Queering the Christian Table Part 15: Gay Dating and Embodied Christianity

To start reading at the beginning of this series, click here

This post was originally written as a submission for the Geez Magazine competition 30 More Sermons you’d Never Hear in Church. Watch the Geez website for these to get published later this year. I actually ended up missing the submission deadline, so I’m sharing it here. I’m deeply grateful to my two sermon writing buddies for their encouragement and feedback.

A year ago, I am on my first date (ever, with a man) since my divorce (after a 4 ½ year marriage to a woman). We’re having dinner, which leads to a walk—to his apartment—where we sit on the porch and talk, and then we get up to go inside. As I walk through the door, he pulls my body towards him for a kiss and I—putting my hand on his chest and stopping him, inches from my face—say, “I don’t think so.”

The next five minutes are a really awkward blur, in which I ask him for a glass of water, to give him something to do while he’s bumbling around the room awkwardly picking up paper plates and talking about what a mess his roommates have made of the apartment, and then I excuse myself to go catch a bus.

Yup.

On the way home I feel my stomach churn. Tears come to my eyes and I wonder what just happened.

How had we had such different experiences of the evening? Was I sending the wrong signals? Did I do something wrong to make him feel like that’s where we were going, that he could just take control of my body like that? And why is there so much adrenaline rushing through my body right now?

———

Rewind sixteen years.

It is the first time I am ever going to preach and it is for a competition. I remember feeling nauseated and trembling in the bathroom of a hotel—my father’s voice telling me, “You’re going to do this!”

It wasn’t his voice inside my head.

He was actually standing there, saying these words to his eleven-year-old son. I remember choking out sobs, wiping my face of tears, and pushing my feelings so far down into my body that I was able to walk out onto a stage, with a Bible in my hand, numb to my fear (of rejection), which is to say, numb to my desire (for acceptance).

Because this is what it meant for a young man to follow Jesus.

———

Weeks after that date, I am on a third date with another man and I am nearly moved to tears. My therapist has recently asked me what I am learning from dating and I realize that in this moment, with this other man, I feel comfortable and happy in my body.

I feel safe, and myself, and whole in a way that is strange and unfamiliar. I see in stark relief, that what I was feeling on that first date out of the closet was un-safe.

My body knows what I am ready for; what feels safe and good and what doesn’t. I hadn’t realized it until too late that first evening, because I’ve spent the better part of sixteen years suppressing every last physical response my body has had when I am around men that I find attractive.

I have swallowed down joy and delight, chased with shame. I have held hymnals in front of my crotch. I have avoided church-picnic football games because I couldn’t trust my eyes not to linger, too noticeably long, on backsides and biceps and sweat-soaked shirts being pulled over heads.

Because this is what it meant for a young man to follow Jesus.

———-

On facebook, the automatically generated sidebar adds are populated topically from friends, wall postings, and search engine queries. In my sidebar, the most frequent combination of ads is for seminary programs and tight-fitting mens underwear. What can I say?

I follow Jesus and I have a body.

And the more that I date, and listen to my body, and feel–my trembling, my tears, my grief, my anger, my comfort, my pleasure—I begin to slowly comprehend that the incarnation, the bodily resurrection, and abundance of life are not some far off promises for heterosexuals and queer folks who can magically master Gnostic asceticism.

Through my own journey I am actually feeling my own body being called back to life—and I don’t imagine I’m the only one in need of such a resurrection.

For me, beginning to date other men has been a spiritual practice of repenting—turning away from self-harm, isolation, shame, and numbing, in order to turn towards authenticity, vulnerability, compassion, and learning to be alive in my own body. As I receive the welcome my body offers, I believe in the bodily resurrection and I am able to make room for that trembling, eleven-year-old, preacher-boy to feel what he feels, and to believe that that is all he has to do; and that’s the good news to which he gets to bear witness.