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.

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