I heard it on NPR: "Attracted to Men, Pastor Feels Called to Marriage with a Woman." I have heard this story before, many times before. This was my story too.
I spent nearly 20 years disgusted with pesky, relentless, unwanted attractions to other men. I turned to church and Jesus to make me "normal" in hopes that I would like women a little more, dislike men, and act a lot more masculine. After much prayer and with the blessing of our pastors, I married a woman, my best friend from the church we attended in New York City. We settled into what would become a five-year marriage with ups, downs, loop-de-loops, and a lots of pain.
I loved my wife. I loved being married to her. I loved being heterosexual, or at least being perceived as heterosexual. The world liked me that way too -- the perks and privileges of being viewed as straight tumbled into my life from the moment I said, "I Do." I did not desire my wife, sexually; she could not melt my butter. Still we enjoyed a lot of the time together. We enjoyed each other, but in our case, as in most cases with mixed-orientation unions, the marriage imploded. It wrecked both of us. It took me years to recognize just how much harm I done in suppressing and demonizing my desires for other men.
But hey, this is America, right? If you want to marry someone you do not find sexually attractive or with someone who doesn't desire you sexually, so be it. There are plenty of levels of attraction. Plenty of heterosexual marriages change over the years when a partner gets ill and is simply not interested in sex. Sex doesn't make the marriage.
In a politically neutral world, the story of Pastor Allen Edwards and his wife Leeanne would simply be another personal story of mismatched people who somehow make a marriage work. But this story with its reference to celibate gay Christians and coded language like "same-sex attractions" is another attempt to evangelize the gospel of gay reparative therapy. While taking a lighter approach, even acknowledging harmful ex-gay practices of the past, this story is the same old ex-gay narrative -- It is wrong to be gay and preferable to be straight, or at least straight-acting. Why? Because God says so.
Pastor Allen Edwards does not want to appear like a violent anti-gay preacher condemning homosexuals. He is not comfortable with saying that being gay is an outright sin, rather he sees it as outside the norm of God's wishes, and that those who teach it is okay to be gay are taking people down the wrong path.
So friends of mine who are in the Christian tradition who don't see homosexual relationships or activity as outside of the bounds -- I think that they're in error. And I would say that especially pastors and Christian teachers who tell people it's OK to engage in homosexual behavior that they're leading people astray, they're leading people away from something really beautiful that God offers, and that is wholeness, redemption, grace, yeah.
He also doesn't like to say that he is suppressing his desires; that's a loaded word for him too. Like ex-gay leaders of old, he tries to massage the language, soften the blow. In the NPR piece, Edwards also talks about gay behavior -- which I think he means to say GAY SEX and not weekends in Provincetown or binge watching previous Tony Awards Ceremonies on YouTube. Once again being gay is reduced to a sex act. You are not gay; you engage in homosexual activity. He is not ex-gay, rather he suffers with same-sex attraction.
And words matter. I remember how much leaders from Exodus International, then the worlds' most active ex-gay ministry, rebelled against the loaded phrase Ex-Gay Survivors when some of us survivors began telling our stories publicly through Beyond Ex-Gay. One famous ex-gay leader at the time asked us to please stop using the term adding, "Because if you are Ex-Gay Survivors, what does that make me?" I responded, "That is the essential question for you to answer." He has since apologized for the harm he caused through the years he provided and promoted ex-gay ministry.
While I think it is fine for people to partner with another consenting adult regardless of their attraction to each other, it is quite another thing to go on National Public Radio and in the media to tout that story as an example that others can and should follow. The personal story of this simple Christian couple becomes a political attack on the many LGBTQ people in the world. I recently wrote about the growing media exposure of celibate gays (see "Ex-Gay Lite: Celibacy, the other queer lifestyle".) I denounce the notion of mainstream gay celibacy because it smacks of oppression.
Being committed to chastity while single is standard for many straight Christians. But believing that God does NOT want you to have a partner, that God is asking you to to build a life without the prospect of romance or an interdependent relationship, that God forbids you from forming a coupled relationship which includes all sorts of wonderful things in addition to sex, well that is VERY very rare in the heterosexual world. Why is it suddenly looming so large for gays and lesbians? (I'm assuming bisexuals get counseled by Conservatives to partner with someone of the opposite gender. And I am sure the ex-gay movement-much like portions of the gay Christian movement-still has no idea how to approach trans* people and trans* issues.)
Listening to the story yesterday though, I felt much less of a need to respond immediately to it than I would have in the past. There was something obviously wrong with the story, so wrong that I believe the average listener responded, "What a poor misguided couple -- God help them." That's not to say I predict Allen and Leeanne's marriage will ultimately rupture like most of the other ex-gay/straight marriages that have ended in the past. They may be well-suited to each other for lots of reasons. But by going public with this story, even as Allen says he doesn't like the idea of identifying as gay, they have joined a long line of others who shared the good news of their amazing superior heterosexual marriage sanctioned by God. They once again dehumanize gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in same-gender partnerships. They reduce love and desire to a sex act. They raise the flag of Straight Supremacy as they look down on other unions as something inferior.
They also mislead thousands of parents of LGBTQ kids by signaling that some sort of change or at least repression is possible. This stings especially right now as the world mourns the death of Leelah Alcorn. This 17 year old transgender girl from Ohio wrote a suicide note that is a call to action to stop oppression of trans people, particularly oppression from parents insisting their child needs to change. This comes after years of suicides of young LGBTQ people who hear a message stated over and over that they need to "straighten up" and normalize their gender in order to be fully valued by the people who matter to them the most --family, friends, church.
I find comfort that many other stories appear in the media and online. Stories of trans people living their lives in the light without conforming to please other people. Stories about families who love their child without restrictions. There are the many stories of lesbian and gay couples living in the light, getting on with life together or on their own, and pursuing the many passions they have beyond marriage equality. There are the growing stories of bisexuals who have asserted themselves in straight, lesbian, and gay spaces, sharing their truths, broadening the conversation. That tired old ex-gay narrative is just that-tired, old. More and more we do not even have to respond to that tired old ex-gay story because more and more people just know better.
And if you want to know why I spent so many years trying to de-gay myself, in this short video explain the MANY reasons I went ex-gay. My husband, Glen, is glad I finally came to my senses and out of the closet.