I want to make an attempt to make sense of the recent discussions we have had about religion and the effect it had on our lives in many of the recent support group meetings for men who are gay or bi and have been married on involved with women.
How does one negotiate with God on what is acceptable when you realize that you have same-sex attractions? I have heard men at the support group meetings say that it is not God but the liturgy or teaching of their specific church that has negative opinions about homosexuality. I have watched men describe their effort to reconcile their growing understanding of who they are with religion. It is not easy.
I have met a number of men who found the support group, as they came to terms with their same-sex attraction, after a lifetime ensconced in a conservative religion. A number of men, as I did from a non-religious perspective, went through various programs or therapy for years to change from homosexuality, only to come out the other end unchanged, angry, and disillusioned.
Some men, as they come to terms with their same-sex attraction, begin to move away from their church or look for a more liberal branch of their religion. Some men leave religion entirely. Other men try to fit their religious beliefs with their growing acknowledgment that they are gay or bisexual or simply same-sex attracted.
I was fascinated by an article that a man in a recent support group meeting shared about the history of the word homosexuality in the modern bible, titled Has “Homosexual” always been in the Bible? The article pointed out that the original meaning of the words, now translated as homosexual, in the Bible was about men lying with boys. It was only in the 1900s with more recent translations that the word homosexuality appeared.
It was not religion or God that had me want to change from homosexuality. It was simply this: I did not want to live a life which in 1973 was described in the books I read like a sick, pathetic, existence. I wanted a family and a professional job. I did not want to live in a world where my attraction to men was seen as a perversion. When I was fourteen I tried to take my own life with medication found in my parent’s medicine cabinet. The drugs did not have their intended effect and I woke up the next morning groggy, but essentially fine. After that singular experience, I came out of it with a determination to live, but also with a strong desire to find a way to change from homosexuality.
Just like the mantras of religion, it took me many years to make sense of the early education I had gotten about what it meant to be gay. By the time I figured out that my perspective was bunk, I was married with a small child.
Part of my journey, a few years before I married, was the study of a philosophy that told me that I could change from homosexuality through the study of their philosophy. This group, I later learned, was a cult. After a few years of ‘study’, I left the group, but the words of the philosophy continued to play in my mind and guide my perspective. Because I had gotten great value from my experience with the philosophy, even though I had not changed, I tried to think through what part of the group’s teaching was true and what was not true. I have seen men coming to the support group do the same parsing of their religion with their new perspective and trying to bring it all together into a perspective that they could live with.
It was not until five years after leaving the group, in the early part of my marriage, that I read Steven Hassan’s Combating Cult Mind Control. His book opened my eyes to how a cult operates and I could see clearly that the philosophy I had been part of was a cult. The strictures of the group began to drop away. I began to see clearly how strongly the words of the group had persisted in my mind and how I continued to interpret the world, five years after leaving the group, through the eyes of the philosophy. I am not trying to equate religion to a cult but I do believe that many of the more conservative branches of all religions have cult-like aspects.
Does the religion shun you when you leave or come out as different in some way from the religion’s teachings? Cults do that. Does the religion encourage you to break ties with family and friends who do not see the world the same way the religion does? Cults do that too.
However one thinks about religion, it is hard to walk away from something you have loved, cared about, been ensconced in, and studied for much of your life. How do you make sense of it all and put it together with the reality that you have same-sex attractions? How do you differentiate your religion from your personal faith and how does that intersect with your same-sex attraction?
This subject has been a vibrant topic in recent support group meetings and there is no easy or right answer. It is a topic that men coming to the support group continues to struggle with.