Trying to put gay – or, in my case, lesbian – into words is crazy, like trying to describe breathing, or the passage from sleeping to waking, or how to brush what’s left of your hair. It’s both deeply familiar and distressingly intricate: how can I render this deepest of sensibilities with any kind of justice? Especially as a late bloomer. Well, a precocious late bloomer. More about that later.
Spoiler: We have not talked much about sex in the last couple of posts (“Equality is more than marriage” and “Churches don’t marry people”). We are going to talk about sex in this one. Maybe that plays into the suspicions of some that being gay is really just about same-sex sex. It’s not; but sex does matter, to people of all sexual identities (more than some like to let on). Surely our thoughts, feelings and behaviors around the sex thing are a key part of what makes us human … but that’s getting off track. Back to trying to put gay into words.
1. Gay in my case is lesbian: a woman-loving woman. I cannot out-wordsmith or out-courage Adrienne Rich in “Compulsory Sexuality” or St. Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider, so just know that I’m not trying (and please go read them when you’re done here, if you haven’t already). I’m just going to report from the front what this feels like to me.
Lesbian is not a choice (that’s bisexual). Lesbian is what I was born, whether from genetics (two very close female relatives and one male relative in the generation before me, all gay) or environment or a combination of the two, I don’t know. I do know that – thanks to generous and fairly gender-neutral treatment as a child – I grew up playing football, making houses for dolls, and riding a motorcycle. And developing a serious crush on Lila Hanover (not her real name). I was going into the sixth grade; she was going into the fifth. She was blond, blue-eyed, sweet in a slow kind of country way, an amenable tomboyish playmate. We chased her donkey, rode my motorcycle, and – one day near the end of summer – played Queen of the Hill on top of a big pile of fill dirt, culminating in a kiss. Short. Sweet. Pretty cluelessly chaste … but pretty doggone right-feeling, too.
Within the next year, I was under the quite literal assault of a male relative who did his darndest to convince me that my primary role in life was to please boys and men, sexually and otherwise. I was schooled by his inappropriate touch, his collection of pornography, and by … you know, I hate to tell you this, but my heart is pounding with old fear just thinking about it, and my body can’t decide whether to cry, throw up, or fight.
The way I see it, what happened between me and Lila was exactly what should be happening between a couple of little lesbians in the making: a sweet, innocent, gentle exploration of the new feelings arising in our bodies. What happened between me and that guy was a perversion. Ultimately, an attempted rape. And the schooling I received at his hands warped my sexuality beyond retrieval for another 30 years.
But enough about that. Because I’m one of the lucky ones … through learning, and counseling, and openness to God’s healing re-creational power, I figured out who I was all along … and started the hard and joyous work of living into that identity. Lesbian. Because …
2. Gay is ontological. Ontological means having to do with ontology, which is what we call studying ways of being. So the way I am using the word, I mean to say that being gay is ontological: i.e., it permeates and penetrates all aspects of my living being, all the way down to my bones. Maybe even all through my soul. (I’ll have to think about that some more.) There is no part of me that is not gay: I can’t get under gay, I can’t get around it, and I can’t get over it.
Which is, at this point, fine with me. I am happy to report there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. If other people didn’t make such a fuss about it, there’d be no fuss. God loves me gay. God made me gay. My being gay is part of God’s good creation. I have no doubt about that.
And before I realized/remembered I was gay, I had a lot of doubts, about God and God’s love and pretty much everything else. So I know about doubt. And loneliness. And ontological wrongness … i.e., feeling like you are intrinsically wrong. When you feel ontologically wrong, you feel always and already wrong about everything. Which makes it hard to argue when sex doesn’t work for you (among other things), and other people want to be in charge of you, and a sexist world is trying to make you sit down and shut up and behave. Trying to live a heterosexual life was ontologically wrong for me: I could not be me, could not be happy, could not be the person God created me to be. Because …
3. Gay is physical … emotional … intellectual … spiritual. If the ontology of gayness goes all the way down, it also is a way of being that goes all the way out and through. Knowing the feeling of wrong so intimately, I can also tell you clearly about feeling right. When I accepted the obvious truth my God was insistently fronting me with, that I am a lesbian, everything else fell into place. My spiritual life opened up and blossomed like a desert in the rain. My physical being changed shape for the healthier. My intellectual pursuits caught fire. My relationship with my kids was transformed. I learned to love my self, the first gift God gave me, when God knit me together in my mother’s womb.
My being re-integrated, a new creature transformed from what had been dis-integrated pieces of a life. I began to know how it felt for gas to be hitting all the cylinders at once … and then, eventually, when the divorce and the first couple of years of recovery were behind me, and I kissed a woman again … well.
Now I know what all the fuss is about.
4. Gay is erotic. I mean this in St. Audre’s terms, the erotic as life force or life energy. (Please read “Uses of the Erotic” in Sister Outsider. Brilliant.) When I opened up to the reality of being gay, it was like I touched a live wire and my whole being came alive with everything hooked up to everything else. Dancing was like praying. Preaching was like surfing. The classroom became a minefield of explosive delight, new ideas crashing in on each other, discussions lighting up the room like synaptic charges. And making love … well, making love became making love.
It had not been, before. Sex with a man for me was a reinscription of that early abuse. Every time. And believe me, I tried everything to make it be something else. For – as I say – 30 years.
Now, when I am in my lover’s arms, and she in mine, we are making there be more love in the world. We feel God grinning at us. We know, as deeply as anything can be known. And a confused, fearful straight world can’t change that truth.
5. Gay is true-ing. I mean this in the sense that a carpenter means when she “trues up” a joint. When a philosopher develops a proof for a truth. When something is rendered true to form.
When I remember that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” I think it’s fair to say that this Jesus is making there be a way, making there be truth, and making there be life, for himself/Godself and for all the rest of us. When we love, we are making the way, too. When we love, we are making there be truth: we are truing up the world to God’s image. When we love, we are making there be life that is more abundant , for ourselves and all our neighbors – and who is not my neighbor?
And that’s what’s most important about being gay. It is who some of us are because it is who we are created to be; and when we have to spend energy defending our right to be who we are, or when we have to spend energy explaining who we are, or when we have to spend energy protecting ourselves from people who want to legislate us out of existence or beat us literally to death, then we are not able to participate in making life more abundant, for ourselves and all our neighbors. Which is what God created all of us to do.
When someone makes an issue out of my being gay, and obstructs my ability to live into my God-intended reality, then he or she is obstructing the will of God. In my pretty-old-fashioned book, that’s sin.
And boy, howdy. Do I feel sorry for that person when they get face to face with the Creator of All That Is. There may be some explaining to do.