“Doesn’t spending time with other same sex-attracted people just make temptation worse?”
Fresh home from our YOBBERS retreat, I do not want to answer this as the first question. However, it seems like any time I talk to people about “Side B” Christians (those following a traditional belief on sexuality) gathering together, this question comes up. Of all the questions I get asked about same-sex attraction (SSA), this one is perhaps the most common. It implies that because of potentially mutual attraction and sexual temptation, gay/SSA Christians should avoid time together.
I gave my somewhat tongue-in-cheek response on a recent YOBcast with Will and Tom, something along the lines of: “Well, obviously we shouldn’t gather together, since putting together a group of opposite-sex, straight people also usually results in an orgy . . . oh, wait.”
While I do not want to ignore the subject of temptation and what to do with it, I think it would be more relevant to talk about the positives of this weekend retreat spent with my brothers in Christ.
A better question to ask and answer about our YOBBERS retreat would be: “Why do you gather together?”
And also the question: “What is the fruit of such a gathering?”
Why do any groups of minorities gather together?
Perhaps by looking at something more culturally familiar, we can draw a parallel to our experience as gay/SSA “Side B” Christians.
Some 25 years ago Beverly Tatum published Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? In a radio interview following the book’s twentieth anniversary, Tatum remarked that one of the reasons students from similar racial backgrounds gather is that:
“[C]onnecting with peers who are having a similar experience as your own serves as a buffer, as a protective force … [It] is also a way of affirming your identity.”
Our experiences as sexual minorities do not completely parallel those of racial minorities, but there is some similarity in purpose and outcome.
At the YOBBERS retreat, and whenever I get together with other LGBTQ+ folks, I use similar language as Tatum’s to describe my own feelings and experiences. To be with other LGBTQ+ people, and particularly with my fellow “Side B” brothers, is to be with those who share similarities in life experiences as well as understandings of faith and sexuality.
In short, they are “like me.” When I am with them, I do not feel “other.” It is a buffer. A safe zone. In this shared space, I can feel confirmed in my identity as both a queer Christian and a child of God.
Such gatherings affirm we are not alone. When we hear other people’s stories of faith and sexuality in the church, family interactions, and so on, we are able to empathize and affirm their experiences because we have been there as well.
We need spaces like the YOBBERS retreat because the church doesn’t understand why we need spaces like the YOBBERS retreat.
Read that last sentence again.
While some of us have found understanding from the church, there remain experiences our straight brothers and sisters in the church don’t understand. Those who are cishet (people who are both cisgender, whose biological sex matches their gender identity, and heterosexual) have the privilege their majority status affords, particularly in the church.
Generally speaking, cishet people don’t have to think about whether the church will treat them differently for their heterosexuality or their “normal” presentation of societal gender norms.
In a similar way that I can only try and understand what it means to be a black kid in a mostly white school, so our cishet peers can only grasp to a certain extent what connecting with others who are “like us” feels like.
The purpose is not to have an orgy. The purpose is not to “get as close to temptation as possible.”
The purpose is to glorify Jesus, acknowledge His lordship over our whole life (including our sexuality), and live affirmed in our faith and status as sons of God.
What is the fruit of such gatherings?
When we gather, we get to share our stories and invite other people to speak into our lives as they affirm us as fellow image-bearers.
For some, the YOBBERS retreat presented the first-ever opportunity to be vulnerable in sharing their stories with others — the first time someone could hear someone else tell him, “Me too!”
It was the first time some guys got to sit across from others at picnic tables, sleep in shared cabins, and worship alongside other men while never feeling “other.”
It was the first time some people could talk to others ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty-plus years ahead of them on this journey, exchanging experiences and wisdom across generations.
It was the first time some married guys on this journey could sit down face-to-face with other guys also in mixed-orientation marriages and discuss all of its intricacies.
It was the first time guys divorced from mixed-orientation marriages could be embraced by men still in mixed-orientation marriages and be told:
“I understand how hard it was for you to be in that space. I’m sorry for your hurt and your ex’s hurt. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out. This is not how it is supposed to be, and it’s okay to mourn that. Know that your life is not over. Know that God has not abandoned you.”
It was the first time some guys could be hugged by others and not judged for their sexuality. The first time they were held and told, “You are not a mistake. God does not find you disgusting. Your mistakes do not stop God from loving you. You are seen. You are safe. You are loved — by Jesus and by your brothers.”
The fruit of our YOBBERS retreat was being the love and embrace of Jesus toward one another as brothers within His Church.
Our weekend together reminded us all that as we go back to our homes, families, and churches, there exists a space where we are not the “other.” Where we can simply be us — sons of the Most High God.
Indeed, we are not alone.