Friday, December 31, 2010

Why I Opened The Closet Door

Just being able to admit to myself that I was gay, was a huge step in my life, as I was able to put a name on this "thing" that had been haunting me.   I remember reading the stories of gay college kids, and thinking, wow, I really feel the same way here.   Maybe being gay wasn't a choice after all.   I knew in my heart of hearts I did not and would never have chosen it.   I tried for years helplessly trying to pray and fast my nature away, only to be left feeling resentful and distrustful of a God that has promised love and justice.   However, the freedom I experienced was very short lived.  

It is thought that gay people will use and twist the Bible to embrace their sexuality.  They need to feel justified in their heinous life, so they will do all that it takes.  I assure you, I do no such thing.  In fact, the only time I ever used the Bible for justification was when I was trying not to be gay.

I remember the tears in the eyes of my family and some close friends as I told them I could no longer subject myself to a belief system that was destroying me.   It was a turbulent time for my family.   It was as if I was beginning a new life that was unknown.   I was only a year or so out of college, and my life was about to drastically change a second time.   So why did I do it?   Well, people in my life had their minds made up as to why I decided to embrace my homosexuality.   They attributed it to:

Weakness: for not being able to withstand the temptations luring me into the gay community.  For not being able to withstand my own internal pressures to interact physically with a man.

Deception: For being duped by people who use trickery and side logic in order to convince others to follow in their sinful and self-destructive ways.

Lacking Faith: For not praying hard enough, for not making Jesus the center of my life, and for not believing that even if I was going to be deprived from the male intimacy I craved, that Jesus would just be enough for me.

Why else would anyone want to give into their gay feelings?

Wrong.   Dead wrong.   Except no one wanted to hear me.  If there were reasons that were virtuous in comparison to the above, then somehow their belief systems would fall apart.   I had someone tell me once, that if homosexuality is OK, then everything they believed about God and the church must be false.  How ridiculous is that!  Why would the truth about one of the greatest love stories ever told, i.e. the gospel of Jesus Christ, hinge upon the morality of a sexual orientation?   When on earth did this issue or subject become the focal point of one's faith?  

Understanding this question is what began to lead me to a place where I no longer fought this.  I could not by any means justify the life I was living.  I tried.  I tried using the Bible, I tried through prayer, and I just could not.   It became the single thing that defined me, and I was defined by what I was NOT.  I was NOT gay.   That was my sexual identity: NOT gay.  The church has created an idol out of this issue.   It is a subtle but extreme version of idolatry that puts the issue of homosexuality over the gospel.   It is idolatry that says: because you are gay, you cannot call yourself a Christian.      It is fear and culture that demands such a statement, not the gospel, and definitely not our Father.   In a world where illness, suffering, deceit, and chaos rule.  In a world where financial status determines worth;  in a world and in a church where the first shall be first and the last shall be last;   In a system that is so antithetical to the way Jesus lived and taught, where the very core, and most important commandments given by Jesus are outrightly ignored and brushed aside because "we are not Jesus."  In a religious community that spends most of its energy keeping cultural traditions alive rather than teaching its members how to be light and salt for the earth.  Given all these dysfunctions that are very much acceptable by the Coptic Church, to say that homosexuality is the non-negotiable issue of our time, is a joke, and a mockery of everything Jesus lived and died for, and everything our forefathers fought for.  And I was living proof of what this idolatry was doing to my soul.   I was dying inside, and I was about to die on the outside.

There was no room for God to be God in my life, because all this intense energy was being spent struggling with something that was not going anywhere.   I was telling God who I wanted Him to make me.   The church and ex-gay programs put me through mental gymnastics trying to explain away every single thought I was having.   Every desire for intimacy was labelled as sickness, and every attraction I had was merely a symptom of a disease inflicted on me by an unfortunate childhood, combined with possible genetic predispositions.   After years and years of reinforcing this belief, my mind became poisoned, and my self esteem plummeted, and there was nothing that the church or anyone could have done to repair this, as long as the message was being reinforced, that in addition to all the issues I have in my life, the very thing that God gave me in order to experience His love in partnership, my desire for connection and intimacy, both emotional, physical and sexual, was cursed.   What can a person do with such a toxic belief system?  Where is the redemption?

But I did not have these realizations then.  All this was not apparent at the time, as hindsight is 20/20 (or better).  All I knew at the time was that one day, my life almost ended, and it was that night, I was saved.   I had been asking myself for years: "What if homosexuality was a sin?  Then I would truly go to hell if I embraced this identity."   I finally had the guts to ask the question: "What if homosexuality in and of itself was NOT a sin?"

It was in that moment where I almost lost my life, that I no longer had to answer to my family, to my church, to my culture, to my community.  The only person I cared to answer to was God, and myself.  Because at the end of the day, when it came to survival, all the obligations I had to the above checklist became null and void.   And I had to look at myself, and I had to look to God, and I had to ask the question as to what was to become of me.    When the pressures of all the external things dissolved into ether, the question was no longer scary, and I saw myself clear as day.

What did I see?   I did not have this overwhelming change of mind that "Being gay is OK, yay, gay!"   No.  I did not see that.  What I did see was an ever-loving and patient God, who never left my side from the day I was born.    I decided to take a chance and have FAITH in this God.   I prayed and asked God for the strength to walk forward and to live according to what I did know, as opposed to all the things I didn't know.

I truly believed many things I had learned growing up were true, but as for the rest, I was not so sure.  I decided I was no longer going to live according to what I didn't believe, or what I was not sure I believed, but rather to focus on what I actually did believe in my heart of hearts.  I decided to live according to what little I did believe and see what happened from there, and maybe my faith GROW naturally. So I put away a belief system that had lead me to the brink of my own destruction, and to the destruction of many.

In that first step, I acknowledged that I did not know if homosexuality was OK or not, but I was to trust that this God who never left my side would continue to stand beside me and live within me.    That he was going to show me the way through all the confusion.   This was the simple faith I finally found in my life, and for the first time in I don't know how many years, I saw the world vibrant and fresh.   You could say I was born again, a thing that I always thought looked a certain way based on testimonies of many, however this was my story.

But it was a risk, and I trusted God with that risk.

Life is bigger than this issue, and I started experiencing life again.   I put my energies into the things that mattered, and lived according to what was at the time, just a theory, that my sexuality was as moral as any heterosexual's, and that I was not going to be judged by my sexuality but rather what I did with it. Needless to say, I felt normal for the first time in my life.  And check this out: I felt equal with other men.   That was a huge shock to me, but it was true.   And most of all, I felt peace.   It was this peace that carried me through a time of healing, where the pain I had felt from this ex-gay past was being washed away by grace.  It was that peace that got me through the difficult tasks of being myself in a world that I thought was going to reject me.    I was pleasantly surprised how much love and support I received from friends and some family members.  Still, my immediate family and some friends attributed my new found zeal and passion for life, and peace with my sexuality with the afore mentioned reasons of weakness, deception, and faithlessness: all reasons that they needed to believe, not because it was true, but because the implications of seeing this issue in a different light was too great to deal with.

It has been several years, and in these several years since I made that first step, I have not had a single reason to go backwards.   There were times of joy and times of deep sorrow.  There were times of purity and times where sin got the best of me.   Doesn't that sound like every other person on the planet who ever lived?  In fact, my sexuality is just no longer an issue.  It's just a small part of the many things that make up who I am.  But through living this life, I am learning, ever so clearly, that I can have a relationship with God and an intimacy with Jesus and still be a gay man.   I am learning that just because I am gay, it does not mean, that the concept of sin, or rather, things that separate me from God and myself,  do not exist.    In fact, this act of just being myself has allowed me to experience real and true grace that I had missed out on for so many years.  

And this was the real kicker:  I learned that I can be in a romantic relationship with another like-minded man, following the standards set before us, and have this relationship blessed by God.  Yes, I have experienced a God centered gay relationship.   And frankly it looks no different than straight relationships.    You think being gay is all about sex?   False.  Especially not if you choose it to be.   I learned that the gay world seen in the media is just a fraction, just as the straight world represented by MTV is just a fraction, and that people are just people, and it's as simple as that.   We are given a command to love.  It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to know what love looks like, or what it does not look like.  In this command of Love, all other commands, debates, and fears just pale in comparison.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Undemonic Desire: Homosexuality and Orthodox Spirituality

The following post was written by a reader and contributor going by the name Bishoy. It is a brilliant commentary on sexuality and desire, and the misattribution of desire to negative spiritual forces. To the author, thank you for taking the time to write this.

Many responses against any sin by Coptic Orthodox clergy and servants who are responsible for teaching in the Church always go back to the troubles that the demons create. In the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), the majority of evil thoughts that these monks and nuns fought against came from the demons, especially as described in the Apophthegmata Patrum. With the renaissance of this literature among the contemporary monastic movement in Egypt and its wide reading among clergy and laypeople living in the cities, many people have mistakenly assumed that the demons mentioned in those stories and sayings of the ancient Desert Fathers (and Mothers) are indeed what everyone experiences in their spiritual lives. If the holy St. Macarius, in the middle of the desert, could get the thoughts of fornication because of a demon, then that same demon can influence the youth today in giving them thoughts of fornication. The clergy and servants then teach that it is necessary to fight off this demon by inhibiting the sexual desires - and they would often teach this by saying really negative things about sexuality.

More importantly for the discussion in this blog, the Coptic Church responded to the issue of homosexuality - that is, the experience of Christian people who happen to have a homosexual orientation - as though it is a deception from the demons, and as such needs to be fought off through prayer, fasting and communion. Nevertheless, many Christians who happen to be homosexuals will inform you that no matter how much fasting, prayer, and communion they’ve engaged in, they are still convinced that they are homosexuals. This does not imply that they have engaged or want to engage in homosexual behaviour, but it is just how they view themselves based on their experiences and desires. This leads to the following questions: is homosexuality from the demons? Is the understanding of the Christian person who participates in the sacraments and spirituality of the Church being deceived by the thought of being a homosexual through a demon?

The straightforward answer is: No.

The Church, unfortunately, has missed the whole point of the psychology and spirituality of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers). The Church has mistakenly attributed all human desires to thoughts from the demons. This is not the teaching of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), and it is based on a misreading (or lack of accurate reading and study) of the literature. There is a huge difference between “desire” and “thoughts,” and unfortunately the Church today has confused the two things as though they are one. So, let’s get back to the basics:

Every human person is naturally endowed with desires. According to the philosophy of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and Church Fathers and Mothers, those desires are morally neutral. They are given to us by God, and are in fact a part of the soul. In contemporary language, these desires are our senses, personalities, feelings, and emotions.

Take, for example, the feeling of hunger. This is the desire for the body to eat. Morally speaking, the fact that you are hungry and that you desire food to satisfy this hunger is neither a passion nor a virtue - so it is morally neutral. How you choose to act to satisfy this hunger could either be a passion or virtue: if you decide to gorge yourself with food, then that is considered gluttony, which is a passion; but if you decide to eat in moderation, then that is considered continence. If someone is a glutton, then there is need for repentance and spiritual exercises (ascesis) to practice and finally reach the virtuous life of eating with continence and sharing in love with your hungry neighbours.

So, remember that there are three things mentioned here:
1) Desire: Morally neutral, and is a part of the human soul, which can be used either:
2) In Passion: Sin.
3) In Virtue: God-like

Where do the thoughts come into play?

The thoughts coming from the demons, according to the Desert Fathers, are basically conceptual images that come to their minds and that causes their natural desires to act in passion, and therefore sin. St. Evagrius of Pontus, who is known as the “Psychologist of the Desert,” explains: “All thoughts inspired by the demons produce within us conceptions of sensory objects; and in this way the intellect, with such conceptions imprinted on it, bears the forms of these objects within itself” (Texts on Discrimination in Respect of Passions and Thoughts #2, in The Philokalia, Vol. 1, 38). Thoughts, also, are not similar to what we today would call an “idea,” or “theory,” or anything that has to do with the human understanding of one’s existential self. There is certainly much more to say beyond what I could discuss here about the topic of thoughts, whether they are from demons (which lead to passion), from the Holy Spirit (which lead to virtue), or just plain human thoughts, and I encourage further reading of the Desert Fathers and the Philokalia in order to learn about and discern the different kinds of thoughts.

So, let’s say a monk in the desert is very hungry (which, we’ve shown above to be a natural human desire), and a demon gave that monk a “thought” of a magnificent dinner in a comfortable palace that he used to live in back in Rome before he became a monk. The monk now has to either fight off that thought, which is a conceptual image of a banquet in a palace, or give up on his monasticism and return to the old comfortable life he once had as a prince. So, this is an example of a “thought.” It would seem silly to insist that the monk has to fight off his natural desire of hunger - that is impossible, and would lead him to death. For this reason, the spirituality of the Church has always been careful so as not to confuse “desires” with “thoughts” - the monk ought to fight off the thoughts coming from the demons or from his own memories, but not his own natural desires.

Now, how does this tie up with homosexuality?

A person with a homosexual orientation is like a person who is hungry. That is a natural sexual desire. Human sexuality is a natural desire, and the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) have never spoken as though they were against the sexual desires, which is a part of their souls, but only against the thoughts of fornication. They also never spoke of the virtue of moderation in sexual relationships, because they were speaking in their own contexts of living in chastity.

If a person who understands him or her self as a homosexual fantasizes of having sexual acts with people they do not intend to be in relationships with, then one could say that such conceptual images are thoughts brought about by demons to let that person fall in the sin of fornication. However, just knowing, through the intellect, that a person is homosexual is in itself morally neutral, and such it is not a thought by a demon.

So, a person with a homosexual orientation is not someone who has been convinced by a demon that he or she is a homosexual. Such a person is not expected to fight off their natural human sexual desire, because it is morally neutral, and just as in the case of human sexual desire between heterosexual couples, it should not lead to the passion of fornication, but should be practiced as the virtue of moderation.

In conclusion, the homosexual orientation is a human desire. As a human desire, and part of the human soul, it is morally neutral. It is not a thought from the demons, because demons cannot affect the soul (or mind) of the human person and convince them of their own nature. The demons are not telling anyone they are homosexuals, and homosexuals cannot be told by the Church that they are possessed or influenced by demons to believe that they are homosexuals, and must fight off those thoughts through repentance and prayer. Demons can, however, give thoughts (that is, conceptual images) to any human person in order to lead them to fornication, whether in their minds or in reality. In the latter case, it would be recommended that the person practices the spirituality of the Church and participates in the sacraments, so as to avoid such thoughts that would result in sin. Participating in the sacraments and praying do not remove the homosexual orientation because it is a human desire and is a part of the soul, but they will allow for the person to grow in Christ and avoid the thoughts that would lead to fornication. In the former case of human desire, it is the Church that should be aware of its own Tradition of teachings that demons cannot affect the soul, that human desire is morally neutral and cannot change (until death), and that no one ought to attempt to change those desires, because that would be destructive of the human person as a whole.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Silent Night

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel 

What does it mean to be Gay and Coptic on Christmas?  Well for me, it's the above lyric.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  Presents are fun but who needs them.   It's about remembering that amidst all the monotony, the strife and pain and confusion, there is a constant Emmanuel, the very real and present "God Is With Us."

Recommended reading:   On The Incarnation by Athanasius

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where My Sisters At?

It's very evident that the experiences of being a gay man are being represented here.  Not only is the male experience being represented, most of the comments that are countering some of the thoughts posted on this blog are targeting male homosexuality.   Can we get a little respect for our sisters please?

There are lesbians who identify with being Coptic as well, I wonder where they are at.   If you're out there, please contact me.  I'd love to have a few of you write for this blog, expressing your thoughts and your experiences growing up Coptic and also being a lesbian.  

It's clear that a part of the picture is missing, and we need your voices.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Just (Don't) Do It: An Epilogue To Cross Dressing Saints

One of the many comments on my original thread entitled "Cross Dressing Saints", read as follows:

Now when looking at any commandment we must see why God would want us to refrain from cross-dressing. It is because cross-dressing shows a sort of contempt for being the gender God made you, and a desire to be the other gender and/or a rebellious nature, all of which are not Christian.

However what these Saints did was very different. They didn't do it rebelliously or out of contempt for their gender or a desire to be the other gender. Rather they did it so that they'd live closer to God. Surely this wasn't the Spirit of the law that God gave. What these Saints did was in line with the spirit of the law.      

I think this is the point I'm actually trying to make. While gender identity is a lot more complex than we often take for granted, there is something to be said for this notion that showing contempt for who you were created or born to be by acting differently might not be good for the soul. Notice the passage in Deuteronomy does not say "Do not show contempt for the gender God made you." It simply says "A woman must not wear a man's clothing..." and continues on "...for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this." 

 When the church canonized these saints, I'm sure the church must have asked herself, "what did God mean by this verse in the Pentateuch? Is this an all-encompassing statement? Is there a context in which a person wearing the clothing of the opposite gender is ok?" Maybe not in those exact words, but you get my drift. The church herself deemed the motivations of these women, not only permissible, but admirable, and holy, and from the fruits of the lives of these women, I dare say, so did God.

The same question needs to be asked in regards to Homosexuality. Is the Bible truly making a blanket statement?  What did homosexual contact and behavior represent at the time? You might brush these questions off as "liberal" or "agenda-oriented", but you'd be doing yourself a tremendous disservice. Why do we respond to some verses with conversation and inquiry, and others as ipso facto commands? The answer is easy.  We're self centered.

For people who apparently do not have to deal with same sex attraction, there is no need to look deeper into these verses. For a church that is afraid of the "Culture Wars" as someone had put it, a hard line is necessary for the assumed preservation of the whole, even at the expense of a divergent few. But when it comes to a person who is actually experiencing these feelings, understanding the truth behind these passages becomes ever so important, because the resulting understanding will completely drive not only the course, but the well-being of this person's life and relationships. A person who loves himself will be able to love others and love God. Not so much for the self-hating man or woman.

To dismiss the importance of these questions is to spit in the face of these people whose very lives are affected. Understanding if we are truly required to give up all forms of same-sex romantic and intimate love, can mean the difference between being a healthy and a very broken person. It is not just a matter of "not doing it." There are plenty of people out there who simply just "don't do it" who fall victim to a whole host of psychological and behavioral issues that do not affect just themselves. Are "crowns in heaven" the reward for the whole host of sins they commit as a result of the one "sin" they managed to avoid? Don't ask me, ask the wives who are emotionally and physically neglected by these husbands. Just ask the youth who have become either emotional or sexual prey to over-controlling and manipulative church leaders or mentors. (Ever meet someone of the same gender who was just a little creepy? Who took too much of an interest in you and while it was nice at first, ended up controlling and suffocating you? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about). Ok let's ask other people. Just ask the young man who has a messy and complicated relationship with his best friend. And while you're at it, ask the parents of dead gay and lesbian children, who have lost the loves of their lives because their children could not handle it anymore.

While people both gay and straight choose to live celibate lives for a variety of reasons, how one approaches and arrives at this conclusion will make the difference whether or not this person will be healthy or are actually harming themselves. You don't need to look past your very life to see the difference between heaven and hell. If simply "not doing it" is a virtue, then how do you explain all the rotten fruit in these forests of obedience?

So while the church might very well always believe that homosexual activity is wrong, how they communicate this message, how they will deal with their own children who disagree, and how they deal with their own congregations will make the difference in whether or not the church is able to continue being a light in this world to all people. It is obvious that the church does have a long ways to go before it can get to this place, but the question is, will she do her homework, or will she even bother? Based on the resources available, it's still "not a Coptic issue."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Video: Gay and Christian?

I have to give props to Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network for putting together this video series that I came across today. It's an intro to the question of how someone can be both Christian and gay.  It goes over briefly, the different views, or Side A vs. Side B.    For those of you who are questioning what the hell to do with yourself, just know it's not a one-size-fits-all situation.   Enjoy the video.  Thanks for the comments and the emails.   It's proving that we're really not alone after all.

It looks like they've also put together a video, where people are giving their testimonies. Whether you agree or not, these are human beings, these are peoples lives. Their voices deserve to be heard. Thank all of you in the video for having the courage to do this

Weekend's almost here! Have a safe and happy one, i.e. Don't do anything I would do :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Silent Majority?

I have a secret.    It's something you probably didn't know.   Maybe you knew, heck, maybe you're one of a silent population out there.   But this is an important secret, why?  Because this draws attention to a little known fact, that really, we're not as alone as we think we are.  Are you ready?  Here it goes:

straight coptic people support us

I'm telling you the truth.   Straight coptic people SUPPORT us.  You might be thinking: "Well of course there are quite a few straight people who attend church every year at Easter, who probably brush their teeth before taking communion, who think Tai-shori is sung during the Feast of the Cross when it's clearly supposed to be Ti-shori.  Oh, and also if they had read Bishop Youssef's commentary on the subject they would clearly know how His Grace thinks of this matter, and what is then expected of us.  Amateurs!"

Actually, both in my real life, and from emails I've gotten through this blog, there are quite a number of people, much more than I had expected, who are straight, who are coptic, who actually believe and serve in the church faithfully, but who see past the simplistic answers given by the church (lowercase C).  They've come to understand that especially regarding this issue, there is a lot more than meets the eye.

Unfortunately many are afraid to get their views out there and a few have told me, they'd rather not speak up about it.   Why?  Well, it's rather simple. Our culture oppresses. There, I said it. If you think differently, look differently, act differently, if you even eat differently, you will receive the judging eye of your congregation, and to many, that is their life, their family, and their community.  And it's understandable, we don't want to be ostracized by our friends, and we don't want to ruin our reputations.  We do want to get married after all.  But it's not only that.  There is a certain respect we have for the teachings of our church, that we love so much.  In the past 1500 years, the church has been through so much, that we have developed a sense of pride in what our ancestors went through, in order for us to be who we are today.  But in that respect, we tend to have blurred vision, when it comes to what the Church gave us, and what the church demands.

But for you brothers and sisters who have given your love, your hugs, your emails, and unconditional support and understanding, I dedicate this to you. You make this world safer for people like me. You remind me that there is no straight or gay, but only people.  And you are Jesus to those who have the privilege to know you. Thank you.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Of Sheep and Men

Photo: Mitchell Kanashkevich

Yesterday's reading is an old favorite: John 10:1-6.  An excerpt:

The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

The story goes like this:

A young man or woman in the church, realizes she is gay and goes in one of two directions.  Consider the stories of Sally and Jack

1) Sally ignores her feelings, and she pretends they're not there and proceeds forward, assimilating with the community around her.  She has problems with intimacy, and will become a pro at deceiving herself and others.

2) Jack knew at an early age he was not compatible with the church community around him.  He acknowledges this conflict and decides that spirituality as a whole is garbage.  He knows that he himself would be judged harshly if people knew, and he sees first hand, from the pulpit to the coffee hour, how much the church lacks compassion for those who are different, who think, dress, and act different, and decides, why should he bother?

I've spoken to many gay and lesbian coptic people and this seems to be the common themes. I was Sally, and then I was Jack, and then by grace and by love, I learned there was another way.   First of all, I have a hard time claiming truth, especially about who God is.   It is not for me to say, as I am just one man.  I prefer to let the Divine do the talking here.  I think that God reveals himself to us in ways that are very personal.  I am not an advocate for one church over another, I just know that for many of us who are gay who come from a Coptic background, we see God as a very all or nothing thing. He is either a bigger version of the strictest priest or father we've ever known, or he's a figment of the imaginations of the power structures, created by religious institutions to make money and keep us in check. Unfortunately, there is no hope in either one of these options.

My heart breaks for brothers and sisters of mine, who are either living in fear and are completely split off from themselves, or feel so rejected and out of place, that they lose themselves in very dangerous behavior with questionable company.

Then there's the great paradox:    Sometimes we actually do believe in God, we believe he's against our sexuality, and yet, we still find a way to live as gays and lesbians, but because we are already rejected, we don't value ourselves as gay people, we don't respect other gay people, and we live irresponsibly with our own hearts and with the hearts of others.  I have experienced this, and let me tell you, it's painful.

I dated a man who lived his life in this way, he broke my heart as a result of his own self-hatred.   Because he felt his love for me was disobedient, he felt he didn't need to respect it.   In a way, many of us do not want to believe that God is pleased and has actually blessed us as gay and lesbian children of his, because it relieves us from responsibility. There's a theory in psychology that says, sometimes when we've crossed a line, the line disappears.  Sometimes the existence of God and his supposed disapproval, gives us the freedom to do crazy things.   Even more than a person who doesn't believe in God at all.

We're still children, rebelling against our parents.

But at the root of all this, I believe is self hatred.   Years of rejection, either directly or indirectly, can make a person reject themselves, and that becomes the norm.   And as a result we have a population who is broken, and whether they know it or not, desire love: true love, but feel completely unworthy of it.

For me the change came, when I stopped telling people what they wanted to hear, and I started telling the truth.   The change came for me, when I told people "this is who I am." and accepted their love, or their rejection.  The change came for me, when I was surrounded by people who saw me no different as a gay man, than they did when they thought I was straight.   The change came for me when I found myself in community with people who were like me, not necessarily gay, but who shared my vision, my hopes, and my beliefs.  The change came for me, when I met a man I could pray with, and with whom I could bring our relationship before God.  The change came for me, when I found myself in a faith community that said I was welcome as me.   I began understanding what love was.  I began understanding what divine grace was.  And I began hurting for all those years I missed out.  I finally started to understand that just because I was gay, it didn't mean I had to engage in the stereotypical behaviors that is often expected of me.  I could just really be myself.   It was through all this that I learned that I was actually OK, and that I was a child of God, except now, I could actually live my life as such.

I know the church has no idea how to handle people who are gay and lesbian.  Her sermons, her publications, and her leadership prove this time and time again.   Whether or not the Coptic church sees that being gay is a viable and holy option for some people, I believe there is room in the church to open her arms, and to embrace her children who have either left, or who have been rejected by her.  Otherwise, I do fear judgement on this institution, which has such a rich history of art, literature, theology, and grace, that if such closed-mindedness continues, she would have traded her purpose to be a vessel of love and grace in this world, for stagnancy and then complete dissolution.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Undercover At A Gay Conversion Camp

There's a switch inside every gay man, that can set this man straight.   However it's kind of rusty, and it takes years of fasting and prayer to loosen it up, and even then, it gets stuck.  But the problem isn't the switch, it's just that gay men just aren't trying hard enough!   At least that's what groups like Exodus International tell people when their members aren't straight enough, at least that's what they told me.

While many gay men have experienced ex-gay conversion therapy and some have lived to tell about it, how many straight guys do you know undergo therapy to cure their homosexuality?   In a brilliant attempt to expose both the uselessness as well as the danger of ex-gay programs, Ted Cox, a writer from Sacramento, also a heterosexual man, went undercover posing as a gay man, and signed up for Journey Into Manhood, a program designed to change gays into straights, by use of quasi-psychology, attempted spirituality, and a whole lot of Kool-Aid.

I'm not sure exactly why such a story is more interesting than, let's say, your average gay dude doing the same thing, I think it hits me on a few levels:

1.  The fact that a straight man cares enough about the well being of gay men.  I mean, this is huge.  Whenever someone decides they're going to be in solidarity with someone, or someones that they are not, it just humbles me, and touches my heart, and reminds me of all the good that exists in the world. He willfully put himself in someone else's shoes, shoes that, while fashionable, fit way too tight, and walked in them for several days.   So much so that he would undergo a journey into the unknown, one where he ended up feeling a man's erection for the first time.  For real.
Sometime during all that holding and touching and singing, while I was cradled in the Motorcycle position, I felt it: the unmistakable bulge pressing through his tight jeans. It was the first time in my life I had a felt another man’s erection.
I attended an ex-gay group in Los Angeles many years ago, at the recommendation of a Coptic priest, and this sort of thing happened all the time.  In fact, more seasoned members saw me as "new meat" in retrospect, and told me that I desired affection more than sex, so we should cuddle and spoon with each other so we can train ourselves to receive intimacy without having to be sexual.   Granted, heavy crushes ensued, and plenty of physical reactions and salutes, and while I never engaged in anything sexual with these men, the lines were very blurry, and at the end of the day, we were behaving as boyfriends on an emotional level, while leaving sex out of it, creating some real internal conflicts.  Jealousy, attachment, dependency, it all existed in this group.    I found myself almost in love with another member, and just hating myself for feeling something I shouldn't have been feeling, especially when I was doing things that was supposed to make me less gay.    But how can you spend nights in the arms of someone, without growing romantically attached to them?  It's just so contrary to who we are designed as people. Oy vey!  Luckily that didn't last too long.

2.  The so-called "reasons" why men end up being gay become somewhat debunked when the author realizes his story is not so different from the other guys in the program, except, he's not gay!
Dad and I haven’t spoken much in the 10 years since I left the Mormon church; in fact, I haven’t heard from him at all in three years. And yet, despite being raised by an abusive, spiritually castrated father, I have a strong preference for women.
This was a big one for me.   Yes, we had problems at home, but these issues very much affected me growing up.  These were issues I did not even want to remember, until ex-gay experiences brought them back up, resurfaced them, and they were a tool in explaining why I was feeling same-sex attraction (SSA).    I mean it made perfect sense.  And it made perfect sense that once these wounds were healed, so would my attractions to men.    And these wounds started healing as I sought reconciliation with my parents, especially my father.   However, I remained gay.    Then there were guys in the ministry who had the perfect childhoods, who were still gay.  And then there were my straight friends who had equally jacked up childhood experiences as I had, and were very much attracted to women.   Maybe NARTH needs to get their facts straight!

But let me emphasize something.   The Orthodox church can look at this, and say, well that's all mumbo jumbo, and these programs are clearly deficient and doing more harm than good, but what about will power?   Unfortunately the church teaches that even being attracted to men is a sin.  A sin that plagued me since I was a little boy.  That's a story for another time, back to Ex-Gay Undercover!

Also what Ted sees, is a group of men, who are sincerely wounded, who are sincerely looking for help and for healing in their lives.   One cannot help but feel bad for the recruits, and disdain for the leaders.

While I have made peace with the fact I spent many years trying to fix myself, and many years being faithful to something that ended up harming me, I wish those years had not happened. I'm left thousands of dollars poorer, and with emotional baggage that I am still working through at times.   But again, I feel lucky.  Lucky to be alive, and lucky to be loved.

Ted, I salute you.   Read the full article here on Good Men Project

I Dedicate This To You

This post is dedicated to you:

If you're lonely and confused, this post is dedicated to you.

If you are pretending to be something that you're not in order to survive, this post is dedicated to you.

If you're living in a country, that has laws that has laws that threaten your life, this post is dedicated to you.

If you're a sunday school teacher, and have no idea how to deal with a student in your class who you think is gay, this post is dedicated to you.

If you're a parent and just found out your son or daughter is gay, and you're afraid about how the world will view them or your family, this post is dedicated to you.

If you're gay and you've recently come out, this post is dedicated to you.

If you met the partner of your dreams, this post is dedicated to you.

If you've had your heart broken, this post is dedicated to you.

If you're not gay, but you know what it feels like to be completely misunderstood by those around you, this post is dedicated to you.

If you've ever been called "fag" by someone at church, this post is dedicated to you.

If you've ever HEARD the word "fag" spoken by someone at church, this post is dedicated to you.

If you are gay and in the closet, and your church friends say inflamatory things about gay people, whether in jest, disgust, or ignorance, mainly because they think they're completely in the company of other straight people: this post is dedicated to you.

If you're gay, and you hate yourself so much because of it, that you do harm to others, and make others feel small, this post is dedicated to you.

If you're not gay but have no idea how to relate to a friend you recently found out was gay, this post is dedicated to you.

If you're a church leader or servant, and you are struggling with attraction to the same sex, and are feeling the pressure of having to carry the souls of young people in your hands, but do not know what to do or where to go: this post is dedicated to you.

If your parents have rejected you, this post is dedicated to you.

If your priest has rejected you, this post is dedicated to you.

If you have felt the love of another person, who accepts you as you are, this post is dedicated to you.

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:18