I’ve been living the gay lifestyle for a little over a year now. Or I guess it’s been about 27.5 years, but who’s keeping track?
I could write all day about how there really is no gay lifestyle, and how that term is rooted in ignorant, homophobic bigotry, and blah, blah, blah. Been there, done that.
I could talk about how Christians don’t know what they’re talking about when they talk about the “gay lifestyle” because they don’t care to keep gay people around, or how the stereotypical “gay lifestyle” is really just a secular lifestyle in general. I could talk about the history of the gay community and how the marginalization of gay people perpetuated by the Institutional Church has led to the very aspects of the community that it demonizes: higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, higher poverty levels, and the higher rates of mental and psychological issues and suicide that accompany all of that. I could talk about how it’s a cycle, and how education has been and will continue to be instrumental in turning the tide, and how it will be a snowball effect, and blah, blah, blah. Who cares? Everyone that is likely to agree with all that is probably already there, and everyone who strongly disagrees will most likely always strongly disagree.
I’ll try to explain what I think the Christians who are still using the term “homosexual lifestyle” really mean by it. If you don’t have much background in conservative Evangelical culture, this probably won’t make sense. If that’s your only or main background, it’ll probably be like, “Yup, what’s wrong with that?” The gap in understanding between the two worlds is staggering. I’ve definitely realized that when two people groups oppose each other on a deep fundamental level, it is very difficult for them to communicate effectively, and when we can’t communicate effectively, we just theorize about what the other group thinks and does. It’s interesting to be a gay Christian with my particular background of having been deeply ingrained within the conservative Evangelical culture and also maintaining those beliefs and values as a gay men learning about the gay community and culture as well.
At the core of the term “homosexual lifestyle” are two main aspects. One is certainly the misunderstanding about gay people and how they live, which is a combination of visible stereotypes that do exist and have come to represent the entire group. Unfortunately, the most visible gay people are visibly gay. When you’re walking down the street, you won’t notice guy who dresses, talks, moves and acts like straight men, but you will notice a gay man who dresses in more feminine clothing, wears some makeup, has a gay voice and is just noticeably gay. You don’t hear any news stories about gay men being beaten up or killed while they work at a “normal” job, but you will hear news stories about drugged out gay prostitutes who are the victim of homophobic gay bashing. Stereotypes are always rooted somewhat in the reality of a small minority of a people group that somehow represents the whole; the understanding of the “homosexual lifestyle” is often constructed from this niche stereotype based in lack of education, context and personal experience or interaction with gay people. On one hand, we can argue that it’s not reality, but on the other hand this understanding is very, very real to many people.
The other aspect is the fundamental belief that nobody is really actually gay. Many Evangelicals will never say that someone is gay or homosexual, but simply that they “struggle” with homosexuality, or SSA (same sex attraction). If someone commits homosexual acts, it is not because they are homosexual, but rather that they have simply fallen into homosexual sin. Of course they claim that this is like any other sin, but of course they don’t treat people who commit that sin like everyone else who commits every other sin. Many literally believe that everyone is straight, and that people who have gay sex are just straight people believing a lie or straight people who have lost their true identity and all that. Many still liken homosexuality to an addiction or a mental disorder, believing that it can be cured or overcome. Many pastors teach parents that if their kids tell them they are gay, they should not accept or acknowledge that sinful identity but rather insist that they are straight and work toward getting them to realize that as well. Some still believe that gay people are just deeply deceived by the enemy or possibly even demon possessed. For people who refuse to acknowledge that someone is actually gay, all they can do is say that they live a “homosexual lifestyle,” because they’re not really homosexual and they are just living as if they were. People who genuinely have this understanding actually mean well when they use the term “homosexual lifestyle.” They think it is very unloving to affirm someone as gay or say that they are gay, because they don’t think it’s really true, and it’s wrong to participate in acknowledging or accepting that as true. I can guarantee you the Evangelicals reading this are like, “He understands, praise the Lord!” Everyone without that understanding is like, “What the hell, that’s what they actually believe?” When you think that your group has a corner on the truth, people opposing and disagreeing with your views can actually be seen as a compliment, and many Evangelicals are pretty proud about having it so well figured out that everyone else can’t begin to comprehend how they draw their conclusions. To them, insisting that all LGBT people are simply living a lifestyle contradictory to their intended creation purpose is actually loving. When someone says, “No, it’s not a lifestyle, I’m just gay,” they respond, “Aha! See, you’ve made your sinful sexual desires your identity, and that’s the ultimate sin. The best way I can love you is by telling you you’re not that, and you’re really straight, and you’re just living a homosexual lifestyle.” What ends up happening is that Evengelicals think they’re showing love and grace by through some Christian version of tough love that’s like “We love you and we’re not trying to change you because you really are equal…but for real, change because you’re not really equal until you accept you’re really equally, as in equally straight.” Of course, gay people always need some special version of love and grace, and of course, only straight people are in a position to communicate or demonstrate what that looks like.
I’ve also written before about ex-gay speakers. There are a few of them still out there, but even the ones who say they have left the “homosexual lifestyle” don’t admit that they’re straight. I think it’s excellent that they realized that a lifestyle full of drugs and promiscuous sex was empty and meaningless, and I’m delighted that they found joy and peace in a relationship with Jesus. If they’ve committed not to engage in homosexual behavior because they genuinely feel that’s God’s purpose for their life, more power to them as they try their best to walk in obedience. The fact that 99.9% of people who once claimed that God miraculously changed them from gay to straight have now denounced that idea and apologized for the damage caused by communicating that message doesn’t mean that it isn’t very, very real for that 0.1%. Who am I to say what someone else’s experience with God has or hasn’t been? To a rational, logical and educated thinker, it is much easier to draw the conclusion that people feel a lot of freedom, peace and joy after leaving an unhealthy destructive lifestyle, whether gay or straight, and join a church where they feel people genuinely love and care for them.
The deeply ingrained human need to belong in and identify with a safe and accepting people group can sometimes be extremely compelling and influential, and many people will do and say whatever is expected and required in order to belong. Christianity isn’t supposed to hinge on lifestyle, but when it comes down to it, it really does. An internal relationship with Christ is only valued to the extent that it is visible in lifestyle, and any lifestyle lived by someone who says that they are gay is simply unacceptable. If you present yourself as self-loathing sinner struggling with sexuality, you can stay, but the minute you communicate that you’re gay you’re equal, you’re out. They can’t have people walking around and teaching that God is really who He is, someone using scripture to communicate truth that they fundamentally agree with in ways that they fundamentally disagree with. After all, what would Jesus do? He wouldn’t live that lifestyle, would He?
So about my own lifestyle. To be honest, it is different today than it was a year ago. I would like to say that the difference has nothing to do with being gay, or being openly gay or whatever. Ultimately, it was coming out that sparked a lot change because I had to proactively reevaluate everything in my life. When someone in a position like mine comes out, it’s not just the coming out that’s hard, but the whole restructuring of what was believed to be so real for so long. It doesn’t just challenge your ideas about sexuality, sin, love, grace and identity, but really your ideas about everything. That’s super, super overwhelming, especially when it happens all at one. It definitely plays a role in prolonging stress and anxiety, which snowball into depression, which has many other side effects. To be honest, my lifestyle before I came out was much more mentally, psychologically, physically and spiritually destructive than whatever “homosexual lifestyle” I live now. It’s nobody’s fault but my own that I allowed my avoidance of reality evolve into the idea that living what’s expected of a “Christian lifestyle” was the true indicator of my relationship with Christ and essential to my righteousness and salvation.
I am convinced that God would rather have me alive and loving and serving Him as an openly gay man than dead because I would rather be dead than live a “homosexual lifestyle.” I am convinced that that is true of everyone who is LGBT, but unfortunately I don’t think may Evangelicals see it that way.
Evangelicals tend to think that there is a lot of unhappiness in the LGBT community simply because they are LGBT, and that means they can’t possibly have a healthy relationship with God. They use statistics about higher rates of mental health challenges like depression, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and higher rates of suicide to highlight how the “homosexual lifestyle” is plagued with sin and unhappiness. The understanding is kind of the homosexuality is the result of all this brokenness, and all the brokenness is the result of living that inherently sinful lifestyle. The only proposed response is to keep them segregated until they understand that they’re really straight, because they can’t be included in the full life of The Church as if they are really equals until they realize they’re really equals. The idea that a gay Christian is actually equal whether they say they’re straight or gay, whether they marry or not, or whether they stay celibate or not, is completely foreign.
When it comes down to it, Jesus set the perfect example of how to live a godly lifestyle. I could write a lot about what that means, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. Obviously I’m pretty stubborn, and that can be both a good thing and bad thing. When I decided to follow Jesus no matter what, I meant it, and I’m extremely stubborn about that commitment. Trusting God enough to come out and maintain my faith through some pretty difficult circumstances has enabled me to understand and live into what I can only hope is a Christ-like lifestyle, not even though it’s a homosexual lifestyle, but because it’s a homosexual lifestyle.