Protected by celibacy?

As we’ve been blogging, from time to time people have approached us with questions like, “Why do you care about LGBT people in the Church? You’re celibate. You don’t have anything to worry about.” People assume that because we’re celibate, we’ve checked the proverbial box that ensures that we’re safe in all Christian environments. Not to put too fine a point on our response, but that assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Some people think that if we’re celibate, we’re not identifiable as members of the LGBT community. In truth, Lindsey’s never been able to pass as a cisgender, heterosexual person in terms of physical appearance. With a rather ambiguous build, short hair, and a penchant for khakis and button-down shirts, Lindsey fits many people’s stereotypes of what an LGBT person looks like. It doesn’t matter that Lindsey’s appearance has been mostly static since middle school. When Sarah is not with Lindsey, people generally assume Sarah–who has an unmistakably feminine appearance–is straight. However, we as a couple lose any privileges associated with passing as straight the instant Lindsey appears on the scene. To many people, that we show up as a pair and that and Lindsey is so visibly a member of the LGBT community are enough for them to make assumptions about our sexual ethics. Celibacy doesn’t even enter the picture.

Equally, our celibacy does not protect Sarah from facing backlash once people see us together. We’ve noticed in situation after situation how easily people’s comfort levels with Sarah change once they meet Lindsey and realize we’re together. One example of this came about when Lindsey was in the process of moving to Sarah’s city. During visits prior to the move, Lindsey attended services at Sarah’s parish with Sarah. Sarah had recently made that parish home, and was still relatively new there. While many people initially treated Sarah just like any other person, that began to change once they met Lindsey—and this was well before anyone had come to know us as a couple. Simply seeing us attend church together was enough to cause some to distance themselves from Sarah and hesitate to socialize with Lindsey at all.

Another issue is that a great many people have no understanding of what celibacy is and/or think “being gay” automatically means having sex. To these folks, the idea of celibacy as a way of life an LGBT person might adopt is foreign. The question they ask is not, “What is an appropriate sexual ethic for an LGBT person?” Instead, it’s, “Why isn’t this person willing to stop being gay?” When we are in the presence of people holding this perspective, our celibacy means nothing in conversation. If we try at all to discuss celibacy in response to someone’s assertion of, “The Church says you can’t be gay,” that gets us nowhere more often than not. Sometimes, the person will counter with, “Well, if you aren’t having sex, then you aren’t really gay,” followed by, “You could still get married to someone of the opposite sex if you wanted.” But generally, we don’t even get that much of a conversation going. The more typical response we hear is, “Huh?” with no further attempt at engaging us in discussion ever again. In these situations, our celibacy does nothing to protect us because the person isn’t comfortable talking about sexual ethics in the first place.

Additionally, people frequently associate celibacy with singleness. To these people, we cannot be celibate because we are in a relationship with one another. We find this assumption to be entirely problematic because it misrepresents celibacy. Celibacy as a way of life is deeply rooted in community. Monastic communities provide insight into how people have lived Christ-centered celibate lives for hundreds of years. Conversely, living alone in an apartment far from one’s family of origin is arguably one of the newest ways of life. Yet, an identifiably solitary life is the dominant image most people have of modern celibacy. Because many people associate celibacy with singleness, they cannot grasp the idea that we’re a celibate couple, let alone consider what that might mean for our lives as LGBT Christians. These people can only see us members of the LGBT community and make assumptions about our activity from there. We’re no strangers to the accusation that we have rejected a celibate way of life because we’re in a relationship.

We totally understand that celibacy is a queer calling. Many people just don’t get it. While at first glance it may seem that celibate LGBT people are protected by their celibacy, we (and other individuals in similar situations) often encounter a double helping of misconceptions about both celibacy and LGBT topics. We’re consistently read in social situations as “not heterosexual,” a reading which in and of itself invites a considerable amount of accusations.

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