Of course, I'm not really a virgin. But there are certain traditional notions about virginity that I have learned to appreciate in a new way: purity and worth. Looking at these two notions will help to establish the context for the conclusion to my new coming out story.
Purity. I must say that as I've begun to notice and accept a greater fluidity and flexibility to my erotic constitution, I am able to look at my sexuality with more curiosity and less robotic reactivity to "my eros as I've known it." Child-like playfulness accompanies a sort of unexpected innocence, a willingness to approach desire with "beginner's mind" (Shoshin, meaning openness and lack of preconceptions).
Worth. There are layers and layers of self-acceptance and self-esteem which can be accreted to the self. For sexual minorities, the "coming out" process often progresses in stages of gradually increasing comfort in expressing more of one's self in wider contexts. And yet the question remains at every stage, "What am I coming out into?" Without deeply rooted self-esteem, the suffering associated with coming out can seem more trouble than it's worth.
With these notions of purity and worth in mind, consider the idea I want to present today: that sexuality is the force of Eros, the guiding principle of evolution, a sacred movement which is rooted in the embodied self and which unfolds differently at different stages of the self. And at later stages of development, the sexual self busts out of conventional and post-conventional identities into new emergent forms.
Eros and Evolutionary Emergence
To approach sexuality from a state which is simultaneously lacking in preconceptions and deeply affirming of worth is a peculiar way of being a sexual being. It is a constant moment-to-moment innocence, a sensual opening to novelty and joy and wonder. It requires greater tolerance for paradox and spontaneity than other approaches. But for many people this simply isn't an evolutionary possibility alive for them at their station of life. It is, I think, a peculiarly late post-conventional style of relating.
Contra late conventional styles (i.e., orange altitude), it is not merely a rejection of obedience to traditional strictures and negative attitudes towards having sex. It appreciates that traditional guidelines can help preserve the integrity of societal institutions yet it also makes room for acknowledging that individuals in certain post-conventional situations can transgress traditional models responsibly.
Please read the words of this post carefully, because there's a tricky question at the end.
I'm coming out of the closet again. In 2004, I told my coming out story in a newspaper column called "Soulfully Gay," the discovery of Integral spirituality by a 34-year-old gay man. But my coming out story is probably not what you think it is, even if you've read the book inspired by the newspaper column, Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2007).
Here's something you don't know about Soulfully Gay
So far as I know, not a single person has ever noticed and remarked on one of my book's odd facts: in the course of a 314-page spiritual autobiography, you will not find a single sentence in which I say exactly that I am gay or homosexual. (I think once I let the words "my homosexuality" skate by, which I didn't think was a big deal.)
Nobody noticed. Readers just kind of make up their own story by bringing in tons of assumptions, but the plain words just aren't on the page. The words "I'm gay" or "I'm homosexual" or their most common variations are simply not there. They weren't true to my inner voice, and I could not speak them into the words of the page, preferring to always find expressions that did ring true, such as talking about "same-sex desires."
I don't even say that I'm gay in the book's coming out story. I talk about "labels" instead, as in an essay that starts like this:
When I was 20 years old, I first put a label on my sexuality. Actually, I was spared the chore of coming out to my mom, because a university librarian outed me.
I had secretly known that I was different from most other boys since I was in junior high school. To explore my sexuality, I had checked out books on the topic at the university. Unfortunately, I returned a few books a day late.
The university's library system was very efficient. They immediately printed out an overdue notice and sent it to my permanent address on file. My mother opened the letter from the library, saw the titles of the books, and mailed the notice to me. My process of "coming out" had begun!
At different times of my life, I have worn various labels for my sexuality. Since coming out, I have used labels including bisexual, gay, and queer. I am a man more attracted to men than to women, so the gay label works just fine for me most of the time.
What I didn't mention is that the books that I checked out from the library were on male bisexuality (which, incidentally, has recently been proven to exist by pioneering scientists!) I didn't think of my omission as hiding anything. It just felt like an unnecessary distraction in the context. You see, I wrote elsewhere in the book:
By my senior year of college, I grew comfortable expressing my sexuality. I came out of the closet and had my first sexual experiences. I struggled with picking a single label and deemed myself too inexperienced to know for sure what to call myself. I chose the bisexual label, deciding that it was best to keep my options open...
You can't expect a memoir written by a 34 year-old man to be fully transparent. I didn't want to call the book "Soulfully Gay-Identified Person with a Not Insignificant Degree of Fluid Bisexual Expression."
In my 30s, I was highly invested in remaining identified as gay and was nowhere ready to start contemplating what alternatives might be out there. And yet, my sexuality was always more complex than anything that I wanted to reduce to one label. I just wasn't always ready or able to act on the full spectrum of Eros within my potential.
I guess it has been about 2 years since the Rev. Al Sharpton stood in the pulpit of Tabernacle Baptist church and gave this little gem concerning black clergy and the church:
“They preach homophobia from their pulpits Sunday morning and cruise the parks at night!”
I also remember after that service was over; this statement was stuck in my head.
Talking with some of my colleges and friends in the black community, I was informed not only was that statement true but also in fact there were any number of black clergy in the city of Atlanta who were an exact fit. “In fact, Pastor Paul, there are some pretty big and powerful preachers in the black church for whom Rev. Sharpton hit the nail on the head.”
I was dumbfounded.
I am sometimes naïve when it comes to the real world. I know a lot of politicians who would sell their own mother if it meant them getting elected and then lie about the sale, but pastors are and should be different right?
Apparently I am still somewhat of a heterosexist. Sure, there might be the whole hetro adultery thing going on in churches, but why would these very conservative, anti-gay preachers really take the risk of doing what they so virulently preach against - especially in such a small, talkative community?
Do they not understand if you beat us up long enough eventually we will expose you for who you really are?
Further, why would this small talkative community simply turn and take on the persona of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”
I have come to believe it is because homophobia is alive and well and more dangerous than ever.
“Homophobia” is the unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.
Which is why in a homophobic culture there is nothing worse than to be a homosexual or to practice homosexual behavior. But strangely, the community seems to hold a different standard for black preachers as compared to white preachers.
One might survive if they use drugs, one might survive if they misuse church funds and they might even survive if they are caught playing with the deacon’s wife. One survives these transgressions because “we all sin and fall short of the glory of God!”
Remember the good Rev. Stanley of Peachtree Baptist? All was forgiven and forgotten. Bless his heart. Those who are part of the United Methodist Church know if a preacher is caught playing around in the congregation, come annual conference time the preacher is simply moved to another church. There is a long list of black preachers who are divorced or were divorced during their time in the pulpit and have survived rather nicely.
Yet, to cross the homosexual line and express homosexual behavior is the sin of all sins. This sin is the worst thing a person can do. One’s career, calling and respect in the community will be lost if they dare cross this line and get caught.
There is nothing which will get the news Medias attention faster than a black male preacher who is caught having sex with another man. They jump on it with all the alleged details and leading statements of how horrific this person is. In very short order it becomes the subject of national news with powerful people weighing in with their knowledgeable (really lack of facts) opinions and attitudes.
Of course if the accused person is anti-gay and is rather famous for attacking the LGBTQ community, then this just adds fuel to an already hotly burning fire.
Bishop Eddie Long ha been an ardent opponent of the LGBTQ community, even to the extent of having an “ex-gay” kind of ministry as a part of his mega church and who lead a huge march against gay marriage. And now, Bishop Long has been accused not by one but four young men of stepping over the line into the sin of sins.
Now, I have to say for the sake of being honest, I have never been particularly impressed by the Bishop. Having Bentleys parked in one’s driveway, owning a private jet, and such excess has never struck me as the ministry of the gospel, but rather a ministry of prosperity and over-indulgence.
At the same time, his church claims 25,000 members! Damn, that is 9,000 more people than the town I grew up in.
If we do the math this also means conservatively speaking there are probably 1200 plus LGBTQ people associated with this ministry.
Anyway, I digress. As I mention a few blogs ago the “victims” are already being blasted by the Bishop’s supporters. They are being called everything in the book and I would imagine before it is all said and done they will be painted as the predators of a powerful preacher. As I said before, this simply is the roots of homophobia rising to the surface…cause; well you know all gays are criminals.
Reports on the story have not said if the four young men themselves are gay or not. Before people write me and say this is not important…yes it is. Why?
It would change the dynamics of the story from abuse of power to the possibility of a really messed up love triangle. There may be abuse of power but it would be a whole different animal at that point. A full day before the story broke, I got a heads up from a friend, “By the way, stay tuned, a very prominent local Bishop is about to be outed by his secret lover in a lawsuit.”
Now, please - if the way this story has been covered doesn’t prove how evil, how nasty, how un-repented and how dangereous homophobia is, then we are asleep.
It is true the Bishop set himself for a huge fall and made himself a target of people just dying to prove he is the ultimate hypocrite.
Yet, the real problem here, the reason this story is so devastating is because of the homophobia that is intertwined all through it. This Bishop made a huge mark for himself with a ministry designed to destroy my (our) community. As a friend Craig Washington wrote in a column for “the Root”:
“Whether or not Long actually committed the acts of which he was recently accused, this much is true: He is assuredly guilty of engendering fear and hatred of LGBT people among thousands. He has convinced countless numbers of gays that they are sinners whose salvation rests on becoming 'reconditioned' into heterosexuality. Such toxic teachings reinforce the stigma that compromises HIV-prevention efforts as well as our mental and physical health.”
If the accusations are correct, there is a price to pay for such devastating hypocrisy. If the facts turn out to be something else, how will we deal with that?
While it is easy to be critical of how people live their lives, if these accusations turn out to be factual, will anyone ask or see how homophobia drove the Bishop to this moment. How, even knowing he had a gift to preach, he had to hide who he really was to pursue his career and calling?
Will the black congregations ever discuss their complicity in this drama, because the worst thing their preacher could do was be a homo? Will the black church confront the ways it lives out “don’t ask and don’t tell” to the destruction of its young men every day.
If it turns out these accusations are really about something else, will my community stand and say to Bishop Long, “Hey we are really sorry we jumped the gun, cause you know you are such a jerk when it comes to our issues…well, we just wanted you to fall hard…sorry”.
Regardless of the outcome of this story, will we spend some time seeing how the devastating tentacles of homophobia wrapped themselves around the Bishop, the Bishop’s family, his friends, our community and as the outrage was expressed choked our any thought of compassion, understanding and love?
My friends this is a sad and heart breaking story, because it is really not about Bishop Long. The author of this story no matter how the facts turn out, no matter the drama unfolds, is Homophobia. It is a killer, it kills those who practice it and it kills those who internalize it. It sometimes kills those who fight it.
I think that may be why my friend Elder Tony Jones had this to say on his Facebook status:
“I reflect on Bishop Eddie Long and this recent matter, I am reminded of this one thing: Regardless to the outcome, unconditional love is still appropriate and necessary.”
My prayer is we all take heed; we all take a deep breath and take the Elder’s words to heart. For if we do, there is an opportunity here to begin to dismantle the destruction of homophobia and begin to heal.
Stephen Moles, a student at the University of Kansas, offers some reflections on why bisexuals are so misunderstood. He is most perceptive when he observes:
As to why the bisexual is so thoroughly misunderstood and criticized by the populace, I believe it is fear. Not the “run and hide” variety of fear, but a more subtle, uncomfortable kind of anxiety. Those of us who are firmly in the gay or straight camp can easily understand that there is someone who is on the other side of the spectrum. Someone in the middle seems bizarre. They upset the nature of the two sexual camps, creating a bridge that shows gay and straight are continuous, rather then polar.
Commenting is blogger Jon Rowe, who offers a suggestion for breaking down the social confusion. He opines that there are actually two types of bisexuals, which he calls Type 1 and Type 2. He urges only Type 1 bisexuals to call themselves "bisexuals."
A recent article in The Guardian highlights an apparent cultural trend in the U.S.: More teenage girls are experimenting with bisexuality at earlier ages, often in an attempt to please their boyfriends or make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex.
Some "genuine" bisexuals aren't so thrilled, says the report. Here's a quote:
Girls who declare themselves to be bisexual to be trendy or impress boys may harm the cause of those who genuinely are. Oregon student Toby Hill-Meyer, who is researching how people define their sexuality, said that, because of the so-called bisexual chic, genuine bisexuals are turning away from the word. 'They don't want to be associated with that trendiness,' he told the Sun-Sentinel.
I think it's interesting that the article says some bisexuals are no longer using the "bi" word, but it doesn't say what word they are using. Ideas anyone?