Questions from Christians #4: “Why do you have to tell people you’re gay? Can’t you keep it in the bedroom?”

Photo by alex_ford on flickr

Part 4 in my series of questions Christians ask about gay people.

Today’s question is suuuuuuper common, and gay people hear it in a lot of different ways:

  • “Why do you have to let people know you’re gay?”
  • “Isn’t your sexuality a private matter?”
  • “Can’t you keep it in the bedroom? I don’t tell people about my sexual preferences.”
  • “What you do behind closed doors is none of my business. I don’t need to know!”
  • “Why do you have to flaunt your sexuality?”

Celibate gay Christians get this question, too, and for them, it often sounds like this:

  • “Why do you have to tell people about your sexuality if you’re celibate?”
  • “Why do your sexual attractions matter if you’re not having sex?”

All of these questions are basically asking the same thing, and all of them make the same mistake:

They mistakenly think that being gay is about sex. It’s not.

If we were talking about what someone likes in bed, then I’d agree. If you like whips and chains, or if you fantasize about dressing up in superhero costumes with your wife, that’s information I don’t really need to have. That’s what you like in bed.

Photo by djwudi on flickr

But being gay isn’t what I like in bed. Being gay, like being straight, has to do with much more: how my brain is wired, how I relate to men and to women, and who I will or won’t fall in love with. My sexual feelings are a part of that, but only a part.

In fact, straight people talk about being straight all the time! In many cases, I know someone is straight after only one conversation—often within a few minutes of meeting them.

One of my favorite webcomic artists is Drew Mokris, of Left-Handed Toons and Spinnerdisc. I’ve never met him, and I know very little about his life. But I know he has a dog, and I know he’s straight. How do I know? Because when he got married the other day, he publicly posted this sweet save-the-date animation he had made months earlier:

Cute, right? I don’t know about you, but it made me smile.

It’s a love story, not about politics or what he likes in bed. But it’s also about being straight, isn’t it? In fact, every time a straight person mentions an opposite-sex significant other (whether it’s someone they’re with now or someone they hope to meet in the future), they’re letting me know they’re straight.

By contrast, if a gay person had posted this video about two guys or two girls, I can pretty much guarantee there would have been comments accusing them of flaunting their sexuality or telling them they should keep it in the bedroom. With a straight couple, we assume it’s about love, but with a gay couple, we assume it’s about sex.

It’s about more than relationships, though. The truth is, we all want to be known for who we are, and our orientation is a big part of that.

Straight readers: Suppose a rumor began circulating that you’re gay, even though you aren’t. And suppose your family, friends, coworkers, church, and acquaintances all began to believe the rumor. Would you correct them? How long would you let them believe you’re gay before you felt the need to tell the truth? A straight man named Tim Kurek pretended to be gay for a year as part of an experiment. Would you last that long? Would you let it go for ten years? Your entire life?

Most people wouldn’t feel comfortable pretending to be gay for even a day. We want people to know us for who we really are, and when they believe something about us that isn’t true, we feel distant from them. It’s natural to want them to know the truth.

But let’s say you did decide to keep your heterosexuality a secret from everyone in your life. How would you do it?

You couldn’t ever mention your spouse or significant other in public. You certainly couldn’t wear a wedding ring—too many questions. You couldn’t have pictures of your family at work. When current events affecting gay people came up in conversation, you’d have to pretend they affected you even though they don’t. (Closeted gay people have to do the opposite.) If your spouse was sick or injured and you had to leave work early to take them to the hospital, you couldn’t tell anyone why. When people tried to set you up on dates with others of the same sex, or casually mentioned that so-and-so is “hot,” or asked “Have you met any nice [boys/girls] yet?”, you’d have to invent excuses or change the subject.

And that’s just for starters. If I included all the ways your life would have to change, this blog post would be so long that no one would read it.

If you wanted to pretend to be gay, it wouldn’t just be a matter of not bringing the subject up; you’d have to deliberately deceive people. That’s what gay people have to go through every day until they decide to let people know they’re gay. Everyone assumes we’re straight, and until we correct them, there’s a wall of deception between them and us.

When we come out publicly as gay, it’s because we don’t want to have that wall. We don’t want to lie. And we don’t want to live every day worrying about what you’ll do when you find out—because we know the truth will come out eventually, and we’d rather be the ones to tell you instead of letting you hear something through the rumor mill.

One final point…

So what about those single, celibate gay folks? If they don’t have significant others to hide, why does their orientation even matter?

I can think of two big reasons right away.

One reason is that orientation, like gender, affects a lot about a person besides their sexuality. If you’ve ever been the only man in a roomful of women, or the only woman in a roomful of men, you know that being male or female gives you a different perspective on many things. So when I tell you I’m male, I’m not making a statement about what’s in my pants; I’m telling you something about who I am—something that affects how I experience the world and how I’ll relate to you.

The same thing is true of my orientation. Even if I never go on a single date, just being gay means I’m wired differently and my experience of the world is going to be different than if I were straight. Keeping that secret would be like trying to hide my masculinity from you. You would never really know me.

The second reason is that by coming out, we can save others from a lot of pain. This is a controversial subject in the world right now, and many people are hurting because of misunderstandings about gay people. When gay people come out—especially those who defy stereotypes—it’s a way of humanizing the issue and helping people understand. If you know I’m gay, maybe you’ll be more prepared to support your nephew or best friend when he comes out as gay. And when I come out as gay and Christian, maybe your nephew or best friend will have someone to look to as a role model, to know that he doesn’t have to leave his faith behind because of what he’s experiencing.

Even if that were the only reason to come out, I’d say it’s worth it.

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