By Joe Perez
Nobody's spiritual journey is charted by a straight line from perdition to salvation. There are always surprises along the way. In recent years, a new type of spiritual path has burst onto the scene, one filled with queer curves and loops. It's the path of the "Gay Turned Straight".
Who is the "Gay Turned Straight"? They can be easily spotted because they always tell their spiritual story with six major plot twists:
1. A confused young man (and usually the story involves a man, though not always) decides he is homosexual. He comes out of the closet as gay. The step is always perceived at the time as liberating, a positive movement of self-affirmation and self-acceptance.
2. The young man plunges headlong into an "active homosexual lifestyle," by which he very often means an extreme version of the urban gay subculture, not unlike what is caricatured on TV with shows such as Queer as Folk. Pornography, sexual addiction, and excesses of every sort are not uncommon.
3. The young man grows tired of all the problems he believes are inherent in such a lifestyle: its shallowness, vanity, recklessness, and so forth. Thus he begins to sink into self-pity, usually around the same time his heterosexual peers are settling down into seemingly happy marriages with children.
4. In a bold leap of logic and breaking with convention, the young man blames homosexuality itself for all his life's woes. He becomes a "Gay Turned Straight". In his own mind, the problem isn't that he is behaving sinfully, Nor is the problem created by a small subculture of the adults-only lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, forged as it is in a climate of hostile homophobia. In an artful act of pure psychological projection, the Gay Turned Straight concludes that the problem is with gayness as such. Homosexuality, he concludes, is an evil.
5. The young man converts to ___ (insert dogmatic, conservative religion or philosophy here) which emphasizes guilt and strict obedience to clearly defined gender and sexual roles. His new worldview provides a sense of order, meaning, and security in a time when he is up to his ears in misused freedom and existential angst. In some cases, the religion is accompanied by so-called ex-gay ministries that promise freedom in a life of celibacy or heterosexuality.
The Gay Turned Straight is often wounded from years of his own trivializing of his own precious sexuality. It's no wonder that getting religion brings him to "salvation". He has a lot of inner healing and sexual recovery work to do to heal from his destructive habits and obsessions.
6. The young man tells his story to the world, rewriting his own life story in such a way that only a revisionist historian could love. Whatever sort of community involvement he may have had in the LGBT world now makes the individual a "prominent gay-rights activist". Whatever sort of beliefs he held that once helped him to make sense of the world are now his old "homosexual agenda". His spiritual journey is one of "coming out of homosexuality". He is hailed as a hero by the right-wing press and ignored or dismissed by the rest. He revels in his newfound role as a modern Moses, leading the queer sinners into the promised land of normalcy.
The path of the Gay Turned Straight may feature as many variations as there are individuals, but the six major plot twists are inevitably the same, from the newly practicing Orthodox Jew to the ex-gay evangelical, from the zealous Roman Catholic convert to the rigid neoconservative "true believer".
The latest example of the Gay Turned Straight is Michael Glatze's account of his spiritual journey in "How a 'gay rights' leader became straight" (July 3, 2007), an op-ed for the right-wing online publication WorldNetDaily. The Gay Turned Straight stereotype fits Glatze to a T, right down to his own attempt to sell himself as a big gay-rights activist (in truth, Glatze was neither prominent nor totally obscure; he founded and edited a little noticed and currently defunct magazine called Young Gay America).
Before I say another word about Michael's spiritual journey down the path of the Gay Turned Straight, let me add this note in bold: I respect Michael's right and choice to follow a more traditional life path. I respect his Christianity and share the same faith tradition. I applaud Michael's dedication to God, even as I challenge his particular theology.
Two facts are pivotal to understanding Michael's narrative. First, he says he spent 16 years of his adult life working for magazines that by his own admission "bordered on pornography". For years he had moral qualms with the sexually explicit content of the photography, but he tried to rationalize those concerns away. He seems to have formed many of his impressions of gay culture based on the sort of lascivious advertising found in magazines distributed in the gay bar and bathhouse scene.
For many gays such advertising is not a major concern. It is often regarded as a mildly embarrassing fact of life in a diverse adult LGBT subculture (as it is for me). But for Michael such near pornographic advertising is absolutely definitive of homosexual identity.
Second, Michael's rejection of homosexuality is dependent on a misunderstanding that homosexuality is lust-based in some unspecified way that heterosexuality is not. He writes: "As a [former] leader in the 'gay rights' movement, I was given the opportunity to address the public many times. If I could take back some of the things I said, I would. Now I know that homosexuality is lust and pornography wrapped into one. I'll never let anybody try to convince me otherwise..." In short, Michael allows the back pages of Young Gay America magazine to define the essence of being gay, but he never stoops to define heterosexuality by the contents of the smut racks of an adult bookstore.
It's not difficult to see the very real origins of Michael's feelings of revulsion, nor does it take a genius to spot the leaps of illogic that sweep him away to dubious conclusions. Anyone who spends years doing something morally against his inner conscience (as Michael did working for a magazine peddling content he found offensive) is going to have to come to a point where he faces a moral quagmire.
Michael makes no argument that homosexuality is inherently connected to pornography. And he would be hard pressed to find any type of pornographic exploitation done by homosexuals that isn't also done by heterosexuals. And Michael's lack of logic doesn't stop there.
For Michael, "homosexuality is lust". He never bothers to identify in what particular way gays are challenged by lust that heterosexuals are not. He asserts that it is so, but without substantiation. He writes: "We believe, under the influence of homosexuality, that lust is not just acceptable, but a virtue. But there is no homosexual 'desire' that is apart from lust."
I don't know of any particular gay intellectual or gay-rights activist who has ever said that "lust is a virtue" as Glatze claims, at least not in the sense that he takes it. Note that Glatze is putting his own spin on the gay community's attitudes, painting a multicolored spectrum of opinions in black and white. My own particular take, spelled out in my book Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2007), is that homosexuality is essentially an expression of love (homophilia) and is one of chief ways that God makes himself present.
At its best, the gay-rights movement has affirmed three essential spiritual principles. Not every gay person will agree with all three of these principles (and others would prefer to substitute a term for God such as Emptiness, Spirit, Divinity or Higher Power), but something like these three principles are fairly universal elements to be found in the work of mainstream gay spiritual writers, philosophers, and theologians.
First, God's presence is encountered by the whole person: body, mind, and soul. It will not do to repress or deny any part of our integral humanity in order to meet God part way. Denying the body won't work. Evading the intellect is a mistake. Ignoring the spirit is folly.
Second, restrictive aspects of traditional religion have frequently broken the relationship between God and human being by severing the connection between body and soul. Repressing and denying the natural instincts, sensations, feelings, and desires of the body actually dishonors God's good creation.
Third, gay liberation heals the split between body and soul, allowing a person to own (rather than psychologically repress) their inner nature and therefore connect to God more fully, honestly, and integrally. The body is not denied, hidden, and obscured by the mind or spiritual fancy.
With this understanding in mind, you can see that "lust" has nothing in particular to do with sexual orientation or liberation. Gay liberation is about freedom to feel and accept the body. However, lust is uncontrolled, overmastering sexual desire or appetite. Lust is what happens when sexuality of any sort, heterosexual or homosexual, is allowed to run wild over prudence, common sense, health, and mutual respect.
Lust is not the same thing as bodily passion. Passion is feeling our inner drives intensely and wholly. Passion fuels life and gives us our direct encounter with our own inner drives, the given of human experience. Only passion misdirected in either heterosexual or homosexual ways is appropriately called lust (for example, a harmful sexual addiction is lustful, whether the addicty is a man addicted to sex with women or to men).
Sexual attraction means admiring the beauty, sometimes passionately so, in another person. This is the thrill and delight sung by poets for millennia, including the Song of Songs in the Bible. In contrast, lust means treating our fellow human beings merely as disposable sex objects, instead of seeing the beauty in our fellow human beings as penetrating all levels of their humanity.
In my opinion, Michael Glatze's account of his journey is best read not as an account of one man coming out of his homosexuality. The editorial provides no real evidence that Glatze has fundamentally changed his attractions, desires, or even his behavior. Glatze makes no claim to have discovered a passionate yearning for the female sex, only a claim that he cultivated a revulsion towards his homosexual inclinations.
So please don't read Glatze's story as a story of a gay-rights activist turning straight. Instead, consider the story an account of one young man's journey out of lust and into (perhaps) more disciplined sexual behavior. As a man in his thirties, it seems that Michael may be belatedly discovering that sex is not all about pornography, cheap thrills, and back-of-the-magazine sex lines. He thinks he's discovered something important about his homosexuality. In truth, he is learning a lesson about growing up that is available to all persons regardless of their sexual orientation.
As for his stock narrative as a Gay Turned Straight, including all his terrible misunderstandings and misrepresentations of homosexuality, Michael's is now a familiar tale. His story, replete with its truly offensive and defamatory attacks on an entire class of human beings and its tone deaf reading of gay culture, is best forgotten and forgiven.
Spiritual mentor, author, poet, and scholar. Joe is best known for his 2007 book Soulfully Gay. one of the first memoirs in the tradition of World Spirituality based on Integral principles. Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for World Spirituality, where he works with Director Marc Gafni in providing leadership to the think tank. He also blogs at Gay Spirituality. Arctophile and ailurophile. A little bit country and a little bit "part and whole." Follow Joe Perez Facebook and Joe Perez Twitter.