At the moment when I was the most certain of my traditional beliefs on sexuality I fell, quite by accident, very deeply in love with another man, whom I will call Andrew.
As I’ve told my story of failure and wounding within a commitment to lifelong celibacy – and how I have eventually walked away from it – the most common response from conservative Christians has been withering. The vast majority of them who have responded on social media and the blogosphere have been singing variations of, “so what you are saying is that you cannot live without sex.” When they hear me say that Side B (the traditional view of gay marriage) crushed me, they assume that’s because I can only conceive of intimacy as a sexual act, that I have an idolatrous view of romance, and that I see sex and romance as the most fulfilling experience on earth. They also assume that I have a misplaced understanding of community and friendship.
It’s been a long, painful and perilous journey from a life of suffocating fear and self-loathing toward a life of fearlessness and love. I spent most of my teenage and adult years trapped in the impenetrable coffin of my self-loathing, absolutely convinced that I was unlovable to God. As a young boy growing up in the evangelical world, I somehow absorbed the message that being gay makes a person loathsome and subhuman. When I started to discover that I was gay myself, I became the victim of my own undying disgust and hatred. Like a supernova, my being collapsed upon itself, the object of its own unquenchable disgust.
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.
I’m slowly coming to the realization that the faith of my childhood: the Evangelical, middle-of-the-road, straight and narrow faith that was passed down to me by my parents and community, no longer fits. My faith has gone through a myriad of transformations, and I’ve always prided myself on having an adaptable faith. But this feels different: the faith itself is no longer working. It’s an old, trusty Toyota that has carried me through forests and over deserts, but it’s sputtering now, starting to break down.
I was traumatized by my time in church. The years of sitting in pews, Bible studies, and coffee shops with Christian leaders, listening to variation upon variation of how wrong homosexuality is, slowly eroded me. Words might not seem that powerful, but if they are a steady trickle, coursing over your young mind which is porous as fresh soil, they carve out whole canyons of self loathing.
Over two years ago, I met the love of my life. Gentle, intelligent, and incredibly present, I knew from the first phone conversation that we would be together. I had only been fully out of the closet for about two or three years – not nearly long enough to reverse a lifetime of training that homosexuality is intrinsically bad, disordered, and ugly. When I met my partner, those tapes were still playing deep in my subconscious. When J and I got together, those voices exploded from the nether realms of my brain. They came out like vengeful spirits, torturing me. This is what, in part, sparked my total meltdown at the beginning of 2015.
I’ve spent years of my life sorting through what I believe about homosexuality. I’ve been all over the map in this rugged terrain of theological belief, from ex-gay, to “Side B” to accomodationist, to affirming. Now, mercifully, I’ve journeyed beyond the gay Christian debate. I’m happy with my life and I’ve dedicated myself to what are, in my view, better, nobler things than a life-devouring obsession over my sexual orientation.
However, as I struggled with what I believed about homosexuality, I started to learn about people, and why we believe what we believe. The greatest things I’ve learned from the gay debate have little to do with homosexuality, and much more to do with human nature.
For January, 2017, we explored my personal struggles with faith and doubt. I examined the things I want people to know the most about struggling with doubt, what Donnie Darko taught me about religious doubt, why my Christian give-a-damn is broken, and how I define Esoteric Christianity. As usual, my readers offered some compelling responses, and I want to take a moment to feature the best ones here.