Sexual Identity is Not a Moral Position
I’m sitting in a corner by the window of my favorite bar sipping on a Coke. I always feel a little bad coming here, considering I don’t drink alcohol and I nurse a $1 Coke for most of the evening. Back in December, it was at this bar that I had a pretty great first date. It was one of those bittersweet dates where you talk for hours, sharing stories and laughing and enjoying each other’s company, but simultaneously realizing that you’re also just too different for the relationship to progress any further. They’re a good person, but life timing, experiences, and understandings of certain things just mean it’s not going to work out.
But I was proud of myself for going on that date, for putting myself out there. It was my first date in months. It was my first date with a woman.
When it comes to dating people of the same gender as me, I’m a total newbie. In differently gendered relationships, I know all the cues, the green flags, the positive ways of communicating. I don’t think twice about who might be looking as we steal a first kiss in a park or how people will react when I hold his hand. But dating women feels like completely new territory. I’m that scared teenager again, wondering if and when I should take the lead or if I should sit back and wait for her to make the first move. Like reliving every middle school dance ever, I find myself blundering blind, frequently stepping on toes and totally unsure of myself. I’m definitely insecure.
But it’s a good kind of insecure. It’s an insecure that’s excited about the possibilities, that enjoys the process of getting to know others and dating more freely. It’s the kind of insecurity that will eventually grow into confidence, as Anne Hathaway’s Mia Thermopolis moved from nerd to princess to something in between.
Finally, I feel a deeper understanding of myself and who I am created to be. I'm exploring my sexuality and what that means for me in the practical sense, learning to embrace this new community of which I am a part, learning how to live as a bisexual woman, as a liberated Christian, as a fierce feminist writer who still admires a man in a good pair of skinny jeans and watches The Bachelorette.
My bisexuality is one part of my identity. I sometimes wish it didn’t have to be so important and so much at the forefront. But as long as I live in a world that assumes heterosexuality is not only the default, but the only correct way for me to exist as a woman, then I must emphasize and take pride in my bisexuality. It is as much a part of me as my right-handedness or my shoe size.
This framework is precisely why, when straight, cisgender, white men in the church want to “debate” me about the moral implications of my bisexuality, I roll my eyes and make a tsking noise. Any of these debates necessarily devolve into implications about my character, my reasoning, and my sense of morality simply because I refuse to place my humanity – the whole of myself – on the line as something I can be “wrong” about.
Men – it’s always men – don’t seem to understand that it is entirely possible for me to disagree that such a thing is debateable at all. I can no more excise my bisexuality from my humanity than you can excise your heterosexuality. So why try? If I must open myself up to the possibility that my very existence as a bisexual woman is somehow wrong, then what do you open yourself up to if you agree to see yourself as “deceived”? What is your cost?
If you realize you are wrong about me, it does not directly affect your life – at least not in any substantive manner. But if I am wrong? If my sexuality can somehow be proved to be immoral? My entire life is upended. Who I am as a person must be re-envisioned – yet again, because the coming out process involves similar realizations – and I must, were I in a relationship or even married, say goodbye to the love of my life, and say goodbye to a life I had built.
Ah, but to die is gain, you say! God creates beauty out of our deepest pain. And all such aphorisms meant to paper over a cruelty that is the bare fact that I have much more stake in this issue than any heterosexual cisgender male who chooses to pontificate about my life. For the likes of Matthew Lee Anderson, who concludes that my position on my own bisexuality and humanity means I have no right to criticize people who use sex dolls (seriously, what’s with the sex doll focus?) or want to marry their brother or want to engage in harmful relationships with children. To Anderson (again, no relation), all these relationships are morally equivalent – my relationship with a woman, a man’s relationship with a piece of plastic, a brother’s incestuous relationship, and a pedophile's relationship to the child porn on his computer.
Is it any wonder I object to being included in such company?
Matthew is right that my sexual ethic includes a necessary discussion of consent and harm. But it is far more than that, as I explain in painstaking detail in my 52,000-word book that published earlier this year. If he is curious, my sexual ethics are readily available to him to read and understand. Instead, it seems he is more than ready to conclude that because I refuse to debate the morality of my sexuality because a heterosexual person cannot possibly grasp my experience, I must lack ethics in entire.
The rumors of my lack of sexual ethics have been greatly exaggerated, I must protest. Removing my sexuality from the table as a topic for moral discussion does not preclude a discussion of sexual ethics. Indeed, such discussions are, to my mind, entirely separate issues. Asking that my sexuality be treated as an unchangeable part of my identity is a concession I ask of any traditional Christians who wish to debate me. And I make it a prerequisite because the result is otherwise a dehumanizing farce in which a traditionalist earnestly assures me that I can change, that I can just choose to love men, and that my bisexuality is as easily removed from my life as taking off a shirt or changing pants.
I might as well rewire my spinal cord without anesthesia while I’m at it.
This, ultimately, is the profound rift that divides the traditionalist Christian community from the more liberal queer Christian community. This ongoing assumption that my sexuality is at once up for debate (when heterosexuality is not) and that it can be changed if I just learn to give myself over to God in the right ways. But reparative therapy is proven to be damaging and harmful, and the suggestion that I be open to such treatment should I engage in a debate is utterly reprehensible. This is why I object to moral reasoning that does not take into account the personal stakes and the sacrifices demanded of each person involved. This is why empathy must be included in moral reasoning - a recognition that what we ask of the other person if we are right is far more than what we demand of ourselves.
It is possible to maintain an ethical, healthy and morally sound view of life while also affirming that people experience differing sexualities and gender identities. Progressive sexual ethics are not, as Matthew seems to think, a way of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They require significant expansion of imagination on the part of traditionalist Christians who see heterosexuality as a prerequisite for the kingdom.
It is not a moral solipsism that refuses criticism of my bisexuality, my selfhood. It is a fight for survival of that very self. My identity is not a moral position and as such, it is impossible to engage in criticism of that which cannot be placed on the table. Matthew would have me flay myself open for the poking and prodding of men who have nothing at stake in this debate besides a theological exercise.
I will not beg for my humanity. I especially will not beg for crumbs of recognition from people who insist I must dissect myself in order to be afforded the least respect and dignity. Do not demand further sacrifice from others in a debate where you can sit comfortably, with no stakes and no body on the line. Do not demand that others tie themselves onto the railroad tracks so that you may be proven righteously moral.