I’m happy as a gay man. In fact, with the exception of when I sit down to write about it, I rarely think about being gay. It’s simply a fact, fading into the details of life. I think of myself as simply Stephen, with a myriad of interests, and I think of my partner as my partner, whom I love dearly. Very rarely now do I ever stop to consider that we are both men. I love my partner’s masculinity (I am gay, after all) but that doesn’t mean I stop to dwell on the fact. This lack of dwelling is a mark of happiness and freedom for me.
This was not always the case. Once upon a time, I was deeply ashamed. I was once a conservative Christian, and an ex-gay. I was once committed to not being gay at all. In the past, I’ve been unable to function, incapable of building meaningful relationships, and deeply suicidal. My sexuality was like a splinter caught in my gums, and my tongue worried and worried over it, my mind never at ease.
How I got from there to here – that’s a long story. I want to detail the basic steps I took, my personal steps of healing. There are many people still in the dark, still clawing their way out, still desperate for life. I hope that this post is helpful to these people.
1. Admit that it Hurts
The first step – for me at least – was to confront the reality of the pain. It hurts to never feel heard or understood in a deep way by other Christians. It hurts to feel as if a piece of your soul – your orientation – is being amputated. We may tell ourselves it’s for our own good, that it is for God’s greater glory. Does that stop the pain of amputation? No.
We can admit that not allowing ourselves a sexual life hurts. We can accept that the shame we feel over sexual and romantic desire hurts. We can accept that the incredulity of other Christians at our grieving over sex hurts.
We can accept that the loss of partnership is truly heartbreaking. We can accept that we are lonely – shutting down our orientation has a way of distancing us from all people, even our friends – and that loneliness is horrifically painful and immobilizing, even for the strongest among us.
We can accept that the experience of growing up gay in a straight world – in middle school, in highschool, in the church, in our families, is an incredibly hard experience, and has left us with deep misgivings about our fundamental worth as human beings.
We can accept the terrible dissonance of having attractions to the same sex while also being in a community that idolizes marriage and family and considers heterosexuality or singleness the only holy route.
We can accept all of it. As long as we resist the pain, we are frozen in place, hiding from ourselves and from God. We will never grow. We will be there forever.
2. Accept that we did Not cause our orientation and it probably won’t change
This was a big one for me, and it took me years of circling round and round it, until I was finally able to accept that it was a true. No one caused my sexual orientation. I could stop blaming myself for not being man enough, and I could stop blaming my parents for some mythical, Freudian failure.
Science doesn’t really have a clear idea, at this point, why people are gay. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real, and that doesn’t mean we can apply the force of magical thinking to our sexuality. It simply is. It’s there. I’m gay, for some unknown reason, and that’s okay. Time to get on with life.
More than that, the medical literature demonstrates that sexual orientation is very resistant to change. Even if it is acquired, that does not mean it can be shed from us. We acquire language, but unless we undergo a severe brain injury we cannot unlearn it.
The serenity prayer – a cornerstone of the 12 Steps – goes like this:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
My orientation is something I cannot change, and it is my job to accept it.
3. Accept that God Loves Us no Matter What
Accepting the pain of my orientation and the fact of its immutability was not a victorious experience for me. It was long, soul-crushing, and terrifying. In accepting these facts I felt flung far from home, lost, unable to find my way. To admit that this was simply the way I was – that I am different and that it hurts – forced me to confront all the feelings of inhumanity and alienation that I had kept within myself.
But in accepting it, I was able to stop running from myself, and therefore confront the reality that God loves me just as I am. I realized that I didn’t have to run anymore – I didn’t have to fight to be something else – and that permission to stop running allowed me to confront God’s total love for me. God wasn’t demanding I alter my attractions to men, he was pleading with me to draw my awareness to himself, to be bathed in his perfect light.
At this point, there’s a fork in the road. Maybe you are compelled to believe that, while you have no control over your attractions to the same sex and God loves you completely, God does not bless same sex relationships, and you should remain celibate or be with a partner of the opposite sex.
I don’t agree with this conclusion. I think it is dangerous and misguided, but you have the right to believe it, and I will support your right to do so. And I’d much rather see people come to this conclusion out of a confidence in their own worth and a total embrace of how much God loves them. I was unable to take that route, but that doesn’t mean others can’t.
The other path is the one that I have taken – the conviction that God blesses same sex relationships, and I now find myself in a beautiful relationship with a wonderful, handsome, and gentle man.
A final point: I’ve outlined this journey in simple chronological steps. We all know it isn’t that simple. Life is complicated, and sexuality is convoluted. I still find myself walking these roads, retracing my steps, reminding myself of what I learned years ago. That’s okay. We will walk this path as often as we have to, reminding ourselves to have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, and the courage to accept God’s total love for us.