Unclean–Christian with Same-Sex Attractions

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.

Peterson first grade

Peterson first grade

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.

Blooming Cemetery

Blooming Cemetery

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.

Veiled Lady by Pietro Rossi

Veiled Lady by Pietro Rossi

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.

Corene by Jonathan Green

Corene by Jonathan Green

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.

This post has 8 Comments

  1. Virginia on March 18, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    A story about the word “Unclean” –

    I have felt a special connection to the parable of the Good Samaritan ever since I read my grandfather’s sermon notes in which he wrote that the Samaritans of today are the outcasts who would be considered unacceptable as ministers of the Word or co-missionaries and would instead be seen only as targets for mission. He wrote that the Samaritans of today might be gifted female pastors, unorthodox theologians, and homosexuals in our church. I found and read those sermon notes years after he died, but they created a special connection for me to the parable (and to him). My dad is also a pastor, though far more conservative, and one year his church music director wrote and produced a musical based on the story of the Good Samaritan. The church framed the entire musical around the theme of race relations – which of course can also be a message within the story – but as my dad playing the priest in the production walked around singing “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! STAY AWAY! STAY AWAY!” I heard the voice of the church yelling “unclean, stay away” about me and other queers. It was simultaneously powerful and sad, as I realized that this congregation was missing something HUGE in the story by reducing it to “only” a matter of racial prejudice and not seeing the much bigger picture of diversity in God’s good creation.

  2. Beth on March 18, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Thank you again Peterson. I’ve never looked at that story in that light before. It is a very powerful image. Thank you for more soul food.

    Thinking of you in Hartford,

  3. The Muser on March 18, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Really beautiful. Thanks!

  4. John on March 18, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Peterson, thanks for sharing your life with everyone. As I read your experiences, I can also relate to the church being anti-anything and everything that they do not understand. I’m glad that God accepts us as we are and we do not have to “clean up” ourselves to come into His presence. He sent His Son to exchange our sinful nature so that we might take on His nature.

    Because of your postings, I have starting thinking again about how I might be used by God to reach out to the hurting and abused.

    Thanks again and may you always experience the closeness of God and may He continue to give you insite into Him.

  5. Sheriah in SA on March 18, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    First, that is such a cute photo! Aaaww, it’s so sweet, it made me feel like I wana a child like right here, right now!(Just joking). Secondly, am laughing reading this. Peter, why do I have the feeling I was in your mind when you were writing this; “I was gay before the abuse”, plus your talk being gay and christian, worship etc? Its like you were saying, “Sheriah must get this through her head!” lol. Peter darling, I will never get it even if you wrote a book.. I will only get it when, if I have a son and he’s gay! Oh, by the way, my dream is to have a boy not a girl when I have a child. My friends always ask, why don’t want a girl? I tell them I dont know, I just have this feeling of wanting a boy for a child! (Ooops, am I allowed to get personal on this blog?) And Peter, how come I never saw your effiminate side when we were at christian voice?

  6. Sheriah in SA on March 18, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Sorry about any errors in my post. Its so late here in south africa, its midnight, in bd and dozing. I just had to finish off some work. In my previous comment, I meant to say, it made me feel like I wana HAVE a child(as in conceiving), right here, right now! That blood story of that woman is a very powerful story..

  7. Brittanicals on March 19, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Thank you for sharing more pieces of your puzzle Peterson. I hope that you find more healing each time you tell the story.

    As a side note, my god, what a cute little boy! Did you know how to “work” those eyes to get what you wanted? 🙂 Do you still? My son Jesse has eyes like that, he is sixteen at taller than me, and I still don’t like to see the flash of sadness when he is disappointed. His dad always say “say no, and don’t look at the eyes.”

    Take care.

  8. Valorie Zimmerman on March 19, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Your post stirs up so many feelings it’s difficult to write. One thing I know — you were a darling boy. You are a darling boy. Anyone who made you feel ashamed and unclean is guilty of a great wrong.

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