Unpacking Privilege – Sexual Orientation

That’s so gay! You’re so gay!

From a young age in the playground I heard ‘being gay’ as derogatory. It was used as a joke and an insult and I didn’t think to question the popular view.
In the conservative church that I grew up in it was taught that homosexuality is wrong and sinful. Again I didn’t need to think any deeper than what I was told. I could live in my little bubble moving happily along with my life, not thinking about how others could hear the same comments.

Then my sister came out as gay.

What was I to do with that? How can I make sense of it? What does God think about this? What does science have to say about this?

We often don’t choose to wrestle with a subject until it hits us in the face. In her post Jacs wrote about the tensions between her and our parents due to each person wanting to live life with integrity. Our parents sought advice and wrestled with what it says in the Bible while my sister was working out who she was. The beautiful thing that they have in common was and is the importance of keeping a relationship with each other.

Over the past few years I have become more aware of the debates and discussions taking place around the subject of sexuality. I saw more countries allowing same-sex civil partnerships and then same-sex marriages. I heard stories of young people being kicked out of their house because they were gay. I saw churches splitting around the issue of gay ministers and the interpretation of the Bible. I heard song lyrics about God loving everyone, including lesbians (God is not a White Man – the Michael Gungor Band).

I started to see how privileged I am as a heterosexual male. If I chose to, I could separate myself from the insults and arguments being flung back and forth in society. If I chose to, I could go on living my life in ignorance to the suffering of those who identify as LGBTI.

That’s the sign of privilege. That I don’t have to deal with oppression due to my sexuality. For example, not being served in a shop, being reduced to the single aspect of my sexual preference, not getting a job even though I am qualified or even fear for my life because of who I fall in love with.

Over the years society in the UK has evolved in it’s understanding of sexuality. The widespread understanding has been that being heterosexual is ‘normal’ and therefore anything different is ‘abnormal’ and as Jacs said, we criticise what we don’t understand. Slowly we have understood that the LGBTI community has been oppressed; however, is society aware of the privilege of being straight?

When I met my sister’s girlfriend I asked about her story of coming out as gay and the trials she faced. The question was asked from a place of curiosity and wanting to have a deeper understanding. Upon reflection I realised how privileged I was asking that question, I don’t have to explain how I knew I was straight.

Bob Pease comments in his book ‘Undoing Privilege’:

“If heterosexual people began to reflect upon why they think they are heterosexual, they might start to challenge its normative status and hence its privilege and domination. While heterosexuals continue to be naive about their sexuality, little progress will be made.”

During my first year of teaching I went on a training day on engaging sexuality in the classroom. It was explained during the day that sexuality can be seen as a spectrum rather than dualistic. Instead of a person being gay or straight, we are all on the spectrum somewhere. I found this helpful as it connected us all rather than separating us into different columns.

Jacs discussed how she felt the clash between Christianity and being gay. I’ve discussed this topic with many Christian friends and have heard diverse opinions reflecting the broad nature of the Church. Wherever we stand on this matter, we need to discuss it healthily and with humility. We may have different views but we need to be able to disagree with grace and keep love at the centre. May we come to a place where we respect and do not demonise our LGBTI brothers and sisters and also those on the other side of the debate from us. A common theme that has arisen through this series is the need to listen to each other’s stories. When we are aware of the difficulties of lives that are different from ours, it can be the first step to seeing our own privilege. I hope to continue to reflect on my privilege as a straight man, and how my faith shapes my understanding of this issue.

“Faith doesn’t mean ‘I’ve got it all right’ or ‘I’ve figured everything out’; rather, we trust in the goodness and grace of God. While this means we will be living with humility rather than certainty about, well, everything, we will never come across a better bet. When we get beyond thinking that having the right opinion about issues is paramount and start living out ‘experiments in truth’ in a grand adventure, others will pay attention. People will be drawn to such a faith, and we will have myriad opportunities to love and bless them.” – Tim Otto, Oriented to Faith

 

Resources:

Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships – Tim Otto. In this excellent book, Tim Otto shares from his own experience as a gay Christian. He explains how the opposing sides of the debate hold their views while reading the bible with integrity. “With gentle wisdom and compassionate insight, Tim invites all followers of Jesus to consider how we might work with God through these tensions so that all can be transformed by God’s good news in and through Christ” (from GoodReads).

Liturgist Podcast (discusses Faith, Science and Creativity) – LGBTQ

This post is part of our series ‘Unpacking Privilege’, click on the links below to read more.

Introduction: Unpacking Privilege

Thoughts on Privilege, Gender & Weddings (Guest Post)

Unpacking Privilege: Gender

Thoughts on White Privilege in South Africa (Guest Post)

Unpacking Privilege: Race

Thoughts on Privilege & Understanding my Health

Unpacking Privilege: Health

Understanding my Sexuality (Guest Post)