GGGG: Dangerous Thinking
Since I came out in 2017, I have read a number of books that attempt to reconcile the clobber verses of the Bible (New Testament & Old Testament) with the reality of gay Christians. Some of these books are more successful than others.* One made good points, but didn’t have the nicest of prose.** In attempt to have a dialogue with my father, I even read a book that took an opposite stance.*** This book was written by an evangelical who at least acknowledged the existence of gay people but still clung to the clobber verses. Few solutions, if any, were offered, other than to pray the gay away (which doesn’t work) and embrace a lifetime of singleness. Enter a new book: Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry, published in 2018. (A book I sometimes accidentally called Gay God, Good Girl!) This time, the author is a professed former lesbian who became a Christian and ultimately married a man and had children with him.
I read this book wanting to know if Jackie’s story was any different from some of the others I had already heard. Jackie’s childhood was marked by two men who hurt her: her deadbeat father who abandoned her and a teenage relative who abused her. Consequently, she didn’t trust men. The rest of her childhood and adolescence is somewhat unclear. She mentions having feelings for girls at a young age, and she says she never liked girly things. When her mom asks her if she is gay when she is around 18, Jackie admits she is. She finds a girlfriend who introduces her to marijuana but also love. While Jackie seems to know about the Bible and some of the clobber verses, she apparently did not go to church much and was not a Christian. Late one night, she has a spiritual experience, feeling a mixture of God and guilt, and decides she must break up with her girlfriend and pursue a conservative path of Christianity.
Jackie is honest that her feelings for women did not go away. She still finds them attractive, but she remakes her physical appearance to be more feminine. Once a tomboy who dressed in tight sports bras and baggy jeans, she tries wearing a normal bra and clothes to highlight her curves. Jackie now dubs her feelings for women a temptation. She finds a woman on YouTube from Los Angeles and decides she wants to be discipled by her, and amazingly this stranger agrees! Jackie starts writing and performing poetry about her journey.
It’s in LA that she meets her future husband, Preston. He too is a poet, and their relationship starts as a friendship. Since he is nice to her, she decides she was wrong about men. She finds herself being to drawn to his personality, but she is repulsed by his facial hair and his largeness. She misses hugging women who are more her size. Still, she stays with Preston and tries to make their relationship work, even moving to Chicago to be with him. It’s never quite clear how open Jackie was with him about her lesbian past, and Jackie never seems to realize there is a chance she could simply be bisexual.
Whenever I have heard an evangelical say that gays / lesbians can change their ways and marry someone from the opposite sex, I sigh. I am 100% gay. I can recognize female beauty, and I can be friends with women, but I am not programmed to have romantic feelings for them, no matter how hard I try. So any time an evangelical trots out an example of someone like Jackie or Mike Goeke, I categorize those people as bisexual, not someone who was able to stop being gay.
But based on what Jackie writes, it seems she might actually be a genuine lesbian. She married a man, sure, and she has two children with him, yes, but a ring on the finger does not make someone straight. Sexual orientation is based on the interior, not the exterior. So no matter how much makeup Jackie wears or how many frilly dresses she buys, she cannot change her feelings for women. In chapter 13, Jackie says, “Loving women was an easy thing for me. I didn’t have to work to give them me. They could have it all–my unhidden tears, my untold stories, my freest self” (136). This reminds me of when I first came out. I had tried dating women and put off kissing them as long as possible. When it did happen, I didn’t enjoy it. I recoiled. I wondered why every couple on TV and film seemed to enjoy kissing. But then I started dating men. And when I kissed a man for the first time, a light bulb went off. It felt good and natural and wonderful. Oh! Now I understand kissing, I thought. Jackie experiences pain and frustration in trying to form a relationship with Preston. Her inability to live authentically is a recipe for disaster that other queer Christians might attempt to follow.
Part Three of the book shifts away from Jackie’s story as she attempts (and fails) to provide guidance for LGBTQ Christians. She falls into the same line of thinking of most evangelicals. First of all instead of calling people gay or queer, she says they have same-sex attraction (SSA). This tactic steals the identities of countless people who choose to identify as lesbian or gay. Evangelicals weaponize language when they use the term SSA. It removes a sexual identity that many people proudly claim and replaces it with something that is sterile and sounds like a disease or affliction. In their line of (wrong) thinking, you can’t stop being gay, but you can control or deny your same-sex attraction. At least Jackie also uses the phrase “opposite sex attraction,” something I have joked about before but have never seen in a book.
Second, Jackie thinks the gay can be prayed away. It can’t. Conversion therapy has been shown to be not only ineffective but also damaging. A person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed, and her retelling of the story from the Bible about Jesus giving a blind man his sight does not prove that gays can become straight.
Third, Jackie says that since Jesus endured the cross and all that came with it, gay Christians should endure their feelings and not act on them for their entire lives. This line of thinking is incredible to me. Humans were created for relationship. No one should have to live a life of solitude. Everyone should have a chance at romance. Nevertheless, Jackie writes:
Obedience for those who are [gay] deals in the terrifying because it means to deny the body of what often feels as natural as smiling. . . . It’s a real affection experienced by real people. So when commanded not to act out on these affections, even when they pulse through the body loud enough to make a sound, it takes an unearthly commitment to self-denial.Gay Girl, Good Good, page 170
I tried this approach until I was 34. I knew I had feelings for guys when I was in high school, maybe even junior high, but I never allowed myself to act on them. I thought they were a phase, that they would go away with time. I just needed to meet the right woman, I reasoned. That never happened. As the years passed, and more and more of my friends got married, I found myself feeling lonelier and lonelier. I told myself I would come out during my Jesus year when I was 33, but I couldn’t find the courage. When I turned 34, I felt hopeless, like I had missed my chance to come out. For years, I had spent my free time by hanging out with friends, playing video games, and watching TV. I spent a lot of evenings and weekends sponsoring student council events. I filled up my life to keep myself from being so lonely, but I finally decided I couldn’t do that anymore. I wanted a chance at love, and I knew if I were to find it, it would be with a man and not a woman. I came out. And my life has been so much better ever since I started living authentically. I wish I could go back in time and come out sooner. I wish I could tell teenage me that I didn’t have to deny my feelings, that they would never go away, to just embrace them and my true self.
So for Jackie to tell gay Christians to deny their feelings is very much in line with evangelical beliefs, but I also know how toxic and wrong such thinking is. Gay Girl, Good God is a memoir grounded in dangerous thinking
and muddled by fragmentary prose, rehashing the same tired evangelical arguments that gays and lesbians must change their sexual orientation in order to find love in this world.
*Gushee, David. Changing Our Mind. © 2017.
*Jennings, Jr., Theodore W. The Man Jesus Loved. Nonfiction. © 2009.
*Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian. © 2014.
**McQueen, Scott. Reasonable Doubt: a Case for LGBT Inclusion in the Institutions of Marriage and Church. © 2018.
***Hubbard, Peter. Love Into Light: the Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church. © 2013.