It’s Saturday, and I should be finishing up some work and getting ready to take my daughter to dance class. Instead, I’m writing a blog post because sometimes, things strike me so hard and so fast that I can’t process anything else until I get my words out.
When I woke up this morning, I was scrolling through my social media accounts and I read this piece by Jonathan Merritt. Now, he’s a person that I respect very much as a writer. I don’t always agree, but generally, I think he’s got good stuff to say. The Christianity Today piece, though—that just felt like being stabbed.
My gut reaction was to be upset that it sounded like the same old, same old with regard to “Let’s figure out why people are gay.” The piece certainly set off another round of arguing about the topic, judging by the reactions. I had to take some time to process it because I truly don’t want to waste my time blasting one person for writing about his own journey. It turned out that I was much, much more upset about the reactions to the article than the article itself, though that wasn’t without its problems.
I doubt very seriously that Jonathan Merritt is reading this. I’m kind of a small-potatoes blogger. But if he happens to see it, here’s my message to him:
I don’t blame you in the slightest for the things you said that came across as hurtful and dismissive. It’s your story, and you have the right to tell it as you see fit. I blame conservative Christianity for creating an environment in which people don’t handle abuse well and where people are taught that their sexuality is sinful. I blame conservative Christianity for trying to find explanations for something they don’t like in order to “treat” it and pray it away. How terrible that it sounded like you’ve internalized and repeated such a damaging message. I hope that over time, you will internalize instead the message that you are worthy and your feelings are good and that whoever you are or choose to be is just exactly that—who you choose to be. I hope that you will be able to live and love without regret or shame and that you will give yourself time and space to explore that without the heavy baggage of religious pressure.
The specific thing that troubled me, both in the article and the comments, was the implication that child sexual abuse is a possible cause for later sexual orientation. This is a construct perpetuated by conservative Christianity, particularly of the evangelical stripe. It gets trotted out a lot, despite the fact that it’s illogical and there has never been even a shred of evidence that it’s true.
I am of the firm belief that sexuality is (or at least can be) fluid and that it’s not any better to argue a “born that way” stance either. But it is really, really awful on so many levels to continue to promote the lie that abuse leads to attraction. I have no idea why anyone wouldn’t find that utterly disturbing.
What if we were to turn that around? What if we were to suggest that the reason people “turn straight” is because they were molested by an opposite-sex offender? That sounds horrifying, no? It has a tone of creepiness which suggests three very bad things:
- That we are drawn to our romantic and sexual attractions as a way to reenact upsetting and frightening childhood experiences
- That offenders are not pedophiles but are including children as part of their overall sexual orientation (another tired assumption: gay men are child abusers)
- Abuse is a form of sexuality
I can tell you firmly as a survivor of sexualized bullying that I have no wish to find people who will do the same things to me. I’m not interested in men because I think I deserve to be treated that way or because I’m confused or because I need reassurance or because of some other reason related to my unfortunate childhood experiences. I cannot fathom why we wouldn’t see everyone’s sexuality the same way. Of course it’s complex. But why do we only ever question the cause of someone’s sexuality when that person is gay? Why are gay, lesbian, and bisexual people the only ones who have to have a reason for their romantic and/or sexual attractions?
We simply have not achieved a state where we see variance in sexual orientation, preference, attraction, and expression as normal. We’re still seeking causality because we can’t see the whole spectrum as healthy and good. And that troubles me, because I believe that it is good—all of it. The whole wide range of human love and sex is so vast and so beautiful and so amazing, an incredible gift we’ve been given. How is it that we are still trying to scientifically or spiritually defend what should just be considered part of the human kaleidoscope?
Until we are all convinced that our sexuality (let’s face it, even we straight people now and again have to defend our natural desires in the face of conservativism) is truly good—not merely acceptable—we will continue to peddle half-truths and outright lies about the causes. And until we stop selling falsehoods, people will continue to believe that they are broken rather than being fully, wonderfully human.