I Can’t Embrace You; I Can’t Let You Go

Currently I’m reading Michael Warner’s book The Trouble with Normal–Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. In it Warner writes about the process of being stigmatized by the general society and the effects this process has on our identity, particularly the ambivalence the stigmatized persons may feel when faced with examples (drag queens, leather festivals, flamboyantly feminine men) of the group(s) in which they “belong”. (This works for us Christians when we see someone extreme like a screaming thoughtless preacher on the street corner. Or for Quakers when one of us misbehaves and supports the war or God forbid, Israel.)

As someone who lived ex-gay for nearly two decades, when I came “out” I wanted nothing to do with what I thought of as the shady side of the gay lifestyle. I wanted to be a “good gay”, an example to the rest of the gay hating world that we are not all wild and crazy. This did not rise out of my faith or morals, but from the revulsion I learned from the mainstream towards the groups into which I was somehow lumped as “one of THEM”.

Warner quotes Erving Goffman who writes about the stigmatized person,

Whether closely allied with his own kind or not, the stigmatized individual may exhibit identity ambivalence when he obtains a close sight of his own kind behaving in a stereotyped way, flamboyantly or pitifully acting out the negative attributes imputed to them. The sight may repel him, since after all he supports the norms of the wider society, but his social and psychological identification with these offenders holds him to what repels him, transforming repulsion into shame, and then transforming ashamedness itself into something of which he is ashamed. In brief, he can neither embrace his group nor let it go.

I can totally see this reaction among many gay Christians I have known (and as I said above, I’ve seen it in myself). But I also think I see it among ex-gay leaders who for all that they have repudiated all things gay, still hang onto a gay identity, albeit an inverted one.

The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference
this summer with the Exodus Ex-Gay Freedom Conference (ex-gay) right up the road reminded me that ex-gays and ex-gay survivors are kin. In fact, we may be more closely aligned with each other than with any other groups of which we belong. We share many of the same experiences, good and bad. We have carried the same hopes and fears. And we have all felt at one time or another like outcasts in the worlds we have sought to call our own.

This post has 2 Comments

  1. Joe Moderate on October 26, 2007 at 5:02 pm Reply

    Thanks for this post, Peterson. You touch on something that is uncomfortable for me to address, because I know it’s part of me. When I came out, I wanted to “prove” myself to be different than the “gays gone wild.”

    To some extent this is has been normal behavior for me. e.g. I wasn’t a bar-hopper before I came out, so I guess it’s not big surprise that I’m not a bar-hopper now that I’m out. But I do acknowledge that I have a stigma about “gay bars.” And I don’t like the stigma that I have.

    I also noticed that I have a stigma about flamboyant men… but that stigma has been slowly draining away over time. It’s not NEARLY as big a deal to me if I’m around a flamboyant man than it was to me when I was in an ex-gay program. I feel that’s progress.

    But I know I’ve got more of this internalized homophobia and stereotypical stigmas left to deal with.

    Thanks for the challenge.

  2. Journeyman on October 26, 2007 at 7:49 pm Reply

    If I wanted to summarize over a year of blogging into one paragraph, the one you quoted might just do it. Thanks, Peterson, for once again bringing words to me that so thoroughly describe how I think and feel.

    Take care, my friend.

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