10. Big-ticket items: homosexuality

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.


  1. I like these. I like that you keep posting them. And if you’re not getting many comments, it’s probably because people like me start trying to respond with something deep, get called away, and quit Firefox without saving the comment. :)

    Homosexuality was one of the big seeds of doubt for me. In my case, it was close to home because my best friend was so completely, obviously gay. I was quite sure that every predilection toward sin, including homosexuality, could be undone in Jesus Christ.

    This makes for a very odd relationship, and I wrote an essay about it somewhere that I think I will post, about how we were reflecting that deeper need for a narrative that made sense.

  2. Abortion is mentioned at least once in the Bible. You won’t typically find anti-abortion forces aware of this, however.

    Specifically, abortion is the first half of the line, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” More particularly, this is the punishment for striking a pregnant woman so as to cause a miscarriage — which is easy enough to read as meaning abortion. The chapter itself is a long list of what fines are appropriate for the injury and/or murder of various classes of people, and it specifically calls out abortion as an exception. If you cause a woman to miscarry, there is no financial consequence — but you will be injured in exactly the same fashion that you injured her, an eye for an eye, etc.

    To me, this reads as an injunction to keep abortion safe. If you cause a woman to miscarry without injuring her, then there is no penalty at all, neither financial nor physical. So clearly that’s the right way to go about it: have well-trained staff at well-funded clinics, who are absolutely committed to preserving the health & welfare of the woman, and will not allow her to come to harm.

    I’m as annoyed by the constant misapplication of “an eye for an eye” to arbitrary rhetorical scope as I am to the constant dismissal of what the line actually says.

    Oh, and shellfish are b-a-a-a-a-d. Beware of shellfish.

    1. Author

      I never interpreted that as being about abortion, because I always thought it was about striking a pregnant woman for some other reason, and causing a miscarriage as a side-effect.

      But it’s a perfect example of the normal interpretive variance that causes me to be so disgusted with the “literalists” — the people who claim their interpretation is “literal,” implying that it’s the only possible way to read the text and everyone else is just being fanciful, or something.

      1. The literal-interpretation folks make my head spin (in an Exorcist-type fashion, whee!!) simply because all language is at some level metaphor (as you allude to in your remarks above) because of the nature of human cognition and the fact that our species is not one giant hive-mind. Did I ever tell you whatthe back-breaking final straw of me leaving LDS-dom for good was? Attending a class wherein I was told that one possible literal interpretation of the story of Jesus’ conception involved God/Jehovah coming to earth and having corporeal sex with Mary. I could put up with a lot, but a (date)rapist/adulterous/and supremely hypocritical God was a little more than I could cope with at the time…

        1. Author

          It’s really hard for me to imagine how making up a scene that never appears in the text is somehow interpreting the text “literally.”

          This word “literal,” I do not think it means what they seem to think it means.

  3. GIP, just because.

    Also, re: This was considered very shocking at the time, I suppose.

    There’s no supposition about it. It was pretty radical for its time: People walking down the street with pink hair! Card-programmed computers! People wearing bell-bottomed jumpsuits (now there’s something to be afraid of)! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

    In all seriousness, it caused caused a stir in those days. I was there; I remember (you young whipper-snapper! ::wink::)

    If you’d like a refresher, you can see the film in 5 parts here (dig the groovy Logan’s Run-style soundtrack), where it’s described as a “little-known documentary.” The blogger reveals his youth in this one statement alone.

    1. Author

      Ha, I have to watch that sometime and give myself crazy flashbacks.

      Love your icon.

  4. Yep, I refused Confirmation because I was required to take a class first and I couldn’t sit through the meeting about me being pure evil. And was told I was being closed-minded to not even sit and listen quietly to this shite, as though I hadn’t heard it before. Because a lot of Christians seem to firmly believe that everyone else is willfully ignorant.

    I still have issues with Christian friends complaining of being persecuted by mutual atheist friends who lump “good” Christians in with new-Earth creationists*, because those friends are so ignorant of what “real” Christians believe. Every. Single. One. of those atheist friends had extensive religious education as a kid, and most aren’t actually atheists, just a-‘organized religion’-ists.

    *It’s impossible to weed out who believes what. The main complainer accepts modern science wholly, but refuses to have sex before marriage with her domestic partner of 3 years, which has a lot less Biblical basis. Everyone is some kind of crazy. Actually, that explains everything: EVERYone is some kind of crazy.

    1. Author

      Every. Single. One. of those atheist friends had extensive religious education as a kid

      Actually, I was prompted to write this whole series because of a bigot who was offended that I implied opposing gay marriage made her a jerk.

      The post where she took offense reflected that whole “you don’t know why I believe what I believe! You don’t know me!” attitude. I didn’t think it was worth it to argue with her anymore, but I started arguing with the religious bigots in my head, telling them, “yes, in fact I know you. I know you very, very well. In fact, I believe that I might know you better than you know yourself. Because I’ve thought deeply about you and why you believe the way you believe. Have you ever thought deeply about you? Because it really doesn’t seem like it.”

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