by Sam Somewhere
How do you define yourself? In one form or another, I’ve been asked this question quite a lot. And I use to think I knew the answer. The world was divided into a series of very clear groups: Straight people want relationships with people of the opposite sex, Gays are men who want relationships with men, Lesbians are women who want to be with women. Bi-Sexuals are people who are attracted both ways. I am a Man attracted to Women. Therefore, I am Straight.
The world, it turns out, is not made up of these very clear groups. And what people mean by Straight isn’t actually that simple. When I say “I am Straight”, people get an image of me that is probably much more detailed than should be assumed from my answer. For a start, they will assume that what I mean is that I’m attracted to women, because they will assume I’m male.
When I’m being asked by someone in a Church context, whilst debating homosexuality, I tend to default to the easy answer. It is, perhaps, a sign of weakness. Its a bit like the people I know who go about their lives happy that others see them as straight when the reality is that they’re bi in straight marriage. In a Church context where suspicion and hurt are commonplace, its hardly surprising. But its not truthful.
In wider society, a Gay man could now be living a more Straight life than a ‘Straight’ woman. This sounds ridiculous, but let me explain what I mean: a friend of mine who society labels as Female but is actually Genderqueer has two partners and there are expressions of Kink in both relationships. A Gay friend of mine is living in a deeply monogamous civil partnership (which he and his partner call a marriage), and they get along just fine not engaging in Kink.
The Church, when it discusses these issues, may claim to be using a very simple “Man Marries Woman” concept of Straight. A quarter century of church life tells me that, in reality, the starting point is most often the narrowest definition of Straight imaginable: the Church marries people into monogamous relationships where their is some sex (consummation), but not too much (unhealthy obsession), wherein sex refers only to intercourse (because ew, you wouldn’t actually do X, would you?) and where it is very clear that the man is in charge (which is normal, and not at all connected to the Kink concepts of Domination and Discipline), but no pain is inflicted and no props are employed (because whoever made them must be extremely sinful).
I sometimes refer to someone who chooses this approach as “MPO” – Missionary Position Only. I mention this only because our entire sexual vocabulary hinges on a religious word defining the Lowest Common Denominator; the safe, clean, minimal approach. Any deviation from this line is to be frowned upon.
I want to see a debate in the Church that understands how useless this ‘Straight’ term actually is. The exciting thing about the Queer way of approaching issues, as opposed to the LGB(T) approach, is the challenge it gives to everyone. An LGB(T) approach says “We gays/lesbians want to be recognised as normal people”. A Queer approach, at its most radical, does exactly the opposite – it challenges others to recognise that they might not be as Straight as they previously thought, whether in their own gender identity, the genders and sexes of those they are attracted to, or the styles of relationships they are best suited to.
I want to argue that Straight is a fundamentally silly term. We use it to mean one thing and imply another – to infer a degree of normality or conformity. In mainstream churches, we accept by default that many people will hide behind it as an excuse not to confront and discover their deepest feelings and desires. As an institution, the Church celebrates bisexuals choosing Straight marriage, and pushes us to disown any affiliation to the Kink world.
Churches often give us gender-stereotype conforming Men’s Groups and Women’s Groups as well as Marriage Preparation Courses that claim to fit a range of personalities but which refuse to let us define our own relationships as unique in their configuration. We must be careful to ensure close inter-gender friendships are not mistaken for relationships or even affairs, and if we’re men, that we hug in a way that tells everyone its OK – we’re not actually gay. And when marriages don’t work out, we look for who to blame and push them out of the Church altogether, or assume they’ll never want to come back, rather than seek to minister to them.
Its time we developed the maturity to confront out assumptions about those around us, both within and outside the Family of Christ. And for myself, I’m going to need more time to figure out who I am and how I best relate to people. All I know is that the more I go on, the less I feel I can define as Straight.