"I struggle with same-sex attraction."
These words have rolled off my tongue quite a few times over the past year. As I share my story with a growing number of friends and family, the hardest part has actually been figuring out what words to use to describe...well...this part of my story. There is a lot of bulky language and creative verbal tap-dancing to avoid labeling...well...the issue? Ordeal? Condition?
The label I finally settled on was "same-sex attraction." This is a very clean, scientific sounding term. It sticks to the basics and makes no assumptions. I am a person who is attracted predominantly to persons of my own sex. That about covers it, right?
Lest anyone get the idea that I'm okay with this arrangement, I've usually added the words, "I struggle with" to my description. See, I'm not just same-sex attracted...I'm fighting it. I'm dealing with it. Don't worry, I hate this part of myself just as much as you do.
That's what I'm trying to tell you when I say I struggle with same-sex attraction.
But is that right? Is it really a struggle? What does that even mean?
[Okay guys, I'm about to do something all of my college professors hated, but at least it's not in my introduction. Get ready...]
Merriam-Webster (ah there it is) gives the following definition of the word struggle: "to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition." Also: "to proceed with difficulty or with great effort." Both of these definitions describe different parts of my life...but do they actually describe how I relate to my same-sex attraction?
Let's take the first definition...strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulty or opposition. I do see this kind of struggle in my life. I struggle with idolatry. I struggle with arrogance and pride. I struggle with lethargy and gluttony. I struggle with lust.
How about the second definition? Proceeding with great difficulty or effort? I have plenty of this kind of struggle to go around too. I struggle with insecurity. I struggle with my appearance. I struggle with loneliness. I struggle with the messiness of community. I struggle with fear and anxiety.
But none of this answers my question. Do I actually struggle with that fact that I'm attracted to other guys?
I don't think so.
It's not something I ever chose for myself...nor would I if given the opportunity. But it's there, whether I like it or not. It's been there--for as long as I can remember--and if the studies are right, it's probably not going anywhere.
You could call this my sexual orientation. In fact, it'd probably be helpful to call it that...because I'm pretty sure that's what it is.
I don't struggle with my height. I don't struggle with my skin color or my ethnicity. I don't struggle with the color of my eyes, the sound of my voice, or the size of my feet. I don't struggle with my family of origin. I don't struggle with the fact that I'm an INFJ. I don't struggle with the fact that I'm a man.
I didn't choose or decide any of these things, but they all impact my life--to various degrees. The part I sing in choir, the shoes I buy, the position I play in basketball, the high blood pressure that runs in my family, the privilege I have in modern American society...all of these things are impacted by forces outside my control, for better or for worse.
You could say these things are part of my identity. None of them encompass who I am, but all together, they start painting a vivid picture of what it means to be me.
At the end of the day, our sexual orientation--who we are naturally attracted to--is one of these integral parts of who we are. It doesn't define us, but it has a dramatic impact on our lives and relationships. If you're straight, the fact that you're attracted to the opposite gender plays a pretty important role in your life...am I right?
So why do I insist on referring to my sexual orientation in the same way I refer to my unhealthy diet or a sinus infection? Is it a bad habit...an illness...an enemy to be conquered? Like every other part of who I am, my sexuality has been bruised and broken by the Fall, but also, like every other part of who I am, it has beauty, it has purpose, and it is being redeemed.
I wrote a post back in February (check it out here...it's one of my favorites) about coming to grips with my sexual orientation, about the first time I was able to write the words "I'm gay" in my prayer journal, and about the freedom and relief it brought me to pray those words.
But here's the thing...those words have stayed in my prayer journal. They haven't escaped the leather bound cover [except in the picture above...but you get my point] You see, I'm still torn about the word "gay." It's taken on all kinds of meaning and connotations in our society. It's packed with mental images and assumptions. Many of these assumptions are unfair and based in stereotype, yet there they are. People hear me say, "I'm gay," and they assume I want to date, marry, and have sex with a man. Some will hear me say, "I'm gay," and no matter how well they know me or for how long, they'll see me as part of an agenda...aligning with the enemy.
There will be churches that will not hire me, simply because of those two little words.
That makes me anxious...and it hurts.
Because honestly, saying "I'm gay" says no more about my lifestyle than someone saying, "I'm straight." Your grandmother and Kim Kardashian might both be heterosexual, but that's likely where the similarities end.
My "gay lifestyle" probably doesn't look too different than that of many single, straight, Christian guys in their mid-20's. I watch football. I hike. I shop at Goodwill. I eat frozen pizza and lots of peanut butter sandwiches. Grabbing a beer with a few friends is my idea of "night life." My room's a mess. I'm not a good dancer. I listen to Mumford & Sons. I've never had sex. I go to church every week, but I don't read my Bible nearly as much as I should. I'm not saying any of this makes me better than anyone else...it's just who I am. I'm gay, but I might not fit your stereotype.
I don't struggle with being "gay."
I do struggle with the implications of being gay, especially since I believe the Bible says that to act on my attractions would be contrary to God's will.
I do struggle with the loneliness that comes with singleness. I do struggle with the fear of what a life of singleness could look like. I do struggle with the shame of believing my brokenness is somehow worse than everyone else's. I do struggle with the insecurity that comes from living life behind a mask. I do struggle with anxiety in my friendships with other guys, always afraid of getting too close. I do struggle with anger when I hear fellow Christians make hurtful, ignorant statements about gay people. I do struggle to keep my heart pure...just like every follower of Jesus.
My identity is not found in my sexual orientation. I am not defined by the fact that I'm attracted to guys. My identity is found in Jesus Christ, and I am defined by His record. He is the foundation, the rock that the rest of my identity is built on.
There are many different parts of my identity, many different facets that make up who I am. My sexual orientation is one of those parts...and it's an important one! But my identity is centered and built on Jesus. Each and every aspect of our identity is subject to His authority. My sexuality must be subject to Jesus, just like yours must. As I seek to take up my cross and follow Him, I believe that means laying down my sexuality at His feet...giving up my desires, ever for a committed, monogamous same-sex relationship, and trusting that He is sufficient.
That is not easy. It's quite difficult, actually*, and it's rather controversial too. It's a struggle.
So no, friends, I don't struggle with my same-sex attraction. I struggle with living faithfully as a child of the King.
And that's what we all struggle with.
Grace & peace,
Your Brother Behind the Mask