Sunday, September 17, 2006

How Christians and gays talk past each other

When I first began reading “coming out” stories by gay and lesbian people, the ones that were most helpful to me as a Christian talked honestly about something that is considered practially taboo by most gays, namely the subject of self-hatred. Now, I understand that self-hatred is not a good thing. Obviously. It is never a good thing to be headed on a path toward suicide. Nor should people have to be depressed all the time, or addicted to drugs to numb themselves from inner pain. And now that I’ve gotten to know the stories of many gay and lesbian people who have described to me their personal struggles with self-acceptance over many painstaking years, I can appreciate the triumph they feel in being able to put away their self-hatred. I can understand what an accomplishment that is.

The problem is, when gay and lesbian people talk about things like pride and self-acceptance in such strong terms, it does not at all connect with most Christians in a meaningful way, and in fact may even deepen the ill-feelings and misconceptions many Christians have toward gays. Here’s what I mean. When I was brand new to this whole subject and I heard people talking of “gay pride,” I wondered why on earth someone would feel proud of their sin. You often hear from certain preachers that homosexuals are more “depraved” than the average person, and this business about “gay pride” seemed to confirm that accusation. Not only are they sinning, but they’re proud of it! Now granted, at that time I was working from the assumption that people were responsible for their homosexuality in some way. Maybe they chose it or maybe they let things get out of control by feeding or indulging unnatural sexual urges, was my theory. But even if someone was absolutely, positively not in any way responsible for finding themselves homosexually oriented, I still thought it was weird to hear people talk about gay pride. Because even if you can’t help it, shouldn’t you at least make some effort to combat it? It made me think gays must have no moral sensibility, as many teachers in the church claim.

I was lucky. I stumbled upon the right testimonies that told me many gay people do go through periods of “I don’t want this” in dealing with their homosexuality, especially early on. Whether they were expressing “self-hatred” or just “I would have preferred to have gotten a different lot in life,” I really don’t know. But let me tell you, it really, really helped me to learn that people actually do go through those feelings, not because I want gay people to hate themselves, but because at last it helped me to make sense of their stories, and it made them come off as real people I can relate to. Because that’s how I imagine I’d feel if I had to deal with being homosexual. It undermined the accusation that homosexual people are so morally far gone I couldn’t possibly relate to them.

It was a strange thing, then, for me to learn that when someone who is gay makes such an honest admission, they are practically shouted down by fellow gays for “self-hatred.” The very admission that helped to open up my mind and heart, just enough to encourage me to keep on digging, is considered a heresy in the gay community. Again, I understand why that is. I myself have spent many a sleepless night worrying about whether some gay friend of mine was sitting somewhere alone and depressed with a gun in his hand, and all I could do was pray. So I understand what people are trying to guard against. But such strong vigilance against any admission of self-hatred also hinders the kind of honesty that might make the most difference in connecting with an outsider. All I know is that if it weren’t for certain people willing to be honest with me, I would have never gotten as far as I have in trying to figure this thing out.