Monday, March 23, 2015

Alphabet Soup

Within present Christian discourse on homosexuality it is common to divide the playing field into two camps: side A and side B. These terms are sometimes confusing for people who aren't knee-deep in the conversation, so I offer a brief explanation:

Side A – Side A Christians believe that God sanctions loving, committed relationships between people of the same sex. They usually argue that the word “arsenokoitai” in St. Paul, which is usually translated as “homosexual” doesn't necessarily have that meaning – basically, that a homophobic reading of Scripture has become so deeply entrenched in Christian culture that it is enshrined in our English Bibles, but that it's not there in Paul. They would argue that St. Paul was condemning abusive same-sex practices, like pederasty and the sexual abuse of male slaves. As for Leviticus, it's a set of ritual purity laws and huge swathes of it have been out of use in Christianity since the First Council of Jerusalem.

Side B – Side B Christians believe that there are strong Scriptural and traditional reasons for believing that God originally intended marriage to be a union between a man and a woman ordered towards procreation, and that sex is reserved for such unions. A gay or lesbian Christian may have particular gifts or charisms related to their sexuality, they shouldn't be ashamed of being gay and should not expect their orientation to change, but they are called to live chastely.

Are these the only positions that people can hold? Certainly not. One of the difficulties that often arises when we're having these conversations is that people will say things like “queers believe,” or “Christians say,” or “according to the gay community...” These are absurd statements because they assume that there is one Christian perspective and one gay perspective. In practice, this means that if someone has read a statement by one gay person or one Christian and they disagree with it, they will behave as though it the universal belief of everyone on the “other side” of the debate. So, as a fun exercise, here are 24 other possible positions that people might hold:

Side C – Courage: Courage is a ministry to same-sex attracted Catholics which teaches that there is only one sexual orientation, heterosexual. Some people experience same-sex attraction, but this doesn't place them in a seperate category – it's just a species of lust. As with any temptation, same-sex attraction may be transitory or it may present a life-long struggle.

Side D – Dignity: The largest Catholic LGBTQ organization, Dignity argues that the Church has been wrong about things in the past (the burning of heretics, e.g.), that there are various laws that seem super-important but fall into abeyance (when did you last hear a sermon preached against blood sausage?), and that LGBTQ Catholics need to be free to pursue relationships in accord with their consciences.

Side E – Exodus: Before it shut its doors in 2013, Exodus was the largest “pray-the-gay-away” organization in America. They believed that homosexuality is a spiritual problem that could be cured by prayer within a supportive Christian community, and by reclaiming or rebuilding a fractured masculinity or femininity. They offered hope that people would be delivered from homosexuality and enabled to pursue Christian marriage. Although Exodus no longer exists, many of their subsidiary ministries continue to hold this position.

Side F – Fencepost: For a lot of gay Christians, the argument simply isn't settled. People may spend a very long time flip-flopping between a side A and a side B position – not because they're wishy-washy or inconstant, but simply because they find arguments on both sides very compelling.

Side G – Gay Supremacist: Yes, there are some homosexual men out there who think that they're better than straight people. The most philosophically cogent defence of this position basically derives from Plato's Symposium, and relies on the belief that males are basically superior to females. So, it follows, the love for a superior thing is superior to the love for an inferior thing, and therefore that love which is highest and best is the love which men have for men.

Side H – Homo/Heterosexual: It's fairly common for people to believe that there are two sexual orientations, gay and straight, and that a person is obligated to live as a sexual person according to their sexual orientation. Bisexuality, for example, would generally represent a kind of confusion: a bi person is a gay man or a lesbian who hasn't fully embraced their sexuality, or a straight person who is experimenting with homosexuality in order to be cool. Marriage between a straight person and a gay person would be seen, in this philosophy, as necessarily disastrous and irresponsible.

Side i – Every sexuality is unique and they can't be put into rigid categories. This is the position that I held for a number of years. I didn't want to identify as lesbian because I felt that “to label me is to negate me.” There's not a coherent label for people who hold this position, for the obvious reason that they will very staunchly resist labelling.

Side J – Job: I included this, because there are straight guys who basically see gay prostitution as their profession. Most of the cultural images that we have for this kind of person are extremely negative (think of the victim in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, for example.) Women in the sex trade are usually perceived to be victims, transwomen are often seen as victims of circumstance, but men who sell sex – and especially straight men who sell sex to gay men – are seen as the worst kind of opportunists.

Side K – Kinsey: Albert Kinsey was a sexologist who developed a 7 point scale for describing sexual orientation, with complete heterosexuality at one end and complete homosexuality at the other. Many researchers have since refined this basic model: some track homosexual desire and heterosexual desire as two separate, non-correlating factors to account for things like the fact that a decrease in same-sex desire does not necessarily equal an increase in opposite-sex desire. Others include different dimensions of desire, distinguishing romantic attractions from sexual attractions, for example. The basic idea here is that sexuality is complex, but it can be described using scientific models.

Side L – (Political) Lesbian: Many Radical Feminist Lesbians believe that equal relationships between men and womyn are basically an impossibility: that even a very good man who believes in feminism will still exercise male privilege and engage in deeply entrenched social-dominance behaviours. At the extreme end, there are womyn who believe that all straight sex is rape, but most political lesbians don't go that far. In this model, lesbianism creates a safe space in which womyn can express and enjoy their sexuality without being oppressed by gender politics.

Side M – Mixed-Orientation Marriage: Proponents of MOM's believe that it is sometimes possible for a gay person to have a satisfying and authentic marriage to a person of the opposite sex. They don't believe that this involves a change of sexual identity, but rather that sometimes people fall in love with folks who defy their usual patterns of attraction. For Christians, this presents an alternative vocation to celibacy for those who accept a Side B sexual ethic.

Side N – Nymphomaniac: People who work with sex addicts have often noted that addiction may cross gender lines. From this perspective, the sex and/or gender of one's partner is not really important. Often, the pursuit of novelty becomes appealing in and of itself, so sex with people of the opposite sex, experimentation in BDSM, sex with disabled people, sex with transwomen...etc. etc. etc. all become appealing. It should be noted here that the existence of sex addicts may skew the data when, for example, researchers try to determine how many sexual partners an average LGBTQ person has.

Side O – Opportunism: Opportunistic homosexuality is widely documented, though outside of stand-up comedy few people will try to defend it philosophically. It's basically a pragmatic view: if your preferred kind of partner is not available, perhaps because you're in prison, perhaps because you can't find anyone and don't want to pay a prostitute, then you settle for what you can find.

Side P – Polyamory: Polyamorists basically believe that sex is a valid way of expressing love in any relationship where both parties are interested. Polyamory is seen by some proponents as a distinct sexual orientation (i.e. some people are oriented towards monogamy, others are not), while others believe that all humans are naturally polyamorous and that monogamy originates in male-dominated economies of ownership in which women came to be seen as property.

Side Q – Queer: This is a catch-all category with fairly porous parameters, basically extending to all who are treated as “other” on account of their sexuality or gender-identity. In queer studies there is a general belief that sexuality and gender both exist on spectra, and that each person's sexuality is unique, but labels and self-identification play an important part in queer discourses.

Side R – Roman: In Ancient Rome, there wasn't a concept of sexual orientation; sexual acts were evaluated less in terms of the sex of the partners, and more in terms of status and activity. So, basically, in any act there would be an “active” partner and a “passive partner.” Homosexual relationships were fine, provided they reinforced social roles: the person who sat in the better seats in the theatre was also expected to play the active role in gay sex. The descendants of this mentality can be found in Latino and Arab homosexual cultures.

Side S – Sodomy: There is a long tradition within Christianity of referring to homosexuality solely in reference to the “sin of Sodom,” and you can still find Christians who believe that we should use the words “sodomy” and “sodomite” in public conversation about homosexuality. The underlying belief here is that homosexual desire is a consequence of idolatry, that nobody is “born gay,” but that people become afflicted with “unnatural lusts” when they turn away from the worship of God.

Side T – Trauma: One of the complications in any discussion of sexuality is that there is a population of people who have been severely traumatized by sexual abuse. A lot of the weirder manifestations of reparative therapy, as well as the stranger by-ways of queer sexuality, seem to arise out of people's attempts to grapple with abuse and seek healing. Too often, these choices become the subject of public ridicule because people who have not been traumatized can't imagine why the practices in question would be helpful or desirable.

Side U – Undecided: There are folks who don't have a strong personal stake in the issues, who have looked into it, and who basically think that there's not enough evidence to make a decision one way or another. For a lot of people, this is a very rational position. Many of the studies are badly framed or obviously biased, in many areas there is simply a lack of good data, some practices (gay parenting, for example) have not been tried often enough to provide good sample populations and there are strong concerns that all data may be significantly influenced by anti-gay stigma. For those who don't have a religious or political horse in the race, agnosticism can easily seem like the most sensible position.

Side V – Vocational: There are people within the Christian community who feel personally called to celibacy, celibate partnership, or mixed-orientation-marriage but who do not identify as “Side B” because they don't believe in a “celibacy mandate” for other LGBTQ people. The essence of this position is a belief that each Christian needs to prayerfully discern their vocation: celibate or mixed-orientation vocations are valid, but if someone discerns that they are called to marriage with someone of the same-sex then their discernment should be honoured.

Side W – Whatever: In a secular culture, most people's default position is something like “Who cares?” This is basically an extension of the widespread belief that what people do in their bedrooms is not the business of the state or the church. This attitude is the non-philosophical corollary of the belief that invasive or totalitarian socio-political systems will harness the potent combination of the human sex drive with the human capacity for sexual guilt in order to maintain psychological control over people.

Side X – Ex-Gay: For a long time it was widely believed that homosexuality is basically a mental illness, and that it could be treated and even cured through various therapeutic interventions. Today the common wisdom is that these interventions are wholly futile, but the fact is that most studies suggest that some people in therapy do report some kind of change. The most cogent argument in favour of the ex-gay model is based on arguments from patient choice: basically, if an adult person wants to pursue sexual orientation change therapies, they should be allowed to do so.

Side Y – Ex-Ex-Gay: The most cogent argument against the ex-gay model is the weight of testimony from ex-ex-gay “survivors.” Many people who have pursued ex-gay therapy report that they experienced no lasting orientation change, and that they were harmed by the attempt. One of the things that makes this difficult to quantify is that many ex-ex-gays report that they felt okay during therapy, and only after exiting therapy did they begin to deal with deeply internalized shame exacerbated by the therapy itself. The most common demonstrable form of harm is that short-term shifts in orientation, which therapy does seem to be able to achieve, can lead to ill-advised mixed-orientation-marriages based on false expectations of long-term change.

Side Z – The alphabet only has 26 letters, but there are more than 26 perspectives. Some of the folks we haven't included are: intersex, androphiles, asexuals with Aspergers who identify as gay, two-spirited indigenous Americans, de-transitioning people with gender dysphoria, BDSM transsexuals, BDSM Christians, bi-curious college students, erotophobic Platonists, Hijra women, homoerotic Muslim mystics...


  1. You're right, the list never ends ... I am thinking of people who have gotten married (to a person of the opposite sex) and only later discovered their same-sex attraction. It's a really hard situation to find an answer to; commitment to the person they chose to marry will convince people not to even express this.

  2. The side B sounds the healthiest although it sounds pretty bazaar to claim special charisms. It's probably more along the lines of unique insight from experience.

  3. One's sexual orientation is not their identity. If the Catholic Church has its teaching on sexuality, and I have my own ideas about it, then what would I do? I would need to realize that it is I that has veered from reality and truth and not the Church. I would need reform and by the grace of God, He would help me do that . The general culture is unwilling to change and submit to the teachings of the Catholic Church and it is to our peril as a society. We are in a mess....just look at that list for example....The weaving of sophisticated words and reasoning to justify a position on sexuality outside of the Catholic Church's teaching is never going to end and will lead to an unreality in people's lives which is too dreadful to talk about. The worship of sexuality and feelings has replaced the worship and adoration and obedience to the true God. The catechism of the Catholic Church is beautiful. Man would benefit from reading it and endeavouring to live by it. Unfortunately, thinking we are accountable to no-one, we are driven by some human instincts which should be rejected in favour of following the virtues.

  4. What about the "leave us out of it" position? I have read your blog for a long time now, as well as a lot of others. I think my position is based on the following: 1. same sex attraction is real in its various forms 2. People should be honest about their sexual attraction - there is no point either deceiving yourself or others, 3. There should be no discrimination against people based on their sexual attraction and people should never have to hide relationships that are not harmful 4. Your conscience and belief system will dictate how you behave 5. Sexual attraction does not determine how you should act, sometimes it is more noble to do things for a good reason 6. From a Christian perspective, as we want to be treated by others, so we should treat them, this is the Law and the prophets 7. From the beginning God made them male and female, that they become one flesh 8. Only the sperm from a man and the egg from a woman can produce a child. This child is genetically half mother/half father. this is a miracle of life. 9. Marriage has traditionally been about family creation and stability. There are many other types of relationships except marriage 10. Fathers and mothers bring something different to parenting. 11. The recognition of marriage in a civil sense is a social and governmental recognition and intervention into what otherwise is a highly personal relationship. 12. There hasn't been a huge uptake in gay-marriage in places where it is already recognised. This may be explained by the alphabet soup you mention.

    You could probably pick anyone of these points and say they are not true. But this is where I am:

    Why does government have to be involved in recognising the gay relationships at all, whether civil partnerships or marriages? Why does society have to view things that are different through the lens of equality? I mean, I have read a spectrum of opinion from gay people, from the belief that gay people should be truthful about their inability to have children and should live that reality to the fullest, to a lesbian who not only asserted her right to get married but believed she had the right to raise her daughter as though she were a lesbian until proven otherwise. I've also read a gay man who is married to a woman say that, though gay, he knew that if he wanted children that sprung from both him and his spouse, children who belonged in all respects to them both, then he would have to marry a woman. That is truth that hurts. And I have also heard all the political rhetoric about equality and bigotry and homophobia. I have also heard gay activists forcefully tell people to "Stay out of our relationships" and yet want us, through the government to be deeply involved in their relationships.

    I have no doubt that, here in Australia, given the momentum of what has just happened in Ireland, we will soon have marriage equality. I will be on the dissenting side (it will be decided in parliament so it is not as if that matters anyway). I just don't think that this position caters for truthful distinctions. And I believe that avoiding the truth will hurt us all, I just am not sure in what ways. My opinion is that it creates an atmosphere where government believes it has an ever increasing right to impose its will in domestic affairs through legislation. Especially, it seems to provide government with a mandate to define what truth is in order to change society. The other thing I see is that the marriage equality campaign has been a highly political process of shaming one side, silencing them in fear in order to convince people that if you want to be on the right side of history, there is only one way to go. This sets a precedent for all sorts of political activism in the future. Change is brought about by money, power and fear and not by intelligent consultation with the will of the people or by allowing people to really look at issues deeply and really look at the people who will be affected by such legislation and how.

    I don't know. Help!


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