Today’s post is a response to another inquiry from a reader. Actually, from multiple readers. One particular reader, who has instructed us to identify her as Crystal, asked us:
You have to know that churches use stories like yours to tell sexually active gay people they have to be sexually abstinent. How do you deal with that? Do you ever think you shouldn’t tell your story because it isn’t the same as other gay people’s experiences and not all gay couples are celibate like you? You say you don’t have an agenda besides talking about your experience of celibacy and other things, but aren’t you playing into an agenda by telling your stories even though that’s not what you wanted?
From the beginning of our blogging adventure — even from day one — we’ve received regular questions about our “agenda.” Sometimes, it’s about “the gay agenda.” Other times, it’s about “the agenda of the religious right.” On occasion, we’ve receive emails within hours of each other suggesting that we are promoting both. But over the past few weeks, we’ve begun to see a different phrase popping up when folks contact us with these types of questions. More and more, people are asking us directly about the “celibate gay agenda.”
Like many of our LGBT friends, when someone in real life accuses us of having a hidden “gay agenda,” we’re tempted to offer a semi-snarky rundown of our daily activities to demonstrate the point that our lives don’t look much different from those of straight people: “Today, my gay agenda is to wake up, go to the gym, take a shower, go to work, come home, have dinner, and go to sleep.” Most likely, you’ve heard something like this before. It’s a half-joking, half-frustrated response to the assumption that somehow, all gay people everywhere are part of an intricate plot to take over society. We have to admit, some of the questions we get about the supposed celibate gay agenda evoke the same frustrations. At the same time, we’re well aware of how agenda-driven conversations about LGBT people and the Church have become, and it’s probably best to share some candid thoughts on where we stand relative to people’s perceptions of the hidden motives of LGBT celibates.
Let’s start by taking Crystal’s questions one by one. First she asks, “You have to know that churches use stories like yours to tell sexually active gay people they have to be sexually abstinent. How do you deal with that?” Yes, we do know that. We deal with it by speaking out publicly against it. There’s a level at which we can’t control how others use our story. We put it out there to the internet, and we lose control over what people have to say about it. That’s a reality of blogging, and we were jolted into it very quickly. But from time to time, we do get to see how people use our thoughts on certain topics in their interactions with LGBT acquaintances, friends, and family members. In most of these instances it’s positive. But anytime we hear of someone telling a non-celibate LGBT person, “Celibacy is possible. It’s not that hard. Just look at Sarah and Lindsey at A Queer Calling,” we try to shift the conversation to the real issues at hand. We remind people that the purpose of our blog is to interact with others interested in discussing LGBT celibacy — not to suggest that celibacy is easy, and not to hold ourselves up as examples for the entire LGBT community. We encourage readers who find our writing helpful to use it for fostering productive conversation — not for hitting someone over the head with a frying pan.
Crystal then asks, “Do you ever think you shouldn’t tell your story because it isn’t the same as other gay people’s experiences and not all gay couples are celibate like you?” No. We don’t ever think this. Because we believe all people’s stories are worthy of being told and heard, we figure that includes ours as much as anyone else’s. We see no logical reason to silence ourselves. We also believe that it’s possible to learn something from everyone, so wouldn’t want to see other LGBT stories silenced, even if those stories have very little in common with ours and even if we disagree with the theological opinions of the people who tell them. The possibility that one’s story might be used against others is a poor reason not to tell it. As we said above, we can’t always control what people say about us or how they use the content we publish here. We do have a responsibility to be fair to others when sharing our experiences, and we feel respected when other bloggers with experiences different from ours acknowledge that celibate LGBT Christians exist and do their best to be fair to us.
Crystal’s last question is the one that encapsulates many others we’ve received from readers recently: “You say you don’t have an agenda besides talking about your experience of celibacy and other things, but aren’t you playing into an agenda by telling your stories even though that’s not what you wanted?” We don’t think so. We don’t have any intention of becoming someone’s pawns. We are the owners of our story. No one else is: not other members of our Christian tradition, not the larger group of celibate LGBT voices, not the broader LGBT Christian community — nobody. And we don’t own other people’s stories either. Anyone can start a blog. It’s not that difficult. When we launched ours, we anticipated having maybe 20 regular readers, mostly friends. We never dreamed that so many people would be interested in our perspectives. A Queer Calling came to be at a time when we felt a need for more meaningful interaction with other people on topics such as celibacy, vocation, spirituality, and LGBT Christian issues. It began as a project to help us explore where God is calling us, and to give us something new to enjoy together during Lindsey’s period of unemployment. We write because we see celibacy as an important topic that far too many people dismiss as old-fashioned, oppressive, and indicative of a lack of self-acceptance. And that’s all. Playing into a larger agenda would require our consent on some level. We haven’t given it, and feel free to share this post with anyone who may be unaware of this.
If you see our story as dangerous in one way or another, trust us, you’re not alone. Those sorts of assertions fill our inbox every day. We can understand why people with a variety of theological positions and life experiences might feel uneasy about our writing. We hear that most often, though not exclusively, from people with progressive sexual ethics. To those who see us in this way and perhaps believe that we shouldn’t be sharing our story, we have some questions for you. Have you ever thought about the broader LGBT Christian conversation’s overall impact on celibates and our places within our Christian traditions? Have you ever considered the possibility that the discussion (as it is now) about LGBT issues in Christianity could be making celibates less and less welcome in our church communities? Do you think it’s possible that non-celibate LGBT people aren’t the only ones fighting for the ability to be known and loved?
We’re going to be blunt for a moment: non-celibate LGBT Christians often argue that the stories of celibates make it harder for them and their families to feel safe at church, but many do not realize that this goes both ways. If you’re a non-celibate LGBT Christian, know that church folk are just as inclined to use your stories against us. As more moderate Christian traditions move toward accepting liberal approaches to sexual ethics, more conservative Christian traditions are refusing to acknowledge the existence of LGBT people in their parishes at all. Formerly-civil discussions about LGBT issues in conservative churches are now ending at, “Why can’t you just choose to be straight and get married or at least identify as SSA instead of gay? LGBT language has a liberal political agenda attached to it.” We fear the possibility that a time may be approaching when celibate LGBT Christians have only two options: 1) attend a church with a liberal sexual ethic where, in many cases, celibacy is frowned upon or misunderstood and celibates are not supported adequately; or, 2) attend a church with a conservative sexual ethic where celibates are expected to deny their sexual orientations or leave. So, to be fair, we’ll concede that in addition to simply “sharing our story,” our agenda also includes educating about the mere existence of celibate LGBT Christians in all kinds of traditions. As our weeks and months of blogging so far have passed, we’ve become aware of multiple instances where LGBT celibates in denominations with liberal, moderate, and conservative approaches have been made to feel unwelcome — all because we don’t fit the norm in any church environment.
To end today’s post, we offer these questions for our readers’ consideration. Is it really safe to assume that everyone involved in this conversation has an agenda that can be lumped into one of two categories that are polar opposites? How much more productive might our discussions be if we did not assume the worst about people we perceive to be on the “other side” of debates about LGBT issues in the Church? And finally, have we reached a point at which stories can’t stories just be stories?
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