Those of us who are gay, or in any sexuality or gender minority, all have different ways of feeling about it. For most us, the feeling changes in the course of our lifetime.
For some, it is something they hide even from themselves, a taboo part of themselves they don’t dare to look at.
For many, it is a guilty secret, an overpowering temptation they keep falling into and then beating themselves up about it. This is true of many people who are brought up in a strict religious tradition and have been taught that any kind of sex outside heterosexual marriage is sinful, and homosexuality is an abomination. For them, their sexuality is a road to self-hate.
As I was growing up, I never really believed God disapproved of me for my sexuality, but I knew the church disapproved, and as one with a firm feeling that I was meant to be a minister in the church I experienced my sexuality not as a guilty secret but as an embarrassing one, something no-one should be ever be allowed to find out. I also believed I dared not act upon it, but must resign myself to a celibate and lonely life. My Christian angle on it was that it was a cross I must bear.
More and more people today are quite happy about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or in various ways ‘queer’, and I’m glad to say I have joined them. The popular word is ‘proud’, which I suppose is the natural opposite of ‘ashamed’. I’m not sure I would think of myself as proud. After all, it’s not an achievement I can take credit for – it’s just the way I am. I suppose I could feel proud of coming out – that has been a kind of achievement and has taken a bit of courage. But then, I haven’t got much to be proud of in that either. I didn’t come out back in the days when it really needed a lot of courage. I came out when the social climate had made it easier and I knew I would get a lot of support. For me ‘happy’ or ‘glad’ is a better word than ‘proud’. Being gay is something to feel easy about, something that brings me pleasure and a lot of loving friends.
In the past few years I have come to see sexuality in another new light – as a calling or, perhaps a more religious word, a vocation. A calling is not necessarily easy. It can involve hard work, difficult situations and sometimes opposition. But it can also bring moments of pure joy, and whether the work is easy or hard it always brings satisfaction. You have the feeling that you are in the right place, doing what you are in the world to do. Someone has defined vocation as the place where your deepest delight meets other people’s deepest need. It is what you give to the world just by being your unique self.
This can certainly be said of LGBT people. We are not just here to stand up for our own rights. We are here to bring encouragement and support to those whose life is much harder than ours – people in countries where homosexuality is still criminalised, and people here in Britain who can still be driven to suicide by persecution and condemnation. We are here to stand up for their rights and help them to feel good about themselves.
But there is more to it than that. LGBT people have something distinctive to give to ‘straight’ society and to faith communities. We have had to struggle to come to terms with who we are, take the risk of sharing it with others, and discover the liberation and fuller life that results – surely something everyone needs to do in one way or another. We have learned how to be courageous in the face of prejudice and mockery. LGBT people often form close, mutually committed communities not based on the biological family, which, according to the New Testament, is surely what the church is meant to be. These communities at their best can set an example of understanding and solidarity with people who are very different from themselves.
I am sure there are other ways too in which LGBT people have experience and insights to offer to the world. Like all people with a vocation, none of us is a perfect role model. We can be lazy and selfish, we can be self-righteous, and sometimes we can fail badly, but if we just achieve a little bit of change in a few people’s lives the vocation is a privilege.