I remember how dirty and shameful I felt as a teenager. I think a lot of it had to do with the reality that I had been sexually abused by an older guy when I was quite young–seven, eight and nine years old. Through the abuse, I was imprinted with shame. Like many survivors of abuse, I felt responsible, guilty and dirty. To make matters worse, I enjoyed some aspects of it while feeling disgusted by other parts.
Even before the abuse, I was gay, different from most of the boys in my class, slightly effeminate, sensitive, and I would have crushes on other boys and some male teachers. The abuse did not make me gay, but it did create conflict in my young psyche. It caused me to have a complicated and combative relationship with my own body, my sexuality and my sense of self.
To make matters worse, I lived in a world that made it clear that effeminate guys who liked other guys were faggots and not welcome. The shame heaped on me through the awful abuse got compounded by the shame foisted on me on the playground, from the pulpit, and even in the press, where they gave anti-gay spokespeople like Jerry Falwell a platform to spew their intolerance and hostility towards non-straights.
Christine Bakke, the co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay, jokes about how one year her church had an alternative to a Halloween party. They didn’t do Halloween because of all of the supposedly evil and demonic aspects to it. Instead they had a fall celebration that mirrored Halloween with the condition that all costumes had to be based on people from the Bible. In a brilliant stroke of prophetic irony, Christine dressed up as a leper wrapped in dirty rags. She shuffled around the party shouting out “Unclean! Unclean!” Little did she know that this was a foreshadow of her own experience in church and with some family members when she would later reveal she was lesbian.
As a Christian in an anti-gay church that espoused the doctrine, “Love the sinner; hate the sin,” I got the message loud and clear–You are unclean. They took a warlike stance on issues of gender variance and gay orientation even fighting against legislation designed to extend rights to LGBT people. They saw us as second-class citizens who did not deserved to be recognized by the law. In the church we were denied access to places of ministry based on the fact that we had gay desires–even when we remained celibate. (Not something I was always successful at attaining).
I swallowed the lie that I was unclean and acted on what seemed logical–I did everything in my power to get clean. I loved those songs about getting washed in the blood of Jesus. I spent hours daily in prayer, Bible study, worship and surrender to God with the constant pursuit for holiness, separation to God. To me this meant the complete annihilation of all things gay and a companion-less existence (unless I could achieve a miraculous level of heterosexuality or bisexuality.)
These feelings of uncleanness, reinforced by teachings from ministers and ex-gay leaders, deepened the shame I felt and led me to harm and punish myself. I put myself in many risky situations as a form of passive suicide. I felt I deserved to get beat up or to contract HIV. It’s no wonder that I also submitted to so many years of humiliating and dangerous treatment at the hands of ex-gay therapists and ministers.
Like the “woman with the issue of blood” in Mark chapter five, I not only had a genuine problem (unresolved childhood abuse issues, depression, self-hatred), I also had the constant pressure of living in a society that saw a gay orientation and gender variance as taboo.
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about this Bible story and how it relates to my own life.
Over 12 years she goes from doctor to doctor spending all she has, and she only grows worse. Not only does she suffer from a physical infirmity, but according to Leviticus 15:19-30 this woman in Jesus’ day is considered unclean. She cannot touch anyone or anything without making them unclean. She endures 12 years of misery without intimate relationships, with the stigma of being an untouchable. She has an issue of blood, but worse, she lives in a society that has an issue with blood and with women.But then she does the unthinkable. She touches Jesus; she presses through the crowd mobbing him, and she reaches him. Her bleeding stops immediately, and Jesus says, “Go, in peace. Your faith has healed you.”
Although wrapped up in shame and fear, she somehow accesses a place of goodness and faith inside of her that defied the message of her day. Jesus doesn’t take credit for this healing, instead he says, YOUR faith has healed you. You had what it took to find the answers that you need. She still remained a woman who lived in a world that oppressed women, and I am sure she continued to menstruate monthly thus making her unclean in some people’s eyes and the Levitical law, but she found a way to break through that wall of shame and uncleanness. She found peace in the midst of the struggle.
This story speaks to me about my own struggles to try to become heterosexual. Like that woman, I live in a society that has a problem with ME–a same-gender loving person. For us queer folks this creates a bigger problem than any of the actual issues we may face (depression, sex addiction, lust, emotional dependency, unresolved childhood abuse).
As a result, I went from place to place, minister to minister, program to program trying to fix my “problem”. I believed that if I were no longer attracted to other men, my life would be normal and my problems would go away. But like that woman in the story, I only got worse.
I see myself in this story. It is not about Jesus healing my homosexuality as I so long hoped and pursued. It is instead Jesus helping me to see that I can come near regardless of what others may have to say about Gay Christians. Sure I have needed healing from the abuse I suffered. I also needed to learn how to treat myself and others with dignity. But I did not need healing for being gay. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I now see my orientation as one of the many gifts God has given to me.
As a Christian who is also openly gay, I still pursue holiness–a surrender to God with a commitment to understand and do God’s will for my life. I have been on a journey to no longer conform to the patterns of this world with its homophobia and misrepresentation of gay lives. I work to be transformed by the renewing of my mind as I read history, science, personal narratives, and spiritual writings that unearth the reality of gay orientation and gender diversity in all of creation.
Through much of my religious church experiences, I received the message that I was unclean, unworthy, unwelcome. Through my experience with Christ, I have found that I have a treasure inside of me, rare and precious gifts from God.