"What If They Think I'm Gay?" And Other Fears That Keep People from Engaging


“Be Bold.” This is the declaration splashed across our website and facebook page. It’s The Marin Foundation’s motto, although it’s not one that I reflect on often. A need for boldness is not something I typically associate with the conversation surround faith and sexual orientation and gender identity. If anything, the tone of the conversation--from both conservative and progressive voices--often leads me to mutter to myself an opposite motto: “C’mon...show some restraint.”

I often forget the value of boldness when it is demonstrated by moderate, thoughtful individuals who are just beginning to engage in this conversation. It takes courage to open oneself up to a wave of new questions and scrutiny.

There are a whole host of “what if…” questions that keep people from speaking up. Here are a few, and how to push past them:

“What if they think I’m gay?” I have many straight friends whose first steps toward advocacy for the LGBTQ community were met with questions about their own sexual orientation. I think it’s just part of the territory. And that’s okay. It’s okay that people speculate about your sexuality or falsely identify you as gay or bi when you’re not. Even if it’s an attempt to discredit you, being bold means embracing the possibility of being misunderstood. As I’ve written before, Jesus certainly wasn’t afraid to allow his actions to be misinterpreted.

There’s also the possibility someone who actually is gay mistaking you for gay. And guess what? That’s okay too. If you get hit on, it’s a compliment--no matter what that person's gender. Treat it as such, even as you politely set the record straight--so to speak. Imagine if you were mistaken for, say, Italian and then you swore up and down that you weren’t, that there was no way you were even a little bit Italian. That kind of response would lead others to believe that you thought there was something shameful about being Italian. The same goes for being taken for gay.

“What if I unintentionally say something offensive?” You will. Probably. At some point. I’ve written about certain words and phrases that we Christians should outright ban from our vocabulary (“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin,” “Homosexual,” etc.), but the truth is, you’re bound to say the wrong thing at some point. The most important thing is that you take a posture of a student, deferring to others as the expert of their own experience. You may learn that “queer” can be a derogatory term, but then hear someone self-identify as “queer.” You should allow your knowledge of what’s appropriate and preferred language to be shaped by each LGBTQ individual you interact with. That’s the difference between cultural competency and cultural humility. (More on that distinction in my next post).

“What if I don’t have a watertight theology of same-sex relationships?” If “cultural humility” is a preferred perspective over “cultural competency,” perhaps there’s a parallel to be made with our understanding of the Bible: “hermeneutical humility” over “hermeneutical competency.” That’s a fancy way of saying it’s all right if you don’t have the most cogent analysis on these six verses, known as the “clobber passages,” that reference same-sex relationships. Your ability to love, honor and stand in solidarity with your LGBTQ brothers and sisters does not depend on you having all the most satisfactory answers. Allow God to teach you truth as you practice the truth.

“What if I’m asked to do something I’m not comfortable with?” I’ve written about attending a gay loved one’s wedding (with a few notes in the comment section about officiating one). And I think in nearly every case, the best thing to do is to go. Go in a spirit of celebration. Go without fear--again--of having your motivations misinterpreted. Go because Jesus would go.


Note: This post first appeared on Love is An Orientation here.

4 Things I Learned from Matthew Vines and Julie Rodgers

Does the Bible support or prohibit same-sex relationships?

This question behind a three-part series, “The Bible and Homosexuality,” that we’ve put on as part of our biweekly Living in the Tension gatherings this summer. We started three weeks ago with a presentation from Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, who laid out his argument for the Bible’s support of same-sex relationships. Last week, we heard from blogger and speaker Julie Rodgers, who offered a more conservative interpretation of Scripture as a celibate gay Christian.

We’ll conclude the series this Monday with a discussion of both presentations, but I’m jumping the gun a bit today.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my friends, Matthew and Julie:

1. Civility in this conversation is refreshing and beautiful. Both Matthew and Julie began their respective lectures by praising and promoting the other. That just doesn’t happen in typical debates. They clearly and resolutely held to opposing viewpoints, but never did they frame the other as an opponent. There wasn’t a winner or loser. There wasn’t a sense of “us vs. them.”

In a conversation dominated by the language of “victories” and “defeats,” this was so refreshing.

2. It’s always more compelling to learn from someone who’s actually gay. Both Julie and Matthew will be the first to tell you they’re not experts in the field of biblical hermeneutics. Neither of them have doctorates in theology. But they do have something else which is often absent from this particular biblical debate: They have skin in the game. Being gay Christians Matthew and Julie are two people for whom the Bible’s answer to the question of same-sex relationships has very real and very life-altering ramifications.

This debate takes on a fresh perspective when it’s voiced by those for whom it’s personal. It’s scholarship presented with pathos. To paraphrase something that Matthew said, “Be wary of any discussion of same-sex relationships that does not include gay voices–especially policy-making discussions.”

3. The question of gender complementarity is really important. Does God’s creation of male and female indicate of some kind of strict, universal design for sexuality? That question, the whole idea of gender complementarity, is what the debate hinges upon. Our answer often becomes the lens through which we understand and interpret–among others–each of the six references to same-sex relationships in the Bible. It’s the critical point of contention between Julie and Matthew.

This isn’t a new discovery for me, really. I’ve been studying this for a few years now, but I came away from these two presentations with a renewed interest. Considering how central this idea of gender complementarity is to the debate, it warrants more attention than I’ve given it.

4. Five years of Living in the Tension has fostered an incredibly wise community. I was impressed with the roomful of gatherers nearly as much as I was with Matthew and Julie. The value at the heart of our Living in the Tension gatherings has always been listening. Here’s the thing about listening to five years worth of poignant stories and differing perspectives: you get good at it. The questions this group had for Julie and Matthew were deeply engaged and precise and articulate. They came from lived experience. They were sometimes challenging, but always generous.

This is no small thing. This conversation about the Bible and same-sex relationships is notorious for turning theological disagreements into personal attacks. But this community knew the important distinction between criticism and condemnation, argument and antagonism. I’m often bragging about these gatherings I help facilitate, but I’ve never been more grateful for my Living in the Tension friends.

So thanks, Matthew and Julie, for your honesty and courage! Thanks for teaching us with your words and your actions.

Mixed-Orientation Marriages

Photo by Vinoth Chandar

Photo by Vinoth Chandar

When my wife came out to me as bisexual two-and-a-half years ago, I was immediately overcome with a sinking feeling that this information was a game-changer. Just like that, everything I thought I knew about her, about our marriage, about what it meant to be LGBTQ, was suddenly in question.

What followed was a few painful months of reorienting myself to this new reality, not sure who I could trust, but desperately needing some wisdom and a sense of stability. I had a lot of learning to do.

When I wrote about the experience last year right here on the blog, the response was pretty overwhelming. I was introduced to the term “mixed-orientation marriage,” and dozens of people around the world whose current or past relationships also fit into this classification. I had no idea.

Just to spell it out, a mixed-orientation marriage is one in which one spouse is straight (heterosexual) and the other is not straight, or not quite straight. They may identify as gay or lesbian. Or same-sex attracted. Or asexual. Or, like my wife, bisexual.

For many couples, this isn’t a big deal. It’s not an earth-shattering, category-defining reality to accept. Perhaps they knew all this information before getting married or it otherwise doesn’t require them to change the dynamic of their relationship. For others, though, it presents a tragic scenario of unreciprocated desires.

The following advice is for this latter group. It’s for the many couples out there who are grappling with mismatched sexualtities. I’ve provided guidance and pastoral care to many of you, and this is what I’ve learned:

  • Seek answers that are right for your marriage. There is no “one size fits all” solution to these challenges. Each marriage is unique. Only you and your spouse can determine the right course of action. For some couples, divorce is the clear and only answer. For others, it’s not. Don’t measure your relationship up to someone else’s. Don’t try to replicate what you perceive to be other marriage success stories.                                                                                                                                                                                                

  • Prioritize Empathy. This cuts both ways. On the one hand, straight spouses would do well to recognize the tremendous pressure their partner likely faced to repress their attraction to the same sex. They may have grown up in a time or place where any path in life other than a traditional marriage would have been unthinkable. Perhaps they were even told that sex within a traditional marriage would “cure” them of their “unnatural” desires. On the other hand, non-straight spouses should understand their wife or husband likely has a right to feel like a victim of this new reality. Especially if there is a significant sexual incompatibility. He or she may feel as if the promises you made to each other on your wedding day are broken or empty. Even though you’ve likely done nothing malicious, your spouse may still feel wronged. So acknowledge those feelings. It is unfair.                                                                                                                               

  • Expect dissonance between your intellectual acceptance and emotional acceptance. This is especially true for straight spouses. You may learn to accept on an intellectual level your partner is not wired the same way you are, but emotionally you may still experience depression, jealousy and inadequacy. You may know the problem is not with how you look, but the way you feel on the inside is just plain unattractive. These are tough insecurities to battle, but remind yourself; you are neither unloved nor unappreciated. Figure out healthy ways in which you can receive the affirmation you need while respecting the terms you’ve established with your partner.                                                                                                           

  • Celebrate what you do have together. While sexual compatibility is vital to the health of a marriage, it’s not the sum total. Don’t let your challenges in this area detract from your strengths in others. Perhaps you make excellent co-parents. Perhaps you’re still great friends. Recognize the joy this person has brought into your life, not just the pain. This is especially important if you have kids together. You don’t want them to feel as if they are merely the ill-considered products of a faulty marriage.                                                                           

  • Advocate for yourself. Be honest--with yourself as well as your partner--about where you’re at and what you feel you are and are not getting from the relationship. Those can be really hard conversations, especially when you need something your partner may be unable to provide. However, burying those needs deep within yourself only breeds resentment or disillusionment. Perhaps by suffering in silence you are prolonging a solution that will leave you both happier.                                                                                                                                                           

  • Find support. Get connected to support groups such as the Straight Spouse NetworkPFLAG, and the Gay Christian Network. Seek out other couples in mixed-orientation marriages. Go to marriage counseling, or individual counseling. (Try a few different therapists to find one you really trust. Think of your first session like a job interview, where you’re considering whether to hire this person.)

And know, above all, that you’re not alone.