Unpacking the Pieces—Attractions and Orientation
Back in 2017 when we began our blog, I posted an article called “Sexual Identity: 5 Pieces of the Puzzle”. In it, I briefly discussed various facets of our sexual identity–attractions, orientation, behavior/sexual expression and faith including theology. Conclusions about each of these could culminate into a variety of different identities or by acquiring a specific sexual identity label. Some of these labels could be gay, straight, queer, bisexual, same-sex attracted or gay Christian. Our sexuality is complex and multi-layered. Often these separate components (or pieces of the puzzle) of our sexuality are all tangled up together. Sometimes they can be in conflict with one another (ie–my attractions or behavior are incongruent with my faith convictions). Every single person must navigate these confusing areas.
Often when I sit with folks at Where Grace Abounds, I’ll talk through these various puzzle pieces. Especially with men and women who are same-sex attracted. It helps to get a sense of what a person is thinking and where they are in this journey. It also helps me to understand the areas which are currently painful and filled with struggle. Frequently I share my own. I’m grateful WGA continues to provide environments for people to have questions, seek answers and find some peaceful resolution to the conflicts.
Looking back over the original blog, it’s worth taking the time to revisit these puzzle pieces and unpack them a bit more.
Unpacking Attractions and Feelings:
- What experiences of attraction have I had throughout my lifetime with the same gender or opposite gender?
- Have my attractions been exclusively to the same gender or the opposite gender; or have I had confusing and/or troubling attractions to both?
- Are these strong attractions? Are they long lasting? Or fleeting and occasional?
- Do these “experiences” of attraction mean I’m oriented a certain direction? Do they say something about who I am? Perhaps they may or maybe not?
Attractions are just as complex and complicated as our sexuality. It is a broad category and encompasses a wide range of reasons why we “move towards” people. Think about your friends and the different levels of friendships you have—what draws you to them? Are they funny or you enjoy common interests? Are you emotionally attracted to their compassion and empathy? Do you admire their wisdom or strong faith? Do they have an awesome laugh or a kind smile? What about mentors—those who provide guidance and counsel in your life–what is it you admire in them? We’re attracted to all kinds of people for various reasons throughout our day. Perhaps they are simply beautiful or handsome or just plain hot.
Then we have those where we feel physically, romantically or sexually attracted to someone—that Eros kind of love. I’ve often heard attractions described as “experiences” that arise out of our growing development, which makes sense. I remember in kindergarten having a “crush” on my teacher—she was seventy. In first and second grade, there were guys I really wanted to be friends with and get into their worlds. By fifth and sixth grade, I had crushes on some girls in my class and experienced my first broken heart. Then puberty hit and I began having confusing attractions to girls and boys, and it got tangled up with sexual feelings. The conflicts began. Every “experience” of attraction built upon another and was leading me somewhere in my growing sexuality. We don’t choose these developing attractions, and many things or events throughout our lives can have influence on them.
That’s why we return to the above questions. What has my experience of attractions been to the same or opposite gender? What is the strength and direction of my attractions? For some this has been a relatively straight path (literally) with just the usual glitches and roller-coasters we all experience relationally in romance and love. For others of us, our experience of attraction has taken us veering off to unexpected, painful paths or left us stuck at a crossroads.
And then there is the question about our orientation. Do these experiences of attraction mean that I am “oriented” in some way and that says something specific about me? It may or it may not—that is a question that leads to a conclusion about identity, which is very personal. But it does open up a whole load of other questions. Are my attractions good or bad? Where does lust and sin fit in the equation? What about the longings, desires and emotional needs God has created in me? We’ll explore these questions in part two.
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