Thursday, October 2, 2014

Gay Christians and celibacy

This article is particularly fascinating to me: "I'm a Gay Mormon Who's Been Happily Married for 10 Years." As you might imagine given its title, it is the confession of a gay man who has been in a straight marriage for ten years. He has children and his life together with his wife, including their sex life, has been happy. He is a therapist who has done graduate-level research on sexuality, and he interprets his own experience in light of his studies.

The author, Josh Weed, a family therapist, says that he is gay, which he explains thus:

I am sexually attracted to men. I am not sexually attracted to women. It is very simple. I have many, many years of experience which confirm this to be true, but it's really as simple as what a girl asked me in junior high—and I'm sorry if this is a little blunt, but I've never found a question that cuts to the heart of the matter more effectively—"so, if everyone in this room took off their clothes, would you be turned on by the girls or the guys?" My answer, which I didn't say out loud, was unquestionably the guys. And it was unquestionably not the girls. And that still is my answer.

Yet he is happily married to a woman, with whom he has fathered children, and whose relationship together has been a happy and healthy one. In fact he says that their sexual relationship is a happier one than many straight couples he knows. How can it be, though? How can he, being sexually attracted to males and unattracted to females, have a happy sexual relationship with his wife?

His answer is that sex at its best transcends physical attraction:

I didn't fully understand the answer to this question until I was doing research on sexuality in grad school even though I had been happily married for almost five years at that point. I knew that I was gay, and I also knew that sex with my wife was enjoyable. But I didn't understand how that was happening. Here is the basic reality that I actually think many people could use a lesson in: sex is about more than just visual attraction and lust and it is about more than just passion and infatuation. I won't get into the boring details of the research here, but basically when sex is done right, at its deepest level it is about intimacy…. the circumstances of our marriage allowed us to build a sexual relationship that is based on everything partners should want in their sex-life: intimacy, communication, genuine love and affection. This has resulted in us having a better sex life than most people I personally know. Most of whom are straight. Go fig.

So despite the lack of physical attraction to his wife, he has a happy life of intimacy with her because they love one another, they communicate with one another, they are share intimacy, and so on. These are the building blocks of a healthy marital relationship, in his experience, and they are what allow him, as a gay man, to live and love happily with his wife.

This article is particularly interesting for me because of its relevance to the contemporary discussion about gays in Christianity. On the liberal side, you have an affirmation of gay sexuality as accepted and approved by God, granted that it is sought within the right and proper circumstances of love and self-sacrifice and so on. On the conservative side, however, you have a rejection of gay sexuality as sinful, along with the recommendation that the gay person remain celibate. The story of Josh Weed, however, gives us an alternative: the gay person may be recommended a loving, straight relationship.

For myself, I affirm the conservative position that gay sexuality is sinful and inappropriate. At other times in the past I may have been more sympathetic to the liberal position but I don't think it is convincing any longer. On the other hand, in light of Josh Weed's testimony and example, I don't think it is necessary. If a gay person finds herself desirous of a loving and sexual relationship, same as any other human being would be, perhaps she ought to seek a relationship with the qualities of Josh Weed's relationship: one that is loving, intimate, affectionate, open (in terms of communication), and so on.

Of course, this sort of set-up perhaps requires a bit more work on the part of the partners than normal. At least in the case of the gay partner, there is no physical attraction to the other partner to motivate her to stay with this particular partner or to make the relationship desirable. Instead, she actually has to love the partner with whom she will be spending her life and sharing her bed -- a shock, I know. At the same time I wonder whether or not a relationship of this sort might not be substantially stronger than one obtaining among two straight partners, precisely for the fact that it is a deeper love than lust which is motivating them to be together.

A life of celibacy is a difficult thing, indeed. The Bible speaks about it as a gift that only some persons have. However, granting that the Bible does speak against gay sexuality, we need not understand, for that reason, that gay persons are condemned to involuntary celibacy. Josh Weed's story suggest that gay persons can live in happy, healthy sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex -- if their relationship is grounded in honesty with one another, love, affection, communication, and so on; in other words, if their relationship is a healthy one that goes beyond lust.