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)