Secret sex in public bathrooms, addictions to porn, meeting strangers online; these are just a few of the ways some gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people engage in their sexuality and suffer. They suffer because of the shame that comes from expressing their sexuality in secret. The demand from society, their families and communities to stay silent about the truth of who they are requires this type of secrecy. As much as some Christians would like this to not be true, we are all sexual beings needing space to experience the fullness of our sexuality. When we don’t have that space, we develop dysfunctional ways of expressing and experiencing the sexual parts of ourselves. That is why many times to be a gay Christian and not have healthy places to experience same sexrelationships, or sexual encounters leads to the development of dysfunctional expressions of sexuality.
Every night in every metropolitan city, a nightly ritual occurs. Suburban family men drive their minivans and station wagons into the city to engage in what their straight lives won’t allow – sex with another man. These men understand that in order to keep the life they’ve built, they have to live fragmented lives, hiding the fact that they’re gay. While they ache for acceptance, success in their careers depends on them being seen as “a strong family man.” Most have wanted a family of their own their entire lives, and don’t want to jeopardize the prestige they have in their church communities knowing all too well that in the suburban Christian world they are a part of, to live as an openly homosexual man would mean the loss of all they have worked so hard for. So they stay silent, secretly making the drive into the city under false pretenses to engage in sex with a male prostitutes. It’s not just about sex for them; they long for a same-sex relationship, but because that’s just not possible, they settle for secret sex in the middle of the night. Parking their cars and following prostitutes into alleys, they pick up men on the street corners and drive to dark parking lots, climb into the back seat of the sedan where their kids usually sit to have sex with other men. To be clear, these are not a few men here and there, these are hundreds of men, each week, all over the country, engaging in secret sex.
I used to think I was truly messed up sexually, believing there was something really wrong with me. I have this really distinct memory of being in College and sitting in my car outside of a newspaper stand (this was in the days before there was easy access to the internet) where I could buy a Playboy magazine. I sat in my car for hours, feeling tortured and pulled to buy one and yet filled with shame because of this desire. I wondered how I could be so sick and horribly sexual; I’m a woman, I was supposed to be straight and Christian! I concluded that I must really be completely messed up, rather than accept that I was simply trying to understand what was happening in my internal world. It wasn’t even about sex for me at the time, but I didn’t know what else it could be about. You see, it wasn’t about looking a some pictures of naked woman to get off, it was about trying to externalize what was happening internally for me as a way of confirming, or understanding the internal complexities of my sexuality. But, the only people I had ever heard of looking at pornography were sick, old men not young women like me studying at a Bible college.
Finally, after sitting in my car for hours I got the guts to go buy it. My hand shook as I pointed out which one I wanted and handed the cash over. As I walked back to my car, I rolled the magazine up so that no one could see it. I remember it felt like a million pounds in my hand, and with heart racing, as I passed a trashcan I threw it away; a burst of air entered my lungs. I could breathe again. I got to my car, sat down in the drivers seat and burst into tears. What was wrong with me?!
When I could calm down enough to speak, I called a close friend of mine and shared how I was struggling with homosexuality. I didn’t tell her about the magazine, but I confessed my ungodly struggle of same sex attraction. It felt like this desire and the confusion it brought just bounced around me looking for a place to engage and understand what was going on. Since I believed to act on these feeling was the worst sin possible, the only option I had was in the hidden, dark places.
This is not a cautionary tale – watch out, or you’ll get addicted to pornography – or a sermon on why pornography is a sin. This is an exploration on why so many gay Christians turn to these things and the importance of understanding it.
I wish someone had been there to explain and help me understand that I wasn’t a horribly sick and dark person. I thought my sexuality was broken, but the truth was, I needed help understanding it. The only place I knew to look that wouldn’t condemn me was the silence of a pornographic magazine.
I wish the friend I had called knew all the details of my struggle, including this incident with pornography, because maybe she could have explained to me that it wasn’t that I was a porn freak, but that it’s natural when we suppress, or hide the truth of desire it comes out in pain and dysfunction. When I look back on that young woman sitting in that car, tortured, crying out to God, but hearing silence and not knowing what to do, I have so much compassion and kindness towards her. I’d want to tell her that sexual desire is a normal and good thing that God created for us.
Having to hide your sexuality is such a set up to reinforce self-hatred and prove that being gay is truly sinful. The shame that comes from hiding creates a cycle for a gay person – one of pain, fractured living and confirmation that you are truly messed up. This cycle starts out with desire for the same sex, but fear over someone else finding out, fear that God will hate and condemn you, fear of being rejected and abandoned by those we care most about and all this fear leads to secrets; secret relationships, secret sex and secret experiences with pornography. The nature of these kinds of secrets increases the amount of shame and self-hatred the person feels which dives them even deeper into the secrets and hiding. And this starts this process all over.
While I know straight Christians still have their own sexual journey and feelings of shame, at the core, it’s completely different. They are allowed an internal feeling of sexual holiness because their sexuality is seen as “good” – especially if a Christian has been able to hold off having sex until being married, where they are really perceived as closer to God for self-restraint. I admit that I get a bit angry when I think about how gay Christians are set up to experience shame, addictions and hatred towards their sexuality. What if we all got to have an even playing field? Wouldn’t it be a trip if I as a married, lesbian Christian was seen as a pillar of godliness in the Christian community, and broader world? Instead, both of my alma maters wish to distance themselves from me. Both are Christian institutions and if I was straight, I would be regarded as a premiere alumni. When I contacted my undergraduate institution to tell them about my web -based therapy practice, they hailed me. I got emails of accolades and a request to list me on all their publications. They wanted to feature me in their newsletter. I have to admit, I was surprised and began to wonder whether they really understood the extent of what I stood for – that you can be gay and Christian. I assume they finally realized this, convened their media relations meetings, and shortly thereafter, I was sent a vague, brief email simply stating they couldn’t list me on any of their publications. While it may have been tempting to hide who I was, I knew that creating this double life and living a lie causes you to lose your soul, your connection to yourself, and your connection to God. The death that occurs from living a secret life is not worth the cost.
If you are a gay Christian and living a fractured life full of secrets, I hope you can distinguish between the shame that comes from having big secrets and the truth that your sexuality is not shameful. The truth is that maybe some of the things you do in secret do harm you. If you’re engaging in secret, meaningless sex in parking lots and alleys, or spend your alone time addicted to pornography this is hurting your heart. But the part of yourself that is driving you to connect with something of the same gender as yourself is not bad. God loves you and celebrates you and your sexuality just the way it is. You will be able to weather the loss you experience in living your life in the open places and the sadness will eventually be replaced with a deep joy that can only come in a space where full self-acceptance exists. The last thing I want to say to you is this isn’t an easy journey to do alone, so reach out. Reach out to one person you know will walk through this with you, or reach out to a therapist today. You are worth finding at least one safe place where you get to consider who you are and what kind of person you want to be without the fear of judgment.