Ex-Gay Lite: Celibacy–The Other Queer Lifestyle

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Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe, recently posted an article, Celibacy Shouldn’t Be the New Ex-Gay Ministry. She writes about a growing trend among former ex-gay leaders, Christian ministers, and some gay Christians who believe God is calling same-gender loving people to a life of celibacy–no sex, no marriage–a single life with no prospect of future partnership.

She writes:

But now, with more and more ex-gay ministries losing potential clients and political leverage (while also losing monies reparative therapies generated), there is a gradual shift from “curing” one’s LGBTQ sexual orientation to abstinence from it. In other words, the theological message that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination to God remain intact, but more emphasis is now placed on celibacy.

An emphasis on a discipleship to celibacy is equally as harmful and damaging as ex-gay ministries.

This message suggests we’re incurable and should execute control over our ungodly desires.

Well said! After almost 20 years living as an ex-gay and then 10 years speaking out about the harm of changing and repressing a gay identity and desires, I have strong feelings about the Celibacy option for people who have romantic and sexual attractions for people of the same gender.  Part of me can see that it is actually very queer to be a celibate gay, to abstain not only from sex but from pursuing any potential partnership or romantic attachment. Queer as in odd or not the normal or mainstream. And as a community there is room for all sort of LGBTQ people. While there are some asexual people in the world, the reality is that most people feel sexual and romantic attraction as part of their humanity. Added to that, humans proposer in relationship. All sorts of studies reveal that people who are partnered are typically happier and healthier and even live longer.

Of course fate is not always fair. Not everyone gets to partner, so a single life is a reality for lots of people straight and gay. Being committed to celibacy chastity while single is standard for many straight Christians. But believing that God does NOT want you to have a partner, that God is asking you to to build a life without the prospect of romance or an interdependent relationship, that God forbids you from forming a coupled relationship which includes all sorts of wonderful things in addition to sex, well that is VERY very rare in the heterosexual world. Why is it suddenly looming so large for gays and lesbians? (I’m assuming bisexuals get counseled by Conservatives to partner with someone of the opposite gender. And I am sure the ex-gay movement–much like portions of the gay Christian movement–still has no idea how to approach trans* people and trans* issues.)

After years of having our sexuality demonized in churches, by family members, in society in general, and particularly in ex-gay programs, I find it highly suspicious when a lesbian or gay feels that God too is encouraging them to renounce their sexuality and their future with a partner. No doubt some people in the world genuinely feel called to celibacy (gay and straight,) but very few. And when someone feels that inclination, I strongly suggest they go through a thoughtful and serious discernment process with the aid of a professional therapist (and NOT a former ex-gay leader or someone who already has a bias against same-gender love.) Rev. Monroe beautifully explains:

Our bodies are our temples, and as our temples they house the most sacred and scariest truth about us: our sexuality.

Our sexuality is an essential part of being human and it is an expression of who we are with and in our bodies. It is a language and a means to communicate our spiritual need for intimate communion-human and divine. However, as lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer children of God, our sexualities transgress the conventional gender and sexual norms.

Also, our sexualities force us all to see the walls of partition erected in our society, in our churches, and in our families that prohibit us to live freely in our bodies. These walls not only contribute to the false socialization of who we are as male and female, but they also contribute to the false spiritualization of who we are as the body of Christ.

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Caughnwaga Women by Marc Aurele de Foy Suzor Coté

There are plenty of heterosexual Christians–pastor, parents, friends, neighbors–who would love to affirm and embrace us just as we are, as long as we don’t flaunt it–act on it, live it. It is one thing to hold up a moral standard of monogamy and sex only within a committed relationship for straight and LGBTQ people alike, but to perform and celebrate heterosexual marriages while insisting that LGBTQ people must submit to celibacy is not only misguided, it is cruel. When I lived as an ex-gay and believed I could not successfully partner with a woman and was forbidden to partner with a man, I assumed I needed to live a life of single celibacy. But a strange thing happened, not only did I abstain from romance and sex, I felt it necessary to build and maintain thick walls around my life in order to protect me from potentially falling in love with friends. With no prospect for partnership or romance, I ended up going beyond a single life to an isolated one of deep solitude with no future and no hope of building a home and binding myself to someone to walk through life with me. It wasn’t the sex that I longed for, although I find physical intimacy with my husband today to be such a delicious joy, it was the whole package of mutual support, caring, affection, togetherness, sharing, and love expressed in thousands of ways.

Jesus, speaking about religious people of his day is recorded as saying, “Woe to you experts in religious law as well! You load people down with burdens difficult to bear, yet you yourselves refuse to touch the burdens with even one of your fingers!” (Luke 11:46) Then in Matthew 23 Jesus castigates religious leaders for making the life of a convert miserable: “…you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!” The Conservative Christian church, former ex-gay leaders promoting celibacy, and loved ones of LGBTQ people need to repent of their heterosexual supremacy. They need to stop bearing false witness against their LGBTQ neighbors, and they need to recognize that heterosexual unions are in no way superior to our own. The world needs more love–not constrained, micromanaged, fear-driven teaching that only serves to harm people and impoverish the church. Rev. Monroe says it best,

Christians—both straight and LGBTQ—intolerant of the wide spectrum of sexual expressions must reconcile their fear with Jesus’s mandate: “…to love one another” as stated in John 13:34 in order to experience the deepest desire and expression of spiritual communion.  

    (Featured image: Flying Sphere by Robert Tait McKenzie Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)

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This post has 4 Comments

  1. Liz on August 19, 2014 at 3:38 pm Reply

    Peterson, Thanks for this! I agree that the message that all same sex relationships are sinful/forbidden by God is a dangerous and toxic message.

    I would like to point out that practicing celibacy and practicing chastity are two different things.

    Celibacy typically comes with the promise NOT to marry while chastity is usually a promise to not have sex before marriage and comes with the option to marry … most times with the intention of marrying at some point.

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on August 19, 2014 at 3:48 pm Reply

      Liz, thanks, important point about chastity. I edited a comment above and struck-out celibacy and put in the more accurate word chastity when talking about abstaining from sex outside of marriage. As long as churches hold the same standard for heterosexual and lgbtq people, (i.e. chastity), I have no beef, but to insist on celibacy for lgbtq people, while advocating and celebrating heterosexual marriage, that is unacceptable.

  2. Myles on August 20, 2014 at 2:48 pm Reply

    Hello Peterson.

    ‘Came across your blog while preparing for the participation of members of various spiritual homes (i.e. places of worship) in Ottawa Pride. The United Church of Canada cited your blog as one source used in a glossary of gender identity and sexual orientation terms. While I agree wholeheartedly with your persuasive argument —- I write simply to questioning on your choice of images in the post, specifically Caughnwaga Women by Marc Aurele de Foy Suzor Coté. Why did you choose it?

    I am quite familiar with Suzor Coté’s work as I am a regular visitor to the National Gallery here in Ottawa. The NGO has a good collection of this Québecois artist’s paintings and small sculptures. As you may know, he depicted rural francophone Québec life at a time that the region was significantly influenced/shaped by the Roman Catholic clergy. His bronzes are, I find, quite sensual; their lines flow like the Saint Lawrence, le fleuve géant of Saint-Jean-Baptiste. In that regard, so too flow the LGBTTQ et. al. rainbow colours across an open sky.

    Thanks for your blog.

    Regards
    Myles

  3. Peterson Toscano
    Peterson Toscano on August 22, 2014 at 6:39 pm Reply

    Hi Myles, sorry for the delayed response; I was off in the woods at a Quaker camp with teenagers. Recently my husband and I travelled to Quebec and visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal. I was taken by Suzor Coté’s work, particularly Caughnwaga Women. It evoked so much emotion for me. It contained a sensuality and movement but their was also a pain and a heaviness about it. It is not a very big sculpture, but even with its modest size, it felt epic and sweeping. I was struck too by how the women seem veiled or were in hiding or protecting themselves with their clothing.

    It is a beautiful piece, and when writing the blog post above, it seemed to just fit with the pain and the longing and the sensuality of the topic of celibacy.

    Thanks for you comment!
    Peterson

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