Exodus Part 2: Overhaul

The first part of this post is here. The final part will be published tomorrow.

I’m not a Freudian, so I don’t believe that every human interaction is secretly about sex. But a straight man, being straight, treats women differently from how he treats men. He instinctually reacts to women in one way, and to men in another. And a gay man reacts to both men and women differently from the way a straight man does.

Sexual attraction is the flower, not the root, of who we are as men and women. In other words, sexual attraction is not an isolated part of experience, but is tied to (and maybe resultant from) the way we interact with men and women in general: how we feel about them, what we believe about them, what we believe that they believe about us, what we expect from them, what we expect them to expect from us. It ain’t simple.

So if there is such a thing as orientation change, it would have to involve something like a total overhaul of the way a human being relates to other human beings. But, leaving aside the question of whether such an overhaul is possible, is it even desirable? In my experience, the answer is “Yes — sometimes — to an extent — depending on the person — probably.”

If there’s nothing wrong with the way a person relates to other people, then there’s nothing to heal, nothing to cure. But what I’ve seen over and over again, in my readers, in the men I’ve met in support groups, in various autobiographical accounts, and most of all in myself, is a deep and abiding relational brokenness. I’m talking about men who are scared of other men; who feel judged and excluded by them; who instinctually consider themselves different from, less than, and separate from other men; who feel that they have no place within the community of men.

That’s a very big deal. I don’t know (and I don’t believe anybody does know) the precise relationship between homosexuality and this kind of disenfranchisement from masculinity. I don’t know whether the disenfranchisement causes the homosexuality, or vice versa, or whether they are both caused by some third thing.

I also don’t know whether homosexuality is always accompanied by this deep sense of disenfranchisement, or only sometimes. I do know that it doesn’t work both ways: which is to say, gay men often feel disenfranchised, but not all disenfranchised men are gay. I know plenty of guys less secure in their masculinity than I am who would nevertheless much rather see Eva Green in a bathing suit than Daniel Craig.1

I believe that, if orientation change is at all possible, it will have everything to do with addressing this disenfranchisement. Does that mean that the re-enfranchised gay man will stop being attracted to men and start being attracted to women instead? I don’t know. I doubt that this will always happen, and if it does happen, I doubt that it will happen thoroughly.2

But regardless of whether it happens, surely this disenfranchisement is a great evil, and if we can do anything to heal it, we should! There have been few lacks that I’ve felt more keenly than the lack of masculine community, and few blessings greater than the experience of that community. The knowledge that so many men still exist without every having experienced that community, and yet still long for it with an ache that is all but physical, is with me daily.

This is, if not the sole reason for this blog, at least the primary one. The brokenness I’ve seen among gay men is a brokenness I saw first in myself, but myself as I was ten years ago. Somehow I’ve found my way out of it, at least partly, and I want to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for anyone on the same path.

To be concluded tomorrow.

1 Sorry, I just really like that movie.
2 My belief that it happens at all is based mainly on my own experience.



11 Comments on “Exodus Part 2: Overhaul”

  1. Brad says:

    You make an excellent point, as always.

    However, where you say,

    “a straight man, being straight, treats women differently from how he treats men… And a gay man reacts to both men and women differently from the way a straight man does.”

    I see both a truth and a flaw.

    We can indeed observe by two men of differing sexualities that they do react differently to either gender – but who can really say that their deepest feelings are seperate when one cannot experience what the other feels? Even one who experiences both attractions would not understand either as their feelings are not isolated as the others are.

    In discussions with SSA, there always seems to be either too much emphasis on the differences between straight and gay people, or inversely, too much emphasis on the similarities between straight and gay people.
    I have always found the similarities and differences to be equal in their pressure in my own relations with people, and I believe that is a large reason why this disenfranchisement is there at all.

    It’s the ever-existing battle between unshakable similarities, and unshakeable differences. But I always find that when a balance between the two are met (catering for/accepting/persevering/etc. through differences while forming/uniting/reinforcing/etc. similarities) is when I find myself at peace with it all.

    Always, I find this peace through following God’s will and commandments. And at this present moment in my life where God has granted me peace and consolation in myself, I feel a greater call to being the man I was born to be. Although I know not what I am being called to yet, I find myself inside growing to further acceptance of my different disposition, and also a reinforcement to live out my life as what God has made me: a man – to the point where I even find myself less prone to think of males sexually and slightly more inclined to wanting to be in a relationship with a female.

    Of course, these things are not strong enough to act upon. Perhaps there never will be. An orientation overhaul most likely will never happen- and I sort of almost prefer it that way.

    Whether God plans for me consecrated life, priesthood, single life, or even married life – I will forever be able to testify my position. I believe this cross is equally a gift God has given to have experienced being on the fringes of both genders to such a degree that love can flow quickly for any who experience loss, loneliness, or isolation.

    But God has for each a unique path – and this is also true to those with same sex attraction.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to say that homosexual attraction can be equated to heterosexual attraction – if it is the fear of having a homosexual attraction in the first place that is causing one to be disenfranchised. Of course it is different too.

    I think, largely, we need to just surrender ourselves to God evermore. It’s a situation that can not be rationalised, because it is beyond the rational – only God can help each person individually with their trials, so what we should be doing is helping people with SSA to learn how to surrender to God, and surrendering our aid to God’s will.

  2. Sarah says:

    You’ve said before that female homosexuality is a whole different beast than male sexuality, so I’m just speaking of my experience as a pretty disenfranchised straight woman for the sake of offering a (kind of long) point of view.

    I have never, ever been able to form strong bonds with women. Even with seven sisters and a very feminine mother, I don’t really understand other women, and have found myself unable to meet the emotional needs of the female friends I do have. I often feel lesser than and rejected by my female peers.

    I do have a couple female friends, but my close relationships are almost exclusively male. I relate to them better, for one thing. When I was younger, I thought that this was mainly circumstantial, because I was home schooled and most of the kids my age in my youth groups and church were boys. I thought that when I went to an all-girls boarding school, I would have the opportunity to make girl friends, but the divide between me and other girls just became more obvious. It was very hard for me to feel so outside of them.

    There was a point that a rumor went around among my school mates that I was lesbian. At certain times, my parents asked me if I was. And yes, disenfranchisement or fear of other members of your own sex is often associated with homosexuality, so I wondered myself sometimes why I *wasn’t* attracted to women, since I fit the bill in a lot of other ways.

    Perhaps because I *am* straight, I don’t see my disenfranchisement in quite as negative terms as you do. I don’t see it as “evil” so much as inconvenient and frustrating. Being a straight person who would like to get married, I am looking for a bond with a man that would be deeper than any bond I’d have with a woman, even if I related to women normally. Therefore, a disconnect with men would be more painful for me than my current disconnect with women. I imagine– and correct me if I’m wrong– that a gay man’s disconnect from men would feel similar.

    All the same, my inability to understand and empathize with other women has always bothered me. I am somewhat scared of them, and scared of being judged by them for being unable to be the kind of feminine they think I should be.

    Men also seem to have a hard time thinking of me as a “girl.” I’m not cute or sweet or pretty or flirtatious in the ways most men seem to want me to be. It really hurts when men say things like, “C’mon, Sarah, you’re not a GIRL-girl,” even though they usually mean that as a compliment. It’s very painful when it’s a boy you like saying those things, because you know they’ll never want you. I don’t want to be “one of the guys.” I am a girl, and I want to be a girl, and I want to be looked at like a girl.

    Melinda Selmys has written a lot of really great and edifying things about femininity and how its too great to be fit in a mold of cultural standards.

    I try to remind myself of that, and also try to understand and sympathize with other women without thinking of them as silly and shallow and strange, yet at the same time, superior to me in their very womanhood. But I also have to learn to be satisfied with certain parts of myself. It’s a process.

    Anyway. Great post, Steve. This just happened to resonate with me because I do feel disenfranchisement, even without being male, and without being gay.

    1. Rivka says:

      Sarah, i feel a little like you. In my case its actually the result of my aspergers since us “aspergirls” tend not to be typical women. (brain research shows that aspies brains are somewhat androgynous)
      an author, rudy simone, in her book Aspergirls tells about obsessively pursuing a boy (she was 12) After she’d been obsessively chasing him for months he said “You’re not a girl-I don’t know what you are!”

      most of my “romantic” encounters have been of the creepy guy at the bus stop type.

      however, the friendship with my male best friend has meant so much to me, that i am grateful to God for sending this person even if it will always be in a non-romantic context.
      And loneliness melts as I grow in union with God’s Will.

  3. Christine says:

    I also have trouble in the “romantic” department. I don’t have Asperger’s, but I think in my case it’s due to problems with my father in my childhood. I can count on one hand the number of boys/men who have been interested in me throughout my entire life (including during middle school), and some of those were definitely creepy. I also have trouble making friends with people of both sexes.

    Sarah, I know what you mean about how hard it is to have a man you like tell you you’re “not a GIRL-girl.” A good friend of mine, and someone I sometimes wish wanted to be more than friends, once told me that the reason men weren’t attracted to me was that I am “too much of a friend and not enough of a woman.”

    Rivka, I too have a male best friend who means a lot to me. In some ways I am relieved that my friendship with him will always be in a non-romantic context because that takes some of the pressure off and gives me the chance to work through my issues as a single woman instead of bringing them into a romantic relationship. God has brought so much healing into my life through him.

  4. California Jack says:

    Brad, that was great, thank you.

  5. Nikki says:

    Amazing! How different we are only shows how much the same we remain. God created us all equally in His image. What a testimony you are Steve by the diverse group of people you bring together here. I am a straight, married, Catholic woman with an actively gay son a few years younger than you Steve. And I relate to this post and the comments as in my past I felt the disenfranchisement being an aspie girl.

    As to my son, I can see him in what you say. He’s never had so-called “manly” friendships and now I understand more a comment he made recently about being “one of the girls” which puzzled me at the time.

  6. Sarah says:

    Thank you to Christine and Rivka. It’s really nice to be reminded that I’m not the only one who feels this way. :)

    I also have a best male friend who has really, really helped me a lot and takes me with my issues– and even likes me better because of some of the things I wish I could change about myself. But he was also one of the people who innocently said something hurtful like, “Basically you’re like a guy in a girl’s body.” Talk about heartbreak.

  7. Ignacio says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for your post. Do you have any experience with courage? I am mulling going to their conference but am terrified/not sure what I will get out of it.

    Thanks!

  8. Mark from PA says:

    What you said about feeling disenfranchised from other men struck I chord with me. That is how I feel I suppose. I come from a different place. As a pre-teen I felt very attracted to girls. I thought girls were so cool and wasn’t interested in guys. Girls were pretty and guys were just kind of there. When I was a teen I didn’t really develop a sexual attraction to girls. I liked them but my feelings about them didn’t really change from when I was younger. When I was about 16 I started to feel different and liked guys more. I remember thinking that “girlie” magazines were disgusting and sinful. However when I was 18 years old and saw pictures of naked guys in a book I felt something different. I didn’t know why I felt like that. It was confusing to me. I didn’t feel all that comfortable around groups of guys (except for my classmates and younger guys) and I think it fits in with the feelings that you discuss here. When I read what other guys have felt I realize that we are all somewhat different, not only from other guys but also from some other gay guys. No all gay guys are the some so you can’t really stereotype but I think what you say about the feeling of being different from other guys and a sense of separation from them holds true. So I agree almost 100% with what you have said here.

  9. Trey says:

    Reading this post (and several others on this site) and comments today have been very fruitful for me to gain a better perspective of how many different experiences people have regarding their sexuality. I too struggle with my sexual identity and have my whole life. The one major thing however that I have not read (so far  ), is the major factor that sin plays in all of this. Not personal sin, but sin as it may be passed down from one generation to the next. Any behavior that is not in harmony with God’s creative love and life is by its very nature “unlove” and “unlife” and there are immediate and long term consequences (cause/effect) of such behavior. This behavior’s effects are not isolated and they are not simply environmental (= only effect the immediate things around us) but they become “ingrained” into our very DNA and get passed along from one generation to the next. Sin causes discord and disharmony.
    It seems to me there needs to be a distinction between accepting myself “for who I am” and “how God originally created/designed me to be.” We should want to be “in line”/ “in harmony with” as much as possible to what God originally created man/woman to be because anything outside of this is participating in disharmony and a pulling away from God. Even if we can’t help how we feel or who we are attracted to, we must always strive to be in harmony while at the same time accept the crosses we must bear in life.
    We should, in the light of God’s love for us, in our brokenness (whether this brokenness was caused by others, was passed down unto us, or was our own doing), acknowledge that maybe my sexuality and sexual desires are part of that disharmony that sin causes in the world. We have no problem seeing the correlation between a drug addict with AIDS getting pregnant and passing AIDS onto her baby, or how someone who drinks and smokes while pregnant may cause birth defects in their baby, but can’t seem to believe that maybe our sexual orientations may also be negatively affected by sin in the world from previous generations. Just as we wouldn’t blame the baby who is born with AIDS or birth defects for their conditions, so we shouldn’t blame ourselves if our orientation is not perfectly in tune with what God intended.
    However we should be able to be honest and acknowledge that maybe there is disorder involved in our sexual orientations rather than simply accepting them as normal. We should not equate our sexual orientation with who we are, but always see it as either trying to be “in harmony” with God or “causing disharmony”. Like the baby born with birth defects will have to “live with” their defects their whole life, sometimes maybe some of us will have to “live with” the defects in our sexual orientation (rather than try and rationalize that maybe this defect is good). The babies born with AIDS or with birth defects still have to live, for the rest of their lives, with their disorder, but that does not make them any less loved by God. It is the truth that will set us free (truth that is united with God’s intimate love for each one of us). I hope I am making sense here. I just feel that there is too much emphases on trying to see a sexual orientation that is not perfectly in line with God’s will that “the two become one flesh (man and a woman)” as being ok, acceptable, or even good.

  10. Mark from PA says:

    Trey. I am trying to understand what you are saying. I don’t think be “gay” is “brokenness”. You speak of our orientation not being in tune with what God intended but perhaps for some people having a gay orientation is what God intended. If God didn’t intend for some people to be gay then gay people wouldn’t exist. So a person being gay may very well be in line with God’s will. You seem to say that being born with a homosexual orientation is like being born with AIDS or a birth defect. But being gay isn’t really a disease or a defect. Gay people aren’t “defective people.” You say we shouldn’t blame ourselves but it seems that you appear to have some type of guilt over this and perhaps a feeling that being gay isn’t OK, acceptable or good. When you speak of sin being passed down from one generation to the next, I find this confusing. Do you seem to imply that being gay is some kind of divine punishment for the sins of one’s ancestors? I remember at Mass the priest telling us of when Jesus healed the blind man, people thought that the man was blind because of his parents’ sins. Back then people thought that sin caused illness but Christ told them that this wasn’t so. It makes no sense that a person would be gay because of sin, plus the fact that having a homosexual orientation isn’t a sin. More and more people are coming to the realization that gay people are good too.

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