Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
—1 John 4:7-9
I subscribe to emails from QueerTheology.com, and they send out some interesting stuff. I particularly enjoy their “Daily Affirmation” emails that contain inspirational quotes. If you follow my Twitter (@ClosetProfessor), you may have noticed that I sometimes retweet these quotes. Last week, they sent out an email about their Faithful Sexuality course (registration ended on Friday). It looks like an interesting course, but at $83, I will not participate, especially since I just don’t have the time. I bring all of this up because Brian G. Murphy, one of the founders of Queer Theology, wrote in the email about his experiences with coming to terms with his sexuality and the guilt he felt in those years. Here’s an excerpt from that email that brought up some thoughts of my own:
I spent too many nights sitting on the floor of my shower after sex, hoping that the water would wash away not just the sweat but also the sex & shame.
I would get home from a date or a hookup, hop into the shower, and before long, I’d find myself curled up on the floor of the shower, with the water rushing over me. Talking about it now, it sounds like a cliche scene out of a movie, but that was my actual response.
Eventually, I’d get up off the floor, brush my teeth, and resolve to not do “it” again. Not kiss a boy. Not have casual sex. Not do XYZ sexual act that I deemed “too sexual” or “depraved” or “not romantic enough.” I’d delete his number from my phone or unfriend him on Facebook. I’d make a pact to try again at “waiting until marriage.” Maybe I can find a girlfriend? Or at least a Christian boy? “I should go back to church.” “I should stop looking at porn.” I should I should I should.
When I was in high school, I did everything I could to deny that I was gay. Other kids constantly bullied me for being gay, which seemed to be the worst thing I could be. My first sexual experience was with a girlfriend I had one summer when I attended a summer honors program at the University of Alabama. She was from Kentucky and a bit of a tomboy. We had a dinner to attend for the program, and she needed a dress. She had never owned a dress, so I took her to buy one. Though we grew to care for each other over that summer (she is probably the only woman I ever saw myself spending the rest of my life with), she went back home to Kentucky, and I went back to my home in southern Alabama. The distance, and that this was a time before texting or email, we grew apart. She is married and a university professor now. We’ve had no contact in 25 years, but I do think of her fondly and wish her well.
My second sexual experience was very different. My best friend growing up (we are no longer friends because of her rabid support of Trump and her harassment of me for not believing in wild Trump and QAnon conspiracy theories) was very sexually active in high school. She didn’t try to have sex with me because I was a virgin, and according to her, she did not like having sex with virgins. However, after I lost my virginity, she began pressuring me to have sex with her. I turned her down, and she acted very badly, pretending to be hurt. I know now, she was just manipulating me. I don’t handle people being upset with me very well, and I often try, to my detriment at times, to fix things. When she tried to seduce me again, I did not resist because she made me feel incredibly guilty for turning her down the previous times. I felt so dirty and disgusted with myself after that experience. I felt so violated. I went home, and like Brian above, I took a long shower to try and wash away my shame and disgust.
After that incident, I continued to try to date girls. Like Brian, I thought, “Maybe I can find a girlfriend?” Finally, when I was a sophomore in college, I was dating a girl, and it ended with a nasty argument. It was pretty ugly, and I know I hurt her a lot. It was then that I realized I would likely make any woman I had a relationship with miserable, and in turn, make me even more miserable. So, I vowed not to pursue women anymore, but I did not resolve to date men. I have always felt that I made a mistake in my decision not to date anyone because I feel like I wasted time and decreased my chances of finding a fulfilling relationship. However, I still could not fully come to terms with being gay. When I would be turned on by gay porn or fantasizing about a guy, I felt disgusted with myself. It was a traumatic experience in many ways.
Even when I did start hooking up with men, I felt much like Brian did. It always seemed like bad things would happen after a hookup, from unexpected expenses, problems with classes, missed opportunities to help my future career, etc. None of these “bad things” were real consequences of the hookup, but I always felt that I had brought all these “bad things” upon myself. God must be punishing me. When I thought it had gotten so bad that I had to do something, I’d take action to “get rid of the gay.” I would delete any dating profiles; apps didn’t exist back then. I would delete any gay porn on my computer and any bookmarks/favorites on my web browser. If I had any sex toys or gay DVDs, I’d throw them away. I’d do everything I could to get rid of anything gay in my life. I know I needed some serious therapy back then. I would fall into deep periods of depression, and it was years later before I sought treatment for my depression.
Once things seemed to get better, I turned back to porn or hooking up with some guy from a dating site or bar. However, the pattern would repeat itself. The same phycological factors would surface again, and I’d purge anything gay. Eventually, I finally came out to myself and then to a couple that were friends of mine. They were very supportive, and I finally had someone I could talk to about being gay. It helped, but I would still go through periods of purging anything gay and have bouts of severe depression. I continued to think that God must be punishing me. Later, I heard my preacher say that God does not punish us in this life, but only in the next if we do not ask for forgiveness. God forgives, and he would forgive us and not punish us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) My former preacher said that God did not punish people for their sins here on earth. His words helped me accept my sexuality.
I wonder how that preacher would feel if he knew his words helped me come to terms with being gay. I had always liked this preacher, and I trusted him. He never got political in the pulpit, and he mostly preached on better understanding the Bible and how to be better Christians. (One of the few exceptions to political discussions occurred when he preached against a lottery in Alabama. It was not received well by the congregation, and he never mentioned it again.) He never condemned anyone for their sins and never seemed to judge others. That changed when the Supreme Court announced the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. He preached a sermon on the evils of homosexuality. If it had been a sermon that followed the Church of Christ’s beliefs, I might have taken it better, though I still disagreed. Instead, he used an Old Testament verse out of context and based his arguments on Old Testament verses. The Church of Christ is a New Testament church, and he used a verse from Malachi. He also quoted some New Testament verses, but not from his usual King James Version, but a more modern translation that incorrectly uses the word homosexual. I know most people would not have a problem with a preacher referencing an Old Testament verse. However, for a preacher in the Church of Christ to base a sermon on an Old Testament verse instead of using a New Testament verse is just not done and is very unusual. We believe that Jesus brought a New Covenant that replaced the Old Testament, which is seen as historical but not doctrine. When he used arguments that were diametrically opposed to the basis of our version of Christianity, I lost all faith in him. He had never once mentioned homosexuality before this sermon, and my disappointment in him was profound. I should have walked out of the church that day, but I was a coward and did not. My family was there, and I did not want to embarrass them. However, it changed my relationship with the church after that, but I’ve gotten off track.
For many years I dealt with the guilt of being gay because it went against what I had been taught growing up. My parents, friends, schoolmates, teachers, etc., acted as if being gay was one of the worst sins you could commit. Such an unaccepting society is a very unhealthy way to grow up. My views and guilt changed when I studied the Bible more. I looked at the meanings of the words that preachers used to condemn homosexuality. I came to understand that God is about love. He is not about punishing us. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, and the passages used as “clobber passages” did not mean what I had been taught they meant (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 [Pederasty in Corinth], 1 Timothy 1:9-10 [Pederasty in Ephesus], Jude 6-7 [Strange Flesh], and Romans 1:25-27 [Cult Prostitution]). Once I came to this understanding, I have had a better relationship with God and with myself. We all have our own journey coming to terms with life’s issues, especially when it concerns your sexuality. I pray for the day when we don’t have to come out and that the whole spectrum of sexuality and gender is accepted as natural. I do not doubt that there will always be homophobic people, just as there are racists and anti-Semitic people, but I hope that one day the idea of hating others for who they are is abhorred by the vast majority of people.