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In what ways has your sexual identity or ethic influenced how you define yourself?
I have come to realize that my identity as bisexual fits my overall experience of gender. I have always bucked against goals or desires that were automatically ascribed to me based on typical societal gender roles. I loved that I could wear dresses, intimidate boys, wear make up, lift heavy things when the teacher asked for strong boys to help carry things, pursue engineering, cook, lift weights, wrestle boys, dance, play football, and all the things. Growing up, I wanted to pursue all possibilities and I didn’t want my strength to cancel out femininity. That has not changed.
My sexual ethic has helped me to understand myself as conservative by nature. That is, through engaging in dialogue on the topic of sexual ethics I realize that how I am made–slow-thinking, tradition and ritual-oriented, attached to the communal witness of Christianity through the centuries–guides how I approach sexual ethics. In other words, my sexual ethics might be different if my personality or my body were different. Thus, delving deeper into my sexual ethic has actually helped me to understand myself better which, I think, has profound beauty on its own.
My sexual identity as a gender non-conforming, lesbian woman has helped me to define myself as deeply within the tradition of black women known as bulldaggers or butch women. These women often lived at the intersections of what it meant to be a woman, what it meant to not fit neatly into traditional gender roles, and what it meant to be black in a society that is both repelled by and drawn to blackness. I am proud to continue the tradition of that type of black woman who is transgressive by nature with all the burdens, as well as prophetic possibilities, of that reality.
My sexual ethic does not influence or define who I am; rather, my approach to my sexual ethic is a reflection of who I am. I'm a seeker of both truth and goodness, and to discover those things in a sexual ethic, we have to set aside our wants, assumptions, and expectations, and instead ask difficult, honest questions about the nature of sexuality and the nature of God.
I'm a gay man who is comfortable and confident in his body. When I was younger, that led me to sometimes use sex in unhealthy ways—although I've always held consent to be the most important piece of my sexual ethics, I sometimes lost sight of the emotional needs of my partners. Age has taught me better, and in marriage, I've sought to use my sexual confidence as a tool to understand my husband better, celebrating and delighting in our union.
My sexuality has definitely affected how I define myself. I am a gay man and if you know me you will see that I don’t hide my sexuality. It is especially important to me to be clear to others that it is possible for people to be gay and Christian.
However, I’m not sure that my sexual ethic has really influenced how I define myself. I suppose I can feel rather counter-cultural because choosing to wait to have sex is not common these days. Being a gay Christian already puts you in a small minority. Believing in waiting to have sex puts you in an even smaller minority.
Being bisexual has been such a blessing to my life. Recognizing that I’m not straight was an invitation to question some of the basic tenets of my faith and emerge with a faith that is stronger, richer, more alive, and (to me, at least) even more Biblical than before. I’ve come to see how Christianity has always been queer. “It’s my faith that keeps me queer and my queerness that keeps me faithful,” as Fr. Shannon says. Accepting my sexuality was something like the scales falling off of Paul’s eyes — I was finally able to see the Gospel as it really was and it was irresistible.
My sexual identity as a gay woman has helped me identify as a member of the LGBTQ Christian community, which has led me into many precious, life-giving friendships. It’s also led me to identify with the larger LGBTQ community to work for justice, dignity, and equity for sexual and gender minorities. My sexual ethics have led me into identifying with a smaller community of like-minded LGBTQ folks and allies, who have become precious fellow-travellers on my journey.
It’s a bit hard to answer this question since I have chosen advocacy work within the LGBTQ+ community as a major portion of my career and ministry. Without this, I suspect my sexual identity would have far less of an influence on my personal sense of self. When I came out, I feared that everything would be different - that life as I knew it would be over. Nothing could have been further from the truths I have the same friends, the same hobbies and the same general worldview. Because of this reality, it is especially frustrating when I hear people being accused of things like “not being gay enough.” Being gay is a bigger part of my personal identity because it is part of my career, and Americans, especially white Protestant America, finds so much self-worth in work. For better or worse, I see this embedded within me and hope I can leverage my voice as an advocate that the positive experience I’ve had of accepting who I am can be a reality more widely and deeply felt in Christian faith communities.
Now as part of a monogamous couple, I find much delight in thinking about getting married, to having kids, and creating emotional and relational security with Joe, my partner. I mention this here because this end-goal has a major influence on my sexual ethic. Together, we find a great deal of joy in monogamy, which in turn categorizes how I see myself: a 35-year-old, one-person kind of guy. Also, being bisexual and having fallen in love with Joe, has given me the opportunity to identify as an out bi and LGBTQ+ person, more so than if I had fallen in love with a woman.
Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers
It has been in coming to understand the impact of sexual shame, that I have come to understand how sexuality and sexual identity are inextricably tied to our core identity. This unfolded for me in 2017 when one of my PhD students, Dr Noel Clark, developed an observational definition of sexual shame through a brilliant research study. Let me share the definition here so I can explain myself more clearly:
Sexual shame is a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being and a belief of being abnormal, inferior and unworthy. This feeling can be internalized but also manifests in interpersonal relationships having a negative impact on trust, communication, and physical and emotional intimacy. Sexual shame develops across the lifespan in interactions with interpersonal relationships, one’s culture and society, and subsequent critical self-appraisal (a continuous feedback loop). There is also a fear and uncertainty related to one’s power or right to make decisions, including safety decisions, related to sexual encounters, along with an internalized judgement toward one’s own sexual desire.
When I understand that how I trust and communicate with others, attach and get close to others (or don’t) through the myriad of interactions I have had since infancy, and how those interactions have caused me to feel about who I am, then I realize that I cannot possibly understand myself or my sexuality apart from these experiences, or apart from how I understand myself embedded in my family, my community or my culture. Now, when I look at my whole journey of individuation since I left home at 18, going to grad school at 28, becoming a single mom at 37, and so forth… and all the questioning I have done along the way, as part of an ever changing identity it includes my sexual identity and my sexual ethic. At every step my sense of value, my ability to trust and communicate, healing wounds from childhood and healing wounds along the way, being committed to growing, questioning, and self-appraisal, has all been a part of the process of deepening my understanding and experiences of connection, pleasure, and the sacredness of intimacy and sexuality, and the values that have deepened and become more clear as I have traversed life.
Identity formation I now believe, always involves a moderation of sexual identity and sexual ethics formation–maybe we just have never thought of it this way. Sexuality is at the core of us, so are our ethics… right where our identity lives. As we free ourselves from shame and a sense of unworthiness–our identity, our sexuality, and our ethics are liberated as well, to be defined within a construct of value and belovedness. It is ours to define–that which is most us.
I’m not sure we can extract our sexuality (or asexuality) from our personhood. It’s a core part of ourselves. So many of us know this from attempting to do this in our childhoods. We are created as sexual beings, thus learning how to relate to my sexuality as a good part of me, as something to be celebrated, I’ve learned how to see myself as an actual person, not just a mess of sexual urges which somehow need to be “controlled.” This has changed my life.
My sexuality has become more beautiful to me over time. A few years ago, it was an unspoken expression of inherent brokenness that threatened to ruin my life if the right person knew how I felt and what I was doing. Now, it’s a beautiful part of who I am–something that informs and is included in everything I do or believe–and worth celebrating irrespective of others’ opinions. I celebrate the liberation of others, wherever they are on their own journeys, and I see myself as a beloved child of God experiencing the love of God in my body and that of my partner. I now see my feelings as good and worth cultivating, and I’m grateful to have arrived in the space.