A commenter over at Ex-Gay Watch drew my attention to Jeff Buchanan’s article, “The New Sexual Identity Crisis.” Buchanan is the executive vice president of Exodus International, and his article offers reason why he — and possibly Exodus, as the organization has often held a similar position — discourages Christians from identifying as gay, even if they find themselves (exclusively) attracted to members of their own sex. (Which, you know, is the definition of being gay.)
He starts out his argument by pointing out that our culture seems to be addicted to identity labels in general, though it quickly becomes clear that his real issue is specifically with identity labels that refer to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. After all, he doesn’t seem to mind using the identify labels of “executive vice president” or “pastor” in his mini-bio at the end of his article….
Of the particular identity labels that bother him, he offers the following introductory comment:
One can look at the gay community and see the level of identity fragmentation represented in the use of acronyms such as LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Ally). The sexual identity label has become a method of reducing individuals to a micro narrative of sexual orientation.
First, we need to note that three (and arguably a fourth) of his labels are not about sexual orientation at all. Being transgender or intersex is about one’s gender identity, which is distinct from sexual orientation. Being an ally is about supporting and promoting the welfare of LGBTQI people rather than the actual sexual orientation or gender identity of the ally. The fact that Buchanan is oversimplifying the issues surrounding the labels he’s describing to the point of misrepresentation, I would suggest that going on to discuss the “politics” involved in such identity labels puts him on shaky ground.
Secondly, where Buchanan sees “fragmentation,” I see only an attempt to describe the complex spectrum of sexuality and gender through limited language. Given the diverse possibilities of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression of both gender and sexuality in general, it seems that a large vocabulary of descriptive labels is both good and necessary.
Thirdly, I would note that describing someone as gay, lesbian, trans, intersex, or any other such label in no way reduces them “to a micro narrative of sexual orientation” or gender identity. Identifying myself as gay — or allowing others to do so — does not negate the fact that I am also a software engineer, a brother, a son, a writer, a blogger, a reader, a psychic, a witch, or any of the other myriad things that make up my identity.
Indeed, I will note that the people most likely to push such a narrative are people like Buchanan and the homophobic people who use the ex-gay narrative to demonize and marginalize LGBTQI people. It is the conservative, anti-gay churches who choose to focus on youn gay people’s gayness and treat them differently. It is the anti-gay crowd that has historically and incessantly pushed the idea that all the need to know about gay people is that they’re gay and after that, nothing matters. (And hey, I’ve explained before how that mentality can contribute to some gay people focusing so much on their sexual orientation, themselves.)
In short, if people like Buchanan is concerned that adopting a “gay identity” shouldn’t be such a big deal, then they should quit making a big deal about it.
Buchanan then goes on to give six “points to consider” as his reasons why he doesn’t feel the “gay identity” is “compatible with an identity in Christ.” The first reason he offers is that taking on other “identity labels” is that it dilutes one’s “identity in Christ”:
With every additional label–whether it is occupation, gifts, interests, or sexual orientation—we detract from the complete work of Christ in our lives and splinter our identity into fragments.
But again, note that he uses other labels in his own mini-bio, labels which refers to his occupation. I also doubt that he would counsel a woman to quit identifying as a “mother” or a man to quit identifying as an “executive.” The only labels he seems to worry about are ones like “gay.” As such, I would argue that this inconsistently applied argument is little more than padding for the list.
I find myself having the same issues with his argument about “sexual segregation.”
An identity based upon same-sex attractions can potentially create a segregated church community. Those dealing with same-sex attraction can be tempted to obsessive introspection and self-pity. The sexual identity label can create an “I’m Special” category that encourages narcissism. But everyone in the church struggles with various challenges and problems. No one’s struggle is unique. We must not let such differences isolate us from the strength found in a sharing community.
The same can be said of any label. If you talk to many mothers, they will go on at length about their own personal struggles that non-mothers don’t experience. (As someone who has a sister who is a devout Christian and a stay-at-home-mom of four wonderful children, I can attest to this.) Married couples often speak of problems they have that single people don’t and vice versa.
But again, I doubt Buchanan is unlikely to apply this “desegregation logic” to those situations and encourage spouses, parents, and singles to quit identifying as such. This suggests to me that Buchanan wishes to downplay and even invisibilize LGBT people’s struggles in the church rather than avoid “segregation.”
Next, Buchanan touches on what I suspect is the most honest reason in his list, the “anchoring” issue:
While some who suffer receive immediate explanations from God, others are challenged to wait. In the midst of waiting, we must always have hope. An identity rooted in same-sex attractions serves as an anchor that keeps us docked in our present circumstance. We have accepted our lot in life, and experience now becomes our identity. Should a person ever develop a desire to explore a heterosexual relationship, he or she will find it difficult to overcome the label that can deter interested parties.
Despite Alan Chambers’s recent admissions, Buchanan is really still holding out the “change” carrot. “Don’t say you’re gay, because it closes the possibility that you could fall in love with someone of the appropriate sex!” he says. I suspect that Buchanan’s real concern is that if people fully accept that they are gay and quit “hoping” for that change — that his own boss admits is highly unlikely to come — they might start considering other options. And at the heart, I think that’s what “don’t identify as gay” is really trying to avoid.
The thing is, his argument doesn’t hold water. Identifying as gay will not prevent one from experiencing it if one happens to be one of the statistical miracles that really does fall in love with someone of a different sex. If that statistical anomaly happens, then it happens.
As for how any particular woman feels about it, I would imagine that if a gay guy falls for her and it’s God’s will, won’t God lead her to feel the same way, no matter what he’s called himself prior to then?
And if this does happen, here’s the beautiful thing about labels: They are not carved into stone. A man who falls in love with a woman may requalify himself as “mostly gay, except that I love this woman I fell in love with.” Or he may relabel himself as “bisexual” or “straight.” (Though I’d personally raise an eyebrow at that last one in some cases.) If a person’s feelings and attractions authentically change, the labels zie and others use to describe zirself can change as well.
And just to show the complete absurdity of this idea, consider telling a diabetic zie should not identify as diabetic. After all, for all the diabetic knows, God could decide to heal zem of zir diabetes. So doesn’t identifying as diabetic anchor zem to that identity and close their eyes to the hope of healing?
Next, Buchanan tackles the topic of authenticity.
Many in this younger generation with same-sex attraction feel they must adopt the “gay” label in order to be authentic. Considering the word authentic means “not false” or “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features,” one must consider if taking on this label is defining a person by identity or by experience. Many mistake disclosure for authenticity. They are trapped by a cultural philosophy of “I feel therefore I am.” True authenticity can only be achieved by conforming to the image of Christ rather than idol of our desires.
The distinction between “identity” and “experience” strikes me as weird, arbitrary, and highly synthesized. It seems to have this idea that what you feel and what you experience cannot be trusted (which I find a rather surprisingly postmodern concept for someone like Buchanan to express.) Who one is attracted to is about personal experience, yes, but it is a fact. To say that one is not gay while being attracted to members of one’s own sex strikes me much like denying that one is a Justin Beiber fan despite feeling an overwhelming desire to squeal with pleasure every time one of his songs comes up on a radio
I’ll also note that his last statement demonstrates exactly why many of us find the desire to avoid the word “gay” so inauthentic. They wish to claim an “identity” based on what they believe God tells them they should be, but have not achieved and admittedly may never achieve. How is that authentic?
His fifth reason, “Power of a Name” struck me as much rhetoric without a point. To be honest, it sounds a lot like certain forms of magick. I will also note that the verse Buchanan quotes makes no mention of names. Indeed, I find its use in this context as strange as Buchanan’s fifth point itself.
His final argument against using the term gay is that the term is too confusing:
While it is true that definitions are subject to change, this reasoning doesn’t translate in the realm of gay sexual identity. The term “gay” can have vast socio-political and cultural connotations, and it raises such question as whether the person holds to a traditional orthodoxy on the issue of homosexuality.
First I will note that to gay people, gay means “attracted to members of the same sex.” Any connotations added to the word are not universal. Indeed, I’ll note that many of the connotations that Buchanan is hinting at — non-monogamy, a preference for casual sex, and substance abuse — are connotations that have been peddled by ex-gay groups like Exodus for years. And while I certainly do not deny that each of those things can readily be found among some LGBT people, they are by no means universal. There are LGBT people who are monogamous, prefer romance, and/or do not touch drugs and even alcohol. Again, it is organizations like the one Buchanan helps lead that have pushed to keep those connotations inextricably linked to being gay. In reality, the LGBT community is much more diverse.
Furthermore, I will note that by discouraging gay people to eschew the label of “gay,” Buchanan is effectively ensuring that people continue to see “gay” people only in light of those connotations. If Buchanan were truly concerned about how gay people are perceived, its seems to me that he would encourage people to identify as gay to visibly broaden the many diverse ways in which a gay person can think, feel, and experience their lives as a gay person. Instead, he chooses to invisibilize those gay people who would counter his own organizations long-standing narrative about gay people — or more specifically, encourage those gay people to invisibilize themselves.
But to truly show how ridiculous this argument is, let’s apply the same argument to the “Christian” label. After all, the term “Christian” comes with connotations of crusades, heresy hunts, parents kicking their gay dependent children out or forcing them into horrible forms of therapy, picketing funerals with messages of hate, and many other atrocities. So will Buchanan now call for all Christians to eschew the Christian label? After all, given all the connotations that the term might bring to mind, it could lead to confusion.
I suspect instead, Buchanan would simply point out that further conversation and clarification of what a particular Christian believes and does would resolve the confusion. It’s a shame he seems that the term “gay” is somehow impervious to similar clarifying conversations.
 Actually, I’m not sure I’m entirely accurate in equating the state of being intersex with gender identity, though it is certainly related to sex and gender. Perhaps someone with more knowledge on the issue will offer a more accurate statement.
 And seriously, what is Buchanan saying about his belief in regards to God’s omnipotence? Can God’s master plan to introduce a gay man to the one woman he will inevitably fall in love with really be waylayed simply by that man referring to himself as “gay”?