From Broken Boys to Whole Men: #10 – Sexual Orientation
September 5, 2019
I remember when my first wife came out of the closet as a lesbian two and a half years into our marriage, I was devastated.
But her coming-out initiated a period of personal growth and exploration that I had back-burnered when we got married; I had stopped growing, and now, I had the chance to do the inner work I needed to do.
One of the issues that surfaced unexpectedly was my own sexual orientation: if I had married a lesbian, what did that say about me? Who, or what, was I? What was my label?
I dove into the movement for LGBT rights in Chicago, where I lived, partly as a way to grieve the end of my marriage: PFLAG, the United Church of Christ’s Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (now the Open and Affirming Coalition), marching in Chicago Pride Parades and attending the UCC Coalition’s National Gathering in St. Paul that summer.
In the process, I came to know many more lesbians and gay men than ever before, and had to confront some fears I didn’t know I had: fear of close physical proximity, of outward shows of affection toward other men, and fear of other men thinking I was physically attractive. Several men came out to me in quick succession, unrelated to each other, and I’m convinced it was a God thing.
Most of all, I realized how homophobia is every man’s barrier to trust, honesty, closeness, and authenticity with other men of whatever orientation: it hurts us all, and it hurts men’s relationships with women, too.
We are afraid to know the fullness of who we are.
I knew intellectually that our sexual orientation is an inherent part of who we are and not some deviant, abnormal state. I grew up in a medical, scientifically oriented household with open-minded parents who were people of faith who believed “God made people that way.”
But getting involved in the movement in the 90s also meant I learned about sexual orientation on a continuum, about labels and their limits, and that it’s less about labels and more about who one loves.
And I realized how embedded homophobia and heterosexism were in my small-town Ohio boyhood, where anti-gay slurs were so much a part of the everyday language of men and boys (and also women and girls!) that I hardly noticed them for what they were.
Through it all, I realized how fear cast a pall over all my interactions at school, at the Y, in Scouting and other places. It limited interactions, stunted growth, and made for a lot of violence.
So my first wife’s coming-out in 1992 forms a clear before-and-after line in my life and consciousness, of orientation and masculinity, both. And it knocked me off the equivocating fence I had been sitting on as a clergy person, afraid to speak out but inwardly disturbed by what I heard from good, well-meaning church members.
And while society and the law, and even the institutional church have changed much in the years since that line was drawn in my life, I realize how related men’s fear of same-gender attraction is to unhealthy forms of masculinity.
And how far men have yet to go in our journey toward wholeness.