I experience same-sex sexual attraction, which I regard as a temptation to sin. I definitely believe that all gay sex is sin, so I fight that temptation with God’s help. In my case, I have never had enough attraction to a woman to marry one.

Despite these sexual feelings for men, I just can’t bring myself to say I am gay. Here are a few reasons why:

1. One word just can’t accurately describe my same-sex feelings and my response to them.

If someone cares enough to ask if I am gay, he or she deserves more than a one-word answer!

If the subject comes up, I usually take the opportunity to share at least a few sentences. I don’t hide the truth, but I do explain my Christian faith and how that affects the way I deal with same-sex attraction.

Simply saying “I am gay” causes misunderstandings and just does not accurately tell my story.

2. The word “gay” means different things to different people.

I am almost 60 years old, and to most people of my generation a man calling himself “gay” means that he is actively pursuing sex with other men.

To many millennials, “gay” simply means an attraction to men, not necessarily the pursuit of gay sex. Even among younger people, however, there are big variations in how the word is interpreted, and it mostly brings confusion, not clarity.

3. Very often “gay” is not just a description of feelings but also refers to an identity.

I personally don’t want to define who I am by my sexual temptations! Instead, I define myself by something far more important — my relationship with God.

He has changed my heart so that I love Him, and He made me His son. I am a Christian!

I understand when other Christians who also believe what I do about gay sex do call themselves “gay.” They are just using the newer meaning of the word that implies same-sex attraction but not necessarily same-sex sexual behavior.

Still, I find this too confusing and don’t recommend it.

Do you call yourself “gay” if you also hold to a traditional sexual ethic? Why or why not?

About the Author

  • My dear Brother, Marshall, thank you so much for sharing your deep belief that “[you] don’t call [yourself] gay.” You very clearly expressed your reason, and I admire your ability to “take a public stance” on a topic that is very divisive and controversial in both the Church and within the Side B community! Your explanation mirrors the beliefs and statements of so many other Brothers who dislike and do not use the word “gay” to define their sexual identity. THANK YOU for expressing your opinion!
    Very respectfully, my opinion (and position) differs.
    You and I are from the same, older, generation – in fact, I am six years older than you. 🙂 So, I fully acknowledge that until I was 31 years old (1984), ANY term related to the word “homosexual” meant, to me, flamboyant display, promiscuous homoerotic sex, and (honestly) “sin.” It was in that year I admitted to myself and my wife that “I am a homosexual.” That is the term that my Christian psychiatrist, plus Homosexuals Anonymous support group, told me to use. Decades later, I refused to use the word “ex-gay” for myself, because I had never be “gay” in the first place (i.e., my understanding that “gay” meant engaging in homoerotic sex), plus had never lost my same-sex attraction (SSA) – thus, I was absolutely NOT an “ex-gay.” Later still, my evangelical community virtually demanded I use the phrase “I struggle with same-sex attraction” – which, indeed, I complied with. However, eventually my “attraction” stopped being a “struggle.” I realized: I did not CAUSE my own SSA; having the attraction is NOT the same as being sinful; “shame” in being a “lesser than” was actually my primary reason for distress and anxiety (not the attraction itself); my sexual behavior was now pure and guiltless; and I was no longer going to tolerate Christian Brothers who wanted to shame me for the sole reason of having a minority attraction.
    So, today, I tell people: “I am in-Christ; He gave Himself up for me; I returned the favor. And, I am gay.” If this causes people to become confused regarding whether they should shun or condemn me, then THEY are guilty of the greater sin of self-righteous haughtiness. Plus, virtually everyone who has ever experienced SSA has had to deal with great shame and sometimes mistreatment from the Church. I am very tired of our Family not defending the dignity of any LGBTQ person – and intentionally distancing themselves from “the abused and discarded” of society (as though, by abstaining from homoerotic sin, the SSA Brother is now a “greater than”). If a straight Brother/Sister in my church cannot immediately defend the dignity of any LGBTQ person (even while disagreeing with the person’s theology), then I believe that person still regards ME (and every LGBTQ person) as “a lesser than.”
    Marshall, this entry is not meant to challenge you or any reader. It simply is true of ME. While we differ on this one issue, you and I will always be dear friends and hugging in heaven. 🙂 The beauty of having SSA is that we are not a monogamous group of people; to know “one” is not to know “all.” I will close my reply by NOT recommending readers avoid using the term “gay” – or avoid using the term “same-sex attraction.” Rather, I will conclude by encouraging readers to identify with a language that feels authentic and distinctly “you” – a person whose primordinal identity is “in-Christ,” while all other identities are an extremely distance second place.
    I love you, my Brother!

    • Mike, thanks for all you shared, both here and personally. I have nothing but respect for you!
      When I said that I understand other Christians using the term “gay” for themselves, what I meant was that I do consider them fully Christian. I never want to divide myself from others merely because of the terminology they use.
      I don’t call myself ex-gay for the same reasons you don’t. When I do use the phrase “same-sex attraction” I hope I give enough explanation to keep from alienating others. I definitely explain what I do and do not mean.

      • Dear Marshall, my love and respect of you runs deep – never to be broken! You are a sincere and dedicated Follower, who has demonstrated Christlikeness to legions of SSA/gay Brothers. We both have provided thoughtful, respectful explanations of the different rationale for using a particular sexual identity phrase. Hopefully our explanations bring comfort and unity to our Brothers, as you and I demonstrate our eternal unity to each other. I love you!

  • Grateful for the perspective you bring, Marshall. I’ve bounced back and forth between SSA and gay over the years, been embroiled in all the arguments from both sides, and I’ve reached the point where I don’t care anymore. Call me what you will; I just hope you see Jesus in me.

    • Tom, as I have told you personally, I definitely see Jesus Christ in you!
      As I’ve said in other comments here and as I have told you and others here at YOB, I don’t divide over labels.
      You, Ryan, Eugene, and others have watched me love you all just the same even though I already knew you call yourselves gay.

  • Excellent points, Marshall.
    Using the term “gay” or any other familiar contemporary language may be a useful (and even unavoidable) starting point in conversation to explain oneself, but it’s quite inadequate by itself to accurately communicate what is intended. It takes a serious personal conversation to truly communicate one’s own subjective self to someone else. And the more deeply internally subjective people’s self-conceptions become in our culture (moving ever further away from any sense where our objectively true identity is the sum of our life’s choices and actions, i.e. an actual lived-out vocation), the more such language as “gay” becomes utterly ambiguously meaningless.
    I favor resisting anything more than minimal conversational use of any such language so as to resist buying into our current social constructions of identity as if they were a “natural” (creationistic, i.e. divinely ordered and established) way of seeing, naming, and inhabiting the world. Particularly as Christians (and even just as creatures in God’s image), we’re called to have dominion in the world, which includes the way in which we name the world. There’s a responsibility to name things well, knowing the way we name the world will establish the structure of the world in which we live and which will form us.

    • Aaron, thanks for your thoughts on communicating in the light of our culture’s endemic lack of clarity.
      I agree, words can change in meaning and are often inexact even when they don’t. We should explain what we mean and not just use a single word like “gay” to describe ourselves.

  • Good article Marshall! Yeah it is a polarizing debate on the labels. I think its safe to say that both labels (gay and SSA) both have their pros yet their cons. Gay is a quick and to the point way of describing one’s sexuality. Its cons however are like what you mentioned that some folks assume it means you pursue gay sex. On the other side, SSA can often signify that someone upholds to the traditional Christian sexual ethic. On the other hand it has a negative association with its origin and use in the reparative therapy world and often alienates Side A folks from having any dialogue. So they’re both win-lose scenarios basically. They both don’t really sum us up and requires a lot of explaining. Its headache inducing for sure.

    • Eugene,
      Thanks! I’m sure you know I care about you as a friend and I would never let terminology divide us!
      Part of why I recommend explanation instead of using catch phrases is because both “gay” and “SSA” can imply things I don’t mean. In my case as I said in the “Boy Erased” post, I definitely do not recommend reparative therapy even though I do prefer SSA terminology.

  • Good stuff Marshall, you’re like the Obewan Kanobi of YOB. I can always count on what you say being full of wisdom from having lived well. I stopped identifying either way and now just say I deal with gay longings or same sex attractions. It’s one of those channels in my soul for the indwelling sin that remains active in my flesh. But it’s not the only one in me or even the largest. I do find that God heals the holes in the soul created by sin.

    • Bluzhawk ,
      Thanks for the compliment!
      Yes, my thoughts exactly on sin and temptation. Attraction to men is just one of many temptations I deal with and it is not what defines me. I am so glad that God does heal us from the ravages of sin!

  • Excellent thoughts, Marshall. Terminology is very much a personal
    choice, and finding one term that fits our individual experience is not
    For myself, if I had to come up with something to
    speak to my own experience, it would be “same-sex attracted son of God
    in a mixed-orientation-marriage who often experiences his same-sex
    attraction in an asexual manner.” They don’t have an acronym for that
    yet. So I tend to default to “Queer.”
    Identity is important. I also think there is a difference between primary identity
    and secondary identity. I am a husband, a pastor, a friend. Those are
    pieces of who I am. My queerness does color all those areas. I am also a
    child of God. That is my primary identity, and I try to make sure that
    is the overriding identity I am living by in all those other areas,
    including my queerness.
    For many I walk with, to say “gay” does not mean they are going out and hooking up with other
    men. It does mean that their attraction colors their lives in a
    fundamental way, much like my queerness does. I think terminology is a
    matter of conscience before God. I do think keeping dialogue open with
    others, side-A and side-B is important for promoting human flourishing
    and being safe people to those around us.
    I think these sections from Revoice’s “Statement on Sexual Ethics and Christian
    Obedience” speak to a balance between terminology and core identity:
    “While discussions about terminology can be fruitful, we believe they can also
    cause unnecessary division within the family of God and needless pain
    for many non-straight Christians. Whether individuals choose “gay” or
    “same-sex-attracted” to describe their orientation and experience is a
    matter of wisdom and liberty, and should not divide believers who
    otherwise share a commitment to historic Christian teaching about
    marriage and sexuality…We believe that all Christians have been given a
    new spiritual identity in their union with Jesus Christ, through the
    work of the Holy Spirit, and as a result of their adoption by the Father
    as sons and daughters in God’s family. We believe that this spiritual
    identity constitutes the core reality of Christian existence; that it is
    the truest element of Christian personhood; and that it should
    therefore be the central feature of Christian self-understanding.”
    Who does Christ say I am?
    -Benjamin Michael Rutkowski

    • Pastor,
      Yes! I cannot separate myself from a fellow Christian because of terminology. As Christians they should believe in the Biblical teaching of sexual morality, that sex belongs only between a man and a woman in a committed marriage.

  • I call myself gay. Sometimes I refer to myself as queer. For me, gay is a reminder of the people who fought for and continue to fight for equal civil rights under law. In NC, I can be fired for being gay and have limited recourse in state courts. When I was at a Pride march in the mid 90’s, a speaker asked how many people had been physically attacked for being gay. I was astounded at how many folks raised their hands. I’m in my 60s now and feel like I hid while others fought for me to speak my truth. Saying I’m gay is my way of moving past shame & fear.

    • Richard,
      I understand a little of your suffering. I am almost 60, so I have also lived in fear of bullying and of losing my job. Like you, I kept my mouth shut about my attractions for years.
      I just believe I should explain more now that I am speaking up. “Gay” alone just doesn’t accurately say it for me.

  • Thanks so much, Marshall, for giving voice to my own thoughts in such a succinct and loving way. To use a TMZ word, I resonate with this. You are a man of few words here on the blog and podcasts, but your words carry a lot of weight because they are filled with caring gentleness and the caution developed by age and experience.
    I never used the term for myself, but did (along with everyone else) when speaking of my out and proud older brother. It was not pejorative, but simply descriptive. When thinking of myself as a young teen who came to Christ for deliverance from sexual habits and tendencies developed as a result of long-term sexual abuse, homosexual was the word that seems to have stuck in my mind.
    But I wouldn’t call myself either nowadays. Coming to grips with the sexual abuse has been freeing for me in so many ways.

    • I am ao glad to hear that you feel free from some of the pain of abuse! I have never been sexually abused myself, but I’m sure the pain and feelings you experience need to be described in some depth. A one word label just won’t say it right.

  • Marshall! Good piece of writing! Concise and clear. I really don’t have much to add, but my agreement.
    I’m also over 60. Never “identified” as gay. I find the term ambiguous giving different readers or listeners their own connotation, not my understanding. I tend to think calling oneself gay means active in the homosexual lifestyle, though like you, I recognize that is not its only connotation.
    I agree with traditional Christianity that homosexual acts are sinful, while God loves sinners and sent His Son to die for them, including everyone with same-sex attractions.
    Now, I feel former SSA. I no longer feel sexual attraction to people of my own gender. And I prefer former SSA to ex-gay, because I never identified as gay.

  • I definitely can relate with this article. It resonates so much. I personally have always hated labels from since my earliest memories & being teased & tormented with the names I was called. I agree with Marshall. I don’t believe as Christians we should be defined by our struggles & should most definitely not be our focus. God isn’t looking down from heaven & saying there’s my gay son or daughter, but He calls us His children & loves us in the midst of our struggles. My focus is Christ as well. I could never call myself gay even if it just meant my attractions. God doesn’t call us to any label or identity. He does call us all to walk in holiness & pursue Him. Wether we struggle homosexually or heterosexually it doesn’t matter because we’re called to walk our Christian faith in holiness to Him.

  • Couldn’t agree more. I don’t want to identify myself as: I am proud, I am a glutton, I an a thief, although I have been tempted in all these things. I am a sinner but I’d rather be recognized as ” I am forgiven”. C.S. Lewis wrote about how the word “Gentleman” was spoiled by misuse, there was a time when ” Gay” meant to be happy, exuberant and merry, I know the homosexual life would not bring exuberant, happiness.

  • I don’t care for the “gay” label myself Marshall. I don’t object to someone else using it at their prerogative. It’s just not for me. If anyone really got to know me intimately I doubt they’d find a lot of commonality between me and the mainstream LGBT. I don’t announce my sexuality as “gay” or “SSA” to the world like it is some badge of honor. It is a personal thing and I choose who I want to be so personable with in my life. Although if push came to shove, I’d prefer the term “SSA” over gay as it would likely require more explanation to help whomever understand my inherent position.

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