us to get married. And less than a year later, our daughter was born. I was the first to break off from our little monastic settlement and start a new kind of family unit, and the transition was rough, to say the least.
In no time, I went from being a single college guy with very few responsibilities, to being a husband, parent, and a recent college grad at the height of the recession with little to no prospects, working a miserable job that paid just enough to keep our noses above the water. That’s in addition to this whole business of my being gay!
My wife and I both felt overwhelmed. And lonely. I think many married couples, especially those with young children can relate to that in our artificial, isolated modern environment. But the situation was only exacerbated by the fact that I felt I couldn’t admit that my sexuality was also a big factor.
We plunged into marriage trusting that God would make it work. Maybe he would turn me straight. Maybe he’d just take away my same sex attractions. We didn’t know what it would look like, but we had to believe that he would work it all out. So naturally, we just didn’t talk about it.
Meanwhile, we were both suffocating under the weight of American Christian cultural expectations. My wife went from reading Kurt Vonnegut and Anton Chekhov to reading Debbie Pearl’s books about how to be a docile housewife. I was being affected by the misogynist ramblings of preachers like Mark Driscoll who propped up heterosexual self-indulgence as Godly masculinity. And of course, since my own fallen sexual appetites didn’t match those fallen sexual appetites, I secretly felt condemned. I felt like a fraud.
Fast forward a few years, after my continued inability to live into the heterosexual script, and my diminishing ability to tolerate the hypocrisy, misinformation, and lack of grace coming from Christians in the culture war, and I was an angry, bitter man who was on the verge of tossing whatever faith I had in the trashcan.
God used many things to restore my faith and redirect my life, but without a doubt, the most prominent was the growing number of gay Christians who didn’t run from their sexuality, but had come to terms with it and were talking about healthy ways to live out their convictions. Seeing gay people who hadn’t grown to despise the church or God but were sharing their stories because of their love for and need for both was invaluable for me.
And that’s why I continue to carry on this conversation. At this point, now that my wife and I have thrown off a lot of the extra burdens we’d carried in the effort to conform to “biblical manhood and womanhood,” now that I’ve come to terms with my sexuality and can approach my relationship with my wife honestly, we’ve reached a much better place in our marriage. We could blend in quite comfortably within the church’s heteronormative framework. We could just sit back and enjoy all the ways that church life and church functions are geared toward married couples with kids.
But neither of us is interested in doing that. There are couples in MOMs who are where we were a few years ago. There are those who are considering entering into a mixed orientation marriage. There are gay Christians for whom marriage to someone of the opposite sex is not the best path forward. There are gay people in our congregations trying to process what all this means for their lives and what obedience to God looks like for them.
I realize that my situation is the most palatable for straight people in the church at large, because it makes me look just like them, and it doesn’t create any cognitive dissonance. It makes them comfortable because it effectively erases my queerness, making it invisible. But that is the last thing that sexual minorities need. They need to see that gay people have a place in the church and can flourish, even in the context of conservative Christianity which still holds to the traditional teaching on sex and marriage.
At the same time, my wife and I are careful not to let anyone retell our story and prop it up as a model for gay people in the church. Just as we don’t think it’s good for my gayness to be erased, neither do we want our story to be used to dictate to gay people what “deliverance” or “overcoming homosexuality” looks like. When I say that gay people need to see other gay people flourishing in the church, I don’t mean that they need to see us married to someone of the opposite sex. I mean they need to see us living out a variety of callings, out and in the open.
The goal is not to make gays, lesbians, and bisexuals straight, and it is not to make us appear straight. The systems and the culture in the modern church make it quite easy for me to live out my calling as a married man, so long as I refrain from saying words like “gay” or “queer” or, I don’t know, “fabulous!” But I wonder: what would it be like in your church for a few gay friends who were committed to celibacy if they decided, rather than living alone, to buy a house together and live out their days as a sort of modern monastic community? What if it were only two gay friends? Would they find a place in your congregation? Would they be embraced as full fledged members to whom are open all the opportunities for service and leadership that are open to other members? Or would they be looked at with suspicion or kept at arm’s length? Would they be conveniently overlooked or even forced out of community?
My particular Side B story brings with it some unique challenges, for sure, but it also puts me in a place of privilege that many lgb Christians don’t have. When I first started writing about faith and sexuality, it was mostly a form of catharsis. It was primarily for me. At this point, I still find it cathartic on some level, but the heart of what I’m doing is advocacy. It’s ministerial in nature.
Now that I feel I can comfortably exist within the hetero privileged modern Christian culture that emphasizes the nuclear family, I don’t want to forget all those like me who can’t. I don’t want to be the palatable kind of gay Christian whose queerness can be ignored and who doesn’t challenge the status quo. I want my story to make a difference. And so, though it is at times inconvenient and uncomfortable, I will continue to tell it.