Part One was all about how straight people are wonderful and we would like to be your friends! Part Two is… not about that.
Sometimes when I talk about my own experiences of same-sex friendship, I’ll talk about the times when sexual desire transformed, over time, into deep friendship. Most of my friendships with women did not start with crushes (in the words of a t-shirt I spotted at Pride, “I’M BISEXUAL BUT I’M STILL NOT INTO YOU”). But a couple of the friendships which have done the most good for my spiritual life did.
I talk about that experience not because it’s the best path to friendship, but because so many gay Christians have received spiritual advice along the lines of, “You need *~*disinterested*~* same-sex friendships to heal your Father Wound, or your Sports Wound, or uh… whatever causes lesbianism, who even knows what women are. But remember, if you ever start developing sexual attraction to your friend, flee! Flee the near occasion of sin–your soul is at stake!”
And so people end up in this awful, demoralizing, depleting cycle, where they meet someone and would like to get to know him or her better, and they spend time together and it’s great! Maybe… too great???? And then they notice that hey, shockingly, they are sexually-attracted to the person of their preferred sex whom they like enormously and spend a lot of time with. And so they flee, or freak out, or get crazy and needy because they have nobody to talk to about this stuff and no way to articulate it and nobody to calm them down a little; and that’s the end of that friendship. And then they meet someone and would like to get to know him or her better… lather, rinse, repeat.
People end up feeling awful. They feel broken; barred by their sexuality from both marriage and same-sex friendship; unable to take the advice the straight Christians around them are giving them; eventually, they may become hyperaware of even the slightest twitch of desire, because sexual desire has become such a huge threat that they scrutinize themselves for it constantly. Convinced, often, that they are doing something wrong simply by experiencing desires over which they have no control and which they have often desperately sought to repress or change. It begins to seem that obedience is impossible for them, because they are gay. In attempting to avoid the near occasion of lust they have laid themselves open to the vicious assaults of despair. (An extremely fun fact about this whole process is that you don’t even need another person to commit sins of lust, and if you’re terrified of intimacy and hate yourself and your sexuality already, you’re probably carrying a porno machine in your pocket. Have fun self-medicating!)
So it’s pretty important to me to point out that people have come through this. Both men and women (this is not just a chick thing). Sometimes you really do need to step back from a friendship. Other times you can wait, and continue to love, and pray and seek God’s will, and learn how to pour yourself out in love for your friend.
Some straight Christians (sorry to keep reifying this social construct but like… if it walks like a duck, it reifies duckness) will instead give you the advice, “Why don’t you just make opposite-sex friends?” I have three basic responses to this. One is that I can’t help thinking, this seems like an unnecessarily engineering-major approach to life! (Have you tried turning yourself off and then turning yourself on again?) The second is that I do have guy friends, as most gay people have close opposite-sex friends. I take the historical and Scriptural models in which devoted or covenant friendships were same-sex pretty seriously, but I’m also possibly moving in with a guy friend, so basically people should love and make a home as best they can.
But the deeper issue here is that same-sex love is a real and beautiful thing. We’re constantly being told that same-sex sexual desire is disordered, which I accept, as I accept all that is taught by Holy Mother Church. But when people (or ducks) try to tell you how to order your desires, they always try to get you to keep the expression of desire the same, but change the object. This is the “become straight” option, if “option” is the word I want. There is another way for desire to become ordered: same object, different expression. People who long for same-sex love and intimacy should maybe be encouraged to learn how to do that, since it is good, and holy, and beautiful. In spite of our consumerist, erotically-obsessed, and fragmented (but I repeat myself) culture; in spite of original sin; in spite of all our rationalizations and all the bad advice, I’ve seen gay people form deep same-sex friendships. (This is one of the many ways in which gay people are just like straight people! It’s almost as if “gay vs. straight” is a social construct, and only one way of arranging and understanding a complex array of longings.) Some of these friendships are with other gay people. Some aren’t. All of them, from what I can tell, have brought the participants closer to their Lord.
I’m writing a new book, which I’ve mentioned, on gay people’s experience of God’s love for us. I was at the Pride parade this weekend. I have all kinds of issues with contemporary Pride celebrations but here is the thing: I know Christians, believers seeking to live obediently, who feel freed at Pride in a way they never feel in church. In so many of our churches, gay people’s shame is treated as a proof of their orthodoxy or personal holiness. Coming out, calling oneself “gay” instead of using careful phrases like “I struggle with same-sex attraction” (phrases which are true to some people’s experience, and I don’t want to stigmatize these, I just don’t think this is the only good way to understand things–and often is not the best way), exploring the possibility that same-sex love is not a danger but a form of beauty, suggesting that gay people may be able to offer gifts to the Church because of our experiences–all of these are treated as disobedience. They’re signs that you’re insufficiently ashamed to be gay. Chris Damian, in a really powerful and insightful post, says, “In the Christian world, being gay is an occupational hazard, a social constraint, and an intellectual problem. … Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, ‘It is only through the You that the I can come into itself.’ But gay people spend so much time fearing that we are not a ‘You’ to Christians. And so we cannot come into ourselves as Christians.”
I don’t feel especially liberated by Pride, but that is because I was never imprisoned in the ways that my friends have been. I’m always aware of the ways in which my faith makes me an outsider there. But my friends, who share my faith in spite of much greater suffering at the hands of Christians, feel liberated at Pride because it is a place where being gay does not separate you from others, but connects you to them. Being in a space where everyone is gay and just rejoicing in our community, flinging beads (I do love the beads), being gay in a million different ways, makes you see that being gay can mean community instead of silence, solidarity instead of judgment, beauty instead of barrenness, welcome instead of suspicion, and joy instead of despair.
Why can’t it mean that in our churches? What would happen if my friends felt as free in their churches as they do at Pride?
Maybe all that I write about this stuff is just an attempt to free my friends to love and serve, as we were called to do. You belong to God, so do not be ashamed of what is His.