Thoughts from a gay Christian

Archive for March, 2015

Hugs

I love hugs.

The power of a good hug was something I began to realise in my late teens and early 20’s, when my sexuality consumed me and I found myself in a new church where I discovered what real friendship actually looked like.

In various talks I’ve heard in churches over the years, hugs are something that come up and are addressed in such a way as to suggest a certain contention about their appropriateness, almost always in reference to a friendship shared between a gay man and a straight man. The matter is raised as a concern can be manifest in the straight man that engaging in a hug could be anything from potentially unhelpful for the gay man, all the way to the horrendous response of “Whoa! Dude, I’m not gay!”

With such fears in mind, a gay man in the church often feels compelled to allay such fears by proclaiming that “A hug is just a hug.” Whilst I fully understand the motivation behind such a proclamation, it’s something that I cannot help but feel that at some level, is manifestly untrue.

If we are to refer to the potential sexual/physical arousal (real or imagined) that may be a potential consequence of a hug then yes, despite the potential for that to be a possibility, the fact will likely be that this is not the intention, nor the desire and would best be thought of as a very painful reaction that the gay man desperately wishes was not present. However, such circumstances aside where the adverb of “just” is legitimate, to reduce hugs to a level of superficiality that’s barely above a handshake is a massive disservice to what hugs represent and mean.

In terms of common physical expressions of affection, anything beyond a hug almost always has a sexual component and is often shared between people whom have such a dimension to their relationship. Hugs have an enormity of meaning and tenderness inherent in them that I think is missed by many. People don’t return home from overseas and greet friends and family with a handshake. Instead the arrival (or departure) of a loved one is a moment of often intense emotion that is on display in any airport you care to mention, heralded by two primary expressions: tears and hugs.

A hug can be used to welcome a friend home, to greet a relative, or to provide a safe space for emotional expression ranging from elated to devastated. A hug expresses an emotional bond and intimacy that words cannot hope to compare with and crucially, thankfully, is not the exclusive domain of marriage. A hug is an intimacy that is universally shared and is unencumbered with inherent romance or sexuality. It speaks volumes about the human desire for physical contact, right from conception. Talking to someone on the phone or even over a video call is nice, but as anyone with experience in maintaining a long-distance relationship of any kind will tell you, it’s just not the same.

Hugs bring a certain existential reality to the relationship in which they’re shared. You can feel the other person’s touch, their warmth, as though their emotional affection has become physically animated and can be felt physically by the body, as well as emotionally by the heart. When Will was in Shaun’s office in Good Will Hunting and the years of abuse finally came pouring out in a flood of tears, Shaun didn’t shake Will’s hand and say “Congratulations. This is great progress.” No – he hugged him and held him because words weren’t enough.

Good hugs seem to be a bit more of a problem for men. Whilst some may say that they’re just not into them, that’s not something I entirely buy. I cannot help but think that “not being into them” is at some level grounded in a level of insecurity about one’s sexuality. It’s not that the guy just doesn’t like hugs – more that he’s afraid his mates will think he’s gay and so whatever enjoyment and enrichment might be found in a hug with another man is sabotaged in the name of vacuous and superficial commandments put forward by a society that doesn’t really understand men very well at all.

When you hug a friend or relative, no matter how casual or deliberate it may be, there’s a beautiful exchange that’s taking place that is often deeply rewarding and comforting and I’d encourage you to pause in that moment and be reminded of what’s being silently said.

A hug is not just a hug.

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Two Ears, One Steamroller

There’s an old adage that goes “God gave you two ears and one mouth and you should use them proportionately”. Sadly, it is one not often heard these days and after two recent experiences with friends, it is a lamentable fact.

Over the years, one of the most common things I’ve been asked by those whom don’t struggle with same-sex attraction is “What should I say?” and my response is always the same: “Nothing.” This often draws a mix of surprise and disappointment, the cause of both, I suspect, being the lack of a more thorough response.
Given the immense weight of the subject at hand, I would feel similarly disenchanted with such an answer if that was all that was said. Of course it should be given in the context of greater information, but why would it be the first piece of advice that I would give?

Wikipedia and Google have made everyone experts and when married with an ever-increasing sense of self-entitlement and narcissism, unsolicited “advice” is rampant and often unhelpful. The expectation to be heard (or, to be fair, an intense desire to help) often succeeds thoughtfulness and the results can be less than ideal.
Unfortunately this can be exasperated by those within the church as they seek to provide the clearest of objections to secular views on sexuality and voice Scripture’s very plain references to such. This is not helpful.
Whilst I agree that faithful Christians should seek to uphold and promote faithful and biblical teaching, like all things in life it needs to be tempered by love and timing. The former is especially poignant as my experiences have shown that one person’s concept of “love” in this context is often radically different to another’s, even when understood exclusively within a Christian community.

In a recent catch-up with a friend from a former church, the conversation – punctuated by the enjoyment of a good beer – turned to the subject of my church attendance. This is a touchy subject for me as some previous encounters within church have been extremely hurtful and painful. Now this friend is a good, godly guy and has known life outside of his current Christian faith, so has some worldly wisdom that brings a measure of humility and understanding sometimes lacking in those who’ve never been outside of the church. However when my lack of current church attendance was explained as being borne out of previous hurts, my speech was cut short with a swift refusal of my friend to accept my reasons. He felt that my objections with the church were “just not the case” based on what he had experienced in the church.

This was the reaction of a friend whom had never struggled with same-sex attraction, is married and has been in only one church and for then only a few years. At the time I just moved on with the conversation, taken aback by the veracity of his response. As I left our social time together and thought about our little disagreement, I began to understand that the response of my friend was actually something I found quite hurtful. A friend and brother with a very different existence sought fit to reject my experience (a lifetime struggling with being gay and Christian) because his experience (no same-sex attraction) was different.

Not long after this, an encounter with a minister friend rubbed salt into this wound. This was a meeting arranged by me to specifically call this man out on the deeply hurtful manner he had recently engaged with a gay, non-Christian friend of his around the subject of gay marriage. After watching the argument over Facebook degenerate to a very hurtful level, I decided my minister friend could do with some perspective that wasn’t found in his life of privilege and the ideal wife and children.

With an unfortunate familiarity, I found my words to my minister friend were often swiftly cut off before my sentences were even finished. This is a man who knew me to have been raised in the same faith as himself, but such was his fetishistic obsession with making sure my theology was right, that he made the same fundamental mistake – rejecting my words and experiences as a gay man within the church, despite it being a perspective he had absolutely no personal experience with. Peppered throughout our conversation were consistent reminders from me that I was not asking him to abandon faithful teaching, only that his methodology was very poor and often divisive and destructive. He behaved in a way I found objectionable and typically Anglican – the theology of the mind is what matters and the feelings of the heart don’t.

Which leads me back to love (and the steamroller). For my minister friend, this was not the first time he’d approached the LGBT issue – and thus me personally – in a way that was deeply hurtful and arrogant. Leaving that conversation mired in disappointment and anger, I found myself picturing him in the seat of that steamroller. The manner in which he deals with LGBT issues is that of a man who takes Scripture, wraps it around the rollers and then drives straight over people whilst shouting “Proverbs 27:6! Tough love!”. People already in pain were the subject of greater damage inflicted by a mix of ignorance and hubris, with their cries of objection seemingly dismissed as though their only source was to be found in clinging to sin, rather than a genuine case of hurt.

When I tell people that they should say nothing, I don’t mean that they should remain forever silent on the subject. Someone who’s willing to open themselves up in such a vulnerable way is hoping for love and acceptance, not indifference. What I am saying is that by keeping your thoughts and opinions to yourself until there has been time to carefully and prayerfully consider what will be achieved by airing them, you could save a lot of hurt.

Don’t start quoting 1 Cor 6:9 or Lev 18:22 simply because you think they need to hear it. Trust me, they have an interest in such passages far beyond what you will ever experience. Don’t tell them “I understand” because you don’t. Indeed, unless you’re actually in a pair of rainbow shoes yourself, you can’t understand! Don’t feel the need to draw on your own struggles in an attempt to minimise theirs, as this can be interpreted as you not giving due weight to how they feel.

Someone who’s struggling with being attracted to their own sex is likely someone who is – or has been – in great emotional turmoil and coming out (pardon the pun) with your views as a straight person may not be helpful or even wanted. Being truly heard is a huge component to being truly accepted and faced with a herculean struggle such as being a LGBT Christian, this is often what is being sought.

Exercise your ears before exercising your vocal chords.