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Joe's Question (excerpt)

I'm a senior in college and I feel like I'm in the middle of a mid-life crisis. I talked about this stuff to you guys a little while back.  Anyway, to refresh your memories, I basically decided I had to be gay about 10 years ago when I was in the sixth grade. I'm really beginning to wish I hadn't labeled myself so soon.  The whole concept of "change" or being helped with this condition seemed so radical, it hardly even occurred to me. 

I guess I need some feedback from people who are trying to change.  See you later.

Sonia's Response

Hi Joe, 

Iím another Bridger who experiences same-sex attractions as being in conflict with my understanding of God's intent for my life.  I've been strongly attracted to females since age 11, and still am 26 years later, although with some important differences that I will try to describe.  Although I've known Him since the age of 3, I began actively seeking healing in my personal identity and sexuality (whatever that all means) 17 years ago, having not experienced much romantically other than one relationship of several months as a teenager, and not knowing what "change" to expect, except to become more like Him in the fabric of who I am and the practicality of how I relate to others.  I lead Safe Passage, a group for strugglers that is associated with my church rather than Exodus, in existence since 1992. 

That's the general intro. 

I am struck by a number of things you have shared, and I agree with my  friend SteveS that *most* people in general feel terribly inadequate in one way or another, particularly during adolescence.

It seems that the passing of years continually sensitizes me to the quiet, almost secret struggles which most people face in their emergence as persons, a process which is incredibly difficult for anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.  Regarding this common human sense of inadequacy as men and women, I have sort of a unique perspective, having been raised by parents who grew up in Europe during WWII (father in Russia, mother in Germany).  Both were registered nurses, meeting and marrying in England and moving to the U.S. in 1957. 

My father was entirely heterosexual but was so gender atypical that people sometimes misunderstood him.  This was an era in which male R.N.s were assumed to be gay, and in which the cooking and nurturing activities he shared with my mother probably would not have been understood as they truly were: a spontaneous expression of tender love towards my mother (for she worked long hours) and towards my brother and me.  He had suffered so much as a POW in concentration camp that his love was entirely without pretense or fear, and his nursing career flowed out of a joy in caring for other people.  (And he was so extraordinary at it that when he passed away in 1982, a special mass was held for him, an unheard-of event in that hospital since he was not Catholic.) 

If the misunderstandings of the 1950's and 60's hurt him, it was only a momentary disappointment, for his sense of himself as a man transcended any cultural stereotype.  Indeed, he was neither mechanically inclined nor did he enjoy sports, other than an occasional international soccer match.  To me he was totally a "Real" man-- with an awesome inner strength, courage, integrity, and perseverence.  Other men revered him, and my mother, quite virtuous in her own right, absolutely cherished him and basked in his love.  They also had a genuine friendship, and I learned a *lot* about medicine growing up, an interest I hold to this day, even though for my career I chose Physics instead.  Therefore, I have the great fortune of being a gender-atypical woman whose interests in skateboards, weightlifting, war games, motorcycles, welding, astronomy and electronics not only didn't freak my parents out, but received their genuine encouragement for my adventures of learning and growth.  Their appreciation for me transcended cultural roles, which in my opinion are artificial caricatures that have nothing to do with the mysteries of God's image revealed in Genesis 2. 

The thing I am beginning to express in a roundabout way is that I am struck and saddened at what you relate of feeling inferior to other guys and that there is some feeling that your lack of interest in sports is a deficiency with regards to wholeheartedly sharing "Manhood" with other men.  But this is where my "gender identity" journey relates.  For you see, my parents's responses were not the only ones which influenced me-- there were the school teachers in a private preschool who were horrified by my lack of "femininity" and who punished me severely (emotionally and physically).  Because of my parents' loving example, I became all the more determined to not succumb to a dishonest way of being, but because of their introvertedness and quietness, they never knew the extent to which I endured such challenges throughout those years.  And perhaps those reactions of traditionalistic but well-meaning teachers were not without a trigger in something they recognized in me, for admittedly I did have a pre-existing mind-body conflict with my femininity which is difficult to describe, other than a sense (from about the age of 2 or so, according to my mother) that I was not female, that I was a male trapped in a female body.  Whether environmental or innate (as in, hormonal events during gestation) in origin, I do not know and cannot assume one way or the other.  Suffice it to say, this is *not* a typical experience for people to go through, gay or straight, but my depth struggles with this have caused me to painstakingly sort out what is God-given from what is humanly-imposed with respect to gender identity. 

In particular, I have the strong conviction that being interested in sports or mechanical things is not an essential part of His vision of true Masculinity (or conversely that being interested in social or fashion things is not an essential part of His vision of true Femininity), and many echo this thought while still struggling to believe it from the heart-- that is, unless they have experienced the privilege of knowing of diverse, wholesome examples of healthy men.  But I recognize how difficult it is in this country for boys to emerge into manhood (even more so than girls into womanhood), because of what I call, for lack of better expression, as I have not heard others talk about it, a psychology of "Affirmation by Denial".  That is, when I am near groups of adolescent boys (from when I was that age and things I see on the street), it seems that the basis for being recognized as a worthy Dude is that one is "not weak" or "not a sissy", "not a fag".  This is very different from affirmation based upon the *presence* of virtuous traits, like being "brave", "strong", "confident" etc.  I always noticed in the boys this constant dread of being "found out" to be lacking, rather than a healthy, positively-directed striving to emerge and be, like, "totally awesome"  :)  Of course, a positively-directed affirmation of one's goodness as a male is one of the most treasured gifts a father can pass along to his son, so I don't want to underestimate how painful it would be for you or anyone to not experience such a connection. 

Back to my journey.  Recognizing that my "male trapped in female body" dissonance was probably not a healthy thing and that it had been further cemented by sexual molestations I experienced outside of familiy from ages 7-15, I wholeheartedly sought the Lord with the question, "what does it mean to *be* female?"  I had the sense that He did not want me to act upon my same-sex attractions, but more essentially I recognized there were deeper issues to work on, beginning with trust, intimacy and gender identity .  This would be my encouragement to you-- to seek Him as to which issues to address first, for I sense that personal identity is an important one to address, something which may not necessarily be synonymous with same-sex attractions.  It's all inter-related, but when I found myself overwhelmed in those early years, I found it tremedously helpful to be able to say, "okay... one thing at a time.  I know I've been wounded by sexual abuse and by early rejection from significant females in my life, so I know I can at least work on that."  And amazingly, as I processed through all the anger, bereavement, fear of vulnerability, pain at violation, etc., I found my gender identity changing as well, despite the fact which I shared earlier that the dissonance had long preceeded those particualar wounds. 

Over a period of years, I experienced a series of interventions from God-- heavenly encounters of glorious tenderness and beauty.  During those encounters He imparted to me certain transcendent realities (sort of like visions but not exactly) that provided me with a foundation for being a woman!  True gender identity is so much more solid than any stereotypes of action or appearance, that once receiving these impartations from Him, I could never settle for caricatures to bolster my sense of being female.  Again, I do not know whether this healing I experienced is a miraculous filling-in of a developmental task I never completed, or if it is a miraculous healing of an innate structural characteristic of brain which was set at some critical gestational stage in the womb.  But it is marvelous to me, and though I am still very actively growing (identity-wise) in my particular God-given womanhood, I take intrinsic joy in my "femaleness" every day.  And I sense His profound  pleasure in my unique (culturally atypical) expression of it, as He has confirmed repeatedly this very thing along with His compassion for the difficulty finding my way in such unfamiliar territory. 

The oddest thing is, while I have only occasional flashes of opposite-sex attraction (that waxes and wanes and is only occasional, but surprising to me nonetheless) my sexual orientation has actually "changed" only in the following sense, going from "male trapped in female body sexually attracted to females" to "female at home in a female body sexually attracted to females".  This is why I say that sexual orientation and gender identity are inter-related but not synonymous.  I must also emphasize that experiences are quite variable, with some people like myself having undiminished attractions towards the same sex, and others experiencing significant shifts from little or no oga to strong oga, and/or from strong sga to little or no sga.  So where does all this leave me now?  Despite a lot of prayer and searching, I am still not off the hook, as my heart and spirit tell me that marriage and/or sexual intimacy with a female would be outside of His creative intent for me, and I relate to Randy's experience of Him, compassionately and with unconditional love for who we are, drawing me away from a kind of sexual expression of which He is not ashamed at us for experiencing but which somehow is not His ultimate desire for us to embrace.  The bottom line is that I seek to honour and serve Him every day, becoming transformed according to His character and loving others more as He does.  His love for us is so much more important than our theologies "about" Him (John 14:6). 

As sidenote from reading the conversation so far, I shy away from either the label of "ex-gay" or "gay celibate" as neither is universally understood in meaning, the former having a negative focus and implying a change which may or may not have occured from a status one may or may not have identified with, and the latter implying (at least to most of the cC's I know) a theological stance which one may not hold, despite being at peace with the existence of same-sex (or other for that matter) attractions that one cannot act upon.  I agree with SteveS that if (and based upon my cC readings it is very tenuously "if") gay really *is* synonomous with "same-gender attracted" then I will comfortably adopt that term, because the existence of sexual feelings of whatever direction is never itself disappointing to God, it is whether we respond to them in the way our hearts are convicted He is calling us to.  I agree with Randy that the essential defining characteristic is not so much what attractions I experience (although that's descriptive and important, yet not ultimately defining)-- what's important is how I respond to the convictions He has given to me, whether I seek to follow Him with all of my heart.  Therefore, until I know I'm not needlessly confusing or offending people, I will continue to refer to myself as a "woman who's madly in love with Jesus while experiencing same-gender attractions which to act upon she believes would not be His will", or, for brevity,  "sga struggler".  Both Randy's and Steve's references to Matthew 5:1-12 "blessed are the poor in spirit" resonate deeply with me, for they go to the core of being "known" intimately by God.  And intimacy has so much to do with being, at a heart level, "naked and unashamed" (Genesis 2, John 15).  This is the joy which sustains me amid the challenges I face. 

I hope this lengthy tome wasn't too convoluted, and that you find inspiration for seeking Him in a substantial way that releases the fulness of all who you are as a human being beloved by Him.  And may you, as Steve has encouraged, "involve yourself with people who will love you and nurture you."  No matter how your journey unfolds, may our dear Lord and Saviour impart to you an intimate knowledge of His abiding, tender, unconditionally embracing, and gloriously radiant love. 

With warm regards... the madscientist... Sonia

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