Tuesday, August 16, 2005

2. Thoughts on Stranger at the Gate

I started reading "Stranger at the Gate: to be Gay and Christian in America" last night. I think the title is pretty self-explanatory as to what the book is about. It's basically his life story -- I've gotten as far as the end of high school.

So, here are my thoughts so far. I haven't gotten to any arguments he has to base his opinion that gay relationships are okay... So far he basically seems to be saying that it's okay because the desire exists -- which is a weak argument at best. I have all kinds of desires that aren't okay. I've been feeling frustrated and angry lately and really desiring to hit someone...actually, it's more like a desire to beat someone about the face until they are a bloody mess... it's a pretty violent and graphic fantasy I've been having lately...and just because I have this desire does not mean it's okay.

I do agree with one thing he keeps saying though, and I don't know if I'll be able to express this adequately, but I'll try. I agree with his premise that it is a shame... to the point of almost being a crime that gay people -- especially Christian gay people -- aren't able to express or experience things that are perfectly natural without experiencing so much guilt that it cripples them.

Now, I know some (most) Christians will disagree about whether being gay is 'perfectly natural', and I'm going to leave that alone for now because that's not what I'm talking about. And I know that some (most) Christians will disagree that having any gay encounters would be 'perfectly natural'... and I'm going to leave that alone because that's not what I'm talking about either.

I'm talking about the crushes, or the girls I pass on the street who are really pretty, or that girl who asked me what time it was and I got so nervous I dropped everything I was holding... I'm talking about the feelings.

I read a chapter on homosexuality in another book the other day called "Sexual Sanity", and it referred to homosexuality as an obsession. The pastor I mentioned before referred to it (only once that I can recall) as a sexual addiction... and these are the people who are trying to be compassionate... they listen to gay people describe their desires, and that's how they label them -- obsessive, or addictive -- it's ridiculous. Part of the problem, I think is that when you put words to some things, they end up sounding so important, or significant, when really they're not that big a deal.

For example, the other day I went to observe a friend teaching and adult ESL class. I sat at the back, looking through some teaching materials she had given me as all the students came in behind me. As each of them would open the door to the room, I would reflexively turn around to look at them... and then she walked in... this incredibly beautiful woman, just stunning. We made eye contact and she smiled, and my heart rate jumped a bit as I watched her take her seat. I forced myself to go back to looking at my papers. After a few minutes, I'd had enough of reading grammar exercises, so I looked up and looked around, and when I got to her, she was looking at me. I don't know if she had been already looking at me, or if we just happened to look at the same time, but man, I was immediately nervous. She smiled again, and nodded, and I felt this electricity go through me...my arms were tingling, and some rather massive butterflies were flying around in my stomach. I had a flashing thought about what it might be like to kiss her. And then she laughed -- someone near her must have said something really funny because it was a belly laugh, she threw her head back and opened her mouth wide and laughed -- it was exquisite. I forced myself to look away, and then class began, and that was it.

So, I've put words to something that happened the other day...and it sounds like it's something huge, but it wasn't. It was really nothing, actually. It took way longer for me to write out what happened than it took for it to actually happen. If I were to explain this to a Christian with a certain philosophy of what being gay is about they would focus on the involuntary aspect of it... my physical response, how I couldn't help thinking about kissing her, how I had to force myself to look away... but those things are normal. If you were to take me out of that story and put a man in my place the story would change for them, it would be normal for a man to react that way to a beautiful woman, almost sweet and romantic. And, honestly, not that big a deal... But because it's me -- a woman, it's a huge thing, even though I've already acknowledged that I'm gay, which means I'm attracted to women. If I exhibit any symptoms of being attracted to women, they are defined as obsessive, even though being attracted to actual, literal women is the natural result of... well, being attracted to women. It's not like I go out seeking women to be attracted to, or that when I find one I can't help but obsess about her, it just happens.

And here's the thing that bothers me most about this... the guilt and the shame. I have felt so guilty about finding women attractive, and the way I can't help but react to beautiful women, that it has totally affected my relationship with God. I feel too dirty to pray, or read the Bible... and yet, I haven't done anything wrong. I've never come close to doing anything with a woman, and for the most part, it's not like my thoughts wander into the sexual realm every time I find myself attracted to a woman -- the furthest my thoughts will usually go in that direction is thinking about what it might be like to kiss them.

This actually occurred to me before I read any of "Stranger at the Gate", it occurred to me that day after my friend's ESL class, when I started to feel guilty about 'lusting' after this beautiful woman. It just suddenly occurred to me that I wasn't lusting. I never once looked at her body and thought anything lewd... I never once thought anything sexual about her at all, unless you count the fleeting thought I had about kissing her as sexual, and even if you do, it was only a thought for a second, I didn't dwell on it, so I don't think it counts. I went home and thought about all the meetings I'd had with my pastor about this, and how I had used the word 'lust' to describe my feelings for women so often, and how silly this was, because except for a few isolated incidents, it's not lust, it's attraction -- and that's normal. I'm gay, I'm going to be attracted to girls...if I wasn't, then I wouldn't be gay, would I? But I end up using the world 'lust' because I feel such guilt and shame about it, that it has to be sinful, right? I go to try and confess my sins, but there's nothing to confess of, and I can't repent in all honesty because I know it will happen again because it's not anything I do, it's something I feel, and I can't stop myself from feeling it. So my confession and repentance feel false, which makes any sort of intimacy with God seem like something I'm not worthy of.

So... those are my thoughts based on the first section of Mel White's book. I don't know that I'm going to agree with him, but he has obviously made me think.


Eric said...

Hey JJ. Neither of us are alone in any of this. It so feels like it though sometimes doesn't it? I can relate with the feelings of guilt and shame for simply seeing a guy (in my case) and being attracted.

It's tough and i used to be one of those that believed without a doubt that being gay was a sin. Now, i've taken a step back to reassess and explore it from all angles. It's a journey...and there are others on it....let's walk together!

Rebecca said...

Hi JJ. Thank you for your honesty and for illuminating the fact that there's a bit (to say the least) of a double standard when it comes to homosexual and heterosexual attractions. If I felt that way about a guy no one would ever blink twice (and my fantasies have definately been more graphic than those you describe).

Anonymous said...

I'd like to disagree about the attraction part. I think that being attracted is normal, it's acting on that attraction that might be considered wrong, and I'd say for both homosexual and heterosexual. I think that for heterosexuals, to act on their attraction is a sin just as much for a homosexual to do so because God made a covenant and it's supposed to be in marriage that you have sexual relations with your significant other. Of course, there is still that issue of marriage between two homosexuals that we have to deal with. But to feel that attraction - no I'd say that it's very normal, regardless, and that to act on it would be the sin, not the feelings. But I do I understand your struggle. I personally have struggled to figure out where I fall in the category -whether I'm attracted to guys or girls - and I still feel like I haven't figured it out. I'd lean that I'm more into guys, but then occasionally a woman will attract my attention and I'll get that butterfly feeling you mentioned. Personally - I think I'm attracted to the mind more then anything. But who knows...keep walking though - and keep having faith in God, because He will lead you through!