Another thing that happened when I was thirteen or fourteen, was that I became briefly worried that I might be gay.
This was because I didn’t like any boys. I thought they were all stupid and irritating. I knew there was this thing that was supposed to happen during puberty, with regard to boys, but whatever it was, exactly, it was totally not happening.
(What happened eventually was, I met a boy who wasn’t, strictly speaking, less irritating than other boys, but for some reason, when he wasn’t around, I really missed him. And that’s love.)
So I worried that maybe I was gay. But then I thought about it for a while and realized that mysterious thing, whatever it was, didn’t seem to be happening with girls either. So I figured I was just picky or a late bloomer or whatever and moved on.
But the experience taught me something important: I realized that, if I actually had been gay, there wouldn’t have been a darned thing I could do about it.I started to think that maybe I was a supporter of gay rights. I was a little worried about this, because I had gotten the distinct idea that the church was down on homosexuality.
Abortion and homosexuality seem to go together, sort of, now, because the same people tend to be activists against both abortion rights and gay civil rights. But at that time (the early 1980s) they didn’t seem connected yet. Abortion was a new concept. It wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. It didn’t show up in the books I had read. I had never picked up on any generalized church disapproval of it until being hit full-bore with propaganda from already-discredited sources. So abortion was easier for me to wrap my mind around.
Homosexuality made me more uneasy. It actually is mentioned in the Bible — a little. I had already picked up on a generalized churchy disapproval, which seemed to tie it in with disapproval of the 1970s swinger culture, and an image that gay people were decadent, and an expression of a decadent society. As a kid I wasn’t exactly pro-decadence. Kids don’t tend to be anyway, and I personally have kind of a neo-Victorian prudish streak.
But my neo-Victorian prudishness actually served me well. Because when I considered what it meant to be gay, I didn’t obsess about what gay people might do in the privacy of their bedrooms. I thought about it in only the mildest romantic terms — holding hands and walking along the beach and so on. I thought about being gay in terms of what sex you’re likely to fall in love with, not about what kind of sex you have once you do fall in love.
Around this time, in school, we were shown the movie Future Shock, which contains a scene in which two tuxedo-clad gentlemen tie the knot. This was considered very shocking at the time, I suppose. We had to get our parents to sign a permission slip or we couldn’t watch it. And I really didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why two men getting married was supposed to be more shocking than two men hooking up romantically without the benefit of wedlock.
Gay marriage was clearly the romantic, neo-Victorian prude choice.
But what about the Bible? What does the Bible have to say about all this?
I still, at that time, felt a need to justify my ethical stances in light of the Bible. So I read it, looking for any clear indication that I was wrong in my support for gay rights.
I did not find it.
Yes, there is a bit of Biblical support for the position that homosexual sex is not appropriate for Christians, but honestly, not very much. It’s barely mentioned. If you’ve never read the Bible, the unhinged ranting of the religious right might make it seem as if the Bible is obsessed with sex, in the sense of telling you what kind of sex not to have. But it’s really not. They are projecting their own twisted obsessions onto the existing text.
(The only book that’s even a bit like that is Leviticus, an exhausting catalog of rules which include rules about not sleeping with your close female relatives, not sleeping with the livestock, and one mention of men not sleeping with men. It also includes rules about how you’re supposed to dress, how you’re supposed to plant your field, what you’re not supposed to eat, the proper manner in which to sacrifice livestock to your god, what you’re supposed to do if you have a wet dream, what you’re supposed to do during your period, etc. It’s in the old testament, which already calls into question whether any of the rules apply to Christians. Also, the religious right embraces this book very selectively, zeroing in on the fact that sex between men is an "abomination" and conveniently ignoring the fact that shellfish are also an "abomination.")
My study of the matter — which was as sincere and honest as anything undertaken by a teenager can readily manage — led me to conclude that there was mild and highly debatable support for the notion that homosexual Christians should be celibate. So I could see it as a legitimate doctrinal split, with some churches concluding that homosexual relationships with the usual Christian virtues of love and fidelity were entirely appropriate, and some not.
I say "mild and highly debatable" because the Christian support for it comes from the writings of Paul and not from anything Jesus himself reportedly said. Paul was already the source of several hotly debated topics of my youth regarding the proper role of women, so it was easy for me to see homosexuality in the church as being in the same context as feminism in the church.
Either way, it was obvious to me that compassion and fairness toward people, including homosexual people, was the supreme Christian virtue. Christians also are advised to worry about their own sins first, and not obsess over the sins of other people. Christian teachings are about taking burdens on yourself, not putting burdens on other people.
I already knew that I had familial support for the more feminist interpretation of the writings of Paul, but I did not sense familial support for the more gay-friendly interpretation. I had heard people in church have the feminism debate, but I had never heard them have the homosexuality debate. For some reason even talking about it, even having that discussion, even the word, seemed to be taboo.
It was almost as if the people in the church were unable to separate the fact of people being gay from the concept of gay sexual activity. They couldn’t think about gay couples without immediately trying to picture what, exactly, they did together.
(It has been my experience that the people who appoint themselves guardians of the public morality tend to have filthy, filthy minds.)
So, this was it, my first big and conscious break with what I perceived to be church doctrine. At the time I didn’t even know about the existence of churches with a more gay-friendly interpretation of the Bible. I would learn about them later, especially as the AIDS crisis deepened throughout the 80s.
But at the time, as far as I knew, I was a lone heretic.