Friday 8 May 2009

What does it mean to be gay?

When someone tells you a particular person is gay, do you immediately assume that they are sexually active?

I was taken to task this morning by representatives of those who describe themselves as mainstream, global, orthodox Anglicans. I was told that if I write that there are gay primates (or bishops or priests) people will assume they are sexually active and therefore living in disobedience to church rules and teaching and not fit to be leaders of the church. That isn’t what being gay means, I said, it’s an integrated personal identity, what a person is in the same way as a heterosexual has an identity.

I was next asked, then what do I mean by gay? To be gay is about all the things that give me identity and make me a person – self awareness; emotions; relationships, intimacy, sexual desires. I was almost pounced on – so it is about being sexually active? No, I repeated, trying to remain calm. It’s living with and being aware of the whole range of emotions and desires that make us human, but not necessarily acting on them.

I was told again that if I write that there are gay primates, people will assume they are sexually active and I need to publish a correction and explanation. No I don’t, I said, because most people wouldn’t make that assumption.

The conversation continued for over 30 minutes during which I suspect I spoke for between 5 and 10 minutes. I was asked next about the Anglican Mainstream Sex and the City Conference held in Westminster 2 weeks ago when Joseph Nicolosi and Jeffrey Satinover spoke. I am to be sent a DVD so that I can see for myself the authoritative, therapeutic, non-coercive way in which these people work.

I constantly have questions in my mind about those journalists from the GAFCON/ACNA axis of the Communion who come to report on events like the ACC meeting. Here are three:

Why is it that the media representatives of those who advocate adherence to (their understanding of) Biblical teaching and church rules for homosexual people are all heterosexual males?

Why do they continually imagine that all gay men are sexually active?

Why do they think that watching a DVD about reparative therapy is going to change my mind in any way? I’m prejudiced, deeply prejudiced against reparative therapy because of conversations I have with many friends who endured ex-gay ministries and because of my own psychotherapeutic background.

Today’s conversation was fine in an Anglican way but it didn’t follow the rules or logic that I normally expect in conversation. There wasn’t ebb and flow, disagreement and convergence. Instead there was, as always in these conversations a position, a logic, an argument, an explanation presented, to which I am left struggling to respond. The next move is to introduce a subtle tangent so that I am always, always chasing to keep up with their logic. It isn’t normal. If this is mainstream orthodox Anglicanism then I have never, in 60 years of being an Anglican, ever been mainstream or orthodox, not in the way they now define it. This isn’t the orthodoxy of my youth.

At the end, I proposed that we organise a conference in which speakers from different perspectives meet and explore in a public forum the differences in our theology, ideas about identity, etc. to see what they look like when explored publicly This wasn’t thought to be a good idea. I was told it would be better to meet as we have done before under Chatham House rules so that we can protect people. Who needs protecting, I asked? I don't, I'm happy to engage in public. I have nothing to hide. If I don’t need protecting, then it must be those who argue for reparative therapy and against the full and equal inclusion of LGBT people in the Communion.

I did my best today, but these are never encounters in which normal logic or experience prevails and I felt battered at the end. There is something weird about people who believe that reparative therapy is THE Christian answer which brings healing and happiness to those who have an ‘unwanted’ homosexual attraction.

One of their lines of argument is that the percentage of the population who are gay is grossly over-estimated. The UK Government used the figure of 6% for Civil Partnerships. They would claim it is around 1%. The percentage of people seeking reparative therapy in their 1% figure is therefore going to be a negligible number.

They tell me that they are not saying that all gay people want or would benefit from reparative therapy. I always accept that if a person wants to avail themselves of the chance to become a happy heterosexual, they are free to do so.

They also repeat that no gay gene has been identified and therefore homosexuality doesn’t have a scientific reality. If it doesn’t then why are they expending so much money, time and energy ridding the church of something they believe doesn’t really exist?

I have now met in person and online thousands of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The vast majority are ordinary, well integrated adults who live healthy, responsible lives. In the UK many get on happily without the church because in comparison with society, the church is seen as prejudiced and hostile to LGBT people. In other countries, Nigeria for example, the CAN groups are engaging with ever growing numbers of gay people. Those I have met have been as healthy, normal, and ordinary/extraordinary as their UK counterparts.

Members of the self-appointed “mainstream, global, orthodox” segment of the church are doing massive damage to LGBT people across the globe. They deter gay people in the west from ever considering the church as a spiritual home or Jesus Christ as the friend who loves them unconditionally. In parts of the world where attitudes to homosexuality are punitively repressive and judgmental gay people continue to attend church but distance themselves from it and see it as an instrument of repression, supporting the prejudice of government and society.

While the Listening Process goes on (and there is no short cut and I support the listening process 100%) LGBT Christians are organising their lives independently of conservative church theology and teaching. We are not inventing a new religion or rejecting Jesus Christ as the fullness of God in human form, nor abandoning prayer or the Bible. We have confidence in God’s love for us and we number in the millions.

Compared with the several hundreds who seek out church ex-gay and reparative therapy ministries there are hundreds of thousands of LGBT Anglicans, most of them keeping their heads down, and being faithful to God’s call despite the worst the church tries to teach us about our humanity.


  1. Well, I think you covered US nicely (and in a worldwide sort of way).

    It made me wonder if you were speaking with the ABC...if you were, I believe he is more hopelessly lost in the sexual orientation confusion/bewilderment and is grasping at puritan reason/straws more than I had guessed before...I´ll pretend it wasn´t him. I´ve lost belief in his capacity to be a healer and leader amongst us...I think he´s sneaky and ill equipped to help save the persecuted LGBT Anglicans/others in Africa and beyond.

    ¨Chatham House rules¨ are protecting whom from disgrace, his Grace?

    Thanks for all the reporting you´re´s very helpful for those of us in the middle of rural wherever it is that we think we are...kinda like Chatham House...verdad?

  2. No wonder you're feeling battered! Thank you for being there and for engaging in those circumstances!

    I wonder, if everyone automatically assumes that being gay means being sexually active, what becomes of the often stated line that the orientation is acceptable but not the practice?

  3. "I wonder, if everyone automatically assumes that being gay means being sexually active, what becomes of the often stated line that the orientation is acceptable but not the practice?"

    So then, it means that every single, every last heterosexual person is sexually active, single or not. Right? That's the same sort of logic, no? (I failed logic so maybe not.)

  4. Why do they continually imagine that all gay men are sexually active?

    They can, barely, wrap their minds around the notion of the celibate gay man (as long as he hates his orientation, and prays for it to change).

    ...and of course, in their lurid imaginings, they can see virtually EVERY gay man as sexually promiscuous (in ways that are practically anatomically impossible! ;-X)

    What they cant---REFUSE---to acknowledge, imagine, or even desist from arguing against, is the monogamous gay man (or, even more pointedly, the monogamous gay male couple). Nope, no way. Not possible. Not listening. La-la-la-la-la-la!

    [And re lesbians? Who gives a damn! Except, y'know, as a straight male fantasy... }-p]

  5. Surveys a decade or so ago showed that only about 49 percent of gay men practiced anal intercourse. So if that's what Leviticus is talking about, it doesn't apply to a majority of gay males. I suspect that the weird fascination with butt sex reflects straight boys' insecurities (or closet cases' fantasies).

    Murdoch Matthew
    spouse of Gary