My last substantive conversation with my mother happened two months ago. I was driving; she was folding laundry, wiping off countertops, and choosing an outfit to wear to her evening church service. We devoted most of the conversation to Living Hope, an organization she, my father, and sister attend every Thursday night. It is for lack of a better term an ex-gay ministry, filled mostly with men and women who—to borrow their language—struggle with same-sex attraction. Some family members like mine go for support and knowledge, hearing statistics like how only 5% of men are emotional and sensitive, and they’re the ones at risk of homosexuality.
I object to misinformation wherever it occurs. I want to rail against many of similar declarations my family has repeated to me. I don’t, because I know it reflects their beliefs on the issue, which are strong. Toward the end of our conversation I told my mother I didn’t need her to change her convictions that homosexuality was a sin. I seem to remember a pause, but there might not have been one. Either immediately or with some consideration she said that I didn’t need to think celibacy or the “gay lifestyle” were my only options.
For eight years our communication has been marked with disconnect. We speak in different languages these days. It’s almost like semaphore, so much context lost in the lengthening chasm of our differences. I fought for awhile to disregard the politics and opinions and theologies we hold that will never align. I wanted us to stop trying to change each other. She depends on alignment, though, which is why she said what she did, inferred that I shouldn’t pick between celibacy or promiscuity, that my orientation could be spiritually healed: changed.
It’s a belief held by many Christians, and to only say I’m leery of it comes across as more graceful than I am. I’ve written and discarded pages about reparative therapy, Exodus International, and the man who leads Living Hope—discarded because they were too cynical, maybe even bitter, to promote dialogue. I’ll say staunchly I think it’s dangerous, that too many suicides have resulted from kids losing the hope these ministries promise. But I understand why it persists and why my mother may go to her grave praying that I change. Distorted or not, I believe it originated from the heart of faith.
Christianity depends on the notion of change. It’s a transformative religion. Salvation from Hell is incidental as I see it, because the real grunt work and beauty appear daily: as selfish, warring, ignorant humans strive to become more like God. The yogis accomplish this through meditation, spiritually encountering the divine and returning from the experience transformed. Christians use different language and tools, but prayer, worship, and service are analogous vehicles to God.
There’s a gorgeous moment in the Bible when Moses encountered God. His hair blanched and face shone. At the deepest spiritual level he had changed. In my moments of what the mystics call transcendence, I’m filled with a grace and peace that lingers, leaving me more loving and joyful than before. Faith has changed my life into someone with more of the attributes of God. It hasn’t made me straight, though, and I’ve never felt like it needed to.
Many ex-gay ministries reason that if God can make the lame walk, he can make gay men straight. Sound logic or not, I don’t believe being gay should be compared to a sickness. My sexuality has allowed me to have uncomplicated friendships with women, deepened my empathy for the marginalized, and strengthened my faith through intense, personal questioning. It amounts to so much more than attraction to other men, which anyway is as emotional and spiritual as it is sexual. Christians ignore that, because they focus so intently on gay sex, moralizing a very minor component of homosexuality.
I don’t believe sexuality is moral. To claim being gay is a sin presumes being straight is a virtue, something no one I’ve met believes. I do think the expression of sexuality can produce a better or worse reflection of God: how casually, respectfully, and safely we use it. The focus, then, shouldn’t be on changing an orientation but on changing our hearts, so the way we express our sexuality, both emotionally and physically, exudes the love, peace, and joy of God.
When I came out to my mother, I told her if a pill existed that made me straight I wouldn’t swallow it. Almost three years later I can declare that just as strongly today. If I was made straight I would still gossip with friends, use my time and money selfishly, and be proud more often than humble. I wouldn’t reflect God any clearer, and I would lose many female friendships and solidarity with others the church has wounded. I do believe in change, that my life needs to be continually transformed to better resemble God. It’s a change I’ve experienced, and it’s a change I believe will continue even as I remain a gay man.