Here I Speak – I Can Do No Other

I’m bi, I’m Christian, and I think it’s important to say this out loud.1

I’ve often heard well-meaning people muse (in a conciliatory tone): “I’m not against gay people, myself. But can’t they just live their private lives quietly? Why do they have to talk about them? To put it bluntly, I don’t talk about what I do in my bedroom, so why should they? And doesn’t this merely add fuel to the fire? Live and let live.”

They have a point. I, too, would love it if my sexuality were a non-issue. I would much rather live quietly – date and break up, fall in love and maybe get married – without anyone but my friends and family knowing anything about it. I would love it if the simple fact that I date both men and women could be just one part of who I am, like my blond hair or my love of detective stories.

But the thing is – I can’t be quiet about my private life and have integrity at the same time.

Because what those well-meaning folks are actually saying is, “We’re not comfortable with you. Couldn’t you just pretend to be someone else when you’re around us, so we don’t have to deal with this?” And also because, when I’m on a date with a woman, and we’re walking down the street holding hands, it really can’t be private, the way it would be if I were holding hands with a man. It’s already an act of defiance and a gesture of vulnerability. It’s anything but quiet.

You see, their privacy and my privacy, their being quiet and my being quiet – they’re different things.

There is another reason why I think it’s important that I speak as a bi Christian. My private life, at this moment in history, is not only my private life. Any LGBTQ Christian’s life, right now, is not their own. My life has become an intimate and emotionally charged space in which we, as a church, are working through larger issues. When I talk about my personal experience of being bi, I talk about all Christians – about who we all were, who we all are, and what responsibility we all have for our actions and our beliefs. When I talk about the church’s response to the fact of my sexuality – and about my own response to it – I touch on central questions of theology and ethics, ecclesiology and exegesis. In my coming posts I will approach these things a bit more abstractly, but I think that we have to encounter them on a more visceral level first. Otherwise we simply won’t see how deeply wrong we have all been. And how complicit we all are.

The central issue is, quite simply, truth. Not the big metaphysical Truth we all like to chase after (although this, too), but the frankness, openness, and integrity that go hand-in-hand with the gospel.

The central issue is, quite simply, truth.

It took me a long time to be honest with myself. And an even longer time to be honest with others. To some extent, that’s a function of being bi. It was easy not to “notice” the simple fact that I liked women because – well, you know, I dated men. And after I came out to myself, it was easy to stay in the closet with others. In fact, queers who belong to the more conservative churches often attempt to make their lives less complicated by dating and marrying the “correct” gender. It’s a bit of a pickle, actually. I’ve heard well-meaning straight Christian folks say, “Well, what’s the problem? You can still fall in love, have a family, and not break God’s commandments. Shouldn’t you be grateful?” And I’ve heard well-meaning gay Christian folks say, a bit wistfully, “Well, don’t you think you have it easier? At least you don’t have to be celibate. I envy you.”

Well, I wasn’t grateful. And I didn’t have it easier. Because I still lied and kept up appearances – and that twists you. So at some point I had to ask, “Why? Why am I lying to myself and to others?”

At first, I lied to myself because of abstract theology and abstract ethics. I’ve read theologians, ancient and modern, who spoke (quite poetically) about Man and Woman, their God-given ontological roles, and their destined future of reconciling the many dualities of this world by means of ecstatic interpenetration (it’s an honest-to-goodness theological term, I’m not kidding here!). And I’ve read other writers (biblical and patristic) who said that 1) liking women was, for me, unnatural, and 2) if I ever acted on this liking, I would sin by breaking the commandment of God. So, I lied to myself because I believed in the church’s wisdom. I took its teachings seriously. I thought the church and truth were synonymous. And I wanted to be good, to live according to these teachings, to be in harmony with this truth.

…all this stuff is simply not Christian.
It took me a while to realize that all this stuff is simply not Christian. It’s got a lot to do with the perennial philosophical focus on nature, its intrinsic truth, goodness, and order. It’s got a lot to do with law – natural and divine. It’s got a lot to do with what we think about God and about being human. It’s got nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with the gospel or with Christ’s cross.

I realized this because, at some point, I got to know actual gay people. I became friends with real men and women, not with romantic – and quite abstract – Divinized Adam and Eve. Some of these men and women were out and had partners. Others were more-or-less in the closet (at least around those who weren’t their close friends) because they were Christians. I came face-to-face with the everyday evil – the suffering, the hatred, the duplicity – that the church’s “true” teachings were bringing into my friends’ lives. And I saw that, whatever sin was, it was not only their sexuality or their actions. Or, more precisely, I realized that what we usually think of as “sin” (i.e., being “unnatural” or breaking God’s commandments) had little to do with real sin – and, therefore, with Christ’s cross.

You’d think these realizations would change something. They didn’t. If anything, I started lying more.

I remember one evening at St Vladimir’s Seminary. We were hanging out after vespers. Someone, quite casually, started going on about how unnatural homosexuality was, how he would never let his kids go to confession with a gay priest, and how those who thought otherwise have clearly never read the Bible. A couple of people got uncomfortable, and tried countering with the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach. And I just sat there, silently – even though I was boiling inside. So did my gay friends.

I didn’t say anything. Because it was easy, because it was “prudent,” because it wasn’t the place or the time, because I was scared, and, most importantly, because all of us (including my gay friends) were trying to be good Orthodox Christians. Keeping up appearances was more important than speaking out against an obvious evil, more important than bearing witness to the gospel.

I felt weak, I was seeing red, but I also knew that I was complicit in whatever this homophobic guy was saying. This was when I asked myself for the first time, “Why does the church think that it has anything to say about this? Why do Christians think that they have the theological and moral authority to direct and manage people’s lives?”

To make a long story short, now I date women as well as men. Yet I’m still cautious about telling this to my Christian friends. In fact, many of them don’t know that I’m bi. So I finally asked, “What’s this about? Why do I – despite my trust in Christ, despite the gospel, despite the deceit and pain that this dual existence causes in my life – have such a difficulty speaking?”

The truth is that my difficulty around this particular issue is a symptom of much deeper ills that perennially plague Christianity. By being silent, I choose the church and its “truth” over the truth of the gospel. I allow salvation to be confused with ethics and even aesthetics. I live as if the freedom of a Christian, the gift of God’s grace, was not actually mine. I let the powers and principalities – nature, culture, theology, institutions, rules, wisdom, politics, etc., etc. – separate me from Christ’s cross. I let them preach another gospel to me.

And I will no longer stand for it.

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  1. I’ll use the term “bisexual” throughout these posts simply because I’m relatively ok with it. I do, however, think that binaries, sexual or gender, are not something set in stone. And I think that we need to pay attention to the words we use. But these important issues are not central to the questions I’m raising here. []