As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays vs. Christians Debate.” I have a little less than 100 pages (out of the total 259 pages) to read. While there are some things in Justin’s book that I take issue with — such as his tendency to fall into the trap of focusing on showings how Christianity stands out from all other religions — there is much in the book that I like.
In truth, there’s much in the book that I can identify with. I can relate to the whole concept of being “God Boy” (though no one called me that and I don’t think I was quite as outspoken as he was) and “having a secret” while growing up. I resonated greatly when he started talking about his initial reactions when he first started discovering his feelings for other boys. Justin puts it thus:
At first I had ignored the feelings. Puberty is a confusing time, after all, so I assumed these attractions to guys were just some sort of weird phase I had to pass through as I matured. I’d heard Christian authorities such as radio host Dr. James Dobson say that young teenagers sometimes went through a period of sexual confusion, and this seemed to be the proof.
I too remember telling myself that I was just going through a phase when my sexual feelings for other boys first started surfacing. And yes, I seem to recall various religious experts — most likely including James Dobson — saying things to encourage that kind of thinking.
In some ways, I can also related to his awakening to the realization that he had no sexual interest in girls as a teenager. Justin writes:
As teenagers, my guy friends had become interested in girls in a different way, and they talked eagerly about their eyes and lips and breasts and legs. I avoided these conversations, telling myself that the reason I didn’t lust after women was that I was a good Christian boy. Lust was a sin, so I convinced myself I just didn’t objectify women the way some of my friends did. That wouldn’t have been Christlike, after all.
I remember a couple of boys in my class that began talking about girls’ anatomy and “humping” them (I’m sure that latter part was all talk) as early as the fourth grade. And at the time I took my failure to have any interest in such things — like Justin — as simply a matter that “good Christian boys” didn’t think about such things. (In some ways, I still feel that was true, given just how young we were at that time.)
However, as time went by, I became more keenly aware of just how uninterested I was in girls and just how bizarre this really was. I remember one night when I was in high school, I lay in my bed and actually tried imagining kissing the female classmate that I was allegedly interested in (in fairness, I did think she was a great person and would have loved to spend more time with her as a friend). Not only could I not imagine doing so, the thought left me feeling cold and a little bit disturbed. And that realization left me feeling even more disturbed.
I think that was one of the first times when I really began to wonder what was “wrong” with me.
So in many ways, while there are some things that I don’t agree with Justin on — and there are one or two things I’m still waiting to see how they play out in the rest of the book before I express concerns — there are many ways in which I find myself nodding along as he recounts his experiences.
In many ways, I think that’s a good thing. One of the central themes of his story seems to be that no one was there who understood, and that’s a theme I can relate to. I think that’s a theme that many LGBT people — and especially those who grew up within evangelical Christianity — can relate to. In many ways, Justin’s book is a way of letting those who may now be going through those experiences know that they are not the first and there are those who can relate and understand.
I’m not sure whether Justin’s goal of rescuing the gospel from the “gays vs. Christians” debate will be met, but that sense of offering understanding and camaraderie to those who came after both of us strikes me as something that makes his book priceless.