Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why I Don't Identify As Gay

A GUEST POST BY 'BARRY' (posted by E. Fink)

(An old friend of mine)

With great shock, many have asked me—a man who experiences homosexual attractions—why I don't identify as "gay." To so many people, being gay is “who you are,” and “who you're meant to be,” and to do otherwise is to "deny yourself." To them, it’s a simple truth as plain as day. But my reason for not identifying as gay is also simple: a gay identity is a social construction.

Allow me to explain: When I was younger, one was a "homosexual" if one engaged in homosexual activity, but there was no such identity as "gay." Gay people weren't referred to as "kinds" of people, in the way we refer to men and women as the different sexes. Rather, homosexuals were seen simply as men or women who have or experience a specific kind of desire — the sexual and emotional desire for members of the same sex. We don't identify short people and tall people as different kinds of people, just people, some of whom happen to be short and others who happen to be tall. They are not distinct versions of human beings.

Homosexuality is a non-behavioral trait. And like all non-behavioral traits, like desires, emotions, thoughts (apart from those being acted upon), it is amoral and private, and cannot be identified like race or biological sex, beyond the statement of the individual that he or she has such feelings.

Nowadays, though, a “gay person” is a kind of person, independent of sexual conduct. Yet the latest document on homosexuality by the American Psychological Association says that most scientists believe homosexual attractions are developed through a complex mixture of both nature and nurture, so not only are homosexual attractions not a physical trait like race or biological sex, but they are also not purely innate.

It's interesting, however, that many Orthodox Rabbis don't see this distinction, however. That is certainly no fault of theirs, and I don't judge those who don't see this difference. The mood of the culture has really caught on and, as a result, many have adopted these labels, seemingly, with little thought or criticism. But as an orthodox Jew who experiences homosexual attractions, I believe the thoughtful approach is one that relies not upon cultural shifts, but on the enduring Word of G-d.

So, what does the Torah have to say about this issue to those who, like me, are halacha-abiding Orthodox Jews?

As far as I know, the Torah has no word for someone with these desires; it simply refers to sexual acts. Of course, we all know that the Torah expressly forbids homosexual acts (along with certain other illicit sexual acts). But does it say nothing beyond that? Certainly, the Torah has very strict rules concerning sexual conduct, which by divine design and intent is geared towards men and women in marriage and procreation. Sexuality is specifically for married men and women, and the mitzvah to procreate can only be understood in that context. In fact, all the rules about sexuality exclude all but married men and women in the sexual bond, united and coming to bear children (in the case where childbearing is not possible, sexual activity is still allowed within male-female marital bounds alone). Much of the Jewish Orthodox life revolves around family, too.

The family provides a good illustration for my point. The young child who doesn’t get what he wants can hit or scream, but the responsible parent reacts accordingly to teach or demonstrate to the child there are certain ways to act and not act. No matter how angry we get, we must not hit people. There is responsible behavior, and irresponsible behavior. Some things we can engage in, and some we cannot engage in. Some feelings we can indulge, and some we cannot indulge.

It is much the same with homosexuality. Feelings are just feelings, but the Torah teaches us that same-sex sexual behavior is forbidden according to the biblical sexual ethic. We have the power to do and not to do. We feel what we feel, but when it comes to action, we look to the infinite wisdom of the Torah for guidance.

So if we are dealing with mere feelings, rather than an identity, what are we to do with them? Feelings or desires are just that: feelings and desires, and one isn’t held accountable for having them. The Torah lays out a moral code by which we are to live. And it’s precisely because G-d knows some people will experience homosexual attractions that He found it necessary to state that acting on those desires is forbidden. As we’re brought up in the ways of the Torah, we’re taught that some actions are good, some bad, some destructive, some neutral and so on. We are to decide what a desire is and its corresponding action — if it is halachically forbidden and perhaps harmful or halachically positive and perhaps helpful. G-d gives us guidance through halacha and the Torah outlook on life.

To me, this certainly gives good reason to not only reject any identity that revolves around my homosexual attractions, but to limit to the fullest extent possible how I view and identify myself and my homosexual attractions. I see no reason to claim a "gay" identity anymore than I see a reason to claim a identity around my desire to wear blue shirts or to drive fast cars. Some say that liking blue shirts is hardly the equivalent to being homosexual, something which separates you from the entire heterosexual world, something that makes normal, married life very difficult if not impossible, and something that the Torah addresses directly (as opposed to wearing blue shirts). This is true indeed, and certainly, marriage is no cure or answer. But my life and sexual attractions are not defined by cultural standards, and this is precisely my point. Culturally, one may boil red at the comparison, but coming from the Torah perspective, I exclusively define myself through the Torah’s wisdom and guidance, not the culture’s. If I don’t define myself as “gay,” and if I remain single, as far as I’m concerned, I am just like every other single man out there, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Further, a gay identity more often than not is a socio-political label with socio-political connotations, meaning that it has much wrapped up in it apart from one’s sexual desires. I do not say that to condemn those who do accept a “gay” identity, but I see no fundamental truth that warrants my ascribing to it. I know of no standard Orthodox Torah view that could accommodate such an identity. In addition, this means I don’t ascribe to poorly defined terms like “homosexual” and “sexual orientation,” too, terms that science has difficulty defining in a universal and scientifically rigorous manner. I choose merely to describe the actual experience of one who feels sexual attractions to the same sex, and certainly nothing more. This is after all the principal commonality between gay people; they all experience homosexual attractions, though there are many other homosexual things homosexual people identify with that not all homosexual people share. So to identify as “a gay man” means to potentially to set myself up to adopt a whole set of ideas that seem contrary to the Torah true life.

The Torah seems to limit homosexual acts to just that--sexual acts--and sexuality to the sexual bond between the married man and woman, especially with regard to the procreative dimension. I choose to leave it at just that and let G-d in His infinite wisdom be my guide, also believing that through Torah principles, every wrongful desire – including homosexual attractions – can be resisted and perhaps overcome.

Search for more information about social constructions at 4torah.com.

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