Today’s question from a reader took me by surprise when I first read it. I suppose I was surprised because I don’t consider myself as someone who really “takes sides” on questions of sexuality and faith: if anything, I have written about why I won’t take a stand on gay marriage.
However, the topic keeps coming up. On the blog, I’ve been asked questions about being friends with someone who is transgender. I also wrote about our response to the World Vision controversy last year (here with a Screwtape letter, and here with a parable of a gay samaritan). I’ve linked to articles in Pick of the Clicks discussing some of the issues at hand, and had books pressed into my hands by friends since then. So I suppose I am willing to talk about it, even though it’s not a soapbox issue for me. Having said that – I’m answering today’s letter as a friend, not as an expert, and my goal – as always – is to aim for the grace and truth blend which is found so beautifully in Jesus.
I’m finally doing it: I’m finally coming out as bisexual. My spouse knows, but I’m ready to be authentic with everyone else. This poses a bit of a problem: as a Christian, I don’t think this is wrong, but I have plenty of Christian family/best friends who do. I know it’ll be hard for them. I’m ready for there to be misunderstandings and awkward questions. (Even gay people have a hard time with, “How can you be bi if you’re committed to one person? Doesn’t that make you straight/gay?”) But I want to minimize the pain for both of us, anticipate their questions with grace, and find some way to make this as easy as possible on everyone.
And, if I’m honest, I feel terribly vulnerable. I would really just like to know they still love me. I don’t know if that’s even appropriate to ask when you drop a bomb like this on someone.
I know you don’t necessarily agree with LGBT, though I’ve loved your posts on the subject. I was wondering: if your child, cousin, or best friend came out as bi to you, how could they best do it in a way that respects you and doesn’t get your guard up? What are things you would want to know or that it would help you to hear? What if this person lived far away and couldn’t do it in person?
Dear Fearfully Brave,
I’ve recently read a few books dealing with LGBT issues. My book club read Two Boys Kissing, a YA novel I would never otherwise have picked up. After that, I read Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, a book which I didn’t know had gay themes until I was well into the story. So that made for two novels I would not ordinarily have read – and I”ll admit, despite being very well written stories, they were uncomfortable for me to read.
Still, reading uncomfortable things is something I am increasingly becoming comfortable with, as I am discovering that reading is not just about enjoying stories, but also about learning to hear the voices of the human condition. As such, reading those two books were very important for empathy-building for me, because as someone who has a public Christian profile, I am one of the last people on earth likely to be expected to really hear the deep hurts and desires which someone struggling with their sexuality. It’s a bit of a catch 22, really: evangelical Christians are presumed to have little empathy, and so we are not entrusted with people’s deepest heart issues. But without hearing the real struggles of real people, how can we build empathy? I am grateful to literature for sharing some of that inner monologue with me where others have been unable to.
And it’s working, I might add. It’s working in that I feel my empathy and compassion growing, my love expanding for the wounded and vulnerable and confused. I’m realizing nobody chooses to struggle with this because they want to be ornery or sinful. Rather, they struggle – and dealing with others’ discomfort and disapproval is a large part of the pain that comes with choosing to come out.
So what would I say to you? I would say: say what you’ve written to me. That you’re still married. That you still believe. That you’re wrestling. That you want them to know because you love and respect them enough to want to be more fully known by them. Tell them you don’t need them to agree, or to endorse you, or even to understand – but that you would love them to let you know they still love you, if they are able to do that.
Some of the questions that would come to mind might be: what does this mean for your marriage? What will this change in terms of how you live your life? What will this change in our relationship? Also, is there anything you want me to do or to say? I think your willingness to answer questions as best you can communicates a great deal. The fact that you are married (and happily so!) to a Christian of the opposite sex goes a long way towards assuring a conservative Christian that you are (relatively) safe: a fact which is not insignificant in our concerns for our loved ones who are charting unknown territory.
Another question which might present itself from your immediate family is the question of causation: whose fault is this? will people blame us? and what caused it? There is still much disagreement on whether sexuality is biological or environmental, and those who were part of both our situational nurture and our genetic nature will feel some sense of responsibility in answering for the information. (Aside: I am currently reading Nicolosi’s book A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, which is a fascinating and surprisingly compassionate read. Its Amazon reviews are all either 5-star or 1-star… which tells you a lot about the presuppositions of the readers). So, perhaps you might want to address the fact that no matter how it came to be that you find yourself identifying as bisexual – you’re not blaming them.
It is, as you suggest, likely that some family members may need some time to process, and even to grieve, your news. You can do nothing else but give them that space. I hope, though, that in time they will be able to see where you are coming from and affirm their love for you and welcome to you.
I daresay a letter might be easier, given the distance. The letter might be hard to write, and harder still will be calling them after a while to ask if they’ve read it. There are a 1000 hard ways to do this, and not a single right, easy way.
I, for one, would want to welcome you with open arms. Not because I think homosexuality as a lifestyle is okay (I think the Bible is clear that this is a temptation which we are called to bring under Christ’s clear rule about the way in which we govern our sexual relationships)… but because the Bible is also really clear that the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and we are not to throw stones or pass judgment on those for whom Christ died. We are the church, you and I.
I”ll be praying for you as you share your news.