Perhaps you find yourself among the many young men of our day who wonder whether you might be gay. Conventional wisdom points you in that direction. Some things you are feeling and experiencing seem to confirm that hypothesis. But you are also experiencing a good deal of confusion and anxiety over it. I’m telling my story today to offer you a different paradigm, a different way to think about yourself, in hopes that it will encourage you to embrace the creature God designed you to be. I believe that in embracing that design you will find fulfillment and joy in your life and peace in your soul.
If you have no confusion, if you have no anxiety, and if you find the perspective I’m offering offensive, then you should probably stop reading here. But if you are wondering, please read on.
My teen aged friends used to take bets on whether I was gay. The reasons seemed clear to them. I was not terribly aggressive or competitive. I enjoyed playing team sports, but I was never very good at it. For me it was more about camaraderie than competition. I was and continue to be, unlike most men, a very verbal, expressive, emotive, empathetic and relational type of fellow. I am comfortable expressing what I feel and talking about where those feelings come from. I am easily wounded by harshness, and hate. I avoid conflict, preferring to smooth things over rather than engage in confrontation. I have a high emotional IQ and operate, like many women, with a decidedly developed sense of intuition.
That, however, wasn’t all that my friends had in mind as they gambled over my orientation. Some of my earliest memories revolve around music and dance. I sang, tenor not bass, and acted in musicals and plays from elementary school through college. I LOVED the stage. My dream was to grow up and take over where Fred Astaire left off.
None of those traits seemed to fit the accepted masculine mold of the time which was and still is to some extent, athletic, competitive, emotionally reserved, and “concrete / rational” in perspective rather than intuitive. You may also have noticed that “real men,” (a dubious phrase if ever there was one) are good at math, engineering, construction and carpentry. They enjoy hunting, fishing pick-up trucks and hot rods. They don’t like to read, unless maybe it’s Field & Stream or Car & Driver, they never write, and they would rather do things than talk about what they feel any day of the week. Heck, many of them are so divorced from their emotions they don’t even know what they feel.
Finally, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, my friends were betting on some of my behaviors and associations. When I was in high school certain behaviors were considered indicative of homosexuality. They seem silly now, but I’m not making this up. Does he cross one leg over the other like a girl? Or hang an ankle on a knee like a guy? Does he like to wear colorful clothes that match? Or T-shirts and jeans? Does he file his nails with his fingers spread like a guy or curled toward him like a girl? All those things were considered indicators of gayness and I was guilty on all counts.
But perhaps most important were my buddies. One of my best friends in High School was one year ahead of me and struggling with his sexual identity. I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew that he was my friend. He helped me get my first job and gave me a ride to it before I could drive. When he and two other friends went to a six-week, college credit, summer drama school in Alabama I went along and hung out with him and the director of the play we were producing. The other guys hung out with the technical team leader and his crew. I was still unaware that my older friend and the director, a high-school music and drama teacher from Dothan, Alabama, were practicing homosexuals. I just knew that they would smoke pot and get drunk with me and I thought that was cool. They were my friends.
I had more gay friends over the following years although I was often unaware of their lifestyle. What I was aware of is that I had more in common with these friends than other men. I enjoyed their company because we enjoyed many of the same things, music, the arts, and reading etc. When, after high school, I finally learned of my friend’s secret life I was deeply upset by it and lashed out at him in anger. I couldn’t have explained then why I was so upset. But looking back on it thirty years later I realize that I felt a deep sense of betrayal, and not a little bit of fear. For reasons I’ll cover later I was a deeply insecure young man. If my good friend was gay, what did that really say about me?
If you are like me, you are probably wondering two things: Where did those similarities come from? How come you didn’t turn out to be gay? The answers lie in two words: Nature and nurture.
Nature covers much of it. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then I’m on some planet between the two whose orbit is closer to Venus. The encouraging thing I’ve discovered is that I’m not alone. Many men, more than you might imagine, share the traits I’ve outlined above, often attributed to women. And many women share traits more associated with men. My guess is the ratio is something like 30/70, or, three in ten women have personalities and gifting traditionally associated with men. Ditto for men with traits associated with women. That doesn’t make us gay. It does mean however that we will often feel out of the loop, disconnected from most of our sex. If we take our cues from the culture, which is increasingly pro-gay, we may conclude quite erroneously that we are gay too.
One other aspect of our nature plays a major part in this drama, the power of which cannot be overstated: sex. The chemicals released in the brain during sex: dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, serotonin, and testosterone have a supercharging effect on human emotional and psychological bonding. We might say that we “imprint” on the other person – be they male or female, photographed or in the flesh – in the sex act. I call it crossing the shame/ecstasy threshold. Once we overcome our inhibitions (shame) and experience our first sexual act (ecstasy), even if we were coerced or manipulated into it as a child by an adult or other child, or even if it was acting out as part of the consumption of pornography, we are forever shaped by it. The supercharging power of the chemicals released will drive us to seek that experience again.
I was exposed to heterosexual pornography at a very early age. I followed a heterosexual path into adulthood. Had I been exposed to homosexual pornography at that age the outcome might have been very different.
Nurture covers the rest of it. Copious research indicates that children need healthy emotional connections with both of their parents. That connection includes three important elements: respect, identification, and affirmation. The child needs to respect both his mother and his father; identify with the parent of the same sex; and be affirmed in that identity by that parent. They gain their understanding of who they are and how they will get along in the world based on the models they see at home and the affirmation they receive. Failing a healthy connection with one parent, they will seek it in the other parent. By that I mean that sons who cannot connect with their fathers will get their emotional needs met and learn to orient themselves to their world through their mothers. It is possible for a mother to take her son too much into her world where, bit by bit, he loses his identity as a man. It is possible for a father to take his daughter too much into his world, where bit by bit, she loses her identity as a woman. Or a boy might identify more with his mother because she is a stronger personality than the father. Or a daughter might identify more with her father because her mother wilts under the father’s overbearing personality. There are many variations on this theme, but the bottom line is that the balance and harmony of male and female in the home is lost and the sexual identity of the child easily confused.
It is a father’s job to help his sons orient themselves and find their footing in the larger world. But like many of my homosexual friends I had a dysfunctional relationship with my father. My dad loved his sons. But it was difficult for him to express it. (It will come as no surprise that he did not have a good relationship with his dad either). I desperately wanted his approval, but it was difficult for him to give. (Dad said I was “pretty” and threatened to put a bow in my curly brown hair). My father also had a real problem with anger. He often lost his temper and occasionally beat my brothers and me far out of proportion to our offenses. This alienated us from him. Identification was lost. Still, I think those incidents could have been overcome had he been able to establish a healthy emotional bond with his sons. He was getting there when his life was cut short in an accident.
Why did that not lead me into the homosexual world when so many in my situation have gone that way? Teenage heterosexual experience, as mentioned above, is certainly part of it. A powerful, life altering encounter with Christ at age 20, where I submitted my will to his and promised to obey him no matter the cost was crucial as well. The rest I attribute to a specific answer to prayer.
I lost my Dad when I was sixteen. That loss launched me into a period of great emotional insecurity. Over the course of the twenty years following God provided a series of healthy, responsible, godly, and mature men with whom I could identify and bond, who modeled healthy manhood for me, and who affirmed me. They gave me what I needed to become the man I am today.
If you’ve read this far then please stick with me a little while longer because I want to affirm you.
If you feel different from most of the boys and young men around you, if you seem to be attracted to other young men instead of young women, if you are wondering what the matter with you might be, you are not alone, and you are not gay. Even if your first sexual experiences have been homosexual and you feel that powerful chemically based pull toward that life, you are not bound to it. You can be free. Jesus Christ can set you free and can give you the strength that you need to change. He can empower you to resist the urges that you feel and bring the chemicals raging within you back under control. He can reshape your mind so that you can begin to see his world and his creation from his point of view. He can help you become the man that you were meant to be.
I stand ready to help you. There are other men in churches all over America who will do the same. I urge you, give your life to Christ and take the first steps to becoming the man you were made to be.