Why Attractions and Emotions Become “Identities”

For years to come, a range of experts and armchair analysts will likely argue about the origins of same-sex attraction and “gender” confusion and to what extent either counts as a psychological disorder. But there is one aspect of the LGBTQ(etc.) phenomenon that, it seems to me, is beyond dispute: basing identity on attractions and feelings has become the dominant social disorder of our time.

The shorthand answer to the question of why people are willing to let their attractions and emotions become either major or minor components of their identity—who they are rather than what they experience—is a pretty simple chain of consequences: 1) Public self-identification (coming out) as gay or lesbian (or other “out” labels) leads to entry into and acceptance from a community. 2) Participation in the community leads to group identification as a minority. 3) Identification as a minority leads to shaping the conversation regarding rights and discrimination issues. 4) Shaping that conversation then leads to dramatic social change that favors the perspective and agenda of the minority.

Does anyone really wonder why LGBTQ identity language is so incredibly difficult for individuals to set aside? As a social phenomenon, it’s a time-proven method for social change that results in a profound affirmation of the very attractions and feelings one has to deal with on a very personal level. Rather than resisting the feelings, these individuals seek the public affirmation that is achieved by “coming out,” which is eventually amplified a hundred-fold by these four steps.

In secular culture, same-sex “marriage” and gender-neutral bathrooms are the end results of this four-step process. But, how might this apply more specifically to the gay Christian subculture?

Some might be surprised at the thought of a gay Christian subculture. Have you ever thought of it that way before? Let’s take a closer look.

Christians ‘Coming Out’ as Community Passport
In the midst of the gazillion different Christian communities on the planet, real, live people experience attractions and feelings that are not in accord with authentic human flourishing. But only a handful of “communities” have coalesced around such attractions. One who struggles with pornography or adultery, for example, has no real prospect of “coming out” to join the pornography community or adultery community. That seems rightly silly at face value.

Not so with LGBTQ “communities” waiting with open arms to embrace any soul courageous enough to publicly “come out.” A subset of these secular communities is their Christian component. Let it be known publicly that you’re gay and Christian. You’ve written your own passport allowing you entry not only into the secular LGBTQ community but also into its Christian subculture.

As part of the gay Christian subculture, you’ll be affirmed in your dual identity, but then you will have to give some thought as to which “sub-subculture” you’ll want to accept—for example, Side A or Side B? Gay Christians who think God is okay with homosexual behavior and even same-sex “marriage” are Side A. Gay Christians who think it’s okay to be gay as long as one doesn’t sexually act out are Side B.

Welcome to the Gay Christian Minority (Pick One)!
As long as you are “out,” you’re “in,” by the way. The gay Christian community and even larger secular gay community won’t ever disown you, even though some may think you’re slightly crazy if you try to live celibately as a Side B gay Christian. Even if Christian communities look askance at you and reject your Side A views (too immoral) or your “Side B” views (celibacy? Too Catholic!), the gay communities will be more tolerant. Perhaps this is why it has struck me that many who say they are gay and Christian seem even more deeply allied with the gay subcultures than they are with the broader Christian community to which they belong.

So just pick which end of the pool you want to dip your toe into—which minority within the minority will you identify with? Are you the gay Protestant Christian ready to do battle against those fellow Christians who say the homosexual inclination is itself sinful, along with the sinful behaviors? Or is your concern that your church is too lenient? Are you the gay Catholic who thinks your Church’s teaching is too strict, and you’re ready to join the dissenting fight to get the Church to allow gay Catholics to marry each other?

Or are you among that tinier sliver of a minority—chastity-seeking, celibate gay Catholics who accept Church teaching against homosexual acts, while continuing to affirm the gay identity?

Shaping the Minority Report
Regardless of which group you identify with, your group and all the other minorities and sub-minorities will eventually manifest a sort of “credo” that establishes what the group wants from its particular Christian community.

Some such minority manifestos will call for “conservative” Protestant denominations to drop their perennial claims that “orientation change” is possible and desirable, and that reparative therapies can and should result in ex-gays marrying spouses of the other sex. Some might call for greater acceptance of gay couples in churches, or for Catholic teaching to change altogether.

What does the celibate gay Catholic’s minority report look like? While there is no push for changing Church teaching on homosexual acts, there is an implicit (and sometimes explicit) push against the Church’s anthropology. By continuing to embrace an identity based on attraction, the celibate gay Catholic contradicts the Church’s understanding that our sexual identity is either man or woman. Nothing else. Further, there is an effort to make room for expressions of some same-sex attractions that are claimed to be not objectively disordered inclinations. There are also calls for “vowed friendships” between the same-sex-attracted and for seeing the “good” in gay sexual identity.

Change We Can’t Believe In
But even the minority report of the celibate gay Catholic is largely overwrought. It’s not really any more sustainable than the more overt and aggressive minority views that call for wholesale changes in Church teaching. Similarly, calls for parishes to have active ministries and support groups for “out” LGBTQ persons are largely misguided, failing to appreciate the serious drawbacks of coming out and of pastoral ministry to those who choose to see their attractions and emotions as who they are rather than what they experience.

Ironically, it’s often the deep attachment to the “out” subcultures and communities that stands in the way of helping a person progress toward a deeper attachment to the larger Christian or Catholic communities to which the person belongs. The attachment to the minority identity can become an obstacle to participation in a larger parish community precisely because the person has been compartmentalized with the “gay” label. I’m not thinking of anti-gay discrimination or “othering” here (though that can happen), but I’m thinking more of the self-imposed compartmentalization that takes place when we’re unwilling to reach beyond the comfort zone we’re in, even if that would be good for our souls. It seems so much easier to remain in the affirming subculture than it is to detach from it and simply blend in with the rest of the saints and sinners in our particular ecclesial community.

Opting Out Instead of Coming Out
What if I have same-sex attraction and simply decide not to reveal this experience to the general public? What if I just don’t come out? It’s clear that the gay community doesn’t think too highly of anyone who prefers not to take full advantage of the “identity” passport that is freely offered. Rejecting this club membership is viewed as self-oppressive, shame-based, and damaging.

But here is the too-often hidden truth: Opting out is decidedly more liberating than “coming out.”

Not “coming out” does not equal “hiding the truth” about one’s self. Rather, it’s a means of proclaiming the greatest truth of all: “I know who I am and who I am not in God’s eyes.”

I am a son or daughter of God. I am not the feelings and emotions I experience.

Understanding this key truth is where true freedom is. From this vantage, we are liberated from the subcultures and minority status that too often limit our perspectives. We are free to simply embrace our manly or womanly identity as members of the Body of Christ, alongside the rest of the universal (Catholic) Church, and alongside the rest of our smaller parish communities. We are able to seek and find healing in the private and tender hearts of our communities, via same-sex-attraction support groups that respect confidentiality while offering pastoral care in keeping with our human dignity.

By opting out, we become just like everyone else, all carrying our unique crosses while having in common the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, which he extends equally to all. We can jettison our attachments to minority status and avoid its distracting objective of enshrining unhealthy feelings and desires in the very core of my being, my “I.”

We can avoid that aforementioned four-step pathway toward the worst of social disorder and instead become living icons—clothed not in “gay” but in Christ—reflecting that well-known ancient passage of the Apostle Paul:

For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

Deacon Jim Russell

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Deacon Jim Russell serves the Archdiocese of St. Louis and writes on topics of marriage, family, and sexuality from a Catholic perspective.

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