As a staff, we have many opportunities to share our personal stories along with the various teachings we do on gender and sexual identity. What I often find challenging in these times of sharing is how to convey my experience in a way that helps our audience understand on a deeper level. How can someone who’s never felt an attraction towards their same gender feel what it might be like? We all go through many puzzling and problematic times in our sexual development. Being a teenager is hard enough already with the craziness going on internally and what life is firing at us externally. But how are these complexities nuanced for someone growing up with same sex attractions?
Mark Yarhouse in his book, Sexual Identity & Faith, says this—“I often introduce the metaphor of joining clients on a meaning-making journey, a journey on which they are looking for purpose, and they will face various milestones that other sexual minorities have identified as important to sexual identity development.” (pg. 79) Dr. Yarhouse elaborates on the metaphor as though this journey for same sex attracted people is a difficult hike where one cannot find sure footing on challenging terrain. At each stage of the journey (or “milestone event”) are lots of perplexing questions and decisions. I believe his 8 milestone experiences offer insight into some of the painful challenges of growing up with attractions towards the same gender.
Awareness and Meaning—what do I make of these feelings?
Attractions arise out of development, and many things can influence them. When someone is first experiencing attractions towards their same gender (for most around puberty) what is the initial reaction—is it troubling, unwanted or surprising? What do these feelings mean?
Confusion—What do other people experience?
Along with the feelings of troubling attractions, there might also be a question. “Do other people experience what I’m feeling?” This experience might be less than what one would have experienced 50 years ago. The LGBTQ community is very visible these days in media and social media. But there can also be a confusion if someone is growing up in a Christian home. Do other Christians experience these attractions?
Disclosure—Who can I trust with what I’m experiencing?
This is a very important experience and is never a “one time” opportunity but will follow someone throughout their lifetime. “Who feels like a safe enough person with who I can share these confusing feelings?” This of course can be a helpful or more damaging situation depending on the response.
Being Gay—Do my attractions signal identity to me?
“Am I gay, lesbian or bisexual—is this what these feelings mean?” Maybe or maybe not. There is a lot of choice when it comes to how one sees themselves. One person might give full weight to their attractions and one might give it less as an impact on their identity.
Private Identity—How will I think of myself?
There are a lot of questions when it comes to identity with same sex feelings. Does one take an identity label of the LGBTQ acronym? Or does shame or self hatred dominate the way one views themself? This too can be an experience growing up in a Christian setting.
Sexual Behavior—Should I engage in or refrain from sexual behavior?
Another big question to wrestle with is, “What do I do with these feelings?” Does someone decide to act on the attractions physically, romantically and sexually? Are they emotionally ready for this experience? How does faith interact with this decision?
First Relationship—How will my needs for intimacy be met?
This big question dovetails with the milestone above. What are relationships going to look like? Will I have a same sex partner or pursue marriage? What will intimacy, family and community look like? How will family and others be affected by these choices?
Public Identity—How will I be known by others?
“Coming out” is the big decision in this milestone. Along with this choice is how a person wants to be known or how to communicate about who they are. Once again, is a letter off the LGBTQ acronym used or is “same sex attracted” or some other label acquired or perhaps none at all.
(Sexual Identity & Faith by Mark Yarhouse, pg. 82)
Faith—Wrestling with God, Church and Theology—Do I stay or leave?
I have added this ninth milestone to Dr. Yarhouse’s list because of my work at Where Grace Abounds. I see Christian men and women wrestle with these big faith questions as they try and figure out the conflicts within their sexuality. I personally have faced the same questions. What does God think of these attractions? Does one embrace a traditional view of sexuality or take on an affirming theological view? Is faith too painful and the answer is to simply leave? How does faith or the lack of it frame the eight milestones above?
An Arduous Journey
As Dr. Yarhouse described, the journey through these eight milestones can be challenging to walk through without the assurance of the next best step. This experience parallels that of development beginning in early adolescence all the way through early adulthood and beyond. Is someone doing this alone or have the support of family and community? Along with each milestone event are tough questions, hard choices and the ramifications of our choices—good and bad. How are people responding—helpfully or creating more wounds and confusion? In my next blog, we’ll discuss how the aftermath of these milestones might affect a person.
Although he holds a degree in graphic arts, he attributes his ministry qualifications to the “school of hard knocks.” God’s abundant grace continues to be the instrument of growth in his life, and he desires to be firmly grounded in the forgiveness and freedom of relationship with Jesus Christ.
Scott attends a Presbyterian Church.
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