Almost daily, we receive inquiries about why we use words like LGBT and queer to describe ourselves, stern rebukes for our preferred terminology, or both. Many people caution us about how these words can be applied politically, contending that we shouldn’t be surprised when people react negatively to us because we insist on referring to each other as partners. We’ve addressed the questions as they come up, on our About page, and in our Frequently Asked Questions. But because we’ve noticed a recent increase in this type of reader correspondence, we want to provide a reasonably comprehensive answer as to why we think LGBT and queer are helpful terms for describing ourselves and our relationship.
Before we go any deeper, let us offer some important clarifications. The only places we discuss our experiences as a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple are this blog and with select groups of friends. We’re open about being partners if and when a person asks, but we value privacy in our daily lives. At church, we go very simply by Lindsey and Sarah. People are aware that we are partners without our needing to say anything. We don’t walk around with LGBT tattooed on our foreheads. However, members of any parish we ever visit tend to assume that Lindsey is gay the instant Lindsey walks into a room. Sarah frequently receives different treatment when socializing individually versus socializing with Lindsey present.
So why do we use the language we use on the blog?
We use LGBT because we are both LGBT people. We’re surprised that straight people take issue with this point continuously. There are a lot of blogs existing at the intersection of faith and sexuality. It would be false to assert that no one cares about how the Church responds to LGBT people: it’s one of the most discussed and debated issues of our time. However, we find it remarkable that despite so much work to explain sexual orientation, many heterosexual Christians insist that being gay necessitates having gay sex, and that if one is not having gay sex, then one is not gay. Neither of us came out as LGBT because of an appetite for gay sex. Both of us came out because we realized that this terminology provides useful context as to how we experience our sexualities.
Many people who adopt LGBT language do so to communicate that they experience the world differently than folks who are straight and/or cisgender. For us and others, it’s not about sex at all — it’s about a sense of otherness that encompasses far more than the question, “What kind of person pings up my sex drive?” Feeling different or other can be both a blessing and a curse. Lindsey realized comparatively early that Lindsey was not the same as other children. As a child, Lindsey couldn’t be bothered by gender norms and had a recognizably different deportment than most kids. Lindsey’s parents did a great job at helping Lindsey pursue any and all interests while allowing Lindsey ample freedom for self-expression. At 20, Lindsey started developing sexual attractions. It was hard for Lindsey to make sense of these experiences. Eventually, Lindsey realized that Lindsey had no desire for a heterosexual marriage and was not called to monastic life. When Lindsey met other LGBT Christians, Lindsey finally met people who could relate deeply to Lindsey’s own experiences.
Sarah grew up assuming that being attracted to girls instead of boys was an unusual though irrelevant experience. Because of cultural expectations, Sarah spent all of childhood and the vast majority of adolescence thinking that every young woman (except nuns) eventually met a young man to marry, marriage was a requirement for leading a full adult life, and one’s sexual attractions had little to do with the decision to enter a marital vocation. But as an older teenager, Sarah realized that Sarah had no desire to marry a man and would find heterosexual marriage a miserable and draining way of life. Equally important, Sarah had a powerful model of what a purposeful non-married life could look like in a favorite high school teacher, Ms. Chafin. All the while, Sarah had been growing in awareness of Sarah’s sexual orientation. In continuing vocational discernment, it was Sarah’s attraction to women that drew Sarah toward celibacy in the first place. The sense of a personal calling to celibacy came when Sarah could appreciate the nature of Sarah’s sexuality.
We’ve both experienced periods of extreme anxiety and discomfort because of the ways other people have tried to label our sexualities. Sarah grew up in a geographic area where young people would typically marry straight out of high school or in some cases, immediately after graduating college. When Sarah began to reach “marrying age,” Sarah couldn’t help but notice how family conversations became more and more about Sarah’s future husband. No one particularly knew or cared to know about how Sarah was experiencing sexuality differently. Coming out created space for Sarah to feel at ease among loved ones. Even being referred to as an abomination resulted in less anxiety than pretending to be someone Sarah was not. Early in Lindsey’s coming out process, it became apparent that many of Lindsey’s acquaintances believed sexual orientation could only have meaning if one was having sex. When reading Rob Bell’s Sex God, Lindsey had an epiphany that one could focus one’s sense of sexuality on a broader pattern of relating to the world — that there was more to sexuality than sex itself. Immediately, this made sense to Lindsey, who had experienced a great deal of frustration when talking with other Christians who could only discuss sexuality in terms of marriage. No one among Lindsey’s Christian friends in college seemed to have space for the idea that God might call people to live celibate lives — overseas mission work being a possible exception.
When it comes to our life together, we frequently say that we’re building the plane while flying it. We don’t have a lot of models upon which to build. We often hear people discuss three principal ways of life: marriage, monasticism, or living as single persons in the world. Discovering our vocation as celibate partners has involved a good deal of trial and error. We recognize that our vocation is unusual, and it is for this reason that we refer to it as a queer calling.
Some people would say, “Just get over yourselves already! You’re single people living in the world. You’re friends. You’re housemates! You don’t need any other language.” However, the same honesty that drove us towards using LGBT terminology for ourselves encourages us to call out some ways our life together differs significantly from the single people we know. The following observations are in no particular order.
Financially, we are interdependent. We share quite literally every penny. We don’t have an arrangement that is simply “Let’s each pay 50% of the rent and utilities on the apartment” or “Let’s keep our incomes completely separate.” We consider every cent we earn to belong equally to both of us. When we save, it’s an investment in our future as a pair, not in our futures as individuals. We share car insurance and health insurance, and have committed to taking on each other’s debts as our own. Before we met, not only did both of us have student loans but Sarah also has an enormous amount of medical debt. We don’t know any sets of “friends, roommates, or housemates” where one person would willingly and gladly take on joint responsibility for the other’s medical bills that reach six figures.
Our strongest sense of team spirit probably comes in the realm of looking after one another’s physical and mental health. Sarah has had an extensive medical history that Sarah managed solo before we met. Now we work on tackling issues together. Whether it’s making sure Sarah’s rescue inhaler is refilled or discerning a proper course of action for Sarah’s Meniere’s disease, we are committed to walking through the issue every step of the way as a team. We’ve mentioned before that Lindsey is learning American Sign Language alongside Sarah so that we can make sure we never lose the ability to communicate and that Sarah is never left out of any conversations. One person at our church said to Lindsey a couple of weeks ago, “Wow. You’re going above and beyond the expectations of friendship here. Sarah is so lucky to have a friend like you.” The truth is, we see such a commitment as an integral part of our relationship. This is not the sort of commitment that would be expected in a close friendship.
We share our spiritual lives intimately, and we’re committed to helping one another towards holiness. We can offer each other a new sense of perspective that comes from the day-in, day-out realities of doing life together. Both of us can tell when the other person is experiencing spiritual lows. We’re constantly reminding each other about the various aspects of the Gospel that are so important to keep our lives in context. While its not impossible that friends would do this for one another, we see it as an essential part of our daily living that we’re committed to maintaining for the rest of our lives — not merely a season of being “roommates.”
We share our emotional lives 100%. We have an absolute commitment to being honest with one another about all things. We share our highs, lows, triumphs, defeats, frustrations, joys, and everything else no matter how hard it is to discuss. We do have deep, emotionally intimate relationships with friends, but none of those relationships has the exact same sense of vulnerability as does our relationship with each other.
We share physical space and love being in each other’s presence. We go out of our way to share time with each other. Currently, we’re excited because Lindsey’s work schedule allows us to share our commute on most days. We have always made it a point to share dinner together, even when our schedules do not cooperate. And if one of us were to need to relocate for whatever reason, the other would go too. There would be no question about this, no matter what challenges were involved. Our commitment to each other does not end at an annual apartment lease.
What this comes down to is a very simple question: how are terms like “partnership” defined, and who has the right to define them? It seems unreasonable to us that straight, cisgender, conservative Christians — many of whom are married — should be the sole determiners of what constitutes partnership, celibacy, and gayness. Ultimately, we are not seeking to prove to you that we are indeed a celibate LGBT couple rather than “single housemates who both have same-sex attraction.” Our relationship is ours to define. It takes a great deal of entitlement to tell another person, “I know who and what you are better than you do.” It’s vastly inappropriate, and we would never assert that we know better than a married couple what marriage is, better than a monk or nun what religious life is, or better than a single person what the celibate single vocation is. We do understand why questions about our ways of identifying will naturally arise because of our unusual situation. All we ask is that all our readers show us the same basic respect that we show them in providing space to share share stories and learn from one another.
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