“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.
This reminds me of Nouwen and his powerful distinction between caring and curing. We often cannot cure the pain of another, but we can always care. Being with one another, seeing one another, hearing one another, identifying with one another is caring as Christ cares. And that in itself is healing.
Beautifully said brother!
Well said Steven. There is pain in this life that won’t be healed this side of eternity. But that pain doesn’t preclude us from caring for one another and having joy and life together. It’s a dialect that we do better to embrace than to avoid.
You laid out our gathering so beautifully, Ben. I still can’t believe this was your first time attending! Your presence and leadership throughout the weekend was greatly appreciated. I resonate deeply with our need to have separate gatherings like these as we also seek greater unity with our straight brothers and sisters in the Church. It’s my ongoing prayer for our community that both feed into each other!
Thank you Tom. We definitely need both spaces.
This is beautifully written. Not going to lie, I am jealous of this community for multiple reasons. But, the biggest reason is that you can be open and vulnerable with each other. I have felt so alone – so “other” – and can attest to the pain and isolation it causes. I recently was referred to this site by a friend and confidant. I am so glad that this site is continuing to operate. Can’t wait to read some more and maybe interact.
Welcome, Jon! We’ve all felt that “other” along the way. Hope you can feel at home here with us!
Welcome Jon…YOB is such a great place and a blessing in so many ways. I too have felt like an “other” many times in life, but being here has reminded me that I am not alone even if I have never met any people at YOB in person…wish that was possible! Again, welcome, brother!
Thank you Jon. I pray God brings you spaces where you can feel seen and known.
Well written Ben, you made the goodness of the retreat almost tangible. I can’t imagine walking this journey apart from knowing Christ and the satisfactions of the spirit that compensate for the shortcomings of solitude, but dang, how great would it be to be hugged and ssa didn’t matter. You guys are something else, something really good.
Hey, saw this & thought of y’all, that you’re there
Community… it sounds really beautiful, maybe a little bittersweet. I’ve never been part of any community. I am an “other,” though primarily for different reasons. I am not sure where I stand in my faith. I am trying so hard to separate the controlling, abusive voice from my childhood — the voice of extremes, the paralyzing fear of condemnation — from the voice of God. I don’t know where I’ll end up on my journey, but I know I need to resolve this in order to move forward.
SSA is so much more than sex. In fact, I think we’re all SSA, to some extent. I don’t think God denies us of connection like that, close friendships, or “brotherhood,” as I’ve seen coined here. But for you who live as “Side B” Christians… Is it painful? Are you happy (or, perhaps the better way to say it is “content”)?
It’s just… maybe I don’t understand yet. Maybe I’ll never understand. My struggles are so different, anyway, I can rarely talk about them and have others understand. I’m still trying to resolve what is actually sinful and what is just mired in shame and guilt and fear. Sex and sexuality… I wish I didn’t have them at all. But for you who have found peace or at least committment to this life… why? And, how do you do it?
Hey Ronnie, welcome man, Great comment/intro! There’s a lotta guys here who would recognize themselves in what you’ve said. I’m guessing we’ve all come to this journey thru different paths but it’s sure nice sharing it together for awhile. I’d encourage you to check out other posts and hopefully you’ll be encouraged being here.
As to whether it’s painful or peaceful, contented or crazy? I’d say Yes, all of that and more. And that, I wish sex and sexuality wasn’t my deal, yeah that too. But here’s the thing, it’s in dealing with all of it that I’ve experienced the reality of the things I believe. SSA isn’t an obstacle to faith, it’s an invitation. If it’s Jesus you want, it’s Christ you’ll know on this journey.
There’s so many good guys here that post great stuff that have shed light that helped me. The guy who wrote this post, Ben, is a pastor. So welcome Ronnie, wherever this is taking you, know that you’re not alone.
Alan, it is so great to see you encouraging others and thriving in this community. More power to ya!
Hey man, how you be? It’s been awhile, any Bigfoot sightings yet? 🙂 It’s good walking with others, if I can point to Jesus when someone’s having trouble seeing him, I mean, we all kinda need that sometimes. I’m not sure I’m a good fit here cause of my history but it’s good being here. Ya gotta keep chopping, it’s a Jersey thing.
I am well, Alan, thanks. I just got back from Dallas and Revoice and had a great time there. Met some YOB folks. I fly out to Harvard on Friday to see my son and take him to a Tim Timmerman art show in the city. Hey, you are a great fit here. And don’t worry about me and chopping; with our overgrown forest, I won’t ever be done with that. Come visit when you have the time.
Look at you man, the world traveler 🙂 I never heard of Tim Timmerman but glad I checked out his site. All his works there are full but loved his series Ontological Moorings, there’s something encouraging about art that expresses those places when life was all crazy and questions. Thanks for the invite, someday hoping to be free to find my way there.
I’m glad you checked out Tim’s art, Alan. I love his work. We have two of his pieces in our cabin. I bought another at the show for my son’s Christmas present. I think you would really like his book as well. You can find “A Greater World Yet” on that same site. It is the best thing I have read about SSA, and reading it lead to a wonderful friendship.
Didn’t know he had a book or that he was ssa, just liked his work. Makes sense tho, I passed Tim’s name to a guy who’s a good artist who’s also ssa and he already knew the name. Your son has a good dad.
Hey John, yeah, it’s kinda weird going back to a 5 month old post but I lost your email and had to say thanks. I’ve been hanging out at the MaleSurvivors site and it’s been good, you can talk about things YOB isn’t designed or equipped for, and that’s probably a good thing. Anyway, I was talking with someone there and telling him about the guy with a good heart and a lotta wisdom who helped when first remembering things and figured if I’m telling him I owe you big thanks for being that guy thru that time. Heck, I don’t know if you’ll see this, Google login gets me an error message, but if you do, thanks man.
Thanks for saying “hey,” Ronnie. It’s good to have you here. I can’t speak for all my other brothers on why they’re here, or how they do this life, but for me they’re a huge part of the equation. I’m a big believer in God sending us the right people for the right seasons, and I know I wouldn’t be here without these other guys. Doesn’t mean every day is a walk in the park by any means. But I see a vision of a future that doesn’t have to mean singleness is solitary. We have to fight for it, but it’s a fight worth fighting.
I just have so many questions, and I don’t know what to do with any of them. I know I need to work on my fears surrounding my belief in God, first, I know that’s my first step.
As humans, I know we have sexual needs that need to be fulfilled in order for us to be “content” (Maslow’s hierarchy, I think). It just doesn’t seem fair for people sometimes… Not that anything really is, or even worth thinking about that way.
I guess it’s just… hard to wrap my head around. It’s not even that I like sex, I’m actually repulsed by the idea (I don’t know why, I know it’s natural and I shouldn’t feel this way about it). It lingers on my brain all the time, intrusively, but as a form of anxiety and guilt. I think it’s been like that since puberty.
But I feel broken. I am broken and warped. My actual sexual interests… aren’t “typical.” I didn’t choose them, they’re things I can’t change. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe God really does hate me. I wish I could remove my desires and organs from me entirely, so I’d never have to worry about it again. I don’t think I can ever love properly or be loved. I am perverse, and I am vile in God’s eyes.
I’m trying so hard to believe otherwise, that maybe, just maybe, God doesn’t think I’m evil, that he loves me. But I’m dealing with years of this, all at once. I’m told faith is a journey and that God does not guilt or shame or use fear. He just guides, gently. I want to believe that, but it is hard. I don’t know what to believe.
You all seem very brave and convicted. I don’t understand yet how or why you reached this path. But I will explore around this site a bit more when I feel able. Thank you both for responding to me. And sorry for the long response. I don’t know what I want without fear yelling at me… but I will, hopefully soon.
Hey Ronnie, like Tom said, I can’t speak for others but I’m betting a lotta guys have been where you are. For the longest time I fought the fear that “God had given me over” because I couldn’t shake the attractions; turns out He knew me at my worst and loved me there, He still does. Set the eyes of your heart on Jesus and keep going, you’ll find in the satisfaction you find in Him the answers you’re looking for. This place is great, you can breathe here, but the answers that will mean the most are given to you by God as you follow Jesus.
Thank you, Alan. I appreciate you responding to me. I have been told that the answers will come one at a time, through the natural progression of my journey. I can’t force understanding, and it may be different from others, but God will guide me in that. And I will try reaching out to God, though it is difficult for me right now. I wish all the best.
I resonate with the wrestling.
-“what is actually sinful and what is just mired in shame and guilt and fear?”
That is a question many wrestle with, whether Side B or Side A. There is a common story of pain and trauma in the church for many sexual minorities. Marin’s book “Us versus us: The untold story of religion and the LGBT community” spells this out well. In short, don’t be afraid to wrestle. God isn’t afraid of our questions. Keep seeking truth. Process your experiences (I recommend in counseling. It’s been helpful to me).
You said “I am trying so hard to separate the controlling, abusive voice from my childhood — the voice of extremes, the paralyzing fear of condemnation — from the voice of God.”
Many of us grow up in invalidating environments and are “more sensitive” than many of our peers. These are the two greatest common factors in those having borderline personality disorder BPD. Not saying you do, or that all sexual minorities do, but I say all that to say the things we go through leads many people to seek counseling. The trauma is real. The gaslighting is real. I’ve been to counseling. Many people in our community have been or are in counseling. Seeking help to navigate it all is a good thing.
From what you said, it seems like you are in a heavy place. Know that it makes sense that you are. You’re not weird for that. And there are other people out there who get it. You are not alone in your experience.
You ask “But for you who have found peace or at least commitment to this life… why? And, how do you do it?”
I won’t give the Sunday school answer and just say “Jesus.”
But Jesus’ words are a comfort. In the sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper, Jesus told his followers that they would have trouble for following him, tribulation in this world.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 ESV)
In him we have peace. Peace (shalom in Jewish thought) is not the absence of pain, but the peace with God and his abiding presence and strength to stand regardless of circumstance.
So, for me, living this life means recognizing that there are some elements to this journey that are hard. And some may always be hard. If I can’t make them less hard, then I needed to have tools to stand up rather than get beaten down, and ways to find peace and joy even in pain.
That means embracing what I am feeling rather than minimizing or avoiding it. Accepting it. And also trusting that God does not leave me alone in it. With acceptance comes a certain measure of control. I control what I feel. And then my emotions don’t control me (as much!). My actions don’t have to be controlled by my emotions. Neither do I need to ignore them. And I seek out things that bring me life and joy in Christ and with his people. I mourn what I need to mourn, but I also keep going. I praise and rejoice. And I keep going.
There is a saying in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). It says “You are accepted just as you are, and you need to do better.” Those are two ideas that appear to contradict, but let’s reconcile them.
You are accepted just as you are: Given everything you’ve have been through, it makes sense you are where you are. There’s no blame to where you are. Only radical acceptance.
You need to do better: Anything living continues to change and grow. If you want life to be better/ get better, you need to do the work necessary. You need to seek the tools and relationships that will help you get there. You are responsible for your own choices.
Jesus plus DBT has been incredibly helpful to me.
And to be clear, there are some really awesome things in this life, many happy moments and connections. However, too often people ignore or avoid the mourning and emotional work they need to do. only to have those things come back later and cause more pain and trauma. Without the work to face and regulate emotions and control them, the good things don’t mask them forever.
I’ll throw this out here. I am not a counselor. YOB is not providing medical advice or treating anything. The views expressed are my own and of my experience… yada yada. I think everyone should go to counseling at some point in their life.
DBT in its true form is not a solo endeavor. However, some people have found the tools to be helpful even if they haven’t gone through counseling. And some of the tools and skills might be able to be self taught. A google search will give you plenty, but here is one site put together by people who have been through DBT and compiled what has been helpful for them.
Great post, Ben!
As a married man (and a “semi-closet” bi guy), I feel all your brothers in a MOM… Both faliures and victories have accompained our so callenging lifes… But such vivencies are conducted through a “Golden Wire” that begins and finishes in the God’s Hands, as said Ste. Augustine in his “Confessions”.
At the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu context, we use a motivation word meaning perseverance ever under pressure… it’s OSS…
Go on, men… all together..OSS!….
Bjj could be therapeutic
It sounds amazing. I can’t imagine how healing an experience like that might be.