Tuesday 24 April 2012

Message to America’s Moms – So Your Child is Gay

Moms, this is a post for you. You may not have said anything to anyone else yet, but your child has told you he or she is gay. And you are feeling upset, hurt, isolated and confused.

“Where did we go wrong?” “Was it something I did?” “Was I too close?” “Not close enough?” “What am I going to do?” “What will his/her father say?”

And just to make it even more difficult than it already is – could it be any more difficult? – you’re a Christian. You go to church. You might even be an active member or even a leader in the church. You’re a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ. For goodness sake, you even read your Bible between Sundays. You pray. You go to mid-week Bible study. You’re in the intercessory prayer group. Your friends are all Christians. You’re a born again, Bible believing, church going, regular mom, who happens to love her child more than life itself.

I would like to tell you some important information that I think you should hear. One mother told me that when she heard this news about her son, the first thing she did after the initial shock was to use her head. She had always had a great relationship with her son so she knew her heart was right, but now she needed to use her head. I think this is good advice. You must find out what you need to know about this. Do your homework and find out the truth. This is your kid we’re talking about. You can’t afford to get this wrong. And many people do get it wrong. And for the sake of your child, the rest of your family, and your own peace of mind, I don't want you to be one of them.

I am Dr Stuart Edser, an Australian Psychologist. I am in Private Practice as well as being a university lecturer, an author, a Christian of long-standing, and a gay man. If you love your child, then please keep reading.

I recently wrote Being Gay Being Christian and I did this for only one reason - to help. I wrote it out of my own experience from when I was a young person with a deeply held faith and a gay sexual orientation.

There are three main groups of people for whom my book was written:
• Gay people of faith – to tell them that their sexual orientation does not exclude them from God
• Clergy and the wider Church – to tell them that they need to understand human sexuality a whole lot better and that they need to change their traditional teachings about gay sexuality
• Families and friends of gay people who are struggling, confused and torn over the sexual orientation of a loved one.

This last one is you. You’re a mother of a much loved child. You want the very best for him or her. You want them to be happy and safe and part of God’s family. You always saw them as one day growing up and having children of their own – now this may never happen. What are you supposed to think?

Please Mom, let me tell you a few things that will help you get your thoughts clearer. I can do this because of my training, my experience with working with people and my personal experience of my own struggles with sexuality and faith over a twenty year period.

What is Gay Sexuality?
Almost all adult human beings have a sexual component to their make-up. Psychologists call this component sexual identity. It is that part of us that finds others attractive or ‘hot’ and where we find certain things erotic. In other words, human beings are sexual creatures. This sexual identity is very strong for most of us. After the will to survival, the sexual drive is possibly the most powerful one within us. It shapes and drives so much of our lives. It is not sinful or dirty. It just is - a part of us that is integral to our existence and our recognition that we are human, integral to who we are, as much a part of me as my personality, my intelligence and my eye color.

In human beings that sexual identity has a direction, what psychologists call sexual orientation. For the majority of people – approximately 95% - that direction is toward opposite sex others. For a minority of people – approximately 5% - that direction is toward same sex others. If your child is gay or lesbian, then he or she is part of that 5% minority. Science now sees gay sexual orientation as a normal and consistent variation of human sexual identity. It's always been part of human experience and it always will.

Sexual Orientation 101
Homosexuality, or gay sexuality, is characterised by all the usual cues of attraction that human beings experience, both physical and emotional. There is nothing unusual in this and nothing that you do not already know about. The only real difference is that the attraction is directed toward a same sex person. So putting it another way, a gay person has the capacity to be attracted physically and emotionally to a person of the same gender.

All human sexuality is determined by a number of different things including genes, hormones, physiology, brain structure, family, society, culture and personal history. We know now that there is a very strong genetic component that partially determines which orientation a person will take. This is probably engineered in the womb with brain structure being shunted down a particular pathway, either gay or straight. As you know, secondary sex characteristics emerge at the time of puberty and so does sexual orientation. Young straight people begin to notice the opposite sex in a brand new way and young gay people begin to notice the same sex in a brand new way. No-one asks this to happen. It just does. No-one chooses to be straight. It just happens. And likewise, no-one chooses to be gay. It just happens. So no, being gay is NOT a choice.

An electric shock machine that subjects in a 1976 study
used to administer shocks to their penises in a bid to de-gay themselves
A gay sexual orientation emerges around the time of puberty and remains stable over the lifespan. In other words, it does not change. And it does not change whether we want it to, or our parents want it to, or our Christian beliefs want it to. It does not change. Sexual orientation, whether gay or straight, is stable across the lifespan. As I say in my book, it is neither wilfully chosen nor wilfully changed.

History and Anthropology
Gay people have been identified throughout history as far back as records go. Historians tell us that records from antiquity show that same sex attracted people have existed and lived among the various tribes and nation-states for thousands of years in an unbroken line across the vast reaches of time right up to the present day. And anthropologists tell us that same sex attracted people have been identified in every culture across the world with no exception. So across all human time and all human culture, there have been gay people. Same sex attraction is not some modern thing that we have cooked up in the West over the last hundred years. Not on your life!

Is it a Sickness?

No it is not. I repeat, being gay is not a sickness. No matter what you hear other Christian people tell you, or even hear from some unscrupulous groups, being gay is not a sickness or an illness or a disorder. It is a perfectly natural psycho-biological state, as natural as being straight is. The research dating from the 1970s onward has been far-reaching, exhaustive and vast into examining this very issue. It found unambiguously that being gay is not a sickness, not a cause for becoming sick, not a predisposition to mental illness and that gay people are as psychologically stable and healthy as any in comparable straight populations.  In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed it from their book of mental disorders, the DSM. 2013 will be the 40th anniversary of that removal; forty years of gay people not being thought of by the medical and psychological professions as being sick or mentally ill. And forty years of gay people not having to think of themselves as being disordered. Gay people don’t need to be cured because they are not sick. And the science has shown it clearly.

What about ex-gay ministries?
Some Christian ex-gay ministries peddle claims that they can ‘cure’ gayness by their special methods. Be assured – they cannot. Every major professional psychological association in the world repudiates such claims, including my own the Australian Psychological Society. Putting aside that it is not a sickness and so doesn’t need a cure, thousands of people have tried these methods in the past because they were not accepted either by their parents or by society or church, but none have changed their orientation. If you’re a gay man, it doesn’t matter how many girls you go out with or kiss or even have sex with, or how much football you play or watch on television - it doesn’t make you straight. Your underlying orientation doesn’t change. Same with the girls. If you’re a young lesbian woman, it doesn’t matter how often you put on lipstick, or date guys, or watch romcoms with your ‘boyfriend’, your underlying orientation does not change. That’s because behaviour is not the same thing as orientation.

Some of these ministries use scientific sounding reasons to make their rationale sound plausible, but don’t be fooled. It is just so much psycho-babble which we psychologists have rejected out of hand. Gay people do not have overbearing mothers or have love deficits with their fathers any more than straight people do.

At right, click on the trailer for the 2012 Australian documentary The Cure which features several friends of mine.

Trailer to The Cure documentary which shows
the cost to human life of ex-gay programs. 

The toll on gay people who have tried these ministries has been huge. Often depression, guilt and shame for their unrelenting thoughts, feelings and behaviour is about all they can look forward to. They would never call themselves gay and they are not straight so they end up living in a between-world, a shadow land of isolation, loneliness and misery that they call ex-gay. Many people who have been through these ministries will often think of suicide because they know they cannot change but they feel they must in order to be accepted. So suicide is thought of as the only way out. In the twenty-first century, this really is outrageous. Unfortunately, there have been far too many who have succeeded and young people have lost their lives and parents and families beautiful young men and women who deserved better.

Don’t let your child near one of these ministries! I mean it. They are dangerous and they are harmful.

Ex-gay ministries do NOT work 

A powerful representation of such a ministry and a mother who would simply not quit in trying to change her gay son - a true story – is Prayers For Bobby with a matchless performance by the incredible Sigourney Weaver playing Mary Griffith mother of Bobby Griffith. If you want to know the real truth about conditional love, watch this film, but be prepared to have your heart broken.

What about the Bible?
A fair enough question. There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. Do you know how many of them talk about male male sexual activity? Six. Do you know how many talk about gay sexuality as modern science understands it today? None. That’s right. Not one! The Bible does not talk about the phenomenon we know today as gay sexuality – a lifelong, stable sexual orientation that emerges during puberty and directs a person’s sexual identity toward a partner of the same gender.
So what does the Bible talk about then? Basically, two things: (1) ritual sex, that is, sex performed in the worship of God as part of a liturgy – the ancient Jews were forbade copying the heathen nations around them who did have ritual sex, including, but not limited to, homogenital behaviour in the worship of their gods – which is why this ritual sex is always associated with idolatry and often, vice versa; (2) exploitative sex – involving the buying and selling of sex or people for sex.

Now your average gay person is not into ritual sex or sex slavery, like the heathen nations surrounding ancient Israel, anymore than they are into ritual human sacrifice, as the Aztecs were, so these verses don’t apply to us. You will get told a whole lot of stuff by well-meaning Christian people who themselves are either ignorant or who have personal agendas of their own. Anyway, it’s your child we’re talking about, not theirs. You have to live with the consequences of your actions and attitudes to your child, not them. And I want you to have the truth of this. The Bible is not talking about modern gay people but about ancient sexual practices that are either ritualistic or exploitative.

If you want a more detailed coverage of this material, I devote an entire chapter to these Bible verses in Being Gay Being Christian where you will find a great deal of help in understanding this issue. Just click on the book cover at right.

What about the Church?

Well, this one is tougher. I know a gay man of faith who grew up in the Methodist Church. His father was actually a Methodist minister. My friend told me that when he disclosed his sexuality to his parents, they were both supportive including his father, and so much so, that later on, when he began to take some heat from local parishioners, his father left the church and the ministry because of the way they had treated his son. Now that’s unconditional love in the face of an ignorant and aggressive church. For me, the love between us in our families should trump the church every time. Love comes first. Church affiliation comes second. And Jesus himself said that love was the greatest commandment. Your son or daughter needs you now. They need you to be there, to show the love you have for them. They need you to step up here. Why? Because of all the people they will eventually tell about their sexuality, it is the parents who are most often the hardest because your child doesn’t want to be a disappointment to you. So, don’t you be disappointed. Don’t show disappointment. Be happy that your child trusts you enough to be able to handle their disclosure and to be supportive of them.

What about God?
The God that Jesus taught us about is a relational God whose essential nature is love. He loves us beyond our understanding. This is why love is the greatest commandment. The direction of our sexual identity is not going to get in His way. If you believe that God is creator, then He created your child as much as He created you.

Four verses of unbelievably exquisite poetry from the pen of David, who more than likely loved Jonathon as more than just a friend, describe this:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be (Psalm 139: 13-16).

This describes your son or daughter too. It’s not just for straight people you know, but for all humanity. His works are wonderful. I know that full well. And so is your son, your daughter. God doesn’t make mistakes.

Psychology and Parenting
The psychological mission of adolescence is twofold: to separate and to distinguish. In essence: I am not my mother, I am not my father. This is a process, a healthy one, and it takes time. It is typically marked by some rejection of parental values or behaviour for a while. Our kids come through it eventually and turn into young adults. Young gay people also have to come to terms with their sexuality at the same time as going through this process. Even without this, it's a difficult time in their lives usually, so with this extra psychological journey, they need our love and support even more.

They need all the stuff you're already good at - love, acceptance, guidance, presence, being an anchor, some freedom, encouragement, laughter and celebration of their successes. This is exactly the same for young gay people as it is for straight. This is what they need. If your child has told you that they are gay, this is what they're going to need from you.

What would be very unhelpful is:

"It’s only a phase" – it isn’t.
"You need to repent" – they don’t.
"You must take up your cross" – no, a person’s sexual identity isn't a cross.
"Don’t tell anyone else" – that is shaming them.
"Go to your room, we’ll talk about this later" – you just demonstrated the one thing they fear
from you – disappointment.

Gay and Lesbian youth
So Moms, what’s it going to be? I know you love your child. Okay then, show it. Be the best mother you can be. Don’t let ignorance and bigotry get in the way of doing what you know is right. Don't let what others do or say influence you. As a mother, you can help to guide the whole family through this. And anyway, being gay is actually a great blessing and as you get to know more of how all this works, you will see this too.

Belinda Carlisle and her son James
This is a really important time in your child's life. So many American families get this wrong and it causes so much unnecessary pain and anguish and even death. As an Australian, an outsider, I see the strong faith of the Bible-based form of evangelical Christianity in America and can admire it. It has many good things to emulate, but it also has its shadow side. No doubt, you've seen that too. Its attitude to gay and lesbian people is one part of that shadow side. And it's great to know that there are other voices speaking up in the church now for the truth. So please Moms, get it right. Do whatever you have to do to get your head and your heart around this so that you can celebrate your child. God knows, He loves your child, so can you too.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Being Gay - Such A Delight (Part 3/3)

In the the third and final post of this triptych, I want to look in a very different direction to that of the first two posts. In the first, I canvassed the idea that being gay was a disappointment to parents and to society because gay people cannot on their own procreate and are ispo facto doomed to experience life in a lesser way, a way that is inferior, second-best, runner-up to straight people. In the second post, I took the idea that being gay is a disappointment further by examining the idea that gay poeple are somewhow broken straight people, heterosexuals whose identity has somehow gone off the rails, that we are deviants, because we deviate from the 'normal' path of being heterosexuals. In both these posts, I reject these ideas as being wrong, harmful and unfair in their characterisation of us; in the first, by suggesting that we are able to thrive and flourish very happily without the ability to procreate together and still live perfectly happy lives ( at least as perfectly happy as any other straight person), and in the second, by reminding us that good scholarship shows that gay people are not sick, ill or disordered and that we are not deviants at all - our sexual identity gifting us with attributes and experiences that can bring great positivity to a struggling world.

Our first two posts examined  rejected notions of disappointment. This one will look at the antithesis of disappointment - this one will look at why being gay is a delight. The etymology of the word delight shows that it comes orignally from the Latin and Middle English and has direct associations with the words: alluring, pleasing, enticing, delicious, delectable, light. All these words, except perhaps the last, describe something quite wonderful, something especially pleasurable or attractive. And the word light offers us the lovely sense of adding luminosity, elucidation, clarity. So let me speak about six factors that attest to why being gay can be a delight.

Gay people have a strong sense of family
If gay people are unconditionally accepted in their families, it is not uncommon to find a particularly strong connection made with parents and siblings. Given that gay people don't generally procreate and bring into the world another generation directly from them, some of this downward energy (to a following generation) goes across sideways and back (to siblings and parents). Where unconditinoal love is offered in a family by parents to all children regardless of sexual orientation, there is often an equality that can be quite wonderful and the envy of others. Gay people will frequently forge adult relationships with their adult parents and often also have the time and inclination to look after them when they grow older. Since gay people don't typically have children, their energy and commitment to family is quite substantial and in some cases can be demonstrably more so than straight siblings. Where does this come from? Probbaly from the years of sexual identity formation where every young gay person who wants to disclose to their parents but is fearful that they will be rejected. When that doesn't occur, there is often a world of discussion opened up a  about not only orientation issues but other issues as well leading to a growth in intimacy.

And for gay people who do have children, well you won't find more committed parents than gay people who more than likely have had to struggle to become parents in the first place. As is not the case for for straight couples sometimes, becoming parents for a gay couple is never an accident.

And finally, gay people have a huge commitment to non-biological family. Friends become resolutely firm supports and such friendships are highly valued in the gay community. Seeing friends, talking to friends, hanging out with friends are all-important to the gay person. The connections made and intimacy established and developed over time is quite something to behold. It is difficult to pinpoint  but most gay people would say that there is a difference they recognsie between the nature of relationships between gay people and straight people. In my own little family, my partner and I have a couple of very dear friends whom we consider family - part of our lives forever.

Gay people can be a challenge and an example to the world
One of the most trying things in the Western world today is the notion that big corporations or big government that has lost its way, both typically run by alpha males, is the way we do things. It has predominated the culture of the twentieth century and does not look like it's about to abate in the twenty-first. The wonderful thing about gay people is that our very lives cut across that gender status quo simply by being who we are. Gay men are not usually alpha males. Gay women are definitely not alpha males. While we can and do flourish in the world of commerce, there is a softer side to the gay guy, an absence of the 'dog eat dog' ethic that runs the world. Money comes first. People come
second. And while of course there are plenty of straight people who differ from these views in their language and action, there is a strong sense that gay people more generally revile these attitudes. Why? Probbaly because we ourselves have suffered under them, either in high school or in university or out in the workforce.

Gay men generally do have a wonderful rapport with women because in some senses, we have suffered some of the same outrages that the patriarchal systems impose on women. You see, homophobia is closely related to sexism.  Both are about a controlling and negative view and treatment of women. We gay men are well connected with our emotional lives and are quite comfortable in being engaged with a softer form of masculinity that eschews machismo, the inability to emote, or the refusal to cry. So no matter how muscled up a gay guy might be, the odds are that he's not an alpha male. Gay men get women.

And lesbians too challenge the gender order that keeps women down, keeps them in positions of subservience and inferiority, because lesbians are not only women themselves, they love women. Ellen DeGeneres is a hero of mine because she has been true to herself from the outset and has been an incredibly positive role model for lesbians (and gay men) around the world. And she is not frightened to speak up if she feels she needs to. She is living proof of gay girl-power where the gender order is turned on its head.

Everyone has suffered because of the gender order - men and women and children. I could tell a thousand stories from my Consulting Rooms of real life people where the gender order dominated by patriarchy has been a destructive force in people's lives. Gay people are a challenge to this order and an example of how life can be lived a different way.

Rufus Wainwright
Gay people are creative
Okay this one might seem like a stereotype, but it is not coincidence that we see so many gay people represented significantly in the arts and humanities. Gay people are generally very attuned to music and rhythm, image and colour. We are laughed at sometimes, these days good-naturedly, by those who need some clothing advice, colour advice, music or movement advice. In the churches, we are generally involved with music and the liturgy because we are so good at it. We have seen gay people thrive in the film and theatre industry, the music industry, the dance industry, in photography, in design, in fashion, in hair, in tourism, in hospitality. But the delightful thing is that although we obviously do do well in those arenas, we also bring the same creativity to the world of education, to medicine, to my own profession of psychology, to commerce and banking, to management and business, to building and architecture and engineering. Gay people tend to be creative people - there is no getting away from it. We can think outside the square and come up with alternatives that can be positive, workable and affirming.

Gay people are often in tune with the great questions
Because gay people by our very nature have to go through a gay sexual identity formation (you can read about it on pp86-90 in BGBC), we have been introduced at a young age to the great questions of life, the ultimate concerns. Now some think these questions are a waste of time. I don't. I think they are the most important questions of all and gay people are faced with struggling with their resolutions from the onset of puberty. Who am I? Where do I fit? What does it all mean? Is this all there is? What will life be like for me? How will I navigate my sexuality in a predominantly straight world? Is there a God? Des my sexuality matter to God? And all the others. There is a certain wisdom that comes from struggling with these great questions. An openness too. An ackowledgment that we don't have all the answers. A humility in life about the human condition. Do gay people have this more than straight people? Perhaps not, but because of our early identity formation, a psychological and behavioural process that takes years, we may in fact be more open to the great questions perhaps because we may in fact be more exposed to them. Many a straight person values the ideas and input of their gay friend. There's just something about what they're saying that rings true.

Gay people are generally people of peace
You won't find many gay people who are into violence or aggression. In fact, some of us in times past, and even occasionally in today's society unfortunately, have been victims of aggression. But gay people more often than not are peace-makers. We abhor violence. We avoid it naturally. It is part of our make-up to solve difficulties without violence and aggression. We avoid hostlity and try to soothe it where we are able. Blessed are the peace makers. They are a delight.

Gay people are in tune with sexuality
Gay people talk about sex. We think about sex and we have sex. After survival, sex is just about the strongest drive in the human make-up and gay people understand this well. Why? Because our lives, on one level, are focused through a prism that holds sexuality as being normal, healthy, satisfying and positive. We tend to have done away with the whole 'sex is dirty, sex is unclean, sex is filthy, sex is not to be talked about, sex is sinful, desire and the body are to be denied' stuff that the church has spat out for two thousand years. These are the messages of the Christian church down through the ages, stemming right from St Paul himself in the 1st century and onwards through other early church fathers like Augustine and Jerome. As these views have filtered into society, they have contaminated even our modern world and have caused untold damage to millions of people. Not all Christian teaching around sexuality is in this category I hasten to mention, but the 'sex is filthy and desire is sinful brigade' are wrong and harmful and need to be challenged. And the lives of we gay people do challenge them. Through the formation of gay sexual identity, from puberty through adolescence and youth, gay people have wrestled with these toxins and won through so that we have a healthier, more postive, more life affirming view of the place of sex, the body and desire in the human life.

What can I say - being gay is a delight. I want to tell our society, its parents and teachers and priests and pastors, its doctors and lawyers and professinals and workers, that being gay is not a disappointment. It is a wonderful way to experience life. I would be happy if any of my own nephews or nieces or their children turned out to be gay. Why? Because it's not a disappointment. I want society to understand this, to change the rhetoric, to undertake the mental shift from disappointment to delight. Every kid, every person has an absolute dignity from just being human. Can we not equally value being gay with being straight? And not place the pall of disappointment on the shoulders of our wonderful gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Being gay is a delight. It is an attractive, alluring, pleasurable, pleasing, delectable, wonderul, postive way of experiencing life. There is nothing here not to like. Of course I am not saying the absurd, that gay people live only positive pleasing lives. Not at all. But by virtue of their sexuality, they should not be handicapped by a society that looks at their prospects with the heavy burnden of disappointment before they even get started. Gay people can make of their lives what they will, just like straight people can. On pp226-229 of BGBC, I talk about some of the great gifts that gay people can also bring to the church - another reason for delight.

I also stated above that delight embeds the word light. Gay people can bring a light to the world, and yes I am very aware of the Gospel allusion. We can be a force for good in the world and a force for change. I think we do this well. And we can bring a lightness and sense of fun, a light-heartedness too. Time for society to grow up. Time for a better world. Time for all of us to start celebrating the idea that a young person might be gay. Give them the best start in life we can. Accept them. Love them unconditionally. Guide them of course. But let's also celebrate the delight of their lives as being the delight of our lives.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Tuesday 10 April 2012

The Ugly Face of Disappointment - The Flaw in the Carpet (Part 2/3)

This is the second in a triptych of articles on disappointment. On Monday night on Australia's ABC, our national broadcaster, Tony Jones' QandA program had two very special guests on to discuss the vicissitudes of religion and science, or if you prefer, Christianity and atheism. The guests? Biologist Professor Richard Dawkins of 'The God Delusion' fame and Sydney's Catholic archbishop and primate of the Australian RC Church, Cardinal George Pell.

Now as many of my readers will know, I am no great fan of His Eminence regarding a number of matters, but especially his myopic attitudes to the LGBT community, both Catholic and secular alike. Why begin this post with a reference to Dawkins and Pell? Well, it's something the Cardinal said in a throw-away comment that disturbed me, but also led me to link it to our theme that being gay is such a disappointment.

When asked by an audience member about his anti gay marriage views, the Cardinal answered with his usual stump speech. The compere Tony Jones then asked him a general question about his attitude to homosexuality. The Cardinal attempted to make light of the question by using the folllowing well-known musing. He said in reference to "homosexuals" that we're a bit like the intentional flaw in the Oriental carpet which is put there in honour of God becasue God is the only one who is perfect, so the undeniable beauty of the Oriental carpet is deliberately spoiled by the placing in it of a flaw, a mistake.

Now this is not the place for me to enter into a diatribe about the lack of sensitivity or the hurt such a comment would inflict, nor the wisdom of Austrlaia's Catholic primate uttering such words about gay people on national television. That he did, underscores the inadequacy of his theology and highlights the man's ignorance to the truth about LGBT sexuality but also his relentless adherence to a conservative centralist monarchistic wing of the Church that still calls homosexuality "intrinsically disordered." Rather, I want to draw attention to how much this idea, that we gay people are flawed people, is apparent in our societies and why it needs to change.

In Part 1 of this article, I attempted to showcase the cultural notion that gay people are a disappointment - to parents and to society. That we are perceived as second-best, the silver medal, the runner-up to the straight people. And such tragic ideas have their sway in the assumption that we are flawed. That in fact we are flawed heterosexuals, broken straight people, who have had the misadventure or bad luck of growing up on a deviated path, deviated from the right, the true, the healthy, the robust, the good. Now as you can imagine if you have read BGBC or any other of my posts, I utterly repudiate such a thought and show I think convincingly that it is patently wrong.

Gay people are in no way second-best, silver medal, runner-up or any other way of describing people who don't measure up. In fact we do measure up and measure up well. Were we to live in a society free of heterosexism and even worse homophobia, we would not have to go through such an ordeal in our youth in coming to terms with our sexual orientation or accepting the gay or lesbian sexual identity that we gradually develop over time. The problem is not within us, it is within society. It is not we who are sick, it is society which is sick. And the Cardinal's unfortunate remarks, spoken as they are by an authoritative church figure, go a long way to scaffold and perpetuate that illness in society and can even lead to utterly unethical reparative therapy practices in some churches or violence done by antisocial homophobes. Your Eminence, we don't need this sort of talk. We don't need your views. To categorise us as a flaw in the otherwise perfect straight human race is, in the twenty-first century, both ignorant and frankly barbaric. You need to get yourself educated. You need to change this most uncharitable postion.

The view that sees us as the flawed straight undergirds the mums and dads who value their children's lives as elements of an ongoing saga of keeping up or beating the Joneses. When they hear that their young Jason or Rebecca is gay, they are disappointed that their children will not be as good as Stephanie's down the road whose kids have all graduated from University and are all in steady straight relationships, with one of them getting engaged. Harsh? Yes. But you know that this is the truth for some young people. Their parental disapproval and disappointment in them is palpable. Ignorant parents who think of themselves first and who don't understand the damage done to vulnerable young minds and hearts. "Oh this doesn't happen," you might say. Well, tell that to the young gay kid whose parents tell him not to tell anyone in the family. Or "don't say anything to your friends." Or how about the kid whose parents told everyone after he moved out that he was dead. I have heard all this in my Consulting Rooms over the years and a lot more. Disappointment can sometimes have a truly ugly face.

And that face springs from the notion that we are flawed human beings. Never mind that the science of psychology states unequivocally that being gay is not a sickness, not an illness, not a disorder and not a deviation from being straight. We are not contaminated straight people. We are gay people, with all the wonder, dignity, grace and incredible future that living well and living authentically can bring. There is no sense of disappointment here. And so parents and churches and society at large can and should celebrate the coming out of a young person and offer him or her encouragement and reassurance and love and total acceptance. What a wonderful world that changed world would be - a shift in the whole of society.

We gays can thrive. We can flourish. And those of us of Christian faith know that the relational God of love who sent Jesus into the world could never be disappointed in us, no matter how often we make mistakes, no matter how much we stuff up. We are loved and understood by a compassionate God who is for us not against us. And anyway, this same Jesus while he walked the earth chose to live with, travel with, eat with, drink with, sleep with and talk with people just like us - the minorities. So we gay Chrsitans have a tremedndous feel for the Spirit of Jesus because we have lived it and we know it when we see it. We  know that Jesus is into people like us.

If I had the talent to make a wonderful carpet that might symbolise humanity, I wouldn't put a flaw in it. God doesn't make flaws. I'd have the gays and the lesbians and the bi-s and the transgendered and the straights all in together to show that we all make up a unique and valued piece of God's vast beautiful creative act. Your thread would be there and so would mine.

In the final part of this article, we'll leave the examination of disappointment and look at a much brighter side of being gay, hopefully one that will help change old attitudes.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Friday 6 April 2012

Silent Night Holy Night - An Easter Reflection

On Maundy Thursday, 5 April, I was honoured to be the guest speaker at the Sydney Metropolitan Community Church's Last Supper. Had I been preaching instead of speaking about BGBC and a few tidbits from my life journey, the following post is what I would have shared, for it is what is most on my mind on Maundy Thursday. MCC Petersham is a wonderful and beautiful community of people and I thank them for their  support, love and encouragement.




Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht! Alles schläft, einsam wacht

Silent night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright.

Comparing the beauty and quiessence of the scene from the most famous German carol in the world, the silent night on the Thursday before Jesus died could not have been further away from the
idea that all is calm, all is bright as we sang in remembrance of his birth.

It's Easter, my favourite time of the Christian calendar. There's nothing like Easter to focus my mind on the things of God and how I fit into them. In this post I want to look at something that gay Christians have often wondered about - the humanity of Jesus. We are told that Jesus is fully God and fully human. Was he really just like us? We do not understand how this can be, how this can possibly work. It seems that divinity would preclude humanity and vice versa. Yet, Jesus the Nazarene became Jesus the Christ. And this did not happen magically, some how imbued by God to Jesus on the cross. No, it was not some magical or divine moment that caused Jesus to be the Christ. It was his very humanity that allowed it. Let me explain what I mean by looking at just these two days - Thursday (sometimes called Holy or Maundy Thursday) and Friday, usually called Good Friday, and then let me say a few words to finish about how this
impacts the gay world.

You see, on Thursday, Jesus has already been in Jerusalem the best part of a week. In that week he certainly makes waves. To put it basely, he seriously pisses off the temple priests and their acolytes big time. He shows them up for what they are and they spend the week in secret meetings planning to plot against him and bring him down. Their plan is to make the Romans do it. All they have to do is deliver him into the hands of Rome with a trumped-up accusation and let the occupiers do what they do when anyone resists the might of the Empire - kill them. This is all going on behind the scenes in the lead-up to Thursday.

On Thursday evening, Jesus celebrates the Jewish Passover meal with his disciples in an upper room. In the earliest written Gospel, the one closest to the time of the actual events, the Gospel of Mark, several key things happen: he is betrayed by Judas, he celebrates the Passover meal and invests the bread and wine with new meaning, and he prays for deliverance in the garden of Gethsemane. The evening is punctuated with a series of betrayals and abandonments and that Thursday evening turns out to be the worst night of Jesus' life. In this day he suffers as he will never suffer again.

  • He is betrayed and abandoned by Judas - for money
  • He is betrayed and abandoned (denied) by Peter - for shame and his own safety
  • He is betrayed and abandoned by the rest of the disciples - they leave him and make a run for it
  • He is betrayed and abandoned by God - God leaves him to the dark night of the soul and does not answer his prayer

The old Sorrowful Mysteries of the Catholic Rosary call this scene quite fittingly - the agony in the garden. And this is precisely what Jesus went through - a profound, merciless, pitiless, heartless, cold, silent agony. Everything he believed in, his healing, teaching, supporting, loving, caring - even a loving God who hears and answers prayer - everything is gone. It's all lost. There is nothing of his life left. His ministry appears futile and meaningless. The years he spent with his disciples eating, drinking, laughing, sleeping, as a band they travelled the country to be with the little people, the weak, the marginalised, the unloved - all gone, all come to nought. He is alone. His mission has come to this. Utter failure, betrayal and abandonment.

He knows he will be executed most cruelly by the Romans. They are infamous throughout the ancient world for not doing anything by halves. He will be nailed to a Roman crucifix publicly like thousands of others before him. He does not want to die. He fears the cross and the pain it wlll inflict. It will be a merciless and torturous death. He is frightened out of his wits, confused, scared, isolated and in the depths of human misery. He prays that if 'that this cup might be taken from me.' But God remains silent. There is no answer. God is deaf to his calls.

In this profound psychological crisis, Jesus regresses to a childlike state, something that humans often do when we are faced with unalterable withering pain and grief. He calls out to God - Abba - Daddy, Papa - as modern linguistics has determined it. But there is nothing. Not even the plaintive cry of the child rouses the voice of the loving Father. Just impenetrable silence. He is left to suffer. Silent night, holy night.

It is in this moment of weakness and failure that Jesus says one of the most powerful things in the entire record. He says with resignation in a broken voice to a silent God, 'not my will but your will be done.' I will do this. I will go and do this. And do this he did.

On Friday, Jesus was taken by the Romans and they did to his body what had already been done to his mind, his soul. They killed it. And it is because of these two days, because of the total identification with weak confused frightened humanity that Jesus was able to show up what Biblical scholars call the world's 'domination systems' - governments, politics, the military, corporations, religion, the church, inequity, occupation, power over others - as being morally bankrupt. The world's ruthless tribal divisions that exploit the less powerful by the more powerful. He defeated the evil of the domination systems by surrendering to them and showing up their character for the fakery, cruelty and greed that is their essence. The world's domination systems that have caused so much horror, so much heart-ache, so much pain. The domination systems that always end in estrangement - from the self, from others, from the Eternal. Jesus does not defeat them with violence or aggression or even on their own terms, in power, but through obedience to his mission by his willingness to give up the life that he loved in order to effect this defeat. And in so doing, he changes from Jesus the Man into Jesus the Christ on Easter Sunday. Christus Victor. Or to use the words of the New Testament, the power of sin is defeated. The domination systems are annulled. He exposes them utterly and publicly - they would torture and murder a kind, caring, innocent man in order to retain power. This is their ethic. This is their morality. Their exposure is complete. He does this for you , for me, for the whole world. This is our salvation - saving us from estrangement from ourselves, from each other and from God.

He institutes a new beginning, what St Paul would later call the new creation. The new creation has only one rule, one law, the law of love. In John's account of the Last Supper, he has Jesus say the famous words "a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you and by this love, the whole world will recognise you as my disciples.' The word Maundy in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin for new commandment - novum mandatum. And so it is really 'love one another Thursday. And we are to love 'as I have loved you' to emptying ourselves if necessary. The power of the cross is the power of love. It is stronger than all the world's domination systems, for Jesus showed them up as he was lifted up.

This is what Easter is about. The new creation. A new meal. A new law. A new world. A new you. A new me. The radical Paul in Galatians actually says that nothing else matters. Nothing else is important - just the new creation.

And for gay people? Well there is much resonance here for gay people coming out of the darkness of the closet into the light of truth and freedom and authenticity. As we learn to accept and like and love ourselves, banishing shame from our psyche, we are made new creations.

But also, many of us have suffered the dark night of the soul just as Jesus did in the garden. I know I did. Twenty years of a silent God not answering my prayer to change me from being gay, to heal me of my great shame and secret. My suffering and my agony were palpable too, perhaps like yours.
Yet God, who does not answer in those times, is still there. His life and His Spirit are in and around and through us though we may not feel Him. He knew better all the time - that I didn't need healing, that I did need setting free from the old creation in order to be the real me, the real Stuart whom God had created to be in this world.

And for gays of faith, well perhaps too, we have a special understanding of the Lord who allows the little ones to come to him, the weak, the marginalised, and also an understanding of his identification with the whole of what human life can offer. And he invites us too to walk with him in the new creation. The new creation of his defeat of domination and the new creation of being able to accept and love ourselves as gay disciples as we journey with him.

Jesus was truly human and truly divine. He understands the heights of human joy and the depths of human sorrow. He is both Jesus the Man and Jesus the Christ. Easter allows us to engage him in both ways. It's Thursday and Friday. Sunday is to come!

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Wednesday 4 April 2012

The Newcastle Interview

On 30th March 2012 after speaking to just about every major city and regional area in the country as  well as having the privilege of doing some national broadcasts across the whole of Australia, I finally got to do an interview in my own hometown of Newcastle. Well-known ABC 1233 Newcastle host and musical identity Paul Bevan sat on the other side of the desk and as you'll hear from the first half of our discussion, he can get quite enthusiastic. We covered some very interesting ground and even got to touch on my favourite politician - President Jed Bartlett. Hope you enjoy.

ABC 1233 Newcastle Drive Host: Paul Bevan
President Jed Bartlet 'The West Wing'

Pax et Amor - Stuart