No Sex Required: My response to TLC and NPR
You’ve probably seen the buzz around TLC’s show My Husband’s Not Gay. It caused quite a negative uproar in the GLBTQ online community which included a petition calling for the show to be withdrawn from the lineup. According to TLC it follows four mormon men living in Salt Lake City, Utah, who don't identify themselves as homosexual despite having an attraction to men.
Coincidentally NPR aired Attracted To Men, Pastor Feels Called To Marriage With A Woman in which Presbyterian pastor Allan Edwards explains he's attracted to men, but he considers acting on that attraction a sin and therefore has chosen to be in a monogomous, heteroseuxal marriage.
The concern has been that these shows are sending the message that being gay is a choice as simple as choosing decaf over regular.
Because of these broadcasts I’ve had numerous people asking for my thoughts on the subject.
I’d now like to make my official public statement to the world:
“Everyone calm the F down!”
There. It feels good to get that off of my chest. Let me explain: These shows (which aren’t new subject matter by any stretch of the imagination) don’t teach anything about being gay or being straight. What these shows illustrate is that people can and will white-knuckle themselves into some form of submissive denail for periods of time that can range from hours to days, months, years and occasionally a lifetime! The choice of these men to not act on their homosexual attractions doesn’t make them straight any more than it makes them gay. If an orthodox Jew salivates at the scent of frying bacon (whose doesn’t?!) but chooses not to have a BLT at lunch, does that make him any more or less of a Jew? Hogwash! In fact, does that really say anything about him other than that he has great willpower? Many people choose not act on their desires. Some succeed and some do not. Just ask a smoker. If you choose to live a sexless life who am I to argue with you? If you choose to have sex with someone you aren’t sexually attracted to, well I don’t envy you, but I’m not going to stop you. But that says nothing about being gay or being straight.
The world is full of people who have chosen to not have sex at all or have chosen to live in a sexless relationship. Priests and nuns take a vow of celibacy. What does that make them? Gay? Straight? Bisexual? or neutral because they’ve never had sex? You see, you don’t have to have sex to be gay or straight. Most people begin identifying as gay, straight, bi, transgender and others long before they have had their first sexual experience. I can recall in the second grade being infatuated by an olive skinned boy named Tony down the street who was in my class. I didn’t have sexual feelings at that time, but I was definitely infatuated with him and every day when we walked by his house I would think about him and imagine his beautiful olive skin and dark hair. Because of him, the name Tony became one of my favorite boy names for many years. I had never had sex. I had never even had a sexual thought. I didn’t even know what sex was! But I knew I liked Tony and that the thought of him excited me and I hoped he would like me too. Unfortunately I never talked to Tony.
The real problem with the TLC and NPR shows are that they imply that sexual identity is determined solely by who one has sex with. It reduces being gay to simply having sex. As if that is all that gay people do.
My friend and author Tim Rymel an ordained evangelical Christian minister and former leader in the ex-gay (reparative therapy) movement of the '90s recently wrote an article called Honey, your husband’s definitely gay. In this article he recalls his life in the ex-gay movement “It was impossible for us to be gay because we were Christians. Being gay was simply unacceptable to God. To prove we weren’t gay, we didn’t have gay sex. If we had gay sex, then we would be gay because that’s what gay people do.” Sadly this idea is not unique to the circles that Tim once walked in. This seems to be the idea of many who believe that having sex is the only defining characteristic of homosexuality.
The men in these stories have chosen to not have sex with men and instead have sex with their wives. So according to them, that makes them straight. I was married to a woman for fourteen years and have three biological children. Obviously I had at least three succesful encounters with heterosexual sex. I lived an outwardly “straight” life for the first 30+ years. Yet I never had any sexual desire for women. I was not excited by nor interested in a woman’s body or characteristics. Was I straight? Was I gay? According to the men in these stories I was straight because I it’s all determined by who you’re having sex with. So later in life when I began having sexual encounters with men while still married to my wife, what did that make me? Bisexual? According to their logic it should. You see, this is the big flaw in that logic. One’s sexual identity cannot be determined by a single question of “Who do you choose have sex with?”
We all make choices about behavior but we can’t make choices about who we innately are.
I was never straight for one moment in my life. I simply tried very hard to act like a straight man in hopes that I could change myself into one.
I tried the white-knuckle approach. I tried the “surrender to God” approach. I tried the behavior modification approach. I tried the ex-gay therapy approach. I tried the denial approach. But I am gay whether I have sex with men or not. As for the men in these stories? Time will tell. I wish them a life of authenticity.