Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Coming Out

When I ask Christians about their views on homosexuality, I tend to get a lot of positive statements such as:
  • "You know what, God loves gay people too"
  • "That's not for me to judge"
  • "Gays are welcome here"
  • "It's all about God's grace"
I appreciate this attitude, because it's light years beyond the original Old Testament mandate to put homosexuals to death (Leviticus 20:13). Interestingly, this positive attitude toward homosexuality is very different from the view I developed as a child growing up in church. I think I understand why.

The church's fundamental beliefs about homosexuality haven't changed:
  • Living an actively gay lifestyle means you're living in unrepentant sin
  • You're a broken/deviant/wrong version of what God wants for you
  • You need to be repaired by becoming straight
  • You're in danger of hell
So while I appreciate concealing these fundamental beliefs with more positive statements, the church's fundamental beliefs seem to play a much stronger role in shaping a child's view of homosexuality. That was my experience growing up in the church, and that of most other boys I knew. I did not consider gay men to be real men, but wholly emasculated, covered in shame, sexually/spiritually debased, and hell-bound.

I never questioned these fundamental beliefs, nor had a real problem with them since I'd never met any gay people. I was always attracted to women, but did have occasional gay fantasies, despite my concrete conviction that it was wrong. I never seriously questioned my heterosexuality, but sometimes did wonder if I'd end up experimenting with homosexuality at some point.

The idea of engaging in homosexual acts was occasionally exciting while I was fantasizing. But after the mood passed, I was ashamed because I did not view gay men as real men. I figured that if I ever really had such an encounter, I would never be able to hold my head up again, wouldn't be able to live with myself. I'd developed homophobia from a church that claims not to be homophobic.

In my mid 20's I had my collapse of faith for unrelated intellectual reasons. It then dawned on me that I'd developed my view of homosexuality entirely at church, so I decided to reassess. I quickly realized that, short of a religious conviction, I couldn't find anything wrong with being gay.

Apart from "God says so", I tend to get these responses when asking Christians why they believe homosexuality is wrong:
  1. Homosexuals cannot reproduce together
  2. Homosexuals tend to be promiscuous
  3. Anal sex is physically dangerous
  4. Homosexuality is often linked to emotional trauma in the individual's past. Their best life would have been realized without that trauma, and they would likely have been straight. God still wants them to experience their best (heterosexual) life.
Here is my assessment of each argument:
  1. My parents have had sex hundreds, maybe (definitely) thousands of times, and have reproduced only 3 times. In the vast majority of sexual encounters, reproduction is not the goal, but rather is actively avoided (unless you're Catholic). Anyone who cannot physically reproduce, whether straight or gay, has several other options including my favorite, adoption.
  2. Heterosexuals also tend to be promiscuous.
  3. This is specifically an argument against anal sex, not homosexuality as a whole (same-sex love, other sexual acts, lesbianism, etc). Anal sex does indeed pose risks. Compared to the vagina, the anus does not naturally lubricate, the internal tissue is more prone to tears, and therefore poses a greater risk for spreading STDs. These risks are mitigated by safe practice (prudent partner selection, lots of lube, condom, no rough-stuff, stop if it hurts, etc). So, is anal sex worth the risk? The answer is simple: decide for yourself, and I'll decide for myself! That's the same answer I'd give to someone who asks if rock-climbing (or any competitive sport for that matter) is worth the risk. On another note, some repercussions of anal sex are rather exaggerated by anti-homosexuals, for example, the claim that anal sex leads to fecal incontinence later in life. This is largely propaganda (there is no epidemic of incontinence in older gay males, just ask them).
  4. Let's assume it's true that homosexuality is linked to childhood trauma, that it's a debilitation of sorts (which I don't believe). To then tell the "debilitated" gay person that they should stop being gay is like telling a paraplegic that she should walk. While some debilitations can be overcome through therapy, some cannot. All evidence (look no further than the incredible failure rate of ex-gay ministries like Exodus) indicates that a person's sexual preference cannot be changed by will-power, therapeutic or religious methods. Regardless of why someone became gay, the point is, they're now gay. When someone comes out of the closet, it is emotionally healthy to accept their homosexuality, and emotionally damaging to encourage them to be heterosexual.
Once I'd broken down the arguments against homosexuality, my feelings toward homosexuality began to gradually soften. As I actually met a few homosexuals, I noticed that they tend to be some of the most mature and interesting people, no doubt strengthened and stretched by the struggles they've endured living in a somewhat homophobic society.

I became intrigued by the sexual sameness inherent in homosexuality. Don't get me wrong, I very much appreciate the beautiful "opposites attract" paradox of heterosexuality. It's an unrivaled adventure to dive into the mysterious world of a woman's sexuality, attempt to learn how she works, and develop a sexual chemistry. But I'm intrigued by the idea of sleeping with someone who knows male sexuality first-hand as I do, someone who wants and feels essentially the same things I do. Just as there are beautiful unique aspects of heterosexuality, there must be beautiful unique aspects of homosexuality. I can understand why some might choose one, and others choose the other.

So, this is a former homophobe's "coming out" of the homo-friendly closet. I'm a heterosexual who has had occasional gay fantasies, and I affirm homosexuality as every bit as righteous and acceptable as heterosexuality. I believe any two consenting adults should be able to love each other romantically, marry, and raise a family together. I see no reason to discriminate one couple from another based on their genders.

The fact that many Christians today use such positive statements to express their views on homosexuality indicates to me that the fundamental Christian beliefs on homosexuality do not strongly resonate in their hearts. That is a great sign that the Christian culture is continuing to move in the right direction, away from obsolete ancient legalisms. But the fundamental beliefs on homosexuality are still deeply engrained and taboo in Christian culture. I'm enthused to see that certain progressive denominations are boldly showing affirmation for homosexuality, and look forward to the day when the church of my childhood can do the same.