There are myriad reasons why I think it’s unwise to “come out” or to claim a sexual identity other than male or female. I’ve written often about the topic, but a few things came up recently that have caused me to reflect again on the question of “coming out.”
I’ve never gone through the ritual of “coming out” to anyone. Though I have told people throughout the years that I happen to live with an attraction to men, I’ve never said to anyone, “Hi, I’m Dan, and I’m a gay guy.” (You can read some of the reasons I have refrained from doing that in my first article about sexual identity here.)
When I wrote that article in the summer of 2012, I knew most people in my life would eventually discover that I find men sexually attractive. I figured when people stumbled upon the knowledge they could talk to me about it if they wanted. Recently some good friends did just that.
Their reaction was very positive and loving, as I knew it would be. But I have also seen one big reason why I think it unwise to “come out”: it’s natural for others to place us in boxes that they construct, and the boxes of sexual identity rarely have much to do with the truth.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Yesterday I was with one of those friends. A story from several years ago about a woman who had “come on to me” came up in conversation. With a wink-wink and a nudge-nudge, my friend said to me, “well, but of course she wasn’t your type.” I awkwardly chuckled along and the conversation meandered to other topics, but I kept thinking about her comment about “my type.”
Do I have a “type” now that would explain why I didn’t pursue that woman? Obviously, in my friend’s mind, my “type” is now a man, and the reason I didn’t pursue that woman was because “I’m gay.” She’s placed me in a box which defines for her who I am now, at least concerning my sexual identity and orientation.
How does that do dignity to a friendship? How does that do dignity to the uniqueness of the human person? How does that do justice to the complex landscape of sexuality and sexual attractions?
I didn’t have a chance to talk with her much because we were at work. If I had the opportunity, I would have asked her how my past relationships with women fit into the box she’s constructed for me. I have dated some women in my life, and one of those women I hoped to marry. Will people now think those were merely ruses, or that I was repressing my true sexuality? It seems that with some people, I’ve been placed inside the box of “Dan the Gay Man,” and that my entire life is being rewritten from somewhere inside that box, a box built by someone else’s imagination.
I don’t like that.
There are other instances of this revisionist take on my life. One of my oldest and closest friends told me after he stumbled upon my blog that “my life finally made sense to him.” (Was I mystifying before?) I scratched my head wondering what that could mean. It didn’t take long for me to find out.
It seems he thought (or thinks) that the reason I didn’t marry the woman I wanted to marry was because I’m “gay.” It felt to me that he analyzed the situation and concluded to his personal satisfaction that, “Dan’s gay, so of course nothing could have worked out between them.”
The truth didn’t seem that important. (She didn’t want kids, and I did. Faith wasn’t a big deal to her. It is to me.)
Dan’s life finally makes sense to me now.
Things didn’t work out with that woman, because she wasn’t Dan’s “type.”
What is “my type,” anyway?
I am far more concerned with the truth of human nature, and the dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God, than I am concerned with my subjective sexual attractions or desires. My “type” is a woman–my body reveals that to me. My male body is the true north of my sexual identity–my subjective inclinations and attractions are the compass needle.
Sometimes, a compass’s needle points away from true north.
North never changes directions. A compass’s needle sometimes does, however. If there’s metal nearby, the needle will spin all over the map. A man’s sexual orientation for women never changes directions either. His head may turn towards men more than women, but that just means his sexual attractions are disoriented. To follow them always leads him down the wrong path, even though it feels for all the world like he’s going in the right direction.
So what’s my type? Women. It just doesn’t always feel that way to me. As my dad always used to say to me, however, “feelings are important, but they don’t always tell us the truth.”
Live your life in accordance with the Truth. We’re either male or female–that’s the extent of our sexual identity.
Once you “come out,” there’s no undoing that. One of the biggest problems with “coming out” is that you’re not in control of what that means to other people. You get boxed in, no matter how much you might want to try and define your terms. There are a lot of folks these days who have come out as “gay but chaste Christians.” I see things very differently than they; I think it is very unwise to call oneself gay, lesbian, or any other man made sexual identity. One reason I began writing about this part of my life is to be a counter to their voice. If you haven’t “come out,” my recommendation is don’t. A good friend of mine has wise words about “coming out.” He more accurately describes “coming out” as a “going in.”
I couldn’t agree with him more.
Share this part of your life with some close friends, a priest, your spiritual director, and your family, but not to all. Don’t submit to being stuck in a box. Instead, follow our Mother, the Church, who wisely tells us, “the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”
That’s thinking outside the box.
Here’s a great article on the problem with sexual identity, called A Label That Sticks, written by the excellent and wise Fr. Paul Scalia.