On a recent trip I met a man who 25 years ago went into the closet and only reemerged over the past two years. He lived for a while as a gay man in the late 70’s and then in the early 80’s he fled the gay scene into a heterosexual marriage and deep into the closet.
What a different world it was then. I was just graduating high school. To be gay meant to be reviled in most circles. Conservatism and the Religious Right rose to great power and wielded a long media arm that regularly bashed gays. The primary way that it seemed you could express your “gayness” was at a seedy gay bar or an even seedier adult book store. And of course AIDS hit with a fury and was quickly labeled a “gay disease” and God’s judgment on homosexuals.
Many gay men took flight and found refuge in a heterosexual cover or in the ex-gay movement (or both). It was about that time that LIFE Ministries in NYC began their ex-gay program, and I began to attend it. As a Christian struggling with homosexuality, it seemed the only logical, sane and righteous course. I did meet a gay Christian when I was a teen. He was an adult and I was a teen, and he hit on me, so I wanted nothing to do with these fake gay Christians.
Today when I read most ex-gay testimonies of how God delivered someone from homosexuality, I hear the back-story of someone who knows the gay world as it existed in the 80’s and early 90’s. Their gay lifestyles most often consisted of cruising parks and public restrooms, of drunken binges at gay clubs, of godless irresponsible living with little regards to themselves or others. Their lives, as they describe them, were miserable, depressing and outright dangerous. And the reality is that many gay men have lived this way and some still do.
How the world has changed and is changing. Sure you can still find people living lives that they regret. This happens with both gay and straight people, but the “gay world” today is such a different one than it was 25 years ago. So many more options for connection.
Just this week I presented at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. The LGBTIQA group PRISM organized the event, and as a result, I got to hang out with the students in the club and their friends (and even one of their mothers!) This group of young folks were like nothing I would have imagined 25 years ago. For one there was no pressure to label anyone or put people into boxes. I really had no ideas who was gay or straight or bi or whatever.
It wasn’t about sex or hooking up but about shared interests in literature, foreign languages, environmentalism, film and food. I met a young man who loves the poetry of Christina Rossetti and who couldn’t wait to get back to his home so that he could hang out with the guys from the men’s Bible study–not at a gay church, just a regular independent Evangelical church that has been his spiritual home and a place he found affirmation, and as a result has been able to deepen his faith.
Now I am back in Portland, OR and I met with the Anawim community last night, a group of men who, for the last decade have met every Thursday night for a meal, Bible study and prayer. These men know each other well, help each other out of financial difficulties and all manners of personal crisis. These men love each other deeply. As we gathered, first for silent then forspoken prayer, I thought about all the people in the world, queer and straight, who long for community, who long for deep intimate relationships and a place where they can be authentic without fear of being rejected. And here is a place, a queer space for that sort of communion. And at Goucher, there is a place where you can be real and be yourself and find friends.
Now I realize that both of these communities are not perfect. I got to see them on their best behavior. I imagine people can be selfish, insensitive and stupid at times. Hey we’re talking humans here. And I do not wish to suggest that these communities are sexless. So often in the Church we have been taught that anything having to do with sex is evil and so some queer communities seem to have everything BUT sex. We are sexual beings, and that is what I see so exciting about the communities above, they seem balanced. It is not all about sex and it is not all about eradicating sex from our lives. It is about being fully formed, healthy humans in community with each other.
Some ex-gay promoters and providers live according to a template of gay life in the early 80’s. Times have changed and they are changing. Queer folks comes in all flavors and we are finding myriad expressions for our lives. We are not all holed up in a dark dingy bar somewhere waiting for a quickie. We are living our lives, full lives, spiritual lives, meaningful lives, responsible lives, lives that some folks in the 80’s like me longed to live.
That man who just reemerged after 25 years locked away in the closet, like being in a time capsule, has so many wonderful things to discover.