Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Defining homosexuality

I was having dinner with Christian friends last week when they asked me about the topic that I’ve become so famous for among people who know me. So I began to explain to them about the experiences of gay people I’ve met who are dealing with their sexual orientation. But before I could get very far, one of these friends was quick to point out how prone the human heart is to sinful self-deception, and basically took a guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude toward those who say they can’t help being gay. I tend to avoid arguing with people who are set in their ideas. Yet I can’t help but think that if Christians insist on being quick to cast doubt upon the experiences of homosexual people, we have no right to insist that they listen to our testimonies about how we “came to Christ” with any less hostility and skepticism. Shouldn’t I try to be receptive to other people’s testimonies and personal experiences if I want them to be receptive to mine?

My second friend, however, tried to take a more compassionate approach and has latched onto the idea that homosexuality is parallel to alcoholism. Just as you hear people say “I am an alcoholic,” in the present and not the past tense, so you have to accept that someone who is homosexual will always be homosexual. The problem with his view is that he sees homosexuality as an addiction, just as alcoholism is an addiction. Now, when I meet an evangelical Christian who takes this position, as much as I disagree with it, I have a hard time getting too down on that person. Because if a Christian is treating someone who is homosexual with the same care and sensitivity that he would an alcoholic friend, at least it means he won’t be acting like a jerk. I told this friend that even though not all gay people would agree that their homosexuality is comparable to alcoholism (I said “not all” because his experience is largely with ex-gays, many of whom have used that analogy with him), I let him know that I appreciated his willingness to acknowledge that this is something people are going to be dealing with the rest of their lives. It is better than threatening to kick people out of the church unless they “overcome their sin” and transform into heterosexuals.

That said, I am still unhappy with the analogy of alcoholism because it doesn’t comport with the experiences of gay and lesbian people I talk to, nor does it comport with what I see in their lives. A sex addiction doesn’t leave room for love in a relationship, yet I see genuine love in gay relationships all the time. The reason homosexual love exists is because homosexuality, in itself, is not a sex addiction. It is about people who are no different from regular old heterosexuals in terms of their sexual needs and drives, but who are oriented toward people of the same sex.

When people use the term “homosexual” some think of a chosen lifestyle, some a personality type, some a sex addiction, some a psychosis, and some simply a sexual orientation. The best definition I’ve come across is from L. R. Holben’s excellent book What Christians Think about Homosexuality, Six Representative Viewpoints. Using Holben's definition on page xvii of his Introduction, this is what I mean whenever I speak of someone who is “homosexual”:

In what follows, when referring to gay people, gays and lesbians or homosexuals, I will not be talking about an individual who might have had several sexual experiences with someone of the same sex. Neither will I mean to indicate a person who, at one point or another, has had strong, even passionate, feelings about a same-sex friend. Nor will I be referring to someone who doesn't happen to fit current cultural stereotypes as to appropriate male or female interests, activities, skills or appearance.

Most importantly, in referring to the gay, lesbian or homosexual person, I will not have in mind mere erotic itch, what 'turns one on' physically and nothing more. Rather, I will be speaking of a person in whom not only the sexual drives but also the deepest emotional and psychological urges for self-revelation, intimacy, connectedness, bonding, closeness and commitment--all that we call romantic/erotic love--find their internal, spontaneous fulfillment not in the opposite sex but in the same sex.