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THE TONY CROSS COLUMN

Article No. 108

Get out of the box!

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Get out of the box!

The ability to classify has been one of the survival tools from earliest times. Red berries good - brown berries bad. Dog that wags his tail good - dog that growls bad. Sabre tooth animal bad - chickens good. And so on. It was the basic survival tool because by operating choice to ensure our survival we also exercised our capacity to learn more things and more widely. Of course it took time - millions of years in fact! We are still doing it - black hole bad, two black holes colliding, even worse.

It is clear therefore that as humans progressed in their development, the ability to choose widened. It became more complex. Indeed, one could measure the progress of civilisations by the degree of choice. As life became more civilised, so more and more subtle choices became available to us. Klemperer playing Beethoven - good, Klemperer playing Chopin less good. Airline A good (better meals) - Airline B bad (seats too cramped). And so on.

As we have become more civilised therefore the number of choices and our range of choices have increased in complexity and urgency. All of us today face an infinitely more complex life than that of our great grandfathers. We describe this by saying that life moves more quickly these days. But what we are really saying is that we are bombarded with the need to make decisions - large and small - all the time, whereas in olden times there were fewer choices facing them and they were less urgent.

All this is also true in the sexual area too. Nuances of tone can make or break a relationship. Grunts may have sufficed a million years ago - not any more! Now the ability to make light conversation or input some humour may make all the difference in how we choose to view someone. But we are still using the old ability - one of the great characteristics of all human beings - to classify and then to choose. Sometimes we cannot explain in words why we are for or against a thing or person - but that does not stop us classifying them and choosing how we will respond to them.

All this by way of introduction, because it is this process of classifying that I want to explore in relation to how we think about sexuality. Clearly this is an area of prime importance to human beings. The quality of your mate was important from the very beginning - programmed as we are to spread our genes as widely as possible. So we accordingly classified and made our decisions. And the human race prospered and grew in numbers!

From earliest time it was important to multiply the tribe. The more babies the better - especially as so many died young! Good childbearing women were in high demand. Strong virile men were much sought after! Gay men didn’t get much look in, we think. Sometimes they may have been valued as special people. Gay sex may have been an optional extra-curricular activity in some tribes - but it did not provide the one object universally desired - children.

It has been suggested that this is one of the basic reasons why at a point of their development some human societies formed a taboo of sorts against gay men. Perhaps they were seen as a weight to be carried rather than a vital part of the work of survival for the tribe. In time that taboo against unproductive (as regards offspring) males increased and became embodied in the primitive laws and attitudes of the tribe. Straight was in and, mostly, gay was out.

As civilisations developed this taboo extended, although some societies (some in the Far East and, for example, Greek society) reached a level of civilisation that enabled the gay man to become valued again. It was felt that the gay man had a special contribution to make to society, probably mainly because he was seen as distinct from those other more aggressive males. But despite any of this, the taboo became embedded in the early religions - probably mainly for the unproductive sex reason - and so became associated in the minds of the majority with sin and guilt.

This indicates perhaps how it is that over the centuries societies became accustomed to categorising heterosexuals as good and homosexuals as bad. All sorts of evils subsequently became associated in the general population’s mind with homosexuals, and of course religion found it easy to condemn the homosexual and all his works.

In other words human society fell into the easy trap of labelling gay as bad. That is where we were but a few decades ago and it should surprise no one that there is virulent opposition by some to the idea that homosexuality might not be so bad after all. In fact the only surprise is that we have all made such progress in such a short time. You do not turn back the practice and settled thought forms of many centuries in a few short decades.

This is why the work of Kinsey has had such an impact. He made popular the understanding of increased complexity as regards sexuality - complexity having become apparently a feature in all areas of our modern life. Whereas civilisation equals many more choices, so in the sexual sphere Kinsey showed that sex is not a question of two boxes - heterosexual and homosexual, but that human sexuality was an infinitely complex part of our human makeup.

Instead of gay or straight Kinsey showed us how we might think of sexuality as graded from each extreme. Whereas most people could be grouped more towards the heterosexual end of the scale - demonstrating the need for the human race to propagate itself - there was a sizeable portion of the human race that were spread out along the line that reached to the extreme of totally homosexual.

Kinsey only put in popular form what was being discovered by others who were studying these matters. The general view of human sexuality is that it is a infinitely complex attribute - and that it can vary in any human being over time. Indeed, it must change as we grow older and our needs and our place in human society changes.

The point that I think needs to be made is simply that we all need to get out of the habit - which most of us have inherited - of thinking and talking of sex in terms of just straight or gay. We use these two boxes as if there were no other possibilities. Some add a third box: bisexuality. But even that is still too compartmentalised. It is high time we started to become more educated and more sophisticated.

A person is not just straight or gay. Each person is a complex being with an infinite number of inclinations, desires, abilities and hopes and fears. Each of us is rich in possibility. Each of us is created unique in God’s eyes. Each of us has unlimited potential in all areas of our life. So to put people into one of only two boxes - or even three - is an over simplification. You are not either gay or straight. You are a complex being with a complex sexual background and a person with infinite possibilities.

I am not advocating that we should cause confusion in people’s minds about their sexuality. But I am suggesting that we should have not two, nor even just three, boxes by which we describe our sexuality. Instead we need to see our identity as much wider than sexuality and our sexuality as a diffuse thing. Sexuality is an intensely important and valued part of our being, but it is only a part and we are more than our sexuality - however we describe it.

This article has been prompted by seeing a television programme recently about several families where the husband discovered after marriage that he was gay. That is, that he had a tendency to lean towards homosexuality. What struck me particularly was the strength and courage and humour of the wives. Clearly they still loved their husband. Clearly the husband had reached a point of no return as regards ‘coming out’ about his sexuality. Clearly that had created a crisis. But the assumption in both the couples concerned and in some of their friends and relatives was that therefore they had to split. That a homosexual man could not live with a straight wife (or vice versa). Why was that? Why is it that no future was seen for such couples staying together?

Well, one reason of course is that sex between them had changed and, mostly, intercourse had ceased. That is foreseeable. But a marriage is not just sex, and one of the wives talked of how her friendship with her husband was now richer and better than before he came out to her. She valued him as a friend more than she had valued him as a husband previously.

All of this raises the whole question of the homosexual in a marriage. If you forget for a moment the sexual side of matters, then in every other way apart from one there seems to be no reason why the love they have for each other cannot continue and their marriage to prosper. That one area, apart from sexual relations between husband and wife, is in the area of the gay husband needing gay friends. That will need thought and attention.

These two main areas therefore (sexual relations between husband and wife, and the need for gay friends for the gay spouse) will need to be thought through by the couple to see whether there is an experimental way forward.

If either party insists on parting then of course that is the end of the marriage (though not necessarily of the friendship).

Let us face this squarely. The gay husband will find it extremely difficult to go through his life without some gay contacts - people and places where he can relax in his homosexual persona. This does not mean that he is going to have wild sex every night out on the town. But it does mean that the married couple, who have so much invested in their mutual love and friendship, will not easily give up what has cost them so dear over the years of marriage to date.

If the gay husband finds another man to love then he may wish to depart and make a new life with him. Likewise if the wife finds another man to love she may wish to cut her ties to her gay partner and start a fresh life as a heterosexual couple.

But if neither finds that other person, and if the couple have real love between them, then it is certainly possible for them to go on living together provided they face the sexual cost.

Originally they committed themselves to each other - can that not continue? In order to avoid uncertainty, they would need to make a fresh commitment to each other and to be honest about what is happening in their lives. And each must be prepared to release the other if circumstances demand it.

Such a continued marriage might be unconventional, though it is obvious that there are many married men out there who feel the tug towards a gay friendship.

What I am saying here is that the tendency to think in boxes - whether gay and straight or gay or bisexual, can inhibit a right solution to a problem. We need to widen our understanding of the sexual nature of the human being and to see each other as the complex beings we are. To think that one partner showing gay tendencies means the automatic end of the marriage is, I believe, a terrible mistake and shuts out hope of a solution being found.

It is not enough to say that straight and gay are watertight compartments and that marriages must conform to one or the other. There are many mixed marriages - and we have to become knowledgeable and adult about the needs of both partners in such marriages. This is not to devalue marriage - indeed, it is to underline the importance of the marriage bond and to help marriages that appear threatened when the needs of a gay man or woman seem likely to destroy their marriage.

Perhaps those who are still in marriages where one partner or the other has strong gay tendencies need to become vocal about their needs and how they wish to retain love for and loyalty to their partner of the other sex. A marriage will become even stronger and more permanent where the partners face the sexual needs of both partners, even where one of them is bisexual. Just because one partner is bisexual it does not mean that the marriage is doomed. What we have to try to avoid is refusal to face the truth and the consequent deception - even if that only amounts to a ‘don’t tell’ policy.

And so what are the needs of a gay partner in the marriage relationship? This has been touched on in previous articles but briefly they amount to a need for the gay person to able to express his or her gay persona from time to time in gay company. This may not need to involve physical sexual involvement with another person - but it will certainly mean that he or she can relax among his or her own sort without having to maintain the façade of being straight.

This is such a big subject that it deserves a separate article. Suffice to say that we will find, in today’s world, that unless we all allow for greater flexibility in our attitudes towards being gay and bisexual, then more marriages will inevitably break rather than bend under the strain of an increasingly sexualised society.

Tony Cross

February 2006


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