Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Queer Christmas Day Six

Here, in the middle of Christmastide, I find my thoughts turning to serious questions, spurred in some part by concerns I read from LGBT Christians online.

What do you do if you just plain don't want to be gay?

I wonder if this might not be a more pertinent question for those of us who are white and male. A while back, I came across a journal entry from 20 years ago wherein I related an incident at a worship service. I was newly out, not long out of seminary, not pursuing a church career of any kind. One of the worship leaders, to whom I was out, asked if I would be willing to do something or other in the service. He then joked, "I don't know of any rule that would bar you from doing that."

It was a harmless joke and not on me, but it struck me enough to journal about it. It brought home, in a real way, how my coming out was going to change my life. For the first time, there would be barriers to goals. As a white male, I'd never been seriously told I couldn't do anything short of giving birth.

Recently, in talking to my spiritual director, I confessed that I couldn't precisely say I was glad I was gay. This was in the context of my prayer life. The last time I'd been deeply, passionately in prayer was over 20 years ago, when I was deeply, passionately praying to have these desires taken from me. When, in the depths of those prayers, I felt the Spirit turn my prayers around on me and reveal to me that being gay was not an issue with God, I felt immense relief. I could stop that struggle! I could stop that particular wrestling and get on with my life! It was a great release to find I didn't have to somehow stop finding men emotionally and sexually attractive.

But was I glad to be gay? I admitted to my spiritual director that I didn't know if I could say that. Furthermore, having the most deeply passionate prayer I'd ever prayed essentially denied has left me a little uncertain about how to pray ever since. It's not that I don't pray at all, of course, but nothing has ever come close to the focus and energy I put into those prayers to be "released" from my "homosexual tendencies."

For some people, discovering they're gay is not only about finding freedom (there is that!) and fulfillment isn't always found in joining the Pride Parade (even if those are fun!). For some people, discovering we're gay alters our deepest hopes and dreams.

At the end of my seminary career, I knew I didn't want to pastor a church. Everything about that feels like it would eat me up. It would a self-destructive career path. At the same time, until I came out, I thought there might be other church careers for me. Coming out made those look impossible without staying deep in the closet. I met a few gay clergy and other church professionals and their lives looked like something I could not do.

So I've spent the last 20 years trying to be "secular" in my career goals. It has not been what you would call fulfilling and I was just telling the priest at my church that something still feels unfulfilled in the area of vocation. Options have opened up greatly in recent years for LGBT folk in church work, but now I have an age barrier. I'm not sure what the near future is going to hold for me.

Other people, I've discovered, have different disappointments. Any aspirations I entertained for marriage and family were mostly desires to make my parents happy. For other people, I discover, this is an enormous grief in their lives. The desire for a marriage and biological children had been a big part of what some gay folk had pictured for their adult life. For us in the United States, gay marriage may be possible, and adoption is becoming more common, but this does not fulfill some folk in the way that . . .

Well, here's what I suspect some are grieving. It's the desire to have a "normal" life. Let's face it, heterosexual folk get to marry, have children, and there's next to no barrier to it for them. At least that's what it looks like from outside that apparent normality.

Of course, some heterosexual marriages are opposed by family and society, whether it's for crossing class or racial lines or because of some other concern within the families. Of course, some heterosexual marriages do not produce biological children. Of course, there are any number of barriers to "normal" in anyone's life. I've spoken to more than one married person who "had it all" and expressed deep, deep loneliness in it all.

That's not always easy to see when you're fantasizing about an idealized life. In our fantasies, the white picket fence never has peeling paint.

I have nothing to offer but my own experience in these things. When I came out, came to realize God was not condemning me because I had crushes on men rather than women, my questions about life changed. Instead of "how do I stop being attracted to men," I realized the question could be, "if this is the circumstance of my life, how do I live faithfully?"

Given these circumstances, how do I live faithfully? This question is not only about faithfulness to God, but also the the community in which I find myself. It's not a simple question with simple answers. I have answered it with more than one failure.

Am I happy I'm gay? I don't find that a useful question. I'm content with being gay. Despite feeling a few ways that being gay has derailed my life, I'm content that this is my way of being in the world and it even opens up the world for me in some ways. It has certainly been a way into recognizing how other minorities move in the world. Being gay has been my doorway into compassion and empathy.

Would I be happier straight? I find it impossible to answer, of course. I've known enough unhappy straight people to know there are no guarantees, even when you fit the dominant paradigm.

Beloved of God, whatever your sexuality, gender, or race, all you who have heard the call of Jesus on your lives and want to live faithfully, let us turn away---repent!---of these fantasies of what we'd rather have in our lives. Let us instead look to the incarnate reality of our lives and work with God in where our gifts and skills might better reveal the Reign of God at hand.

Jesus was not born into any ideal or even "normal" reality. Neither are we. All the same, let us look for the faithful way forward.

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