My Reluctant Journey to Chastity
My name is Jake, I’m 55 and I live in the western part of the
In a quiet sort of way, our marriage has proven to be the most grounding and centering force in my adult history. To most observers’ eyes, our lives would seem quite mundane: we own and care for a home together, take turns with the chores, tease each other, disagree on money issues and pray together daily. We have shared interests and separate hobbies. Neither of us happens to like drama and we very rarely fight. Ironically, the very ordinariness of our married life and the stability and security we share together has created in me a great reservoir of inner contentment, one that I had never known or imagined before. I am learning how to live life with someone other than “me” at the centre and feel as though I have actually become a husband. I think Ben would agree with me that our relationship is not a lot of work; it seems to flow most of the time like a dance. For me, marriage to Ben has been a source of deep inner contentment and gladness. I marvel that I lived so alone (even when I was in other relationships) for so many years of my life. And yes, our relationship is monogamous.
My journey to chastity has been a reluctant one. Though I think there are some credible reasons that gay men are especially prone to promiscuity, I have become convinced from my own experience that it is not healthy. To give some background, I was raised in a mainline liturgical Christian tradition in the
Parallel to those experiences, for which I had no language and was shy to speak of, was another awareness I had from at least the age of 5: I always seemed to have a crush on another boy. For some reason I knew this needed to be kept a big secret. Somehow, I learned that this desire was shameful and I grew up steeped in shame for having these feelings.
We moved when I entered high school. I went from a grade school, where my friends were kids like myself, to a high school where it seemed as though all of my peers talked incessantly about girls, cars and sports, none of which I knew anything about nor had the slightest interest in. (Full disclosure: I took some auto mechanics courses in my early 30's and really enjoyed them.) I knew I was attracted to guys but to fit in I feigned an interest in all three. I sank deeper and deeper into the morass of compartmentalisation and the conflict between my outward persona and my inward self became quite stressful. My experiences of the “numinous” became rarer and rarer.
“Relief” came to me unexpectedly. At the age of 16, I got talked into going to a conference where Jesus became real to me in a way that He never had been before. I was genuinely inspired to try and follow the way of Christ and to do right in the world. I discovered that one of the convenient side benefits of my very real conversion was that being publicly religious exempted me from having to pretend I was interested in girls or sex with girls. I suddenly could escape the close scrutiny of my male peers! This was accompanied however by a new religious guilt over my attractions as well as my discovery of masturbation. I knew God could not be pleased with me thinking about what I thought about and doing what I did. I prayed for change and none came. My shame and embarrassment caused me to isolate my real self from others more than ever.
I went away to college for a year and then came back to my hometown because I didn’t know what I should study. I was lonely and isolated, though outwardly sociable and I had some Christian “friends”. I worked nights and took Spanish classes by day, planning to go to
Amazingly, that act of coming out was to begin my real life in a way quite analogous to my conversion at the age of 16. It was a sort of birthing, an act of courage that was the first step towards authenticity and ending the compartmentalisation that has been such a hallmark of my life. But it was, in retrospect a tiny step, necessary but not sufficient for wholeness. I did not know how God fitted into my life and indeed I expected that He was probably quite disapproving. But I also knew that, in some way, this was the real me and that I was a healthier man after coming out than I had been before.
But coming out was not a panacea. In reality, I was emotionally aged about 14, and years behind my straight peers in terms of social maturity. It was with very low self-esteem and very little practice in same-gender friendships that I came out, and other men finding me attractive proved to be very intoxicating. I developed the habit of bedding down with men because of loneliness or thrills or even (I thought) for friendship. I saw sex as a way of relating to men I was attracted to because frankly I didn’t know how to relate to them otherwise. Eventually this developed into a habitual taste for shallow, erotic contacts that were brief thrills and I kept my friendships mostly to men I wasn’t attracted to. My life was definitely better than it had been before I came out, but at some level, it was still shallow and unsatisfying.
When I was 26, a younger man took an interest and rather aggressively pursued me. We came to consider ourselves “married” and even bought a house together. Our relationship was an “open one with rules” and quite rocky, and it dissolved after almost 4 years. The demise of that relationship was a wake up call for me. In my pain, I realised that I had neglected my relationship with God and I knew that at the heart of our troubles had been our refusal to develop and share a spiritual life. I made a vow that I would never be in a relationship again where I didn’t share a common spiritual life with my partner. I didn’t know any gay men at the time who were actually pursuing a spiritual life and to all outward signs, I have to admit, my life didn’t appear to change much. I stayed away from bars and bathhouses, but I still occasionally “connected” with someone I liked, although never more than once. I was addicted to variety and ambivalent about intimacy. In truth, I didn’t have a clue at the time as to what real intimacy was and was no more ready to be in an intimate relationship than I was to sing at the Metropolitan Opera.
Eventually I did move to
My reborn interest in my spiritual life however was soon to become sidetracked by a trap which I was too immature to avoid and could have been disastrous had not God persistently confronted me with my unethical behavior and what it was doing to my soul. After 5 years, I had returned to my hometown and became a caregiver for an elderly man who required my professional expertise in exchange for a promised inheritance. My motives were mercenary, my actions were dishonorable and my conscience so bothered me that I medicated myself by becoming as promiscuous as I had ever been before. Finally, not unlike the prodigal son, I “came to my senses”, made amends as best I could, removed myself from profiting from my wrong and recommitted myself to putting God first in my life. Remarkably, as I started to turn around and walk away from my self-centeredness, I started to meet a few others who were on a similar God-journey and were supportive of my attempts to be better. I started to see how my promiscuity, acted upon or not, had kept me from becoming the kind of man any healthy guy would ever want to marry.
I had been celibate for two years (quite an achievement for me up to this point) when I met Ben, my future husband. We courted for the next 18 months, committing ourselves to celibacy while we dated. We did fail once about halfway into our courtship and decided that we had made a grave mistake; we resumed our courtship “chastened” if you will. Afterwards, we underwent in-depth premarital counseling from a former Dominican Priest, who encouraged me to talk openly about my history and fears of commitment to monogamy. Over 8 years ago, Ben and I had a very moving marriage ceremony with family, friends and our spiritual community in attendance that (surprisingly to me) helped “seal” our relationship in a powerful way. What I quickly discovered was that getting to know Ben so well by sharing our spiritual and emotional selves during our courtship, gave a remarkable depth and freshness to my eventual sexual relationship with him. I was amazed that I didn’t get bored and I can honestly say that our physical relationship is better than anything I could have envisioned. And it seems to keep getting better.
Two and a half years ago, I finally gave up masturbation as well. It had been my last holdout of erotic fantasy not associated with my husband. Although I used it primarily as stress relief, I came to the point of being convinced that it did not honour God or Ben. I fear sounding like an advertisement but the unintended consequence for me has been that my sexual and emotional connection to Ben has grown even better with time. I regret the fact that I didn’t try to submit my sexual self to God years sooner. It might have spared me and others, a lot of grief. In trying to figure out who I was as a young gay Christian man in the 1970’s, I got caught up in the “rush” that sexual experiences gave me. And I didn’t find rôle models showing me an alternative way of being, so I wasted a lot of time in trying to “do it my way”. What this journey has helped me to discover is that God has been trying to bring good into my life for a long time, but I just keep been getting in the way with my own agenda. Things started to change when I finally, albeit reluctantly, said to God, “not my will but your will be done”.