Growing up gay in the conservative church, I believed I was barred from ever having a gay relationship and that, unless something truly miraculous happened which allowed me to marry a woman, I would spend the rest of my life celibate. This wasn’t because my Christian community overtly hated gay people – though many did. It wasn’t even because of the “clobber passages” – the handful of passages that allegedly directly mention homosexuality.
No. I and my Christian community believed I was barred from a gay relationship, first and foremost, because of gender complementarianism: the belief that the union of male and female within the covenant of marriage creates a morally exclusive spiritual state, and that such a state is the only valid and virtuous “container” for sexual activity.
This belief, rooted in the Genesis creation account, forms the most solid foundation for non-affirming theology in the church. All else is peripheral to this foundational marriage mythos: the union of male and female within marriage is exclusively and normatively moral for sexual relationships.
I believed in this natural law, this mythos, with the same certainty as I believe in the multiplication table, the periodic table, or the law of gravity. It was an undeniable, inalterable aspect of the universe. I believed that to tinker with it was tantamount to tinkering with DNA: it would alter the very fabric of sustainability for our society. To screw around with that foundational stuff of the universe was to imperil all of human life.
And yet, there was discomfort. This discomfort with gender complementarianism started small, like a tiny ringing in my ears. More and more, it made less sense: I couldn’t say how or why, but it just didn’t cohere. That discomfort grew into agony; the ringing in my ears became a fierce, unending shriek. Christians are too quick to cast this discomfort as a willingness to bow to my sin nature and the prevailing culture, but that’s the lazy, unexamined excuse.
This was my life. This wasn’t some theory, some abstract concept that complimented and validated my morally superior heterosexual relationship. I was gay, and this directly effected me, my present and my future. I was barred from erotic love, marriage, and family, while the vast majority of the Christian world knew no such prohibition. I had the unlucky draw: because of the freak chance of being gay – of no choice of my own – I was destined to this life of bachelorhood because of some abstract theory of gender.
And by what authority? Because of some ancient book? Not even that – an interpretation of an ancient book? A book that was authoritative only because it said it was, all external evidence be damned?
Meanwhile, I met gay couples who were a greater witness to the holiness and sanctity of marriage than most straight marriages I’ve encountered.
Was I truly being asked by my tradition to ignore all the outside evidence? How was that honest? How was that good? Years ago, I committed myself to valuing truth, no matter the cost. How was following my conservative Christian faith not compromising my integrity?
That crystal clear view of gender complimentarity, for a myriad reasons, started to reveal itself to me for what it was: clouds. Solid from a distance, but nothing but vapor up close; nothing to build a foundation on.
It was that intangibleness, that sense of building my castle on a cloud, that had tortured me. It was that sense of detachment from the universe – from the real cosmos of the here and now, where I lived out my life and connected with people and slept and worshiped and worked – that brought on my total breakdown.
Over time, I’ve come to see gender complementarianism for what it truly is: superstition. The belief that the union between male and female creates magic is nothing more than gender alchemy. I’ve been yelled at that only heterosexual sex can create babies, and that this makes it morally exclusive and superior, but I don’t buy nor understand that anymore. What about infertile couples? The elderly? Those who prefer not to have children at all? Having children is certainly a wonderful thing, but to say that it’s the only moral path for sexuality – especially on this devastated planet – strikes me as dangerous and myopic.
Gender alchemy wrought unprecedented anguish on my psyche, as I tried to align my here-and-now, my flesh and blood to a theoretical system of gender that is only true because it says it’s true. And I’m done with it. Not only am I done with it, I’m done debating it with Christians.
I appreciate the fact that gender complementarianism is a deeply held belief, that it is the cornerstone for non-affirming theology, that it is meaningful and beautiful to many Christians. Because it matters to them, it matters to me, but I’m done arguing and defending. I’m too fatigued, too battered down by the psychic costs of such a debate. I just can’t do it anymore. How do I fight against a toxic cloud? How do I fight against superstition that invalidates my deepest passions and the most important relationship in my life? The only way I know to change minds, at this point, is to stop trying to control the beliefs of the church, and to live my own life with integrity.
Now, post-gender-alchemy, I have a new source of consolation: science. Science is the answer to the pain of a lifetime built on the intangible. Science is solid, rooted in the here and now. Science is in a constant state of self-reformation and criticism, refining itself through a series of laws. Science allows me to embrace all truth, no matter where I find it. Science allows me to be open minded and skeptical at the same time; it gives me truth about the universe without judgement.
Science tell me that when I experience union with my partner, that union is real – as real as the electricity surging through my brain, as in any other brain. Science tells me that my relationship with my partner is adding years to my life, and it tells me how to create a sustainable, secure, and life-giving relationship with my partner that benefits the world. I can’t help but believe that I’ve found true magic, true alchemy, and it’s rooted in testable and observable reality.