Friday, 29 January 2010

In a post-ex-gay world...

I'm a little behind the times with this one, I have to admit. Just over a week ago the Times published an article entitled The day I decided to stop being gay. The premise of the article is that a man who had previously lived an openly gay life (and, in his word, 'lifestyle'), including a committed relationship of ten years with another man, realised one day that he didn't think this was for him any more.

It's fascinating to read Patrick Muirhead's story, but I honestly don't understand how it led him to consider himself to no longer be gay. He talks very tenderly about the wonder he felt at the sight of a young boy holding hands with his dad, and that this made him realise that he didn't want to be gay any more. But is it really that simple?

I was struck by a number of things that he says that make me wonder if he is truly sure of his analysis or if he is in fact suffering from a very serious case of internalised homophobia. I began to wonder about this when I read this phrase;

I became transfixed by the sight of the boy’s tiny pink fingers gripping his father’s huge, workman-like fist. And I almost wanted to burst into song.

I don't mean to go all pop psychology on you here, but forgive me a moment. That doesn't sound to me like a man who has realised that he is not gay, but one who feels he will somehow never be able to conform to a norm that he sees around him. He juxtaposes the father's "workman-like fist" not only with the child's small hand but also with his own desire to burst into song. He goes on to say, "That's love, folks", as though this beautiful expression of familial love is all there is to it. As if the entirety of the human experience of love can be boiled down to a "normal" man with his child.

Come to that, I have to question his assumption that the man in the hairdresser's salon was straight. Does having a "workman-like fist" and a beautiful son make you straight? Or is it that there aren't any gay people living in Kentish villages. Do enlighten me, Mr. Muirhead, I would love to know.

But, of course, the answer is there and ready.

Gays have children these days, of course they do, and not always to accessorise an outfit. ... It is, really, a sort of snook to the system of nature. Shooting for the net without the chore of running with the ball. It’s just not for me.

I find it so hard to listen to someone who has been apparently living comfortably as openly gay to roll out the old "it's not natural" argument. Actually, I think you'll find that there is anthropological evidence that suggests that the role of couples who are unable to procreate (gay and straight) in many societies is precisely to adopt and care for the children who need them, sometimes co-parenting those children who would be otherwise without a family. Are those straight couples who "follow twisting paths to biological parenthood, often quite expensively, with the involvement of test tubes and cash changing hands" also undeserving of children? Do you believe that they are also a "snook to the system of nature"? Well, you should, it is no more natural.

What his argument seems to boil down to is this; that the "lifestyle" he embraced for many years now feels shallow. Join the club. It's called growing up. I'm not sure I'd want to go back to the days of "fumbling" and confusion about my sexuality, nor do I want to be eighteen and drinking myself into a giggling stupor in student gay nights whilst wondering why I'm still going home on my own at the end of the night. Those days are long behind me, and one day I'm sure I'll look back and wonder what possessed me at the age of 24 to still be spending long nights in Popstarz and writing a pompous blog. People change, that's one of the joys of life.

On which note, I must confess that I do believe that sexuality is not a fixed thing. There have been times in my life when I have wondered if I could date men after all. There have been moments when I've thought, like Patrick Muirhead seems to, that perhaps it was just that I spent too much time at a single-sex school. But at the end of the day, none of it matters. What matters is that I am self-aware enough to recognise love when I see it. If Patrick Muirhead were, like one of his former lovers, to fall for a woman and believe he wanted to marry her and start a family, you would not find me raising these concerns (although his characterisation of the "gay community" still falls far short of what I know to be true). I believe whole-heartedly that God intends for us to be in relationship - romantic or otherwise - with one another and that when someone finds the person they are meant to be with it doesn't matter what their gender or identity is. We are not called to judge.

I do worry, however, that Patrick Muirhead is going to be bitterly disappointed when he realises that it is not as simple as wishing to be straight. I hope that he finds the person he can fall in love and start a family with, and I hope it brings him happiness and he raises a wonderful family. But I hope he can do it without continuing to unjustly sling mud at a community he has chosen to reject. I wish him nothing but luck.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Living it Out

This evening, Living it Out was launched at Waterstone's Gower Street. Sarah and Rachel were there to answer questions and read from the book.

I was struck by a number of things when I first read Living it Out; the first was the sheer diversity of the contributors. As I had contributed myself, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was amazed, looking at the list spanning four pages at the front of the book, to see how many of the contributors are not L/G/B themselves, but are our allies. A 25 year old Anglican with gay friends, parents of L/G/B Christians, themselves of various denominations, even a vicar explaining honestly and frankly his work to include us in his worship.

There was nothing in the book that was negative; the experiences of the contributors were beautifully handled within the text to emphasise the healing and growth within their story. It is often easier for us, as people who have been hurt, to condemn those who disagree with us out of hand and subsequently to cause ourselves more bitterness and pain. It is wonderful to read stories that don't allow the reader to take that easy route. There is no anger here.

The title, also, reflects a core value of the book. Through the stories, Bible studies and reflections it becomes apparent that we are still called to live our faith authentically. That love is the most faithful witness of all, and that the example of those who stand unafraid to be themselves can inspire others to do the same.

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Romans 13:10
I've also been looking at the reviews in the last couple of days, and I found this review, which I was really pleased by. As someone from an Evangelical Anglican background (and, incidentally, raised in High Wycombe!), it's a joy to me to know that there are people in the church prepared to listen and disagree in love.

There's a prayer in the book that sums up what I want to encourage people to do after reading the book;
Emmanuel, God with us, you came to share our life. We pray that you would join us as we join together, sharing our laughter and tears, arguments and struggles, secrets and celebrations. Amen.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Birthday feelings

At Popstarz for my birthday party, click for a Spotify playlist

So I'm another year older today. It always takes me by surprise, but it's a great time to look back over the last few years. What with the new year and my birthday, January is often a month of planning and looking back for me.

But this year I realised it's not about looking back at what I've achieved. My birthday is not a time to look back and regret missed opportunities, or congratulate myself on my own achievements. Rather it's a fabulous opportunity to realise just how many things I have to be grateful for.

I was out on Friday night with the most wonderful group of people, from friends I've known for many years to those I've met in the last few months. It made me get a little bit soppy to think about the number of people I have in my life who I really value.

To anyone not celebrating my birthday, happy Burns Night / Virginia Woolf's birthday / whatever you are celebrating!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Jesus plasters

I have a habit of chewing on my fingers when I'm nervous. It's not a good habit - nor a particularly attractive one - and I often don't notice I'm doing it until they start to bleed. Thankfully my housemate is very well equipped and provided me with a very colourful popart Jesus plaster.

Aren't they fabulous? Or are they a tacky commercialisation of faith? Does it matter? Well, perhaps that's another reflection for another time but my Jesus plaster certainly made me think. Most people who saw it immediately commented on the healing power it must contain.

After joking along with this for a while, I tried to think a little more seriously. For a start, it never once occurred to me to pray about my finger. It's just a little cut, right? Who needs prayer for that? It hurts a little but I figure it'll heal itself. I'm sure I have enough in myself to heal it. Platelets are perfectly effective on their own, I'm sure. I mean, I'm no doctor but it's worked in the past.

So I decided to give it a shot. I'm not one of life's great pray-ers. I like to be self-sufficient and that includes a reluctance to accept help from God. Of course, I know when to get support for the big things, we all do. When a family member is ill, I'm powerless so I am prepared to ask for help. Because even I know there are times I can't fix it! But ask for help for myself? Why would I do that? I'm fine.

The Jesus plaster sat on my finger as a constant reminder that sometimes I need a little extra support. And when I decided to pray about it, something changed. I was more relaxed; the pain even diminished a bit. So when I fell down the stairs and hurt my back, I first hobbled to work and forced myself to get through it. Then I had a break, and I was going over a prayer list. I noticed a name there that I hadn't written. In someone else's handwriting was my name. I remembered the Jesus plaster, remembered the last time I prayed for something I didn't consider worth praying about. So I did, and I got through the day intact.

The Jesus plasters aren't a miracle cure. And, let me be clear about this, prayer isn't some kind of instant fix-it either. But sometimes my Jesus plaster reminds me who it is I'm meant to be depending on for my help. If I were to look up from my own internal world for a minute, what would I see?

I lift up my eyes to the hills- Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip -
He who watches over you will not slumber.

from Psalm 121