Three Assumptions People Make About Affirming Gay Christians

As I’ve struggled through questions of faith and homosexuality and arrived at a more affirming position, I have found myself on the receiving end of some persistent and annoying assumptions. Granted, some of these might be stereotypes of affirming gay people for a reason, but I feel that these assumptions become blocks, disengaging people from the uncomfortable and redeeming act of listening to each other.

While I can’t even begin to address all of the assumptions people make about gay people, I will go ahead and list the ones I most frequently run into here.

1. I believe marriage is easy.

I cannot count the times I’ve heard variations of this particular narrative; and I even used it myself when I was non-affirming. It goes something like this: “look, I know you are in pain. I know perpetual singleness is hard, and that you struggle every day with loneliness. But you think that marriage will somehow make that better. You think that (as one friend of mine said to my face) marriage is a silver bullet for all your loneliness and sexual frustration.”

Here’s what I actually believe about marriage and loneliness: that nothing in all this world will ever fully cure us of loneliness, not even someone sharing your life, your bed, your body and your soul. Nothing will ever take away that cold, dark pit of loneliness we feel as we fall asleep at night. It may fluctuate, it may grow or shrink with the seasons of our life, and there may be whole seasons or even years when we don’t notice it at all. But it will never be cured. Saying marriage (or any other relationship) cures the human condition of loneliness is like saying sweet tea cures cancer. Only God can meet us in our deepest loneliness – if marriage, parenthood, or friendship could, then we would be worshiping each other, not God.

I don’t believe that marriage is easy, or a way out. Sometimes, marriage means a commitment to anguish, frustration, sacrifice, and very little fulfillment – and that is just as true for gay people as it is for straight people. I’ve seen too many marriages to believe that marriage is easy or pretty. It is not, and never has been a way out.

What I do believe about marriage: that it is sacramental, and maybe even a sacrament. That it is absolutely, gloriously beautiful. That it is sacred. That it is worth it. That, even though it is not easy and does not satisfy our loneliness, some people will shrivel up and die without it. That, for some people, the anguish of marriage is somehow better and healthier and holier than the pain and anguish of being single or celibate. That this does not make them weak, or spiritually immature, just beautifully human.

I believe that our need for marriage and friendship reflects the mystery of Adam in the garden: Adam lived in perfect intimacy with God and creation, but such perfection and intimacy could not fulfill his need for a partner and community. God did not respond to his loneliness as so many modern Christians do by saying, “you just need to develop a better prayer life.” Instead, God gave him Eve. In the perfection of Eden, God created Adam with a need that had to be fulfilled in a tangible, physical way by someone other than God, but someone who could only be provided by God. I believe that it’s complicated – wonderfully, unfathomably, beautifully complicated.

2. I believe that celibacy means loneliness (AKA, I don’t value friendship enough.)

I heard this one bounced around all the time when I was in non-affirming gay communities commited to celibacy. The reasoning goes: “most people place all their hope for love and fulfillment into marriage, and believe that being committed to celibacy means having no one who is a soul-mate, a Jonathan to your King David, a Roland to your Oliver. That it means living a life deprived of intimacy, family, community, love, and relational fulfillment.”

It may be true that many people believe this, but I don’t. I never have. I believe that a life without intimate, spiritual friendship is a life of deep poverty. I would rather have many great friends who knew my soul like their own than have a spouse but live in relational isolation.

While I may be single, I am not lonely. I have friends whom I call “beloved” and “soul-mate” without shame, without any marital, erotic or romantic implications. But none of this displaces my deep, soul-level need for a partner with whom I can share not just my soul but also my body. One does not fulfill the other.

Human love is infinitely complex, and I wonder, at times, if it is like an ecosystem. There are different species of love, and they simply cannot replace each other. Love is not a single entity, but a vast diversity. Saying that friendship should satisfy my need for marital love is like saying friendship should fulfill my need for the love of a father, or a mother, or that loving a best friend should take the place of loving my own child – or that food should satisfy my thirst, or water my hunger. The loves are different, and most people will not be able to substitute one for the other. Those who can substitute one for the other might have the remarkable gift of sustainable celibacy. But I certainly couldn’t, and now that I am no longer closed to the possibility of romantic love, I find that I am capable of loving my friends more fully.

3. I didn’t do celibacy “the right way”

At the end of the day, many people assume that I walked away from a commitment to lifelong celibacy and opened myself to the possibility of a monogomous partnership because I did celibacy wrong. They assume that I had the wrong attitude, that I didn’t pray the right prayers, that I over valued romance and marriage and undervalued community and friendship, that I didn’t practice sufficient spiritual disciplines. Some have even assumed that I didn’t submit to God in the “right way,” and I did He would finally step in and empower me to be celibate in a way that didn’t involve excessive amounts of self-loathing, cutting, or suicidal ideation.

Of all the assumptions out there, this one might hurt the most. After fighting to the death to do celibacy in a sustainable way, there was nothing harder or more terrifying than choosing to walk away and open myself to the possibility of marriage. It felt like treason, like betrayal, like heresy. I also knew that my life of celibacy wasn’t much good to God if I ended up dead. That wasn’t the hill I wanted to die on.

And let me be clear: it was not the pain of chastity or singleness that broke me. Do not confuse the pain of mandatory lifelong celibacy with the universal, necessary, and redemptive struggles of chastity and singleness, as so many well-intentioned Christians do. After nearly dying on the hill of mandatory celibacy, the pain of chastity feels like the breath of life: it is sustainable, and there is redemption, purpose and hope in the pain when it does become a cross to carry (which, for me is often.) I still believe what I used to about sex: that all are called to chastity, both within marriage and outside of marriage, and that sex is only appropriate in a marriage covenant bond. While that used to crush me, it now brings me life.

At the end of the day, I did try. But it didn’t work. I knew all the answers, knew all the prayers, but they couldn’t save me. That might be because I did it wrong, or it might be because “it is better for a man to marry than to burn with passion.” I could not find a way to live a celibate life without internalized shame and suppressing my sexuality to a dangerous degree. Please accept that, and don’t make assumptions about how I didn’t measure up. If I did fail, if I did have shortcomings, acknowledge them not because of assumptions you’ve made about my journey, but because you have taken the time to engage with my unique story.

Most importantly, let’s try to engage with each others’ true narratives instead of the ones we imagine – the imaginary stories that make more sense, that make us more comfortable, that make our own excuses for our own lives more sensible. Our assumptions are ultimately made at the expense of our brothers and sisters.

25 responses to “Three Assumptions People Make About Affirming Gay Christians

  1. Although you are much more eloquent in describing your journey, your pain.. it is as though we have walked the same trail, in different times, different rhythms, different instruments…… but we sing the same song. You are a better vocalist, but I am humming in the background… “the oohs, the ahhs”…
    Keep singing brother.

  2. I’m a gay man who has been single and celibate, and I am now married. Friendship, no matter how close it may be, is not the same thing as or a replacement for romantic intimacy. Physical intimacy in the context of a committed relationship serves to deepen the emotional intimacy. It is a profound way to live into God’s creative intention for us as relational beings.

    I am not disparaging singleness. It has virtues for sure. It’s arguably the biblical ideal. And too often our culture both inside and outside the church idolizes marriage. But clearly not everyone is called to celibacy, and many gay people best live into the person God created us to be by coupling.

    I grow weary of celibate gay Christians pretending that marriage is something that can be replaced by friendship. They seek to reduce gay covenant relationships down to something less profound and beautiful than they are. And they often do so from a place of ignorance as many have never experienced romantic intimacy.

    • Ford, thank so much for sharing your wisdom from a place of experience I don’t currently have. I couldn’t agree more – friendship cannot replace marital love. I tried for years, and it failed miserably. I found that, when I tried to replace marital love with friendship love, it somehow hindered my capacity for both.

    • And I grow weary of emotive posts like this one.

      Celibate gay Christians say nothing of the sort. Read mudblood Catholic’s posts on the subject. Chris Damian said in a podcast he made that his desire for sexual intimacy with a man must go unmet. We only say that deep friendship makes it easier to survive without a romantic relationship and that we should be grateful for what we have; the chance to participate in god’s divine plan.

      I do not care how joyful your relationship feels to you, because that has no bearing on the morality of it. Gay sex acts do not honor god. Period.

      Your posts really show me why I do not want Side A friends. It would be cruel to emphasize the joys unique to a romantic relationship I am missing, because there is no solution. Period. The desire for a romantic relationship with a man will always pull at my heart to some extent. But, there is no solution except focusing on what I have.

      You seem to want to make me focus on my sufferings, and then let you want to force me to accept blame for the problems of non-celibate gays.

      There is no strong enough way to say forget it and don’t talk to me.

      • If you grow weary of posts like this one, you are at liberty not to read them, and not to parade your lack of compassion as though it were a virtue. I venture to suggest that you have not read the blog you cited so closely as you perhaps believe.

  3. Thank you again for your thoughtful reflections. your insights into the difference and mutual value of friendship and marriage are spot on. I am now 70 years old and matured in the days when being gay was a crime – full stop. you didn’t even talk about it. the wisdom of the day was that you just needed a good woman and all those feelings would go away. well, I found one of the best and though we had a very good relationship for 27 years, it left her without the experience of a man taking delight in her body as she deserved. I was an attentive lover but there is a difference. After we separated, we maintained a very good friendship. Our two sons are close to both of us and all three of them love my husband and he them, my husband and I have been together almost 18 years. Our marriage goes well beyond friendship, but my first marriage never really went beyond friendship complicated by a sexual relationship.
    I am also impressed with your comments about marriage as a sacrament. Marriage is one of the wonderful ways in which God communicates eternal Love to the world. When you find the right person, you will be a delight to the world as they see you working together as servants of one another and together of the world and its creator.
    Be patient in the Lord. The right person will show up for you, and in your life together people will see God’s love at work. Meantime, the way you share your journey is a blessing to many.

  4. I’m a secular gay man who is engaged myself so I have no real horse in this intra-Christian debate…except for the questions of intellectual and psychological honesty.
    One thing that confuses me about your writing is that I sense a bit of a bait and switch going on still. The argument proceeds “I tried celibacy and it crushed me; therefore gay marriage.” You admit celibate or single doesn’t necessarily equate to loneliness, while also pointing out that nevertheless deep friendships are no replacement for romantic partnership. But where I still see a bit of a leap is to the “not only my soul but also my body.”
    This may be true, but in terms of argument you haven’t really made that connection. In my practice as a psychotherapist I know of plenty of cases of people sharing “marital love” (ie, romantic partnership) where sex acts themselves are not or no longer part of that. I notice in an earlier post you allude to a (failed) attempt at sexless partnership, but I think of you want to make your story more air-tight you’re going to need to stop talking in platitudes about relationship and intimacy and love and romance (as far as I know, “Side B” folk don’t necessarily object to any of those; some do, but not all) and get right down to the nitty gritty of: sex acts themselves. Otherwise it can seem like a sleight of hand in the argument (so common in the gay world) where you plea in favor of love and intimacy and partnership and try to thereby sneak sex in under the radar as if it were necessary for any of those things.
    Maybe it is, or maybe it is for many people, or asking for an abstraction of genital expression from those things is too hard in our cultural circumstances, etc etc. But the “necessity” of sex itself (not just “love” or “intimacy” or “exclusive romantic partnership”) must always be at the forefront of Side A arguments. Otherwise it comes across to Side B types as a sort of bait and switch whereby B is defined as “gay sex is problematic” but A rebrands itself as “God blesses gay relationships” and then you’re comparing apples and oranges, sex versus “relationships.”
    If you want to make your argument you can’t get around making sex acts themselves, and not any other euphemistic or broader concepts, the point of demonstration as to their moral necessity. There’s no getting around that for us.

    • Terrence –

      Do you now, or plan in the future to, have sex with your fiance? If so, why? Would the character of your relationship be the same if you didn’t express yourselves through physical intimacy?

      You’re assertion that sex is unimportant to a covenant relationships seems suspicious. Is it essential? Probably not for the duration of the relationship, but certainly it’s very important in the early stages.

      Further, the conservative Christian objection to same sex intimacy in no way starts or ends with genital expression. Traditionalist theology pathologizes sexual attractions to the same sex. Non-affirming Christians, for the most part, object to gay coupling not just to gay sex. The theology says gay relationships are immoral & inferior and detrimental to society (i.e., contrary to God’s design for human sexuality). Hence, the opposition to marriage equlaity would not end even if those entering same-sex marriages took a vow of celibacy.

      So most non-affirming Christians (aside from a handful of celibate gay Christians and accomodationists) are not just anti-gay sex, they are indeed anti-gay relationship.

      • I agree that most non-affirming Christians are also against gay relationships. But from what I can tell, Steven’s move (at least, the most recent development spurring the Sacred Tension blog) wasn’t from “no relationships!” to relationships. It was from “sex acts aren’t ok” to they are.
        As such, while he might be doing a great service in showing conservatives why they should affirm gay relationships and love, I’m just saying what I read is a little less coherent when it comes to convincing, say, his old Side B crowd (it’s clear he still has something of an axe to grind there, albeit trying to do it respectfully) about this move to full-on Side A.
        In part, I think he needs to decide on his audience. If it’s conservatives against even gay relationships, the argument is one thing and the “spiritual friendship” crowd are probably allies. If, on the other hand, this is about the liceity of gay sex acts, then they’re not allies but enemies, and are among those he’ll need to convince.
        I’m just looking at the internal structure of his own story here. And it’s not just or even primarily about relationship or intimacy or love. The “flashpoint” has become about sex itself (and I fully expect even further “progression” by him on that point). My observations here are not philosophical (I have no interest there). The theological questions have nothing to do with me as someone outside that whole discourse.
        My observations and concerns are psychological, and are addressed mainly at the psychological and emotional/experiential claims and appeals which undergird most of his current “argument.”

      • Terrence, I see your point, but you cleverly did not answer the questions of Ford1968. Are you and your fiancĂ© going to have sex; and why; and is it important?
        If you feel sheepish answering those questions, well, most of us do. Even in secular culture we don’t talk about our sex lives openly with any great comfort, and I daresay Stephen is probably trying to avoid the poisoned arrows from people who will say, “You see??? It really is all about sex for those sex-crazed gays!”
        For myself, I surely do think sex is a natural way of bonding and sharing sheer joy and pleasure with a loved one. I only wish that our culture were a tad bit more sex-friendly, more honest, and less anti-erotic.
        As a side note, I find it ridiculous when straight married Christians get all offended and grossed out by “gay sex” yet the majority of them are engaging in at least oral sex and they seem to think that is okay for them but not for us — or do they just pretend that they never do it? :/

      • Terrence, I do not quite follow your train of thought here. It seems you are indeed making a philosophical point about his argument. You have not articulated any psychological problems that are inherent to or would be a result of his way of thinking. Would you care to elaborate on that?

  5. Stephen, as ever, your thoughts are eloquent, moving, and very much to the point. I wish people who attack gay Christians would dare to look at us with openness and truth and with clear-eyed vision — not blinded by their own assumptions and beliefs.

  6. The assumption is that you are a lapse, a failure, that God is with Rosaria wotsername- Lesbian activist sees the Light!- that she gets it, and you don’t. Because you’re bad. It all comes from fear and loathing.

  7. I agree that sex needs to be addressed. I do have theological investment. I also agree that it’s difficult to sperate sex out, it’s particularly more difficult when we have become or become sexually involved. This is part of the jadedness of our humanity and precisely why we need the light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide us. God is not the author of confusion and actually being given over to confusion can often be the judgment of God on our unfaithful, rebellious and adulterous hearts. And if I sound like I’m taking the other side, I’m not. I’m still uncertain and seeking His will. Thanks for carrying on this conversation out loud so others like myself, who stand in great need of such mutual pondering, can do so. May the Lord bless you and keep you in his grace + Amen.

  8. To be fair, a lot of Side B people think these things about Side A people because these things are true for some Side A people. People tell us Side B people a lot of things like “I became Side A because I didn’t want to be lonely” or “I became Side A because I can’t see how somebody can get through life without marrying.” Those stereotypes are rooted in a grain of truth. Also, I think it’s fair to say that when we Side B people talk to Side A people, we get misunderstood pretty often. I can be telling somebody about marriage and religious life and single life all being equal and good, but society expects people to marry, and next thing I hear is them accusing me of telling them they idolize marriage. And that’s not what I was trying to do.

    • You are absolutely right that some of the stereotypes are there for a reason (see my admission of that fact at the beginning of the post). Having spent significant amounts of time on both sides of the debate, I think that both sides feel pretty misunderstood and mischaracterized by the other. The hurt and wounding creates an even more charged and reactionary environment. I know that I struggle with my own sets of assumptions about Side B people – assumptions that are rooted in my own experience, but I have to remind myself that they are not true of every individual.

      And, for the record, I want to affirm your belief that married, single and religious life are all equal and good. I am one Side A person who doesn’t experience those words as accusatory, but as very true. I believe the church suffers tremendously when we lose the vocation of celibacy.

      • Thanks Stephen. I thought maybe you did think all three were equal, but I wasn’t sure. Thank you for being so brave in recognizing you have assumptions just like other people do, so it’s not just people on the other side. I think we all have those.

  9. It’s interesting, but much like you, I’ve tried to live the Side B life, as a homosexual Christian, and I’m starting to find the same problems that you did. In that sense, I’m indebted to you, Stephen; this blog has let me see myself a decade or two out from where I am now, and I truly am grateful that you’ve been so honest in your experiences and thoughts. They’ve given me pause, and while I feel like I’ve aged those years in just a few days, I’m glad that it happened.
    I found myself making those same three assumptions, and like you, I’m realizing that they aren’t helpful at all. Even more than that, I’m realizing what you did, too- one love isn’t a replacement for another. I’ve gotten more connected with straight male friendships, and yet the loneliness grows. I’ve gotten more involved in ministry and service, yet the loneliness grows. If anything… the more I see what appears to be completely forbidden to me, and all of the upsides that seem to belong to everyone else but not to myself… the more bitter I become. To the point where I nearly want to echo Naomi’s request, to call me ‘Mara,’ for I have been dealt with bitterly.
    I don’t know if I’m Side A or not. I don’t even know what the ‘right’ answer is. You know what I’m feeling, I’m sure, this constant struggle between loneliness and fear of being wrong. But I do know one thing, at the very least. The current Side B solution doesn’t work for far too many people, and I don’t know what to do to confront my own problems, let alone those of others. I just don’t know. And, for a know-it-all like me, that’s just infuriating.
    Sorry, sorry. But… all of that to say, thank you again for this blog, and for putting your thoughts and hurts out there for us. It’s been tremendously insightful for me, and while it feels like I now have more questions than ever… in a way, that might be a good thing. Thanks again, and I look forward to your next article.

  10. “They assume that I had the wrong attitude, that I didn’t pray the right prayers… that I didn’t practice sufficient spiritual disciplines…” I recognise those arguments from when I “failed” to be healed from what turned out to be bipolar disorder. Such hurtful assumptions. I’m glad you have found a different way of living, which doesn’t crush you.

  11. Unfortunately, this blog has confirmed my choice to avoid close side A friends (and be cautious about side B ones).
    Part of my struggle toward sanctification is to avoid thinking about men in a sexual way. Spending much time with non-celibate gays would be profoundly destructive to that. Attending a same-sex wedding would be the worst possible thing.
    Nobody has an absolute need for erotic love. Strong desire, perhaps, but not absolute need. Thus, it is unnecessary to talk about replacing the need for erotic love, as there is none. As I have previously alluded to, I have never seen any logic is any of your posts. I cannot judge anyone’s soul, but I do not accept your conclusions in this post from a logical standpoint.I would have compassion for you, but would not rejoice in you pursuing a homosexual relationship.
    The entire issue really makes me glad to be Catholic. We have a central authority that makes these decisions. It is not perfect, but does put a limit on how much influence side A can have. It adds a layer of protection against any possible advice to seek a homosexual relationship as a solution to loneliness and other difficulties with celibacy. It provides a consistent sexual ethic as well. The body can only be shared in one very specific act between a man and a woman. They would not be permitted to be known physically in the ways you would have been contemplating with “Andrew.”
    As a whole, I come away from side B blogs with a much better feeling about life than from yours. Most have a much more peaceful and spiritual relationship with the world, while you have a seem to have a very carnal relationship and I do not feel peaceful after reading your blog.

    • Happiness. I’m curious about why you chose to share this information. Why, exactly do you think it’s important for people to know why you don’t want the friendship of the Side A people who regularly blog here? On the surface, it appears that you want to make Side A people feel bad about themselves by showing them your superior morality. But I’m going to take a guess that that’s not your motive here (at least on a subconscious level). That guess hinges on your last paragraph about not feeling peaceful after reading this blog. What exactly do you mean by that? How does it make you feel to read this blog? Why do you suppose you feel that way? Do you think it’s rooted in your own internal struggles?

      I ask because I am somewhat concerned about you. I see a lot of myself in what you say sometimes, particularly in this particular post. I myself felt that there was no satisfying solution to my desires. “Period.” And I support your right, and respect your autonomy, to believe that and pursue a way of living conducive to your beliefs. But after 5 years of agonizing over the heightened anxiety and depression that came from the conflict between my desires and my belief, I grew suicidal. So, if you are experiencing a similar conflict, and you think it’s manageable, then more power to you. But I do hope you will seek help and support if that conflict ever becomes agonizingly unmanageable. I hope you don’t feel that the “Period” is somehow worth your life. God bless, friend.

      • I think it is good for everyone to have a view point and to feel free to express themselves, as out of the heart the mouth speaks. If this blog is only one sided in it’s view then somebody say so now, so those who want the one sided only to read it. Loneliness seems to be the root cause of wanting an intimate relationship. I feel humanity is not connecting on a deeper more meaningful loving level. Check out this talk about what war veterans miss the most

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