Can I be transparent with you? I feel more vulnerable as a Christian in our world today than I do as a gay man.
Well… most of the time.
When I’m walking through the university at which I work I don’t feel insecure because I’m in a sexual minority, I don’t feel at risk of judgement because of my orientation. I DO feel at risk of judgement because of my convictions. I’m not worried that I’ll be considered irrelevant because of my sexuality, quite the opposite in fact. Conversely, I AM worried about being considered irrelevant because of my faith.
Now, I have to be clear that this is just my experience. I’m sure there are others that can relate, but I’m fully aware that others will find my statement somewhat mystifying. I know that in many places LGB people face a massive amount of emotional, social, and physical danger. Just look at Russia. I’m not wanting to diminish that reality, I’m simply attempting to shade in the nuances of vulnerability as it relates to both sexuality and Christianity.
In this post, I will talk about the things that make me vulnerable and the things that are empowering in relation to my sexuality. My next post will highlight that, although Christianity ISN’T a minority, it can really feel like one.
When I DO Feel Vulnerable as a Gay Man
Don’t misinterpret my opening statement at the top of this post, the complexities of my orientation ARE a source of real vulnerability.
- Being the youngest of four brothers, all of whom are married and have children can put me on the outer (through no intention on my family’s part). I love my brothers, I love my sisters-in-law, I love my niblings and yet, as time moves on, the realisation that the dimensions of my single, childless life are going to look more and more dissimilar to the people I love is, sometimes, emotionally difficult.
- Feeling as though I don’t entirely belong in the company of either men and women can be draining and frustrating as I seek to establish healthy relationships. Because I’m attracted to men and not attracted to women I have to navigate unusual pressures and boundaries that aren’t clearly defined.
- I, and people like me, am the subject of many strong voices telling me how to be happy, whole and free. This is a tangle of emotional persuasion that pulls me in multiple directions.
- Observing the far too familiar narrative of kids being bullied or excluded for exhibiting gender non-normative traits can cause to me revisit pretty unpleasant school-hood memories.
- Hearing my fellow Christians speak, at times, clumsily about the social, political and pastoral issues for gay people can make me feel unwelcome and unrecognised.
- Seeing Russian LGB people oppressed by the state and Orthodox Church makes me so deeply disappointed because that conduct is so polar to the gospel of Jesus who became humble to deliver and protect powerless people. It makes me think, with fear, how things might have played out if I had been born and raised in a different time or place. It makes me recognise that people like me are faced with injustice and hatred and I can’t ignore that reality.
Why I Usually DON’T Feel Vulnerable as a Gay Man
Firstly, the socio-cultural environment in which I live ensures that sexual minorities can gain representation and protection. I have a sense of certainty that if I were discriminated against because of my sexuality many people would be quick to come to my aid, provide support, validate me and seek to defend me.
Secondly, in the western world sexual minorities now have access to enormous socio-cultural power. It’s not hard to prove, you just need to look at the last ten years to see a dramatic shift in the way we think about identity, sex and rights.
Have a skim through Netflix to see the representation of LGB+ characters where ten years ago they wouldn’t have been nearly as present in pop-culture. Considering the amount that people now consume such media (I’m watching Brooklyn 99 right now!), how much of an impact does that have in forming the framework in which people understand the sexual minority experience?
In light of this I’m fully conscious that I have access to similar power. There aren’t many people like me in the church and even fewer that are willing to speak publicly. Therefore, I believe I have a voice which will be heard, and that what I have to say will have meaningful impact in the way Christians (at least in my immediate vicinity) think about and act towards those that are same-sex attracted.
Thirdly, the entire experience of being well and truly “out” has been an empowering one. I know many same-sex attracted people in the church feel a weight of shame, a sense of being damaged goods. I can relate to that, but honestly the more candid I become about my sexuality the more I’ve been able to discover the value that I have in the church. And that value has been overwhelmingly and lovingly communicated to me since I’ve started to speak publicly. In fact, as I write this, my barista, who attends a church I spoke at recently, expressed his appreciation of this blog!
(Just to be clear though, I don’t think I’m valuable to the church primarily because I’m gay, rather I believe I’m valuable because Jesus doesn’t let His people go to waste. I believe He redeems all things to work for His glory and that applies to every Christian.)
Fourthly, I’m so very thankful that I have been discipled in a Church where people like Ed Shaw and Rosaria Butterfield exist. I’m grateful to people like Wes Hill and Sam Allberry who have shown the feasibility of being a same-sex attracted Christian working in ministry. Because of them, I don’t feel isolated or terrifyingly unique.
Lastly, I think the individual experience of vulnerability can be hugely self-perpetuated. My relationship with myself is pretty good. Oh, it absolutely has its own toxicity at times, no doubt about it. In terms of the quality of my attractions though, I’m learning the value of acceptance rather than suppression (because how agonising to be disconnected from yourself?), the value of honesty over self-judgement (because who am I to judge myself?), the value of transparency over shame (because how suffocating is silence?).
For these five reasons (and more!) I feel largely secure in walking the earth and adding more text to the internet as a same-sex attracted dude.