Tag Archives: Out of a Far Country

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: Deserving of love

I’d like to draw my discussion of the book “Out of a Far Country” by drawing attention to a single statement that Christopher makes in the final (pre-epilogue) chapter.  I feel this statement deserves a great deal of attention, not only because it says something about the conservative evangelical/fundamentalist Christian approach to homosexuality, but their approach to life, the divine, and spirituality in general.  As Chistopher speaks of the overwhelming sense of welcome he felt as he returned home with his parents, he offers the following phrase:

I was unworthy of my parents love…

Christopher quickly slides past that statement and goes on about the great depths of love that his parents had for him despite his alleged unworthiness.  But I want to pause and really think about that statement.

Christopher felt he was unworthy of his parents love.

Because a child doesn’t deserve the love of parents simply because zie exists.  It’s something that either the child must earn — presumably through proper behavior — or through the magnanimous actions of parents who decides to love zem anyway.  But either way you slice it, a child is not simply worthy of a parent’s love simply because, hey, children deserve to have parents who love them.

I don’t buy that line of reasoning.  Quite frankly, if a parent ever told a child, “You know what, you don’t really deserve my love because [the reason doesn’t matter], but I’m going to love you anyway because that’s just the way I am,” I would not consider that parent loving.  I would consider that parent cruel.  I would suspect that such a parent was being manipulative or otherwise abusive.  If I were in a position to do so, I would watch that parent very closely and see how else zie treats zir child.  I might even have social services on speed dial.

Here’s the thing, many Christians like Christopher don’t just think that this unworthy child with a parent who deigns to love said child anyway as a dynamic between earthly children and their earthly parents.  They see this as the appropriate dynamic between themselves and their heavenly parent.  They see a God who loves not because people deserve love, but sees a bunch of unworthy people and decides to love them anyway because He feels like it.

My view of such a heavenly parent is no higher than my view of a similar earthly parent.  I believe that the Divine loves me because the Divine can do nothing else when the Divine looks upon me.  I believe that Divine love is based in my inherent worthiness to be loved.  I don’t have to earn it.  I don’t have to wait for the Divine to decide to love me anyway.  I deserve to be loved.

That doesn’t mean that I’m perfect.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to improve.  The Divine calls on me to do these things because the Divine loves me, not in order to make me (more) lovable.

I feel a great deal of sadness for someone who considers themselves unworthy of love.  In my book, that suggests to me that zie is in a dark place.  And if zie is in that dark place because zir  religion tells zem that’s the zie they should be in, well, I’ll make no apologies for finding that monstrous.

A shoutout to Christopher Yuan’s followers and friends

Starting sometime last night, my blog started getting a lot of hits.  By “a lot,” I mean more than three times its normal hits in a day.  I also started noticing that a lot of the traffic was coming from Facebook and Twitter.  So doing a bit of research, I discovered that Christopher Yuan, co-author or “Out of a Far Country,” tweeted a link to the first post I wrote reviewing that book and posted the same link to his Facebook page.

Honest review of ?#OutofaFarCountry? from a gay man who’s a self-proclaimed witch! – http://yuan2.us/29

I’ll be a bit honest, I’m a but curious and concerned why he felt it was necessary or appropriate to bring up the fact that I’m a witch, but I’m still thankful that he promoted my review (and I hope many of his readers read all the posts on the topic, not just the first and “flattering” post he linked to).  After all, as one of his own commenters on Facebook said, “any press is good press.”

So to Christopher, I say thank you.  To those of you who found my blog through Christopher, I say welcome.  I hope you find what I wrote informative and thought-provoking, even if you don’t agree with me.  And I hope you’ll stick around to read some of the other stuff I’ve written.

I plan on doing one last follow-up post on Christopher’s and his mother’s book, which I hope to have up later today.  It’s something that caught my eye in one of the final chapters, and I want to talk about it.

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The narrative perspective problem

Because Angela and Christopher Yuan’s book, “Out of a Far Country,” is an autobiography, it engages a narrative voice, just like a work of fiction.  This is particularly helpful in this case, because both Angela and Christopher are describing a transformative journey, a journey that involved transformations of their thoughts and behavior patterns.  As such, the process of narrating their story and telling what was going through their minds at the time enhances and furthers their story and the overall goal of the book.

However, neither author is always clear on whether they are totally narrating from the perspective of their earlier selves — the person who lived through the experience currently being described — or their current selves or both.  As such, it’s not always clear if a given point of view is still valid in their current way of thinking.

The first time this becomes troubling is in the very first chapter, where Angela describes briefly an incident from Christopher’s teen years:

I immediately thought back to when Christopher was sixteen years old and I found out from his brother that he had a sexual relationship with a thirty-year-old man.  Christopher had contacted the man, who then invited him over.  Sure, Christopher may have sought the man out, but no matter how you look at it, this man had used and soiled my son.

Note that Angela does not indicate whether she is speaking as her current self who blames this man for “soiling her son” or her 1993 self, who (as her narrative demonstrates) had a tendency to try and control Christopher and even make excuses for his own choices.  That potential difference makes the difference between Angela telling about her own personal growth and Angela perpetuating the myth that gay men are predators who recruit younger men and boys.

Christopher presents a similar problem when he describes his thoughts when meeting with a retired marine who “‘knew a lot’ about homosexuality.”  Chris writes about part of the exchange as follows:

“Well, for one thing, gay men have a shorter life expectancy than straight men.”  He looked at my mom.  “This has been proven by reputable scientists.”

Reputable!  You’ve got to be kidding.  Was this what you’d call knowing a lot about homosexuality?  Using skewed statistics to “prove” that gay men die sooner than other men?  How could any researcher gather an unbiased, representative sample of gay men, when many don’t want their sexuality to be known and others are still denying even to themselves that they are gay?  Most of those studies only gathered data rom gay men who died as a result of AIDS.  What about all teh other normal gay men?

He continued.  “Did you know that a survey of gay men shows that most have had sex with someone under the age of eighteen?”

Seriously?  Give me a break!  None of my friends slept with teenagers.  Did the survey clarify when it was that they slept with someone under-age?  Most likely they were teens themselves.  And by way of comparison, what were the stats for straight men?

Christopher’s analysis of the shorter lifespan claim is 100% accurate.  Most claims about gay men living shorter lifespan is based on the discredited research of Paul Cameron.  There are plenty of resources explaining how Cameron both distorted his own work to get the results he wanted and distorted the findings of others in service of his claims.  In fact, many of the researchers whose works Cameron has distorted have made very public statements condemning him for it.

I have no hard data on sex between underage boys and men over the age of eighteen, however I will note that this is a standard accusation of the anti-gay movement.  Also, they are quick to link pedophilia with gay men — either explicitly or implicitly — in general despite all the research pointing out that sexual orientation has no bearing on a pedophiles choice of victims.  So Christopher’s dismissal of this man’s arguments is not only reasonable, but based on sound and documented criticisms of such anti-gay rhetoric.

But again, Christopher doesn’t make it clear if present-day Christopher still feels the way that Christopher of 1993 felt.  Given the fact that this earlier version of Christopher is being painted as making poor choices (and many of his choices are undeniably poor) and being generally rebellious, it would be easy for readers to assume that this is another one of those areas where younger Christopher “got it wrong.”  This is especially true considering that present-day Christopher has given some indication that at least his theology, if not his politics and methods, aligns with those who continue to spout such discredited propaganda against gay men and LGBT people in general.  The fact that he does not clarify whether he believes that this is one of those places where his younger self “got it right” in this particular instance is troubling.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Christopher and Angela and their book exist in a certain context, and their book serves the potential to serve the purposes of that context in ways that are potentially less-than-honest.  Assuming that they did not want their book used in such ways, it would have been nice if they made more effort to make it clear where their current-day selves disagree with their younger selves and where they still agree.

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The morality question

While I find Christopher Yuan’s life and journey as he describes it in “Out of a Far Country,” I find the way in which that story culminates to his conclusions in the “Holy Sexuality” chapter to be troubling and problematic.  Again, as I alluded to in my previous post, this is where he at least implicitly shifts from telling his personal story to offering a moral prescription for others.  As such, I feel this chapter needs to be directly addressed.

This shift I’m talking about quickly becomes visible when Christopher begins his defense or justification of calling on gay men and women to a life of celibacy.  Christopher offers his realization that there are people in the Bible who lived their entire lives abstinent, noting that both Jesus and Paul were both such men.

The thing note, however, is that both men acknowledged that it was neither an easy calling or one that everyone was suited for.  When Jesus’s own disciples comment that it would be better to remain unmarried, Jesus responded that “not all can accept this,” without any sense of condemnation (Matthew 19).  Similarly Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian church (chapter 7), he notes that it is better to remain single, but that those who cannot control their lusts should get married.[1]  So as I read Christopher’s insistence that it’s not unfair of God to demand celibacy — especially lifelong celibacy — of certain people, I’m skeptical that his two examples of holy and celibate men would actually agree with him.

But the thing is, Christopher isn’t claiming that God is demanding lifelong celibacy of individuals, but of an entire class of people.  I have no problem believing that God called Paul, Jesus, or even Christopher Yuan to lifelong celibacy.  God places individual callings upon people all the time.  But to say that an entire class of people must remain celibate simply because of who they are drawn to when it comes to sex and romance[2] is an entirely different claim, and I think it’s a position that takes far more defense than Christopher offers.  I also think it takes far more appreciation of what one is claiming God demands of all gay and bisexual people and just how hard a road one is calling others to.

That last statement is pivotal to me.  What I see here is that some — either including Christopher or those who will be further emboldened by him — are trying to tell other people — and entire class of people, in fact — what God’s calling is for their lives.  I maintain that this is not how callings work.  Callings are not placed upon people by other individuals.  No, the things so placed are rightfully called burdens.  Callings are made not to classes of people, but to individuals by a god who draws that individual in, gives the individual a heart and desire for that calling, and fills that individual with a sense that while the calling may not always involve an easy road, it is entirely doable.  This is not what is being offered here in the chapter on holy sexuality.

As I’ve referred to the chapter’s title which invokes the word “holy,” let’s look at the statement popularized by some Exodus leaders and repeated in this chapter:

“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but holiness.”

My problem with this statement is that it reduces holiness — a complex and wondrous topic — to a mere question of not having sex or at least not having the wrong kinds of sex.  It reduces the idea of holiness in sexuality to following the right rules, avoiding the right taboos, and so on.  It does nothing to illuminate what makes sex or sexuality holy — sacred to and glorifying of the Divine — which makes it hard to accept the unsubstantiated statement[3] that the holiness of one’s sexuality or sexual activity is affected by the gender of one’s partner(s).

I wish Christopher the best in following what he believes that God has called him to.  But I would ask him not to attempt to universalize that calling for all gay people or allow others to use his story to do so.  It’s simply not his or their place.

[1]  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for marriage as a sacred institution, is it?

[2]  And like so many others, Christopher never seems to acknowledge that same-sex relationships have a romantic side or other aspects beyond the sex.

[3]  Christopher and others might argue that “The Bible says so” should be good enough.  Setting aside that not everyone agrees about what “the Bible says” on the topic, I will note that this underscores an extremely authoritarian approach to morality and assumes and authoritarian God who gives a moral code that is based on nothing more than His say-so.  I am deeply troubled by such an understanding of both morality and God.  Indeed, I think conservative Christianity would be greatly served by the sudden appearance of many more Jobs in their ranks.

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: Conflating Issues

There’s a part of me that wishes I lived in a different world.  That part of me wishes that I lived in a world where the Yuans’ book, “Out of a Far Country,” existed in a vacuum.  In such a world, I could appreciate the book for its own merits and my discussion of it would be complete with my previous post on the topic and a brief explanation of where I disagree with Christopher’s conclusions and theology and leave it at that.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality I occupy.  In reality, I live in a world where some people — influential people — have invested a great deal of time and money in presenting QUILTBAG people — particularly gay men — in the worst light possible.  There are those who still either explicitly or implicitly seek to link homosexuality with substance abuse, pedophilia, risky sex, and other destructive behaviors.

Such people like men like Christopher Yuan.  They love such men’s stories, because they can point those men’s experiences, generalize them, and say, “See?  This is what all gay men (and QUILTBAG people in general) are like!”  Courageous men like Christopher — and I do not discount his courage or the truly amazing nature of his transformative journey — become tools in the anti-gay political machine’s to inaccurately paint and even dehumanize an entire class of people.

Some may feel that it’s unfair to hold Christopher responsible for how others might misuse his story.  After all, such people are responsible for their own actions some might say.  And in many ways that’s quite correct.  However, I will note that Christopher and Angela are not isolated or separate from the very community that would misuse this book to generalize about all QUILTBAG people.  Indeed, the book makes it quite clear that Christopher and Angela were familiar with groups like Exodus International — which has spent years cultivating the “gay lifestyle = risky sex and substance abuse” narratives. In fact, in the chapter “Holy Sexuality,” Christopher invokes the common Exodus slogan, “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but holiness,” and talks about “gay identity” that is identical to the view expressed by many ex-gay groups and individuals.

As such, I have to assume that Christopher knew how his story would be perceived and presented by others.  I find the fact that he did nothing to address that and point out that his story is unique and not representative of all gay men, let alone QUILTBAG people in general, troubling and questionable.

He spends much of the book talking about friends — friends that eventually abandon him — from the circuit party scene, from the drug scene, from the porn scene.  And I have no doubt that they did exactly that.  But he makes no note that the problem isn’t that his friends were gay, but were part of scenes that are notorious for being filled with the kind of people who are only friends of convenience.  Perhaps Christopher didn’t make any gay friends from other scenes — coffee shops, pub-style gay bars, social groups, or groups that have a political/social justice bent — that tend to be filled with gay people who are more likely to swarm around someone in need.  People get involved in different scenes after all, and I’m not questioning his experience.  But again, as someone who should know what the narrative many conservative evangelical Christians try to push concerning QUILTBAG people, I’m troubled that he put in no effort to make it clear that his friends’ abandonment of him was probably far more influenced by factors other than their sexual orientation.

I find the same problem in the chapter “Holy Sexuality,” which I hope to cover more in a future blog post.  But for now, I’d like to note that Christopher describes the sequence in which he identifies and eliminates his “idols.”  He starts by identifying drug use as an idol and something he needs to live without, which I can certainly agree with.  Then he moves on to determine that dance music and the party scene is idol for him.  He is quick to note, however, that there is nothing inherently wrong with dance music or going to clubs.  He simply points out that he does not believe that he could do these things without falling back into old drug habits.  I can certainly understand this and honor his personal wisdom in realizing what he needs to do for himself in order to keep himself healthy and under control.  I’ll also note that in a sense, he also acknowledges this as a personal struggle and a personal choice of how to deal with it.  He doesn’t try to make it a universal ban on dance music and clubbing for all people.

Then he gets to the issue of sex.  He describes his own relationship to sex as follows:

I had an addiction to sex.  Having several anonymous partners at a bathhouse in the same day had been nothing out of the ordinary for me.

An actual addiction to sex is a serious problem, and I sympathize with Christopher and anyone else who has struggled with sexual addiction.  But Christopher jumps from the above statement right to the question of living without sex at all.  It’s as if in Christopher’s mind, there’s no middle ground here.  A gay man is either celibate or he is addicted to sex.

Perhaps he doesn’t mean that.[1]  Perhaps he means this as a personal decision, that for him, the only way to break free from the sexual addiction he felt was to turn to abstinence.  If that is the case, then I can respect that as another personal decision based on personal struggles.

However, the context of the rest of the chapter doesn’t leave me with that impression.  But my analysis of the rest of his views on holy sexuality will have to wait for another post.  And at any rate, given the tendency of many in the ex-gay/anti-gay movement(s) to conflate homosexuality and sexual addiction/”promiscuity,” I’m still concerned that he either intentionally or unintentionally contributed to that conflation by not addressing the issue.

[1]  Assuming the email I received regarding my last post, Christopher is reading my blog posts concerning his and his mother’s books.  Given that, perhaps he will see fit to clarify what his thinking/intent on this and my other concerns are.

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The Good

Today, I finally finished reading “Out of a Far Country:  A Gay Son’s Journey to God.  A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope” by mother-son team Angela and Christopher Yuan.  It was an interesting read and I found it both enjoyable and problematic.  As such, I want to do a number of blog posts about it.  In this blog post, I am going to try to focus mainly on what I enjoyed abut the book.[1]

The book focuses on two stories (though I’m sad to say that the one story ultimately gets subsumed by by the other), the story of each of the two authors.  Christopher shares his journey of coming out, walking away from his biological family, making many bad decisions, facing the consequences of those decisions, and reclaiming his life and reuniting with his family.  It’s touching, moving, and raw.  As someone who loves both stories and seeking to understand the heroes of those stories, it made for an incredibly compelling read.

Intertwined throughout this was Angela’s own story and her journey through the initial shock of her son’s announcement that he was leaving[2], her conversion to the Christian faith, and her acceptance of and patience with her sons journey before finally being reunited with her.

In many ways, Angela’s story was far more interesting to me than Christopher’s, which is why I was sad at how her story seemed to become little more than a subplot in his journey rather than something in its own right.  In part, this was because while neither Angela nor Christopher use the word in the book, it seems pretty clear to me that Angela is codependent and her initial reactions to Christopher and his bad decisions epitomizes the controlling behavior that those of us who struggle with codependency are so prone to.  As such, I was able to relate to Angela’s journey of recognizing these behavior patterns in her life and changing them as much — perhaps more than — I could relate to Christopher’s story.  After all, Christopher’s journey and my own were quite different and we’ve arrived at different places.  As such, in many ways, I found myself drawn more to his mother.

I also admire the honesty and rawness with which both author’s described their experiences, thoughts, and feelings throughout their journeys as well.  It was easy to see and understand not only what they were going through, but how their experiences and responses to them transformed them.  As such, while there’s much about the book that bothered me (and I will get into that soon enough), I think it was well worth reading and would encourage interested people to give it a try.

I will note however, that it deals with many deep and potentially triggering topics (including homosexuality, family rejection, drug abuse, HIV, imprisonment, and religiously-based homophobia).  Anyone who does accept my recommendation needs to be ready to deal with heavy topics.

[1] Sadly, what I found problematic about the book will likely take more than a single post.

[2] Though in fairness, Angela did lay down an ultimatum that contributed to Christopher’s decision.