While there are still some conservative communities that encourage so-called reparative therapy, most religious spaces have come to the understanding that sexuality is an innate part of identity, and that attempting to change it is harmful. This shift in thinking has helped many religious lesbian, gay, and bisexual people recognize that their desires are natural, not sinful. But many still believe in celibacy.
Some lead a life of celibacy because they still believe same-sex sex is a sin, while others choose it for their religious journey. But due to their celibacy, they don’t usually have the opportunity to share their stories in LGBT-affirming platforms.
Last month Instinct magazine ran a piece on a celibate gay Christian named Grady Smith. Initially, I was pleased to see an LGBT magazine giving a celibate gay Christian the platform to share. But what was meant to be a space to share his story quickly became a massacre.
You wouldn’t think that someone’s sex life would be so important to a group of strangers (unless they were right-wing, homophobic pundits) but apparently it was of dire importance to Instinct's readers. Hundreds of comments from gay men were posted, mostly crucifying Smith for not being sexually active.
Smith shared his religious conviction that God does not approve of same-sex sex and so he has chosen a life of celibacy. He doesn’t call himself “ex-gay” and, at least from the first few posts, doesn’t promote reparative therapy. His story isn't the only one like it and raises an important question: Is there space for celibate gay Christians in the LGBT community?
The oppression LGBT people face, political or otherwise, stems from religious beliefs that condemn same-sex sex. Many queer individuals were indoctrinated by their religious communities to believe that their sexual intimacy is sinful. As we get older, large numbers of us leave this idea, if not religion, completely behind. Because of this history, LGBT people have advocated for each person’s sexual agency and autonomy — many times, at a direct conflict with religion. But if Smith’s story is any indicator, there is a limit to that advocacy.
We advocate for inclusiveness with a “come as you are” slogan, but I feel there has always been fine print on the terms and conditions.
While sex is a part of someone’s sexuality, we are not, and should not be, minimized to sex. It’s an important part of intimacy and it’s our right to love who we love — but we are not sex acts. Our sex lives or lack thereof shouldn’t be up for scrutiny by homophobic Christians or gay men. It seems one group of people will only affirm you if you’re not having sex and the other will only affirm you if you are.
To be clear, there should be a distinction between forced celibacy and chosen celibacy. An informed adult who chooses celibacy should theoretically pose no threat. Regardless of whether they choose celibacy because they believe same-sex sex is a sin or if it’s part of their religious journey, celibacy is a personal decision that, quite literally, doesn’t involve anyone else.
We shouldn’t allow for a single narrative to represent our entire community. It is hard feeling represented when you’re a minority and even more so when you are marginalized within that minority group. Celibate gay individuals are still gay, they’re still attracted to people of the same sex, and they’re still facing discrimination for who they are. Sexually active or not, they are queer — so shouldn’t they feel safe and included in the LGBT community?
Forcing beliefs on another person, especially beliefs related to something as intimate as sex, crosses boundaries. It’s harmful, especially when specifically geared toward youth. But silencing celibate stories isn’t the solution. We should allow for people to come to their own educated conclusion.
The only healthy lifestyle is the one that is freely chosen. It's one that makes a person happy, healthy, and thriving. If that is one of celibacy, then so be it. Their decision doesn’t affect you nor yours them. If we demand that homophobic Christians stay out of our bedrooms, we best do the same when faced with a celibate gay story like Smith's. If any community affirms celibate stories, it should be the one that espouses equality and inclusiveness.
Straight people are celibate for religious reasons in all different religious denominations. A gay celibate Christian is no different. The LGBT community should not be afraid of these stories, nor attempt to silence or shame them. If someone's story threatens your stance or belief system, your stance wasn’t that strong to begin with.
ELIEL CRUZ is a bisexual Christian covering bisexuality for The Advocate. Eliel also frequently writes on the topics of sexuality, religion, pop culture, and media at The Huffington Post, Believe Out Loud, and Mic. You can follow Eliel on Twitter.