“If you’re gay and celibate, why tell others?”

One of the most common questions we get on the blog and in person is, “Why do you tell everyone that you’re gay and celibate?” Usually, this question comes just before a number of assertions about why we shouldn’t share this information with others: “It’s nobody’s business. Nobody needs to know about your sex life or your sins. There’s no good reason to tell other people. It only causes confusion for them. Best to keep this information between you and your confessor.” Today, we will address this question along with some of the assumptions behind it.

First, it’s important to make clear that in contexts other than the blog, we don’t mention to many people that we are LGBTQ and celibate. And we have never brought this matter up within the context of parishes we’ve belonged to except at the level of priests and closest individual friendships. But that really doesn’t matter because most of the time, people take one look at Lindsey and identify us as an LGBTQ couple right away. As we’ve mentioned before, we were once members of a parish where the other parishioners had met Sarah for a few weeks first, and there was no problem until Lindsey started coming to church with Sarah. At that point, the gossip mill started and families were asking the parish priest if we were a couple. Neither of us had said or done anything to give the people of this parish any particular impression about our relationship to each other. There have also been instances when we have been involved in a parish and a member has asked us, “Are you sisters?” We answer honestly, “No.” Yet people infer from the brevity of our response that we are a couple. It seems there’s little we could do to avoid members of churches from figuring out that Lindsey and Sarah share life together as a pair.

But moving on from that, we offer you some items to think about next time you find yourself wondering why any two people would share with others that they are a celibate LGBTQ couple. We are committed to being open about our story for the following reasons:

We share our story with others because the Christian life is lived in community. We aren’t meant to go through life sharing everything exclusively with a confessor. Fostering Christian community means being vulnerable with others. It means sharing difficult information with our brothers and sisters and being willing to listen when they share difficult information with us. Spirituality and pastoral sensitivity are not limited to times when one needs to confess sins to a priest. If we are to love one another as Jesus asks of us, we ought to be able to extend grace and kindness to other members of our faith communities no matter what their stories are. If a woman at coffee hour shares with you even half-jokingly that she’s struggling with gluttony, are you going to admonish her to keep that sort of sin in confession and out of the public eye? Probably not. So why insist that issues related to sexual morality cannot ever be shared publicly by an individual?

We share our story with others because community happens when we share about differences as well as similarities. Yes, our shared faith in Christ is what unites us. Yes, members of any Christian church hold to a set of common beliefs no matter how long or short that list may be. But learning about our differences and how those impact our daily lives in the world helps all of us to grow. A white woman does not have the same experience of life as a black man. A plumber does not have the same experience of life as a college professor. A deaf person does not have the same experience of life as a hearing person. A lesbian does not have the same experience of life as a straight woman. Difference matters whether we want it to or not. It is part of life incarnate, and it impacts how we understand every situation we face. Confusion is not always bad. Dissonance pushes us to reconsider ways of life that we did not understand previously.  It seems absurd to us that people in churches should be permitted to speak only of our similarities.

We share our story with others because saying, “I’m a celibate LGBTQ person” is not the same as saying, “I struggle with the sin of lust.” In conservative churches, there exists a hugely problematic misunderstanding about what it means to be LGBTQ and what it means to be celibate. People who describe themselves using LGBTQ language have many different understandings of that language. Contrary to popular belief, it is not reasonable to assume that people who use this language have engaged in any kind of sexual immorality. It is also not reasonable to assume that the added phrase, “…and I’m celibate” means, “I am engaged in a spiritual battle against my body that tells me I should be having gay sex.” Some celibate people experience sexual temptation in various degrees, and others do not. Insisting that a person frame the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity solely within the language of “struggle” is assigning a sin to that person when no sin (or temptation to sin) may be present.

We share our story with others because there is a common struggle that most celibate LGBTQ people face: profound loneliness and fear. We are not the only celibate LGBTQ people who exist. We are not the only celibate LGBTQ couple that exists. You probably have celibate LGBTQ people in your own parish whether you are aware of it or not. To be an LGBTQ Christian is to be hated and victimized by many people who call themselves Christians. Add celibacy into the mix, and in comes hate and victimization from some non-celibate members of the LGBTQ community. Being a celibate LGBTQ person is incredibly isolating, even if you are one half of a partnership. With great regularity, it involves feeling as though no one in your faith community understands your experience of life…and fearing that if they did find out more about your life they would hate you for your sexual orientation/gender identity, your celibacy, or both. Because our society has made an idol of marriage, being a celibate LGBTQ person can feel especially lonely when people ask questions such as, “Isn’t it time you settled down and found a husband?” Even seeing young families with children at church can bring up painful longing for what will never be. But as we have been blogging, so many people have come our way to say, “I didn’t think anyone else lived this way. It’s nice not to feel so alone anymore.” If we can help even one person just by saying, “Us too,” then sharing our story has been worth all the hardship it sometimes brings.

We share our story with other people because that is what transforms isolated individuals into a community. We are always happy to listen to other people’s stories. Whether a person is 2 years old, 100 years old, or any age in between, we value that person’s story. Building Christian community is hard work, and we do our part in sharing because we are committed to that process.

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13 thoughts on ““If you’re gay and celibate, why tell others?”

  1. THIS.IS.EXCELLENT ! I am often confronted by the commentary summarized in paragraph one. You have added many good points to my response. I could use some of these ideas in my church although it is pretty liberal and affirming of LGBT folks. As a school teacher, I encounter not only this attitude but even anger at being “out proud” I try to understand that some may not be able to be all that visible depending on their school district, but making any part of who you are invisible hurts community life which is the life blood of all people.

  2. At a party or social gathering, I find that people who ‘have to’ tell me they’re gay are closest in personality to those with an inferiority complex, who are just itching to drop something irrelevant into the conversation about something important they’ve done, or some honour they’ve received or been awarded, after two minutes of knowing them. They seem to have a need to let it be known, and distort the flow of conversation to do it. I don’t differentiate here on the lines of sexuality but propriety.

    Yet sadly, for some reason, it is more and more common with gays. If anything, I am genuinely curious as to why. Is it from a fear of rejection, so they ‘get it out of the way’? If so, aren’t they’re going about it totally the wrong way? Shouldn’t they be looking for points of common interest rather than possible division and prejudice? Is it, even, a sort of testing, wanting people to react to ‘hot buttons’ ‘out of the gate’, without any context? Isn’t it going to make the person they’re speaking to uncomfortable from the get-go? Is it about being ‘proud to be gay’? It can be a conversation-killer, no? 🙂 Whatever, isn’t it likely to be counterproductive in most circumstances, making things ‘awkward’, considering you don’t even know the person?

    To me people’s sexuality is utterly irrelevant for any day-to-day interactions, and so, as soon as they do that, I know there will probably be more ‘baggage’ coming, and try to find someone else to speak to ASAP, as it’s going to get like talking to a 13 year old who just looks like an adult: any person of that type, gay or straight. No-one likes anyone who comes across as a narcissist. The irony is that, at the same time, I want to hug them, and tell them to just be themselves…

    I have a gay friend of around 12 years. We have mutual friends in common and he’s never spoken to any of us about his sexuality. He lived with a man for about 20 years, but we didn’t know whether they were just friends or not and we made no judgement. It’s irrelevant, just as our heterosexuality is, and we love him dearly. The only thing that confirmed he was gay was that he confided to one mutual female friend (who wasn’t sure he was gay either) they had ‘broken up’, and that was all he said about the matter. We get on well because he is a classicist, hates small-talk, has a wicked, yet refined, sense of humour, as well as being a fine conversationalist in theology and philosophy: not because he’s gay.

    Maybe I’m naive or old-fashioned, but I simply can’t see where ‘gay’ or sexuality comes into friendships – unless you’re dating – or one of these people who can’t help bringing sex into almost everything you say (which is getting more common these days).

    But then, I am British, and maybe there are cultural differences?

    • To be clear, we weren’t addressing the context of a social gathering, although we have certainly been to plenty of parties where people ask us how we know each other or how long we’ve been together. Saying something like “We’re partners” or “Three years” is treated functionally as us coming out as LGBTQ even though we haven’t sought to make an issue of it. We have also been to many gatherings where it’s common to be asked “Are you married?” as a matter of polite get-to-know-you conversation. Both of have lived in England and can say, with certainty, that there are cultural differences in small talk.

      However, we’re not sure it’s always proper to interpret an LGBTQ person’s self-disclosure as being irrelevant to conversation and a sign of insecurity. If you ask a person if he is married, he could respond by saying no, he’s a gay person living celibacy. He’s simply answered your question in a way that would either facilitate greater conversation or at least encourage matchmakers to curb their enthusiasm. A person who says, “My pronouns are they, them, and theirs” is likely making a conversational request in an effort to get someone to dial back on how many assumptions are being made about gender. When people are comfortable simply being themselves, they have their reasons for disclosing. Allowing people to put the pieces together for themselves is certainly an option, but it’s still a way of telling people.

      Additionally, a “social gathering” is a rather vague context. Small group Bible studies, grabbing a cup of coffee or tea with someone, or a church retreat are all forms of social gatherings. Every social gathering has its own expectations of intimacy. There are times when people have that tone when they ask if you can grab coffee when you simply know they need to talk. Living celibacy can be exceptionally counter-cultural where loneliness and isolation can be common emotions. Reaching out to a friend saying “Can we get dinner together soon?” is a great strategy for dealing with hard moments in life, regardless of the particular reason one might be feeling a bit isolated.

      The way many people approach conversations with those they just met is conditioned by many things. A person who, out of the gate, talks about an award he just won at work is probably simply excited about a recent achievement.Or he might be a braggart that needs to be taken down a few notches. Choosing to remain in conversation has a way of building community even if you’re not all that impressed with a person’s social skills.

      • I very much agree with what you say.

        Before I returned to the Catholic Church (after having a similar experience as you!) I was in ‘ministry’, and one thing I learnt is how so many apparently innocuous personal questions, judgements, or comments, can be like a knife into people’s souls. As such, they won’t be forgotten sub-consciously (as you’ll be associated primarily with the feeling you evinced), and so could cause a permanent sense of untrustworthiness or distance between you, especially if you’re likely to see them again.

        After a funeral, for example, one dear lady with whom I’d grown close in the parish (she sort of mothered me!), confided in me that she felt so guilty because everyone was offering her condolences whilst, for her, ‘him’ dying was the best thing that had happened in the past 52 years, and she wanted to party. Yet, from outside, they looked happily married. She also told me the reason she was able to tell me was that I didn’t say any of the usual stuff, but just listened and sensed I wouldn’t judge, and just had to tell someone as it was eating her up.

        Also, a lot of people at a happy social event, don’t want to be reminded of their singleness, how wonderful you think their (adulterous) husband is, etc..
        Loneliness is horrific for many, even if more introverted. That is, it can be even moreso as they’d like to know someone cares, yet don’t want to be smothered, and so likely to withdraw further.

        I suppose the bottom line is that I try to never ask questions that are likely to make someone unhappy or uncomfortable on first meeting, but I know – because of the way people confide in me when they know me – I’m not avoiding the issues, just dealing with them appropriately, at the right time.

        The problem with poor social skills, it seems to me, is that they become a perpetuating cycle of rejection and rebuffs, so they try harder, and things get worse rather than better, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, or a case of attribution bias, of being unlikeable for being gay (or whatever, as it’s not restricted), or that people are ‘homophobes’ when it’s their approach that elicits the response, not hatred of them being gay, per se.

        Anyway, lots to ponder, and thanks for your courteous and very thoughtful reply. Much appreciated.

  3. I’m glad you shared this. I’ve been reading your blog for a while but this is the first comment. Forgive me if some of my comments aren’t articulated well. I don’t mean to offend anyone nor come off as patronizing.

    I’m just really glad you both talk openly here. And if you don’t see it, from my perspective you both show so much bravery and determination. We need stories like this, not just for other LGBTQ people to see something they could possibly model themselves but for us straight folks to see how someone who feels the way you feel, believes in the teachings of the church and Scripture on sexual morality, yet lives that out faithfully. And doing so against strong headwinds from culture and a church that is less than understanding. It brings me to tears reading your story and the stories of others like you. It convicts me to lift you guys up by name in prayer more often.

    I wish you lived near me so I could just spend time with y’all (gave away my region of the country there). You both should consider doing at least some occasional speaking engagements at churches that are trying hard to walk that tightrope in this culture of learning to love LGBTQ people better while remaining faithful to their beliefs about sexuality. There’s something about seeing someone living this out that just makes it different.

    Anyway, that’s sort of rambling. Love you both.

  4. I am very moved by this thought provoking letter. As an elderly American Man, I can remember a time when people had heroes or people that they deeply respected. Many people would study the lives of the Saints, even thought they may have been Protestant People themselves. Saint Paul spoke about being a “living witness,” and made us understand that some people don’t need to verbalize things since they spread the Faith by their own lives and actions.

    Sometimes, when I read articles written by Sarah and Lindsey, I get a tear in my eye and I whisper a prayer into the ear of Christ Our Lord. I thank God for putting people in this world to help me personally and to help thousands of other LGBT persons.

    Now that Christianity is in heavy decline in California and in Europe, I notice that Christians themselves are being viewed as quaint and eccentric. Selfishness, vanity, materialism, and worldliness have become the norm, and those who reject these things are looked upon as strange indeed.

    I usually don’t discuss the fact that I am Gay and celibate with others, but I also think
    that if you are questioned about this situation, you should be very honest and explain your point of view. Sometimes our harshest critics are Gay people themselves, and I know that you ladies understand what I mean by this statement.

    When Lindsey and Sarah discuss social settings in the coffee hour after church services, we can all relate to those social situations. The one that disturbs me the most is when people seem to have pity on you, since you have always seemed so lonely. Our burdens can only be understood by ourselves, apparently? We are a minority with a minority, and seem out of step with darn near everyone! HA

    I was reading something the other day about the history of the Civil War in America. There was a social phenomena caused by the war itself, which was understood in the deep South for decades after the war ended. Since men had died by the thousands, the war created huge numbers of widows and also what was known in those days as “Old Maids.” The Protestant Churches of the South were filled for 40 years with many of these women who seems perpetually lonely. Society itself had become unbalanced, and there was a severe shortage of men in the South. Women often came to church with dear friends, often other war widows or young unmarried women.
    Of course, no one ever questioned these ladies. They were simply making a life for themselves, within the framework of their Christian Faith and the present situations of society. I am certain that many of these close friendship had become Gay, either relationships which had become physical or friendship which were VERY close, to the point of really being a form of deep love. In the Southern Culture, people would say Miss Julia or Miss Elizabeth, and others realized that you were referring to one of these unattached ladies. It was a powerful Southern Phenomena. Today, people would faint if such people walked into the church, arm in arm. HA

    Sarah and Lindsey, please forgive me for writing such a lengthy letter. It is just that I have come to feel so close to both of you. I hope some day, all of us can have our own reunion somewhere.

    Yours in the love of Jesus.

    Joseph

  5. Thank you guys for courageously speaking out about your personal experience with and in the church. These times have become confusing in a word to many young people I know in that they feel they must make some sort of choice once they are adults to decide if they are gay, just sympathetic to gays, in need of gender change or just wish at this time to be referred to as he/she/they while they sort it all out.

    Since you are talking about the choice to make your status known as well as your sexual preferences, and you acknowledge that our religion is a communal religion at the heart of it all, I just am wondering if those facts ever enter your thoughts in dealing with the youth in our community. The youth are now seeing many foundations of their lives shaken and up to a sort of relativism when they hear that white people are identifying as black, straight as gay, etc. This, added to the abysmal divorce rate when mothers and fathers are dissolving family life to pursue their personal desires, leaving a family confused and destroyed on the basis of a single person’s decision to identify as something the never were when they started the family, is affecting society in many self centered and destructive ways.

    When I read the piece you wrote, I hear the word “I” quite a bit though I don’t think that is your intention. I suppose it is hard to write a blog with total humility to the point of dissolving the I into a collective pronoun. So the nature of the writing seems to be the “I” coming to the forefront.

    I hear what you are saying and as it affects you, seems to be reasonable and healthy conversation for our times. I personally have a problem with the communal aspect of the self-centered media and lack of community of this generation and it is overwhelming to children and young adults in particular who are grappling with defining themselves that the choices are just too vast to comprehend and too radical for their age/maturity.

    I am not sure what the answers may be to this, but it seems the more blogs like this that open up your personal choices for the world to see, the less we are talking about the hallmarks of our religion which are poverty, charity, chastity and humility.

    I love Joseph’s post above, although I am a straight white married man, because he is saying much of what I am trying to say but he does it better because he is closer to having your perspective than I, so understands what you are saying better than I would or just is a better communicator than I.

    The world is certainly better for having the two of you in it and I don’t want you to think I am criticizing the two of you for your lifestyle choice. This is really about anyone posting on a blog or social media. Are we not denying our religion when so much is about us as individuals? Being a child of the 70’s, drafted into the Vietnam War and being a single parented child that fought my whole life to make the world a better place, I see I am growing into the anomaly when I used to be the “norm”.

    I am praying for all of us as we battle through this sea of change that we all come out better Catholics and love each other as Jesus taught.

    Robert

    • Hi Robert. Thanks for your comment. Surely, providing direction to youth is a difficult task. As we have been blogging, we’ve met a large number of teachers, pastors, and youth ministers. Each time we meet someone in one of these positions, we try to be as helpful as we can. But neither of us sees providing counsel to youth as a primary calling of ours. When young people come our way, we do our best to be empathetic listeners and refer them to other resources as needed. We want our blog to be a safe place where no one feels pressure to use any particular kind of language (so long as all language used is kind and charitable). About use of the word “I”: that is intentional for a number of reasons. 1) When we frame things using “I” and “we” language, it is easier to explain that we are individuals and laypeople who do not represent the teaching authority of any Christian tradition. 2) Using “I” and “we” language helps us to tell stories from our personal experience in ways that resonate with other people. When someone says, “I” and another person response with, “Me too,” it can be powerful and healing for both parties. 3) We use “I” and “we” language to avoid “you” language. “You” language can come off as accusatory, and we do not want that kind of tone for our blog. But even with all of these considerations, we are Christians first and foremost. There’s diversity within the Body of Christ, and we hope that telling stories from our perspectives as a pair and as individuals will be helpful to others who are feeling isolated within that larger body.

  6. Just wanted to say thanks to both of you. I am joining the Church and I am gay in a celibate relationship (which has been more challenging for me than my partner, who isn’t actually Christian – he’s just essentially asexual and so celibacy is more natural for him). I get disheartened when I see so many well-meaning people malign LGBTQ in our situation, as though the only appropriate option is not only to be sexually celibate but also emotionally. I find it particularly heartbreaking when I see a gay person who has internalized that approach, because it strikes me as something that takes a leap where it is not needed.

    I plan to be open in my meeting with my parish’s RCIA deacon this week just to clear the air of any misunderstandings or misgivings as I certainly do not wish to unintentionally appear as though I am trying to deceive those in my church community. I was somewhat nervous about doing this but just knowing that I am not alone and that you guys have been supported makes it easier to face. I’ve already talked to our parish priest and he was warm and welcoming, so I think I have reason to be optimistic.

    Anyway, it really helps to know there are others out there who have found a middle ground. 🙂

  7. I am a gay Catholic struggling with returning to the church and the sacraments
    It’s so hard , I didn’t realise how hard it would be to return after a dissolute life I expected a damascene conversion but that hasn’t happened . Occasionally through prayer I have a moment of clarity and peace. I think a simple faith ,humility and hope are the best things, but gay people who want to be celibate and follow Christ need a prayer network and friendships to stay strong especially in today’s world where if you are ssa you are expected to be a certain type, and If one refutes this one is perceived as a gay traitor and then one embraces the church but one feels isolated and alone / disordered .
    Come on guys lets pray for each other , set up a prayer network for us and the world and get on with a mission for Christ I’m fed up with being a victim and having to feel apologetic for just existing, we have a job to do and we need to get on with it
    Namely saving souls for CHRIST , the time for navel gazing is over , yes it’s hard but life is short but as a wise priest once told me the reward is going to be amazing.
    I not tecchy so if if anyone out there knows how to set up a celibate gay prayer network for Christ ,please do so soon, I,ll be the first to join , and we can start getting busy,
    Praying for all those straights who need so so much help as well as ourselves
    glory be to God
    And please pray for me
    Love Joe

  8. Ok guys and gals
    Time to stop navel gazing , we are celibate and trying to be faithfull , what now?
    Time to stop apologising for who we are and get busy
    We need to Set up a prayer network for our other ssa brother and sisters and the world. No more navel gazing time to step up forget about our “issues” time is too short and there are too many people who need our prayers,lgbtq, straight , human
    Etc, we can be warriors for Christ .
    I’m not tecchy so please if someone is out there who is , set it up and we can support each other , and all are friends and families and the world
    No more apologising , let’s get busy.
    Yours in Christ
    Joe

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