Stephen Measure

On Identity
June 18, 2014

Alternate title: A plea for my allies to please stop shooting themselves in the foot.

I want to elaborate on something I said in my post last week about stewardship. In that post I indicated it was a problem for those who oppose same-sex marriage to make statements such as "gay men should be celibate." Can you see why it's unhelpful to word the situation in that way? If you can't, let me explain: The problem is that when you make statements like that, you're making an assumption about identity and are limiting people who struggle against same-sex attraction to only two choices: celibacy or not. But those two choices do not actually reflect what is at issue in this conflict. The issue is whether or not people resist their same-sex attraction. That's it. Sometimes the things we say make it appear we are asking for something very different than we actually are.

It all comes down to identity. Who are we? What defines us? Are we men and women, or are we something else? And is the way we identify others helpful or harmful to them? Does it accurately reflect their potential, or does it artificially limit their choices?

Look at it like this: Would we ever say, "liars should be mute"? Of course not. We wouldn't say that because we know better than to identify people based solely on the action of lying. Instead, we would say that people should not tell lies. We would say that people should tell the truth. Can't you see the difference? Do not identify people based on their preferred sin. Don't fall victim to the trap of preaching against people. (And yes, it is a trap. See my story "The Unneeded Panic Room".) Sin is not who we are. Attraction is not who we are. Do not debase others in that way. Don't fall victim to the appeal of short noun phrases that give a distorted picture of reality. Take the time to accurately explain your point of view.

I know that the loudest voices in society today are shouting that attraction defines us, but understand this: They are wrong. Step outside of emotion, step outside of social pressure, and think. Does the claim that attraction defines us actually match the reality of human behavior? Go back ten years, go back a hundred, a thousand, two thousand, go back more, and ask yourself: do people really fit into such tidy little categories that we can appropriately divide them as "gay" or "straight"; or do those labels oversimplify a more flexible truth? Do those labels obscure the possibility inherent in each of us and unnaturally cut us off from a potential that could otherwise have been reached?

Now look forward fifty years. Do you honestly expect that a complete lack of direction about attraction today won't cause a shift in the attractions indulged in the rising generations? How could that be? What other personal attributes do we assume are immune to all outside influence? With what else are we so cavalier? What is it about sexual attraction that makes us think it is less malleable than everything else? Is it magic?

Of course it's not magic. It's subject to outside influence, just like everything else about us. And one of those outside influences, a harmful idea preached by many, is the idea that attraction is who we are, that it's a permanent thing about us, and that it will bloom in a predefined manner even if the world is turned upside down. Believing this incorrect idea causes many to cut themselves off from a better potential, cramming themselves into a box created by their self-imposed label instead of opening the lid and standing at their full height.

I see the topic of identity as so critical to the conflict over same-sex attraction that I wrote a book about it: "The River Is Always Waiting". In this novel the attraction the main character struggles against was chosen specifically to demonstrate why we should never identify others (or ourselves) based on attraction. We need to think about what we're saying. We need to realize that attraction is not who we are, and that it never justifies improper actions.

At times I've been asked why I put so much effort into writing about same-sex attraction and why I'm so intent on persuading people to my point of view. Oh, there are multiple reasons, but the best explanation can be expressed in a single word: uncertainty. I have no idea how I would end up, were I being raised today. No amount of activism, no amount of studies, no amount of "expert" opinions can make me unsee the flexibility I see within myself. Perhaps you see it within yourself as well; but if not, know that it is there. If there is anything uncommon about me in this regard, it is only awareness.

And so, I compare my own uncertainty against the unthinking assumption that we just magically emerge in a predetermined state; and, seeing such widespread naivety throughout society, how can I stay silent? Whether I succeed or I fail, how can I not at least try?

And that's why I'm encouraging thoughtfulness in how we talk about this. Just like we don't say "liars should be mute", we need to stop saying "gays should be celibate". Instead, we should say what we really mean: Everyone should resist their same-sex attraction. Same-sex sexual intimacy is wrong, no matter how much you wish to engage in it or what emotions you've attached to it. Those are the messages we should be sharing. If you oppose same-sex marriage, then identifying people based on attraction is like shooting yourself in the foot. If you are my ally in this conflict of viewpoints, please stop hurting the effort through friendly fire. Attraction does not define us. Please stop talking like it does.

Of course, many will disagree with what I'm saying. The idea that attraction is who we are is at the core of some of the most vocal (and at times most vicious) politics in society today. Indeed, the advocacy for same-sex marriage is utterly dependent upon it. Expect intense push back. But, just as with the invisible finery of the Emperor, this mass delusion only works if we all play along; so I'm standing here today and stating clearly: The Emperor has no clothes!


(If you agree with this post or are at least open minded about it, then I recommend you read my story "The Unneeded Panic Room" and my novel "The River Is Always Waiting". It's easy for me to tell you these things in a blog post, but it's more effective for me to show you them through story.)

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