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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