A few days ago, I was reading a Christian news article about gay people, and I came across this statement:
There are those who are struggling with same-sex attraction and are trying to not act on that and then there are those who are celebrating it, who are intentionally living that lifestyle and feeling accepted by God.
I hear stuff like this all the time. And there are a number of things about this statement that I want to examine, but today, let’s just look at the word “lifestyle.”
I. Hate. This. Word. I hate it soooo much, it—well, just ask Mrs. White. (Spoiler alert from the movie Clue.)
Don’t worry; if you accidentally say “gay lifestyle” around me, I’m not going to be mad at you or anything. I’m used to hearing it all the time from my fellow Christians. But it does irritate a lot of gay people, and I want to encourage you to find other words to express what you really mean.
Stop for a moment and imagine what a “gay lifestyle” would be like. Just close your eyes and—well, wait, don’t close your eyes if you’re reading this. But stop and think about what kind of images the phrase “gay lifestyle” conjures up for you. What does a “gay lifestyle” entail? How would someone living a “gay lifestyle” live?
What does that person look like? What are their primary interests? How do they spend their time?
Got your image? Now keep reading.
I don’t know about you, but most people seem to imagine a man—it’s usually a man unless a woman was specified—who spends his time working out, partying at gay nightclubs, drinking fruity alcoholic beverages, and seeking out numerous sexual partners who live similar lives.
This imaginary gay man’s life revolves almost entirely around sex: He has to work out and obsess over his appearance in order to attract sexual partners, whom he meets at the sexually-charged nightclubs where he dances with his shirt off—or perhaps in seedier locations like public restrooms or parks. But because both he and the other guy are always looking for the next hot sex partner, any “relationship” they might form is only a sham at its core, destined to fall apart as they age or when someone hotter comes along.
The one thing that gets this imaginary gay man really angry is when people try to suggest that his lifestyle is unhealthy. He rails against such suggestions, protesting and becoming politically active, but only in his own self-interest. Ultimately, it’s all about his sexual pleasure.
When most people describe a “gay lifestyle,” that’s the picture they paint.
Yes, that is a “lifestyle.” It’s a lifestyle of sexual addiction and escapism. And because it’s founded on self-centered pleasure-seeking rather than anything substantial (family, faith, the good of others, etc.), it’s ultimately hollow. It’s not sustainable, either; one day, that perfect body isn’t so perfect anymore. If your whole life has been built on nothing but sex and personal pleasure-seeking, what do you have to offer anyone else as you age?
So yes, it’s a lifestyle, but it’s not “the gay lifestyle.” It’s a stereotype.
Like most stereotypes, of course, there is a nugget of truth to it; I do know gay men who live that way. In fact, a number of the most prominent “ex-gay” leaders say they used to live that kind of lifestyle. In their minds, that really is “the gay lifestyle,” which is how they justify telling people that they’re no longer “gay” just because they stopped living that way—even though they’re still attracted to the same sex.
But see, there are also many straight people who live promiscuous lives based on sex and pleasure-seeking, and yet we would never call theirs a “straight lifestyle.” Why? Because we know that they don’t represent all straight people. They are a subset of straight people.
And the same is true for gay people. Not all gay people are male, for starters; there are plenty of gay women. Not all gay people drink, or go to clubs, or are self-centered, or like to dance, or work out, or are promiscuous, or even have sex at all. We’re all really different from each other.
So it’s frustrating that even gay-friendly comedians and entertainment media tend to re-use the joke that being gay means living a sex-and-party lifestyle. Yeah, I can laugh at the jokes too, but it’s really a harmful stereotype.
Being gay just means that some of us are attracted to the same sex and not the opposite sex. Some of us respond by being celibate; some eventually find someone to fall in love and settle down with. We live many different lifestyles, from monks to partiers.
There is no “gay lifestyle.” And when people use that phrase, however well-intentioned they may be, it reduces us to a stereotype. And that’s why we don’t like it.