I had that experience for the first time when a Christian asked me, “If you’re a Christian, then why to you identify as Gay?”
I want to answer the question. I also feel like I need to after my last post about why I don’t like labels. Why is the Gay label so important to me?
But first, I have a question. Why are labels so important in mainstream society anyway?
Labels are used to categorize. We make categories important because people are different. Labels and categories come from being different. At first they are useful and informative because they’re a point of reference. They become problems when people become fixated on the differences and see them as a problem. This is when a person sees a difference instead of another Human.
For instance. The difference in sexual orientation. Turns out people have different experiences of love and affection. That sort of difference takes work to accommodate in a community setting. Mainstream humanity is abhorrently bad at handling difference. Christianity in particular makes precious little place for being different. Perhaps it’s just easier to label and exclude the sexual minority than work to integrate them into mainstream culture.
I take the Gay label, in spite of how I dislike labels, because it refers to a part of my experience that is profound and enduring. This experience is different from a majority of the people around me. This experience makes me different in a way I didn’t choose and can’t change and find it unhealthy to ignore.
Terms like “Gay” and “Queer” refer to one part of me. Not every part, not even my most ultimate parts. But still an important part.
I take the label to identify with others like me, particularly because people in my other labeled-communities find my Gay experience to be unwelcome and even threatening. In my own life, I want to make room for all the different parts of me to resolve and exist together in a way that makes sense. The problem arises when my communities around me don’t support that goal. They want me to be strictly one thing or the other, which usually means one thing against the other. But that doesn’t work for me.
Community is one of the most important things to me. The unfortuneate thing about communities is that they tend to require that you label yourself. So I take the Gay label in order to identify with other people like me so that we can recognize our similar experiences and stand together, giving each other support and protection from a misunderstanding majority. I want to be in community and able to contribute to my community in meaningful ways. I want to feel connected to and accepted by my community without having to lie about who I am.
I’m not in favor of community abandonment, or in forfeiting one part of myself to people in a community for a different part of myself can feel more comfortable. What I find good is to press into the tension and continually search for ways to fully exist in all the places I must exist. Chrisitan. Gay. Male. Husband. Father. All my professional and recreational labels.
Heterosexual individuals will never have to label themselves as straight or answer for their sexuality or grapple with theology to justify how they experience love and affection. They can be attracted to who they will, fall in love with them and have sex with them and be praised for it at best, ignored at worst. They get to take for granted their sexual orientation.
This is something I crave. I know it exists. I hear stories about other Gay men who say the Gay label doesn’t mean much anymore because they don’t have to worry about it. They are able to live and love as they were made to and have been surrounded by supportive community. In these cases, the differences have become non-issues and the labels have lost some potency.
There are contrasting situations, and these are more frequent. These are situations where the Queer individual is told to suppress their sexuality or hate it. Just choose a solitary life of chastity. Meet the need of your body and the affections of your emotions with more and more spiritual discipline. Minimize your sexual identity and sexual identity until it is gone. Above all, don’t spread your ideas. Carry the loneliness and sadness and dissonance with a smile no matter how much it hurts.
If Mother Teresa were saying this, that would be one thing. But the people who are actually putting this heavy burden on Queer folk are Straight folk who get to have their love, their attraction, their affection, their legal recognition and don’t have to fight for it. There’s people like this that Jesus talks about in Matthew 23. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
Back to the question of the Gay label. I would take my sexuality for granted and just live, love and have affections and fall in love like a Human being…except that a majority of mainstream culture has decided there’s something wrong with me and people like me. Therefore they put the label out there and if I want to be a genuine and honest Human being, I have to take it.
Therefore, I am Gay.
Sad that it had to happen this way.