Middlesexed: One Christian’s Incarnational Journey from Fear to Acceptance
When I was in seminary at Regent College, a man named Ron [not his real name] who was both homosexual and married to a woman came to speak to us in a class on Gender and Sexuality. At the time, Leanne Payne, an author who writes about inner healing prayer, predominated my thinking about homosexuality. It was a result of brokenness. It could be, should be, healed. I said this to Ron in a small gathering of students. Ron, never defensive, invited me for coffee in the Regent atrium, where he shared his story. As a Christian, he had decided to try to be celibate, and he had married his wife who was disabled and whom he cared for. But he wanted Christians to understand something important: he didn’t choose homosexuality, any more than any one chooses heterosexuality. It was not something he could be healed of, any more than a heterosexual person could be healed of heterosexuality. He asked me a simple question which at the time dinged off my defenses, but which stayed with me over the years as I reflected on this issue. It was, “What did you think of the slide presentation by Dr. Hui?” Edwin Hui, MD, is a professor who taught on bioethical issues at Regent. He had nothing to say about his views on homosexuality and the Bible. He just showed slides of a variety of chromosomal combinations—way more than I thought possible– which could result in varying sexual orientations. Ding. I saw the slides, heard the question, but they were meaningless due to my armored belief that homosexuality was a result of wounds from childhood.
But I considered my theology at Regent to be incarnational. Meaning, embodied. I needed to know people, to encounter the people I discussed and thought about ethically. Those people would provide the needed lens to read the Bible well. So, I was choosing to live near Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside where my neighbors would teach me good theology by letting me get to know them. One of the people I met was Jan [not her real name], who had had sex change surgery a few years earlier. She had engaged in prostitution in the past and so I wanted to interview her for a paper I was writing on ministry to sex trade workers. She invited me to her Downtown Eastside apartment to talk. When I introduced myself, she smiled slyly and said Susan had been her street name. We became friends for a time. She was a warm extrovert who sometimes came off as a kindly uncle type; the deep voice couldn’t be diminished by hormones. She said even though she had to have the surgery to feel comfortable with herself, it wasn’t a perfect choice, not a perfect fit. It was a hard life, too. Jan came to church with me a few times, but wasn’t exactly readily accepted. And the church usually welcomed a variety of people—those with schizophrenia, with disabilities like obesity or brain damage, people with addictions. But sexuality was a different matter. They didn’t reject Jan, but they ignored her.
Small dent, you could say, in my defenses. I was learning through people like Paul and Jan who were living what I was discussing. Would Jan really have chosen to go through all she had? Or, could she have been healed if she had only had properly trained inner healing pray-ers? And, what if she didn’t want healing in the inner healing prayer way? That kind of prayer is intense even for long-time Christians. My usual answers were getting a little fuzzier, like those chromosomes on the slides.
After I graduated from Regent, I read the book, Middlesex, intrigued by the title and subject matter. In that book, I met more people; fictional, yes, but possible still, due to the research behind the book. The main character of the book, Cal, is a hermaphrodite due to a genetic condition known as 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. Cal lives as a girl through her teen years, as the condition brings out feminine traits. Her condition is eventually discovered by the medical establishment, and they attempt to do genital surgery on her which she evades by running away. Cal decides to live as a man in his new life. Meeting Cal brought those chromosomal slides to mind once again. Sexual variety can be a biological reality. I finally got it.
In the first years of a doctoral program in clinical psychology, I eventually learned about the brain’s plasticity in regard to sexuality. Sexuality is inborn; it is also learned and shaped through our experiences. So, I do not reject the idea that a man or woman could receive healing from experiences that shaped sexuality in unwanted ways, whether homosexual or heterosexual. That’s a reality, too.
Speaking of heterosexual, let’s name the elephant in the room. Heterosexual people, heterosexual Christians, many of whom who are vocal about the sinfulness of homosexuality, are only finding new ways to reshape heterosexuality in unhelpful ways. A thousand Christians were surveyed about pornography use in 2007; half of the men and 20 percent of the women confessed to a pornography addiction. In 2003, 30 percent of 6000 pastors surveyed confessed to having viewed porn in the previous month. And that was ten years ago; wonder what it’s like now?
Yet pornography viewing is no litmus test for ordination or Christian ministry. What people do in front of their own computers is kind of thought to be their own business, just by virtue of the fact that no one asks. Heterosexual sins just seem more “okay”, somehow, even though no one would condone them outright. But the tiny minority of people with other sexual orientations are often looked at as choosing to live in sin and so are inappropriate for ministry. Or are ignored if they show up at church and are obviously sexually different. That’s the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus liked to point out in the gospels.
Back to me. I am now living far from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, ten years hence. I live in a suburb where people tend to all look alike, on the surface anyway, and sexual orientation is not up for discussion. I continue to need to grow further in my incarnational theology by simply knowing people like Paul, Jan and Cal and hearing their stories. Can any of you help me by suggesting books to read or people to encounter?