Getting Closer: Structure For Intimacy

KEYNOTES-Getting Closer: Structure For Intimacy

This material is based upon Dr. Ralph Blair’s address at connECtion 1981,the summer conference of Evangelicals Concerned, Inc.
© Copyright 1981 by Ralph Blair

According to social psychologist Daniel Yankelovich, “Surveys and my own interviews show a widening acceptance of cultural pluralism. We are not going back to … the notion that [for example] homosexuality is intolerable … The Moral Majoritarians are counter revolutionaries, trying—I think futilely—to roll back what has already happened.”1 Although Yankelovich reports that “The public is still mired in unrealistic expectations and still entranced by the seductions of duty-to-self,” (which he sanely dubs a “moral and social absurdity”) he observes that “Peoples’s life experiments … now drive home the lesson that duty-to-self is not a viable guide to conduct.”2 He sadly notes, but wisely interprets: “The most ardent seekers of self-fulfilment fallaciously view the self as an endless series of gratifiable needs and desires.”3 Then he asks a crucial question: “Will we achieve a synthesis between traditional commitments and new forms of fulfilment? Or will we indeed end up with the worst of two worlds—a society fragmented and anomic, the family a shambles, the work ethic collapsed, the economy uncompetitive, our morality flabby and self-centred, and our personal freedom even more restricted than under the old order?”4

LIVING OUR FAITH AND LIVING OUR SEXUALITY

We can rephrase Yankelovich’s question in terms of evangelicals concerned about living our faith and living our sexuality. Will we be able to see beyond the current distractions to understand how homosexuality fits into the overall pattern of Christian commitment or will we try only to see if our Christian commitment fits into our overall pattern of homosexuality and end up stalled in our inability to integrate our voluntary faith and our involuntary sexuality? Will we allow hostile churches that refuse to accept our homosexuality, making of it a mockery, to kick us out into what may seem to us at first to be the welcoming arms of a secularist gay subculture that, in turn, refuses to accept our faith and allegiance to Christ, making of it a mockery, and kicks us out—on our own? We might then, as others have, reluctantly give up the faith that we chose because we cannot escape the sexuality that we are. In that case we might settle for a “liberation” that is worse than a trivialization of what can be ours, and the costly struggle for gay rights would produce nothing more important than the right to parade with our clothes off. But perhaps, instead, we might be forced out of the oppressive systems of both the non-comprehending churches and gay liberationism, into the truly welcoming arms of Jesus Christ. He alone understands our real needs, temptations and commitments. It is in Him alone, through His love for us as we are, and through His love shed abroad in the hearts of a community of some of those around us, that we can be free to become faithful stewards of the lives that God has entrusted to us.

In responding to his own question about the synthesis of traditional commitments and new forms of fulfilment, Yankelovich holds what he calls a “relatively hopeful outlook that grows from a conviction that out of the present disorder something vital and healthy is struggling to be born.”5 As a Christian, I believe that we have an even surer hope, for that God who did not spare His own son, but gave him up for us all, will not fail graciously to give us, along with Christ, all things we truly need.6

But how are these things to be given to us? Specifically, in real life, how is our human sexuality to be reconciled with our faith? The reconciliation that we have is not packaged as either the churches or gay liberationism has offered it when we have looked to those sources, so often in vain. The answer there has not been reconciliation but division. Our faith and our sexuality — what the Lord has joined together — the world and churches must not undo.

Since sexuality is a part of our natural world, here and now, and not a part of the world to come, it must be that if we are to have our God-given sexual needs met — however we may have distorted them — it will be in this life and, if in this life, in terms which are compatible with responsible caretaking of this life in all its aspects. And it is this life, in its breadth, that is the present arena of the reconciliation that is already ours in and under our Lord Jesus Christ.

Last year I spoke of the need for and approach to the achievement of our human need for intimacy and we took seriously both natural and special revelation in this regard. This year, I want to share with you again, both biblical and psychological considerations. This time we’re concerned about the working out of our intimacy needs in same-sex covenantal relationship — the structure for the achievement of sexual-romantic intimacy. It is within such a structure that we who are created in the image of God can most fully become not just individuals in isolation, certainly not amputated individuals, but a people in holistic communion — body, soul, spirit.

In looking into this we will see what both Christian and non-Christian sources have to teach us—but we will exercise caution with both. Non-Christians can be confused by what Paul called “senseless minds” (Romans 1:21) so we must be careful not to fall for that which passes for the merely current science, “in” fashion, modernity, postmodernism, etc. One of the symptoms of such non-Christian minds, according to Paul in Romans 1, is the making of sex — and specifically homosexual behaviour — into an idol. Tricks, Renaud Camus’ chronicle of his international genital escapades, is trumpeted by Seymour Kleinberg of Christopher Street magazine as a “gracefully written view of the nights in a life where the moment is absolute and the body is everything.”7 So we must be very careful, critical, to distinguish between that in the secular sphere that is helpful and that which is idolatrous, which substitutes in vain.

Still, no less an evangelical than Donald Bloesch has advised that “evangelical theology … will display a readiness to take into account scientific discoveries and new scientific evidence, even if this calls into question certain reputed historical facts or opinions of the world and man found in the Bible.”8 But evangelicals can have a hard time doing this, as Bloesch himself unwittingly exemplifies, for in his very next sentence, he attacks “the theory of evolution” as not being “scientific” and lumps it with “social Darwinism” to boot. No wonder even evangelicals such as Bloesch have such difficulty understanding homosexuality. The religious establishment, as over against the secular, whether conservative, liberal or whatever, can have what Paul called “hardened minds.” (2 Corinthians 3:14) And Jesus, contrary to the arrogant assumptions of the stubborn “Moral Majority” of his day, said to it: “tax collectors and harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31) He said that at the Messianic banquet, the maimed, the lame, the blind, in short the “last” would be first. (Luke 14:16-21; Matthew 22:1-10) So we must be careful not to succumb to that which passes for the merely current views of a so-called Moral Majority. We who are to be servants of Christ must be careful not to become the slaves of the fundamentalist establishment or the gay liberationist establishment or whatever establishment. Rather, we are to “renew our minds” as Paul urged (Romans 12:12), change our perspective to that which is in accord with the servant mind of Christ, with every thought and consideration brought under Christ’s Lordship (2 Corinthians 10:5) It is such a renewed mind that will facilitate our implementation of the law of love, and especially the loving of the not-so-lovable, sick, cranky, aging, hurt, tired, defeated, senile partner!

But just as Lewes Smedes writes that, “In order to fit biblical morality to modern marriage, we will have to do more than quote texts that refer to marriage and sex” we must agree that in order to fit biblical morality to modern homosexuality and gay relationship, we will have to do more than quote texts that allegedly refer to homosexuality. As Smedes says, “We need to see where real problems lie within modern marriage” and, we add, within modern homosexuality and gay relationship, and again in Smedes’ words, “do our best to bring the whole moral perspective of the gospel inside the sexual scene. We will have to ask how Christian love—the self-giving love of Christ shed abroad within us—ties into the sexual experience … today.”9

ANSWERS ANSWERS EVERYWHERE, AND NOT A ONE, YOU THINK

In facing the question of how we are to structure the meeting of our human intimacy needs evidenced in our homosexual desires, we are confronted with the increasingly vocal and vociferous, though not necessarily solicited, opinions of fundamentalism on the right and gay liberationism on the left. The secular right joins with the fundamentalists and the religious left joins with the gay liberationists. Each -ism has its own pet phrases, scare strategies, put-downs, and know-it-all solutions to what they call our “problem”. To some, our homosexuality is called our problem and to others our Christian faith is called our problem.

Fundamentalism

The “solutions” of fundamentalism are reactions familiar to most of us through the battle-cries and demagoguery of the Jerry Falwells and other Moral Majoritarians, the double-talk of the specious “ex-gay” movement, and the short-sighted ethnocentricities of mainline evangelicalism. In the interest of time, let’s not get bogged down in yet another discouraging recitation of these insensitive and ignorant fundamentalist “answers”. To say the least, they leave much to be desired—much that is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore, much that could be truly helpful.

Gay Liberationism

Let’s examine, in some detail, the “solutions” that are being promoted from within the ranks of gay liberationism, specifically from gay pop-culture, gay therapy, and gay religion. Can we find help here? Are there answers here? I’m sorry to say: No, not very much help at all; no realistic answers here. What seems to be offered here is the perpetual indulgence of the junk sex junkies. While fundamentalism absolutizes gay sex into a great big “Heavens, NO!”, gay liberationism absolutizes gay sex into a great big “Hell, YES!” Neither leaves us with a psychologically viable or biblically faithful perspective on homosexual sex and relationship.

With the pretension of every moral arbiter sans starting point outside the relativity of one’s own egocentrism, gay Advocate publisher David Goodstein pushes: “Recreational sex [as] that done purely for fun with no interest beyond a one or two night stand.”10 The thousands of classified sex ads in his pink section, as well as the editorial and commercial space of the rest of the paper, promote and reflect such “recreational sex”—a very common part of much if not most of what passes for the ideal lifestyle of the mythical modern urban gay macho man. But there is a blatant contradiction in Goodstein’s advocacy which he seems not to notice. He follows his praise of “recreational sex … done purely for fun [with strangers]” with the admission that “men love recreational sex as a validation of their skill, attractiveness and power.” Goodstein is more on target than he realizes or even intends. It is true that most if not all so-called recreational sex with strangers is motivated by beliefs about one’s own inferiority and consequent feelings of insecurity. In an effort to counter these beliefs and feelings of one’s own ineptitude, sexual unattractiveness and weakness, one does go out and “trick around”, trying to find affirmation of that longed-for sense of “skill, attractiveness and power.” Goodstein would have us believe that such “fun” and such anxiety and fear can co-exist. Of course, they can’t. His soft-headed argument falls flat not only theoretically but also experientially. Because the self-doubts that prompt the search for affirmation exist in the brain cells of the self-doubter, no amount of “affirmation” or “validation” of someone else’s version of the self-doubter is going to reach the source of the self-doubt. In fact, such “affirmation” will, at the very least, only aggravate the self-doubts now reinforced by the attention such seeking and tricking calls to them. Even Goodstein knows that all is not as ideal as he would try to make this arrangement seem for he grants that “handling more than one sexual relationship can be a bit tricky” and in a later column concedes that “eventually” gay men “tire of these [promiscuous] practices.”11 He fails utterly to understand why this is so. He thinks it’s because we have foolishly bought “the notion that only fidelity is right.” A year ago, he said much the same thing but more specifically scapegoated the so-called “Judeo-Christian morality.”12 He was prompted to sound off by the assessment he heard of San Francisco’s Castro district, made by the former wife of one of his colleagues. He describes her as “a wonderfully supportive, loving woman who likes sex and has a great sense of aliveness.” But what she saw in the Castro was not people having “fun”. What she saw was this: “Everyone seemed so serious, so intent, so heavily into sex. Nobody was laughing, and they all looked alike. It was like visiting a communist country.”13

Perhaps it was this final comparison that got to Goodstein, the epitome of the self-affirming gay capitalist, but whatever it was, he reacted with a rare frankness about the limits of genital sex with strangers. Goodstein acknowledged that “Today we are accustomed to having sex on floors, through holes and even in simulated bathtubs. The prevalence of more exotic forms of sexual practices and the routine inclusion of pills, poppers and piss are taken for granted. Only discomfort or disapproval are now considered out of place.” Goodstein said that “Getting lost in the search for the cosmic orgasm is no better than being denied that orgasm altogether. The endless, frantic search can only keep us dissatisfied and separate from others”. To Goodstein, the orgasm is nonetheless cosmic but he reasons that “when orgasmic gratification becomes the sole source of satisfaction or the standard against which all satisfaction is measured, we deprive ourselves of a great many other forms of pleasure. We become driven by our genitals”, he says, “instead of being in charge of our lives”. Unsophisticated hedonism is not pleasurable enough for the gayest guru. Goodstein is trying to hold on to the sensualistic pleasures of the old Cyrenaics while moving on to the more refined and even noble pleasures of the Epicureans. But in his absolute devotion to and attempted control of the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of even the more sophisticated pleasures, Goodstein follows, and in turn is followed by, a long line of those who would have their pleasures unmixed. They thereby perpetually set themselves up for the painful disappointment of unreasonable expectations.

And the east coast is no better off than the west coast; Christopher Street is no better off than the Castro. Everywhere we look in the gay male ghetto we can see what John Stranack’s Blueboy article, “Are We All Trash”, called “planned sexual obsolescence and conspicuous sexual consumption”14 As the T-shirts say: “So many men—so little time.” Those of you who recall our discussion of the nature of intimacy will be especially attuned to the stupidity of the following blurb about a gay “back room” bar in New York City. It is promoted as having “Rooms designed to provide a high level of intimacy while providing complete anonymity”.15 Gay writer George Whitmore admits that “it’s almost redundant to modify the word ‘sex’ with the word ‘anonymous’ nowadays”.16

Edmund White reports in his States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, the following sad deterioration: “I used to have a very bright gay barber in the Village and I could always chart the latest development from his remarks. Seven years ago he was telling me that masculinity was in, five years ago that fidelity was out, four years ago that sexless intimacy and raunchy anonymity constituted the new ideal, three years ago that the Village was ‘tired’. He now lives in San Francisco”.17 According to White, “Although many gay people in New York may be happily living in other, less rigorous decades, the gay male couple [today] is composed of two men who love each other, share the same friends and interests and fuck each other almost inadvertently once every six months during a particularly stoned impromptu three-way. The rest of the time they get laid with strangers in a context that bears the stylistic marks and some of the reality of S & M … if not violence, at least domination”.18

Whitmore, writing of life on Fire Island, tries to assure us that “the Island can be bliss for two people who have their relationship hanging loose (a three-way with that Al Parker lookalike? Why not?) and their heads screwed on tight”.19 He testifies: “I never ever lost [a lover] there” (pause) “we waited until we got back home”. Exemplifying the sad flux of the so-called “gay culture”, White tells of the latest New York gay “look” but is quick to warn his readers: “No doubt this look will have faded by the time you read my description”.20

According to the Spada Report, 74% of gay men with lovers state that they, their lovers, or both of them do have sex outside their relationship21 and according to the Mendola Report, 63% of gay men with lovers have “occasional outside affairs” or outside sex “on a regular basis” along with sex with their lovers, or they have no sex with their lovers and have their sex only outside the relationship.22 According to the Bell and Weinberg study from the Kinsey Institute, “Open-Coupleds were the modal type among the males”, that is, the most frequent style of the male-male couple was “open”, with sex outside the relationship. Bell and Weinberg found such arrangement “relatively rare among females”23 and so did Mendola and others. In contrast to gay men, Mendola found that 83% of the lesbians she surveyed have sex exclusively with their partners.24

Now before we go further, I must caution you to be critical of any creeping sense you may be having that we are falling into forbidden value judgments when we view certain gay lifestyles as better or as worse than others. Contemporary Christians have not entirely escaped the infection of the current anti-value judgment morality. They shout: “Neo-judgmentalism!” as they sit in judgment against any critical evaluation but their own, and they seem not to know what they’re doing. Having been the victims of stupid and hypocritical religionists for so long, however, it is quite understandable that they would react with such suspicion, fear and anger. Their wounds have not yet healed. But the self-contradictory value judgment that dogmatically holds that a “liberated” gay man or woman must make no value judgment against any lifestyle, has penetrated to the very core of gay liberationist rhetoric, if not to the surface of an ageist, sexist, and narcissistic gay culture elite. Believing that an individual has something Mary Mendola calls the “right to freedom of choice”, regarding what she prefers to call “sexual exclusivity”, she fails to catch her self-contradictory dogma when she asserts that she “does not accept the expression sexual fidelity because the word fidelity is in itself a value judgment”.25 Evidently, she has no idea that her own assertion “is in itself a value judgment”. In judging the value of “fidelity”, which incidently of course she devalues, Mendola violates her own standard in one whopper of a value judgment. Even Bell and Weinberg fall into this sort of lapse into postmodernism when they report that, concerning what they call the “close-coupleds”, “We resisted the temptation to call this group ‘happily married’, although some of its members described themselves that way, because we did not want to imply that heterosexual relationships and marriage in particular are standards by which to judge people’s adjustment”.26 But, of course, in saying this, they nevertheless cast just as much a valued judgment, albeit one more to the liking of secularists, even though their data did support the conclusion that the close-coupleds were better adjusted.

With impunity it is taken for granted, if not to the cheers of the gay culture elite, that again, James Spada boasts: “I’m a raving liberal. Anything that anyone wants to do, as long as nobody is hurt by it … is fine.”27 Spada grants that “‘hurt’ is open to interpretation”, but on what basis, we ask, is ‘hurt’ to be interpreted? And for that matter, on what basis do Spada and Goodstein and other gay Epicureans make an exception? Why is ‘hurt’ excluded? They offer no more argument or reason for their pleasure-principle than did Epicurus himself. To them, it is their non-transcending “experience,” interpreted as though there is no God and She has not spoken, that would seek to be its own “obvious” justification. But since they do not believe that there is such a God, they cannot be expected to want to listen to Him.

And yet, even among the gay pop culture designers where little or no notice is paid to God, there is a gnawing sense, given rare expression, that there really is something in promiscuity that is basically debasing and defeating. Writing in the Advocate, Arnie Kantrowitz, no stranger to back-room sex with strangers, has this to say: “… in spite of the crowd, what we are really doing is masturbating alone … Those of us who emerge from a decade in the back rooms will not have it easy looking for love in the sunlight. We have circles under our eyes and hearts. We have seen a great deal of imagined perfection and not enough of the drudgery of love … after a decade of untrammelled freedom, it will be hard for some of us to rely on each other for longer than it takes to come”.28 John Stranack puts it this way in a gay skin magazine: “Let not the tombstone read, ‘Departed trick of Tom, Dick and Harry—gone down for the last time.’”.29

Well, if gay people, on our own and within the public sector of gay social life and under the influence of gay pop culture, are not going to have a better chance for good relationship than what we have seen reported and promoted by the Goodsteins, Whites, Spadas and Mendolas, is there some better chance with gay therapists? Shouldn’t we expect that their training and experience with troubled clients would teach them something about the folly of childish hedonistic pursuits? Shouldn’t we expect them to know better than to push the same stuff as the pop culture pushes? Sadly, a visit to the back room bars of Greenwich Village, the baths of Los Angeles, or the meat-rack of Fire Island will reveal that many so-called gay therapists are at least as confused and messed-up as those they would pretend to treat. Even in the more sober activity of their writing of pop psych articles and books, one looks in vain for something better. Even gay therapists are junk sex junkies.

In a gay sex manual mistakenly subtitled An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Lifestyle, Edmund White and psychotherapist Charles Silverstein write: “Many homosexuals seldom or never settle down with lovers; an endless round of one-night stands or short affairs can provide a gay man in a big city with constant novelty and excitement and introduce him to a wide variety of erotic delights. And these delights”, they assure us, “can be deeply rewarding … Gays today represent this tendency toward hedonism in one of its most extreme forms … Most gay men are free to pursue pleasure rather than submit to duty”.30 White and Silverstein seem not to notice the implications of their own observation: “Unfortunately, many homosexual men feel bad about their own promiscuity”.31 They seem not to know that a one-night-stand is used to separate two beds.

Writing about male couples, Silverstein attacks what he disparagingly calls “matronly feminists” for what seem to me to be fair-minded criticism of the “frequent, quick, and impersonal sex” of what Silverstein brags is the “sexual ferocity of the male gay world”.32 Mistakenly, he calls such a critique “anti-sexual”, failing in his reaction formation to see that it is his own unrealistic position that is anti-sexual, i.e., counter to sexual realities as they most fundamentally are. Whatever physical pleasure Silverstein may be missing must be understood in terms of his own failure to get the point of his “oppressors.”

Another gay therapist, Don Clark, also wants us to know that “It is a rare couple that makes it through a whole lifetime of satisfying monogamy.”33 He, too, does not seem to catch on to what is happening. Like others, he is aware of some problems with promiscuity but he says that “most of the discomfort comes when one partner wants to be free to explore while feeling that the other partner should stay safely at home.” 34 No Golden Rule here. Clark complains “that human history has dictated that human sexuality be intertwined with other human needs such as power, love, trust and security”. He urges that we “come to view sex as simply sex” as though there should be nothing to sexual behaviour, among the only creatures who think about their sexuality, than nerve ending stimulation.35 If he believes so, why doesn’t masturbation do? Of what use is the unseen body of a stranger in a back room bar? “Sex as simply sex” simply put, simply does not exist. It can’t exist as such. It is simplistic wishful thinking on Clark’s part, but hardly thinking that squares with his own experience. And no wonder. So long as human beings are thinking, feeling creatures who not only behave but plan and interpret that behaviour of others, and remember it, and communicate about it, and so long as human beings also personalise the behaviour, the slogan “sex as simply sex” is an adolescent stupidity.

Doesn’t Clark realize that the so-called “double-standard” over which he laments, is not a double standard at all but the same standard applied, first to self and then to mate. That standard is the person’s own sense of what is sexy and he sees it in others but not in himself. That is why he “wants to be free to explore” (Clark’s words) and to try to get affirmation while at the same time “feeling that the other partner should stay safely at home” (Clark’s words) away from the temptations that the first partner believes would be seen as sexier to his sexier partner than he himself is seen. Evidently, Clark does not understand this, but even his own relationship illustrates it. Clark boasts that he and his lover have sex with others from an “approved list” between “periods of monogamy” that Clark calls “security-building time — a safety zone”.36 He admits that one partner vetoes a particular person for sex with the other partner out of “insecurity”. Of course. Why does he think he calls the “periods of monogamy” “security-building time” and “a safety zone” and why does he think there is a need for such an “approved list”? He also grants that his “fear of rejection” makes it “scary and sometimes humiliating to go around asking other people if they are sexually available to me”.37 This gay therapist seems somewhat aware of all the parts but he doesn’t know how to put them all together for himself let alone to facilitate a realistic achievement in the couples he counsels.

And what of gay spiritual leadership in this area? If not much realistic help can be counted on from gay pop culture or gay therapists, might not the gay religionists help? Sadly, much from gay religion is no more helpful. Malcolm Boyd, Al Carmines, Bill Silver and others “celebrate” promiscuity as a “gift of God”. A recent issue of a gay religious caucus publication warns its readers “with the social season upon us” we should know the symptoms of “new, unfriendly” venereal diseases and suggests that readers “procure for yourself at least one good gay health guide” such as that of Silverstein and White [In 1981 the devastation of AIDS was still unrealised]. Gay religious caucuses programme time for the baths during their annual convention and those members who try to uphold ideals of monogamy as theological policy, if not practice, are dismissed as “up-tight” and “unliberated” and dupes of their “straight oppressors”.

With “help” like this in moving toward and into and within sexual relationship, it is no wonder that so many gay people believe that gay relationships don’t work. Neither the churches nor the gay pop culture, nor gay therapy, nor gay religious caucuses have contributed much at all in the way of realistic help in this area. Certainly much of the so-called help that has been offered has been at least useless if not downright destructive. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, speaking in a wider context in that now famous Harvard Commencement Address of 1978: “The human soul longs for things higher, warmer and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits”.

THOUGHTS TOWARD GAY PARTNERSHIP FOR CHRISTIANS

Gays are like straights

Yankelovich reports that when Americans in general are asked about their desire for the ideal of two people sharing a life and home together, (both in 1970 and again in 1980) a constant 96% reply that this is what they do value.38 Letitia Anne Peplau and her associates in social psychology at UCLA studied responses of 127 lesbians, 128 gay men, and 130 heterosexuals and found that “the values and experiences of homosexual couples are similar to those of heterosexuals in many ways” and that “most people strongly desire a close and loving relationship with one special person”.39 But, of course, desire is one thing; knowing how to afford to implement it is quite another. We should, however, be very clear about the fact that, as Jones and Bates (and others) have documented, and as is known by anyone familiar with couple relationships in general, “it is reasonable to describe the success of gay relationships in ways that are similar to those used to describe straight relationships”.40 Neither the fundamentalist’s insistence that gay relation-ships are a travesty and caricature of heterosexual relationships nor the gay liberationist’s insistence that gay relationships are a whole new genre which must avoid at all costs so-called heterosexual straight-jackets can stand up under intelligent examination. So, we are all, heterosexuals and homosexuals, looking for closeness, intimacy.

Gay couples are not like straight couples

Just because gay relationships are prompted by the same basic needs as are heterosexual relationships and just because elementary psychodynamics as well as irrationalities, many everyday problems of living, and so on, are the same, we must not be blind to some situations which arise in same-sex relations in rather homosexually-specific ways. Moreover, we must distinguish here between three kinds of couples: the male-male, the female-female, and female-male. What are a few of the special problems gay people do face in female-female partnership and in male-male partnership as they try to build “a close and loving relationship with one special person”?

Whatever problems individuals have in accepting their own homosexuality and therefore in accepting the homosexuality of others, and whatever problems relatives and friends or society and the institutional churches have with this will inevitably impact the gay couple. No gay relationship can succeed where either one or both of the partners have basic reservations about the naturalness or goodness of homosexuality. Hiding one’s most important personal relationship from family and friends, not to mention from self, can impose severe restrictions and consequent stress on any relationship. While it may make sense not to disclose the nature of a relationship to some other people, a basic acceptance of one’s own sexual orientation is essential to the construction of a workable relationship.

The home-wreckers are those in one’s own family, church, and society. Under the banner of “family values” they go about their “duties” of home-wrecking with a self-righteous zeal than can be devastating. Even in the sophisticated New York City co-op market, for example, one agent was quoted in The New York Times as saying that she “almost had given up trying to find a building that would accept homosexuals buying in partnership”. 41

When a gay person invites a partner to live together in an apartment he or she already owns or rents, remaining in the apartment can become a luxury totally dependent on the whim of the co-op board or landlord. In the courts, homosexuals living together do not constitute “a family unit”, even in liberal New York City.42 [In 2001 this is no longer the case] Important as social scientists now understand “marriage rituals” to be,43 what mainline Protestant church, let alone evangelical church, is ready to perform a covenanting service for two gay Christians? [In 2001 this is no longer the case in a few mainline churches.] These and many other society-fostered and society-aggravated strains illustrate some of the continuing battles gay relationships face in their struggle simply to survive. This shows how very important it is for those who are quick to criticize the instability of gay relationships to put as much energy into supporting gay rights. If they don’t, they reveal their unrepentant homophobia for what it is.

Men and women are different from each other. This is true biologically as well as it is true in terms of enculturation. I want you to understand clearly that when I say this I am not speaking of what necessarily should be or necessarily should not be, but of what is. Therefore, there are differences between couple relationships composed of two women, two men, and one woman and one man.

In an interview in the August 1981 issue of Omni, physician, psychoanalyst and sex therapist Helen S. Kaplan attributes the sex drive and sex behaviour differences between men and women to the “differences between male and female brains” for, as she says, “Sexual desire resides in the brain”. Kaplan says that “all the many differences between males and females are brought about by testosterone” and that there are “testosterone receptors” throughout the body, in for example, the muscles, bones skin, brain, etc. She states that “all differences between male and female sexuality are due to the strength of the male sex drive, which seems much higher than the female’s. All other differences follow from that”.

According to University of California sociobiologist Donald Symons, the differences between men and women seem to be both hormonal and environmental in origin and maintenance,44 and Kaplan and others agree with him about this. Both naturally as well as in terms of societal influences, females tend toward more nurturant ways than do males. Historically and cross-culturally, males tend to be more physically aggressive sexually than females, more competitively driven. As a result of socialization at least, men tend primarily to be sexually stimulated by sight, while women are more generally stimulated by touch. The outward-bound aggression and visual stimulation of men, together with men’s tendency to “no cost” genitalizing with a variety of partners, produce the well-known “roaming eye”. A proliferation of visual pornography for both heterosexual and homosexual men, the institution of rest room sex, back room bars, baths and meat-racks for gay men, for example, illustrate the differences between men and women when it comes to sex. There are no lesbian back room bars and baths, no “call-girls” for lesbians, lesbians do not have sex with strangers in public toilets or meat-racks and there is no commercially-produced visual hard-core pornography for women. Attempts to “cash in” on supposed opportunities among women have been failures, for there is virtually no market for skin-deep sex for women, gay or straight.

With such in mind, Symons sees homosexuals as what he calls “the acid test for hypotheses about male-female differences in sexuality, “noting that “In homosexuality, we see male and female sexualities in their pure uncompromised forms”.45 Peplau and her associates agree, observing “that gender—the fact of being a man or a woman—often exerts greater influence on relationships than does sexual orientation. Women’s goals in intimate relationships”, they found, “are similar whether the partner is male or female. The same is true of men”.46 These are extremely important observations for our present concerns.

Both pluses and minuses can be found in these observations; both that which can make gay relationships easier and that which can make them more difficult. Especially the gay male relationship and the heterosexual relationship, insofar as it has a male in it, can have a harder time trying to be a good relationship than can the lesbian relationship. Those relationships which have perhaps the most going for them in terms of what it takes for stability, aside from the effects of the prejudices of society, which are, themselves, different in terms of gender, are lesbian relationships. This is the case since both partners, as women, tend toward nurturant attitudes and behaviours and are not prone to skin-deep sex outside the relationship.

In general terms, there is an empathy in homosexual couple relationships, either female or male, that is often missing in heterosexual couples. As Masters and Johnson documented, committed homosexuals (those who have lived together at least one year) have a more relaxed understanding of their partners’ sexual needs than most heterosexuals, married or unmarried, presumably because it is easier to understand one’s own sex than the other.47 This is true of both male homosexuals and lesbians and had been observed long before Masters and Johnson documented it. It can be a real encouragement to us. Heterosexuals have to contend with a person in relationship who is biologically and socially an “alien”. There is a greater chance for miscommunication within the heterosexual pair, then, than there is within the same-sex pair.

A real danger, though, so far as the achievement of a realistic structure for intimacy is concerned, exists for the male-male couple. This is due to the fact that both partners can be prone to outside genitalization and weak nurturant behaviour patterns that do not so plague lesbian couples and that are countered somewhat by the contributions of women in heterosexual partnerships. Unfortunately, to some perceptible degree, where there is change in this regard, it is that studies show women have steadily become more like men in sexual attitudes and behaviours, but even these studies indicate that women have yet to come anywhere near the superficial genitalizing to which men tend.48 Would that the trend, though, was that men were becoming more like women in these matters.

We can appreciate the significance of male-female sex differences as we have outlined them when we realize that studies of couples with high levels of satisfaction suggest that they are good relationships because of the willingness of the partners to be persistent in working with each other through rough times and of the empathy the partners have in their communication.49 In good King James English, that spells “longsuffering”. Gay couples that will be successful are those lesbian couples that persistently capitalize on their natural nurturant attitudes and behaviours, and those male couples that persistently watch out for the dangers of their proneness to skin-deep sex and that strive toward the cultivation of nurturant attitudes and behaviours. The empathy that is such a sine qua non of successful couple relationship is something of which gay men and women can make very good use in their natural bond between themselves and their same-sex partners.

One plus one still equals two

The idea that “the two shall become one” has been misunderstood over the years. It’s true that two individuals do come together in oneness of purpose for relationship but so often we fail to see that relationship implies two, not one. There is no relationship when there is but one person. Relationships exist between persons. Two people come together for one relationship, one partnership, but they remain two people. They have their very own distinct bodies, brains, histories, egos, perspectives, sets of expectations, personalities, insecurities, irrationalities, talents, etc. These two different people constitute the polarity that makes the relating for the one relationship not only possible but desirable. Nevertheless, as C. S. Lewis wrote, the biblical “one-flesh” idea states a fact not just a sentiment, and of course it does. He illustrated with a violin and a bow: one instrument.50 In “one-flesh” we have a new entity that simply does not exist apart from relationship.

Perceived difference between partners is what makes romantic relationship attractive, whereas perceived similarity between people is what makes non-romantic friendship attractive. While similarity of basic values is crucial for successful romantic partnership, perceived personality and style differences are what make up the involuntary attractiveness of the romantic partner. Here too, there are pluses and minuses. That which automatically will make such relationship easier and that which will make it more difficult is one and the same: differentness from self. It is that differentness or novelty that one partner sees in the other that makes it so exciting and interesting to be around the other, but since it is different, it is capable of being troublesome, misunderstood, and can take some getting used to—even on a repeated basis. But of course, it remains different, no matter how familiar it gets.

Falling in love is not the same as loving-as-an-act-of-will

The experience of falling in love can be a wonderfully hectic one. Unfortunately it can be confused with that which makes relationship successful. We must understand clearly that falling in love is actually a very strong form of liking, not loving. It is an involuntary attraction or taste for that which, at whatever level of perception, spontaneously meets the test of our encoded experiences and imprinting going back to our early mental processing. Falling in love is an involuntary feeling and it is completely different from the intentional loving-as-an-act-of-will that deliberately and rigorously seeks another’s welfare as it also seeks its own. As Shakespeare put it in Sonnet 116: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds”. This different love is an act of will, what C. S. Lewis called “a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by” God’s grace. Lewis saw such wilful loving as that on which “the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it”.51

Psychiatrist David D. Burns of the University of Pennsylvania says that it is dysfunctional to “define love as the exciting romantic arousal you feel when you first meet someone who is very special to you [and] you believe that this romantic feeling is the key ingredient in a successful relationship”. He says: “When the warmth and intoxication begin to fade you are likely to make the interpretation that the quality of the relationship has been diminished.”52 Burns continues: “This attitude creates a vulnerability to disillusionment after the early phase of a relationship because such feelings of excitement tend to be transient and have a low correlation with long-term marital satisfaction … While romance can draw people together initially, it does not ensure a successful ongoing relationship any more than physical attractive-ness does. If you believe that loving feelings are the most important ingredient in a successful relationship you are bound to feel disappointed and threatened when these feeling are diminished.”

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov, author of Love and Limerence: The experience of Being in Love, defines “limerence” in terms of the overwhelming passion and even possession phenomena of romantic feelings. According to her, “A relationship that includes no limerence may be a far more important one in your life, when all is said and done, than any relationship in which you experienced the strivings of limerent passion”. “Limerance,”, she states “is not in any way preeminent among types of human attractions or interactions,” and, she adds, with a recognition of the disruptiveness and consequent non-maintainability of the heights of limerence, “when limerence is in full force, it eclipses other relationships.”53 C. S. Lewis asks: “Who could bear to live in that excitement for even 5 years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?”54

Yet we do see all around us that people are in love with being in love. There is nothing unreasonable in enjoying the involuntary experience of falling in love, infatuation, “walking on air” in the company of a new romantic interest, and all that. It’s exciting. As Lewis wrote, “Being in love is a good thing, but,” he added, “it is not the best thing”.55 Wisely, he noted that “You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling”, Lewis wrote, “can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go”.56 That’s another reason why I’m putting so much of an emphasis, as I do in my practice of psychotherapy, on identifying the underlying thoughts and beliefs that cause the unwanted feelings and why it is so important to challenge those beliefs in terms of basic, self-evident principles of rationality.

Lewis clues us into a wonderful secret that so many prevent themselves from experiencing because they get bogged down in thrill-seeking and never prepare themselves for what Lewis calls “the best”. Says Lewis: “It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follows—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life”.57 As he further observed: “it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction” and Lewis relates this as “one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies”. 58

In my clinical experience, over time, I have seen such a letting go of the irrationalities of what pass as the urban gay male mentality by even long-term devotees to that system. What is aborning in their lives is truly the intimacy for which they have been looking.

Unrealistic expectations

Gay and straight people have swallowed irrational ideas about relationship. These irrational ideas produce unrealistic expectations. These unrealistic expectations produce feelings of disappointment and, when exaggerated, depression. In order to try to gain some sense of control over the disappointing situation, the person often blames self for not measuring up to the romantic ideal and scapegoats the partner, the relationship, gay relationships in general, society, churches, God, and so on out of a defensive reaction. The relationship falls apart, as only the latest failure in what is then taken to be the inevitability of nothing very much better than short-term success in gay relationship.

You’ve heard people say that you don’t miss what you don’t have. That is true, but not for the reason you may think. People miss only that which they think is available and don’t have. Pop culture has taught us to think that things exist that really don’t exist. More people than homosexuals believe in fairy tales. But there are no unmixed bags in human affairs. Reality is always a mixed bag; fantasy is always an unmixed bag. We paint a picture of the “otherwise” situation but we are in complete control of the fantasy picture so, of course, its just beautiful. The real situation, in which others make their own contributions for good or ill, is thus always a mixture of what we think we want or need and what we think we don’t want and must not have. It seems so hard to learn the lesson C. S. Lewis had in mind when he said that dream furniture is the only kind of furniture we don’t stub our toes on. When it comes to thinking about a lover, we tend to drift into some very unrealistic and undisciplined day dreaming. “The girl of my dreams,” “the boy of my dreams”, and the contradictory “real dream” are a few of our expressions. As Lewes Smedes puts it: “Some people are sexually stupid enough to make a touched-up picture of some exhibitionist their secret standard of a satisfying sex partner”.59 Some guys are still contrasting every potential mate with pictures of a hot gay porno star who, unknown to them, has ballooned off-screen into middle-aged spread. We look around us and see this “goodie” in this one and another “goodie” in that one. We pick this one’s body, that one’s brains, that one’s sociability, and this one’s money and this one’s face, and that one’s identity as a Christian. We pick and choose, left and right, failing to understand that such an approach is ludicrous. We can have relationship with a person as is or we cannot have a relationship at all. When we pick and choose parts of people we end up with only a fantasy. And even if we finally “settle” for one person, we are apt to make unfair comparisons between our partner, whom we know as the mixed bag any real person will be, and that one’s body, that one’s prosperity, that one’s industry, that one’s intelligence, that one’s beautiful grey eyes. We must come to realize that far from a partner being this trait plus this look plus this and plus that, a partner, for intimate relationship, is more. A partner is more than the sum of his or her parts and more than the sum of the parts from ten other prospects.

The incest taboo

Our society, churches, pornography, gay liberationism and practically every other influence on our lives instills and perpetuates in us the ideal that sex is bad, wrong, sinful, illegal, degrading, embarrassing, dirty, raunchy. Masturbatory fantasies in secret, pornography on the sly and promiscuity in public toilets and back room bars all contribute to the continuation of the perception of genital sex as dirty and impersonal. Consequently, one way or another, most relationships eventually have to contend with the insidious effects of the incest taboo.

You may find that it is more and more difficult to integrate genital acts and the closeness you feel for a partner you have come to know and accept as a member of the family. You identify the partner with goodness and find it increasingly impossible to identify this nice person, a family member, with the dark sexual passion that you’ve reinforced by long association of genital sex with fantasy and anonymity. As you look at yourself and naturally fail to find any differentness that could constitute something you see as sexually stimulating to you, you will conclude more certainly that you are not sexy and that, by now, this is probably becoming more and more obvious to your lover. You have increasing difficulty presenting yourself to your partner in what you can consider a believably sexy persona. After all, you’ve been seen with “your hair up in curlers” so to speak. Your partner, in turn, also doubting his own sexiness in your sight, is likely to interpret your coolness as a sure sign of your loss of sexual interest in him. Defensively he pulls back from you and you, in turn, interpret this as his inevitable loss of sexual interest in you, so you pull back even more. Sex between you wanes and to counter your insecurity, both of you are tempted to “trick out”, thinking that this will prove that you are sexy. But this only reinforces the idea you have that your partner is turning to others because you yourself do not measure up sexually. The deadly cycle is repeated until the relationship can stand such strain no longer and it ends in disappointment and discouragement, hurt and anger, and cynicism about ever having a truly good relationship.

“Open relationships”

Perhaps nothing has hindered relationship more, among modern couples, than the very naïve notions incorporated under the banner of so-called “open relationships.” Certainly among gay men, the non-monogamous arrangement has been a curse. It is not merely coincidental that the two most common assumptions and descriptions of gay male couples today are, first, that gay relationships are not monogamous and, second, that gay relationships don’t last.

Ten years ago, George and Nena O’Neill wrote their book, Open Marriage, and popularized the belief that sexual fidelity was an out-worn demand, unnecessary in the “sexual revolution” generation.60 But it is dangerous to build new hypotheses on flimsy foundations, as the O’Neills soon learned. They had been dead wrong. So in 1978, Nena O’Neill published the findings of more recent research on 250 couples and concluded in The Marriage Promise, that those marriages ending within two years tended to be the ones that deliberately included the “open marriage” permission for extra-marital sex.61 Even Eugene Schoenfeld, Berkeley’s 1960’s “Dr. HipPocrates,” has changed his tune on the “open marriage” gospel of the now faded flower-power days. In Jealousy: Taming the Green-Eyed Monster, he concludes that “open marriage” has not really worked and that it has served only to escalate jealousy and failure in relationship.62 The Sixth Anniversary Poll of People magazine readers—hardly straight-laced fundamentalists—has revealed that what People calls “a stunning 86% of readers” answered with “an unadulterated yes” to the question: “Do you think marital fidelity is important?” This view is shared equally by those who are married, separated and divorced.63 Herbert Zerof states what any other alert marriage counsellor knows: “Despite the increase in ‘swinging’ among couples, and more liberal attitudes toward sex outside a relationship, most people are unable to tolerate an ‘anything goes’ attitude.”64 He puts it in even stronger terms: “Despite protests to the contrary, . . . [extra-marital affairs] are the most insidiously tormenting and destructive arrangement any three people can devise— even more than a wrenching divorce”.65

All of this is confirmed in the Kinsey Institute’s Bell and Weinberg study of gay male and lesbian couples. Naturally. Monogamy makes no less sense in same-sex pairs. Bell and Weinberg found that what they called “Open-Coupleds”, when contrasted with the “Close-Coupleds”, “felt more lonely” in spite of (we should say, in keeping with) their going “out more often.”66 On the other hand, the “Close-Coupleds had the smallest amount of sexual problems, and were unlikely to regret being homosexual … Although the Close-Coupleds did not have the highest level of sexual activity, they reported more than most respondents, and their sexual lives were evidently gratifying to them. They were likely to have engaged in a wide variety of sexual techniques.”

Let me say in passing that one definitely important and direct advantage for the close-coupled is that, in terms of what a Christopher Street article calls “the new Era of the Amoeba”— the intestinal parasite epidemic among gay men —”‘wild abandon’ may become exclusively descriptive of sex within” the monogamous pair. 67

Bell and Weinberger also report that the close-coupled “tended not to report the kinds of problems that might arise from a lack of communication between partners”. The close-coupled were also “less tense … and more exuberant than the average respondent … Both the men and the women were more self-accepting and less depressed or lonely than any of the others, and they were the happiest of all”.68 In analysing these data, we should keep in mind that, as psychoanalyst Herbert S. Strean points out in his book, The Extramarital Affair, it is not so much that such relationship makes people happy but that relatively happy people make such a relationship.

We can account for the widespread buying into the philosophy of “open relationship” in many ways. We cannot overlook the fact that we are living at a time when there is more general awareness of sexuality than ever before. Such awareness however, often in the form of the proverbial “little bit of knowledge”, can be and has been more problematic than helpful. Perhaps it is symptomatic of the natural growth into and through a time that may be seen as adolescent.

It is explainable that what are perceived to be unrealistic, unreasonable, and arbitrary demands for monogamy are transgressed with rationalization by people who seem to neither understand their motivation nor the unintended consequences of genitalizing promiscuously. If it is believed that lasting monogamous gay relationships are impossible anyway, it is not strange that they are not attempted with much effort. If churches tell you that even the most faithful and constructive gay relations are “hell-bound” anyway, where is the encouragement to “stick it out” and “see it through”? What appear to be feelings of “boredom”, for example, can be the person’s defence against forbidden wishes and depression stemming from unrealised fantasies of unreasonable romanticizing about what “love life” “should” be. Through the influence of Hollywood, Television City, Nashville, Disco, drug store novels, and the like, people have got hold of an erroneous idea of what relationship is all about. We don’t have to turn only to X-rated films to see that film makers are unable or unwilling to integrate genital sex and long-term relationship with intimacy. Even in PG and R films, when was the last time you saw a sex scene of a monogamous couple married for several years? And of course, “good, moral family films” with G-ratings can’t include sex in the “nice” family! Bible-Belt record buyers swell the sales of “country” songs that rationalize and even celebrate adultery. Millions of homophobic housewives across America tune in each weekday afternoon to follow the messed-up lives of their soap opera heroes and heroines. Anyone familiar with soap script writing knows that if these messes are cleaned up, the viewers tune out.

If this is what the general pop scene is reflecting and promoting, no wonder society’s “outcasts” may find it difficult to created more realistic and responsible relationships. There are very few good heterosexual relationship role models; there are virtually none when in comes to same-sex relationships.

Variety and quality of interaction over time are two necessary contexts for the enrichment of deepest intimacy between partners. Studies repeatedly show that such variety and quality interaction in a strong commitment to ingenuity and monogamy most effectively facilitate intimacy.

Monogamy is needed, but not as an end in itself. There are, for example, plenty of people who do not have sex outside their relationship simply because they believe that nobody would want to have sex with them. And maybe they’re right! At least that is the way they look at it. Monogamy over time is needed as a context in which something vital can begin to take root and be nurtured and grow. Monogamy is a conclusion to the question of what kind of structure best facilitates those major components to any successful close relationship. Such definitive structure allows for, though doesn’t itself produce, the strong communality, heavy emotional investment, frequent interaction, personal disclosure and deep caring that characterise the interdependency of intimate partnership.69

Ingenuity is needed, but not as an end in itself. There are plenty of people, for example, who can come up with yet one more way to do sex or anything else. Ingenuity over time is needed in order to improve the growing relation-ship and to protect it from insecurities as well as outside forces that would tend to do it in. Ingenuity gives good shape to flexibility as the growing relationship must adapt to new circumstances, compromises, and changes both inside and outside individuals and their partnership. The inevitable incompatibility and conflict, if handled creatively, can become the means for further strengthening of the relationship for greater heights together.

And commitment — the will — is needed because monogamy and ingenuity are not always that easy, even though any other approach is, sooner or later, harder and then impossible.

One still hears the rationalisation, “But no one person can meet all my needs!” True. You must look elsewhere for your shoes, your professional dental care, your gas and electricity, etc. And you must go elsewhere for certain kinds of friendships and acquaintances. But don’t these sound unresponsive to this often-voiced complaint? That’s because “no one person can meet all my needs” or “I need my freedom” can be just other words for “I want sex with hot men” which can be just other words for “I’m not sexy”. But the monotonous genitalizing with one stranger after another hardly matches the needs of the very demanding sexual gourmet. Actually, such a person spreads himself so thin that his real needs for sexual satisfaction are never met. He goes out night after night because he did not get his needs met during all those previous nights, even though he had many sex partners and multiple ejaculations.

Until one understands the real motivation behind an appeal for so-called sexual freedom or “open relationship”, all the moralizing of self-righteous fundamentalists and all the new wave rhetoric of self-righteous liberationists will fall flat.

Carl Rogers concluded that the basic difficulty people have psychologically is that they see themselves as “worthless and unlovable”. That is what I, too, have found in my own clinical practice. People see a gap between who and what they think they should be. And they think that everyone else sees them and this gap in the same way. They set themselves the impossible task of countering their sense of failure by seeking affirmation from other people. They never succeed because they are still stuck with their own version of the gap. Nonetheless, they try endlessly to obliterate the gap. The harder they try, the more they reinforce the sense of their problem and they get no closer to a resolution, concluding that they are terminally unacceptable, unlikeable, unlovable. Irrational attempts at independence thus end only in reinforcing self-doubt. As we have said, the other person’s response, no matter how “positive”—even if it is in the form of fame and fortune—is not good enough to alter the long-term memory of one’s own self-consciousness inside one’s own brain cells. Even Robert Redford confesses: “All my life I’ve been dogged by guilt, because I feel there’s this difference between the way I look—which I suppose is good—and what I feel inside me. I get these black nightmares”.70

A side-stepping of one’s own version of self, however, accomplished in the knowledge that I am the only one who sees my me as well as my ideal me and the gap between, can facilitate the relative security that yields a healthy independence alongside interdependency. Actually, of course, a sense of low self-worth is a result of inordinate self-centredness. A person becomes preoccupied with his or her own importance and thereby makes too big a deal out of the attention or lack of attention paid by others. It is then seen as a personal calamity if someone else doesn’t say or do what we myopically predict it would be so good for us to have him or her say or do.

What Smedes calls “the pivot on which our sexual lives turn” is freedom, the freedom we have in Christ. It is not freedom that disregards how the world is. He quotes Paul (2 Corinthians 3:17) as saying: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”.71 This, explains Smedes, means freedom from the compulsion to be dominated by sexuality. It means freedom from both authentic guilt and neurotic guilt feeling. (“Many Christians” Smedes says, “can accept forgiveness for almost anything but what they do with and feel abut their genitals” 72). It means freedom from the moral tyranny of even Christian institutions that impose their own rules on our consciences as though their rules were God’s (“folkways that posture as divine rules”, says Smedes, “are anti-Christ”.73) In the phrasing of Herman Ridderbos, “Christian freedom … means … spiritual independence from all these human bondages, even when this bondage consists of too-narrow confessional or clerical commitments”.74 Such freedom means freedom from the illusion that there is ultimate joy in the idol of sex. Smedes points out that the freedom we have in Christ is also a freedom for the other person, including sexually, and freedom in permanent relationship with the other. This freedom is then free to go beyond the welfare of the mate to become welfare for yet others.

Such costly freedom for the other is poorly understood and even less practised in both secular and Christian communities. Yankelovich’s observations, however, have led him to say that “nothing has subverted self-fulfilment more thoroughly than self-indulgence”.75 Again it is heard: unless we die, we cannot live. Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made these points with great eloquence when, amid the pomp and circumstance (and often tasteless commercialism) of the “Wedding of the Century”, he began his address to Prince Charles and Diana, and to the millions watching around the world, by saying: “Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made: the Prince and Princess on their wedding day. But fairy tales usually end at this point with the simple phrase ‘and they lived happily ever after’. This may be because fairy tales regard marriage as an anticlimax after the romance of courtship. This is not the Christian view. Our faith sees the wedding day not as the place of arrival but the place where the adventure really begins.” He then went on to explain that “any marriage which is turned in upon itself, in which the bride and groom simply gaze obsessively at one another, goes sour after a time. A marriage which really works”, he said “is one which works for others.”76

OUR BIBLICAL ROLE MODEL FOR RELATIONSHIP

There is a divine two-fold role model for relationship as love-as-an-act-of-will, that nobody can appreciate quite so much as a Christian can, for it’s found in the Old and New Testaments. The covenant relationship between God and the Israelites and between Christ and the Christians is what ought to be and is and shall be the relationship between two of God’s people in covenant union.

The role-model for such covenant union is that of God’s steadfast and deliberate love, a completely voluntary loving of the world so much that God gave, and gave, and gave.

Remember when God, as the husband of Israel, spoke to her through the prophet Hosea, now almost 3,000 years ago: “I will allure her, and bring her into the desert and speak tenderly to her”. (2:14) God promised: “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you with righteousness and justice, with love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord”.(2:19-20) Then, immediately turning to Hosea’s relationship with his adulterous mate, God makes the parallel, instructing Hosea to “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin-cakes”. (3:1) That is steadfast love; persistent love. That is our model. You know, those little sacred raisin-cakes were foolishly believed to affirm one’s sexual power, proficiency, and attractiveness. They were used as aphrodisiacs in cultic worship of false gods. They were the poppers and pills, the paraphernalia of the sex gods back in ancient Israel.

And then, later, with the prophet Ezekiel, whose mission it was to bring consolation, to show that God was justified in sending Israel into captivity, there is the same steadfast love. For, as is recorded in Ezekiel 16:15, Israel had been promiscuous with “anyone who passed by” and even had made “male idols and engaged in prostitution with them”. (16:17) But though God does not refrain from allowing her to reap what she sows, God is still the faithful partner who promises again: “Yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant”. (16:60)

In the New Testament, the marriage of God and God’s people is pictured as that between Christ and His Bride, the Church. All of us, as the Bible says, as Christians, are Christ’s Bride, whether we are women or men. What a remarkable and beautiful picture of intimacy and tenderness. That old ex-slave trader sea captain John Newton, author of the hymn, Amazing Grace, was not skittish about calling Jesus Christ, “my Husband” in another of his hymns, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds, though editors of his hymns have often deleted this reference as, no doubt, sounding too “homosexual”. And would you believe, some folk in the United Church of Christ nowadays are so hypersensitive that under the guise of “inclusive language”, they have eliminated from a new hymnal called Everflowing Streams (Pilgrim Press), Bride-of -Christ analogies! 77 They seem not to understand that theirs is the sexist approach, not the true feminism of the Bible.

Paul instructs Christian couples to pattern after this model of Christ and the Bride-of-Christ when he writes to the Ephesians (5:21): “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” and love each other as Christ loved His Bride and gave Himself up for her. (5:25) It is in God’s covenant relationship with us that we can best see what is to be our covenant relationship with our partner.

Translated into our daily living, that means that though, as Geoffrey Bromily notes, “In the world of the fall . . . some part of life, if not all, must be lived temporarily or permanently outside the regular patterns of God’s created order” so we must not set ourselves up for unrealistic expectations of perfectionism.78 It is not our wisdom or morality that holds us together in this world: it is still and always will be God’s grace in Jesus Christ. We live in a fallen world as sinners saved by grace. And our sexual life is not lived anywhere else but right in the middle of this fallen world, the only one we have.

But this in no way means that our covenantal homosexual unions are not truly marriages in God’s eyes. Even before the fall, as Bromily points out, marriage is marriage, “whether or not there is a related ceremonial or institutional form”.79 We don’t need the blessing of the First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Oklahoma or the civil recognition of the government of Dade County, Florida. And we don’t have to procreate children to have a covenantal union, as Bromily also notes, “marriage has its own perfection without having to be related to family [i.e. children]”.80 As a matter of fact, as the two same-bodied people, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” covenant with each other, they “will leave”, as the Bible says, “father and mother and be united” as “one flesh”. (Genesis 2:23-24) And more than a few gay men and lesbians have been forced literally to leave parents, quite painfully, in order to “cleave” to each other in their honest and mutual love and commitment.

Evangelicals do a lot of worrying over what is called the dating and marriage of the “unequal yoke”. To be sure, the plight of Christians and non-believers who marry can be a very troublesome ordeal, whatever may be the application of 2 Corinthians 6. It is a sound psychological principle that couples do best if their most basic values are held in common, no matter what those basic values may be. But these same evangelicals, usually unwittingly but sometimes even deliberately, connive to push their homosexual offspring into the “unequal yoke” of a homosexual-heterosexual marriage. The consequences of these lying mismatches (Romans 12:9) are at least as difficult as the better known “unequal yokes”. Robert Schuller, “tele-evangelist” of the Crystal Cathedral, has lent his weight to this sort of arrogant oppression by demeaning gay relationships and urging all of his homosexual viewers to become what he already is—heterosexual—so that they can enjoy what he says he enjoys. He deliberately seeks to wreck the homes of those already in gay relationships and he unwittingly lays the traps for the future destruction of substitute “bisexual” homes.

Such stupid advice as Schuller’s contributes to making the divorce rate of even evangelicals today about the same as that of secular statistics of a decade ago.81 And what of the many more couples that are set up in this way for eventual “emotional divorce” if not legal divorce?

According to Jim Conway, director of the D.Min. Programme at Talbot Theological Seminary, there are those who “should never have gotten married” and he recognises that, because “the Church is the one that married them” it follows that much of “the blame for divorce falls smack dab on the churches that allowed the marriages in the first place”. He states that “the church has a responsibility to see that people married in the church are prepared for marriage”.82 Although Conway was not speaking about homosexual-heterosexual couplings, what he says makes perfect sense when it comes to such couplings.

Bromily writes that “Marriage can work only as it conforms to the purpose and work of him who created and established it”.83 Marriage between one homosexual and one heterosexual is fundamentally unworkable in terms of God’s purposes for marriage as that purpose is expressed in the Bible: the deepest possible companionship between two people created in God’s image. Just as none of the animals in God’s creation was found by Adam to be involuntarily attractive, those of another sex are not found to be involuntarily attractive to people whose natural desires are for someone of the same sex. And just as God saw that, for Adam, “no suitable helper was found” for partnership, even among all of God’s creatures, God knows that even among all people of the other sex, “no suitable helper” can be found for those who can truly find such a helper only among people of the same sex. You don’t think Adam was faking it, do you, when God presented him with a “suitable helper” in Eve? Adam was simply being Adam. And, of course, in presenting Adam with Eve, God was being God. “It would be odd indeed”, reasons Smedes, “if the Creator put attractive people in the world and forbade us to notice them”.84 And, being ourselves, we do notice those that God has put here with us, don’t we?

That we must not have genital relations with everybody we find sexually attractive does not negate the usefulness of sexual activity with an individual who is our very own “suitable helper”. C. S. Lewis comments on “the sexual act, [which] when lawful—which” he says “means chiefly when consistent with good faith and charity—can, like all other merely natural acts (‘whether we eat or drink, etc.’ as the apostle says), be done to the glory of God, and will then be holy”.85 Lewis was here faithfully echoing his Lord when Jesus spoke of such willed love fulfilling the law (Matthew 22:34ff).

Slowly, evangelicals are waking up to the fact that the homosexual covenantal union, under God, is the Christian solution to the unmet intimacy needs of homosexual Christians. Smedes, ever so gingerly, strains himself to finally allow the Christian homosexual “to develop permanent associations with another person, association in which respect and regard for the other as a person dominates their sexual relationship”.86

If his permission seems less than an enthusiastic call to celebrate one’s homosexuality, it is by intent, for Smedes goes on the say that “to develop a morality for the homosexual life is not to accept homosexual practices as morally commendable” but only that what he views as a “deplorable situation”, for which some permanent but shameful homosexual relationship is to be concocted, is preferable to what he calls a “life of sexual chaos”. What more could one do to temper joy? And that is all the “help” he offers, even though, for heterosexuals, he waxes on and on about the fun of mutual masturbation87, “erotic excitement that pulsates with sensuality”88 and says that married sex has no restraint but “the feeling of the other person”.89

We should not complain too much though, since Smedes is one of the very few evangelicals who allows even this begrudging recognition of our need. But Smedes does not say how such a permanent relationship is going to come about in a church and society that does its dead level best to keep homosexuals from all relationship. This is particularly suspect in view of his extensive and detailed discussion of the long-distance run for heterosexuals seeking the same sort of permanent relationship within the dominant culture. But then, we who appear to be no better than step-children, at best, in the eyes of many of even the most compassionate of heterosexual Christians have come to appreciate even the scraps that are dropped from their tables. I’ve become quite adept at catching crumbs. [Happily, Smedes has long since come around to a hearty support of gay relationships and has movingly keynoted the summer conference of Evangelicals Concerned.]

So, in closing, remember that God’s commitment to us is the basis for our commitment to each other. As we keep covenant with each other under God’s own covenant with us, we have what we need: more than just our strength alone. We who know what it is to be loved can love. We who know what it is to be forgiven can forgive. We who are reconciled with God in Christ can afford to be engaged in reconciliation with each other. We don’t need to carry around the burden of grudges, fears, hurts, suspicions, resentments, hostilities. We can truly afford to carry one another’s loads as well as our own (Galatians 6:2 & 5) as Jesus, who moved among us as a servant (Philippians 2:1-8) modelled the lifestyle that befits us.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul concretely prescribes nothing but love-as-an-act-of-will for those who are the recipients of God’s love. And such love proscribes nothing but that which is in opposition to it. Therefore, we can face relationship with a dedication to patience, longsuffering, persistence, gentleness, kindness, submission. We don’t have to have our own way (though we will try to), we don’t have to be so touchy (though we will be), we don’t have to be selfish (though we will be). We need not be phobic. We need keep no score. Why? Because God keeps covenant.

We may not always feel up to all this; we may not always feel the love of God. But just as we know that our security in human relationship cannot depend on feelings but on willed commitment, we know that our security in relationship with God does not depend on our staying “up” with what Ken Medema calls those “sugar-coated … I-am-His-and He-is- mine-and-doesn’t-it-make-me-feel-good love songs” but upon God’s amazing grace.

Since we are loved with an everlasting love, surely we can afford to keep the covenant these relatively few short years of a most interesting sojourn.

Like everything else which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting and significant than any romance, however passionate”

W. H. Auden

 

© Copyright 1981 by Ralph Blair. All rights reserved

Dr Ralph Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City USA. He founded the Homosexual Community Counselling Centre in New York City in1972 and Evangelicals Concerned, Inc. in 1975.

back to topREFERENCES IN TEXT:

1 Cited in Psychology Today, April 1981, p.5

2 Ibid., p.91

3 Ibid., p.44

4 Idem.

5 Idem.

6 Romans 8:32

7 Publisher’s publicity

8 Donald Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Volume I, (New York: Harper and Row, 1978) p.16

9 Lewis Smedes, Sex for Christians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976) p.229

10 David Goodstein, “Opening Space”, The Advocate, April 30, 1981.

11 David Goodstein, “Opening Space”, The Advocate, August 20, 1981

12 David Goodstein, “Opening Space”, The Advocate, February 21, 1980

13 Idem.

14 John Stranack, “Are We All Trash”, Blueboy, Volume 10, p.69

15 The New York Native, May 4-17, 1981, p.19

16 The Advocate, July 9, 1981, p.33

17 Edmund White, States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, (New York: Dutton, 1980) p.265

18 Ibid., p.267

19 The Advocate, op. cit.

20 White, op. cit., p.268

21 James Spada, The Spada Report, (New York: NAL, 1979)

22 Mary Mendola, The Mendola Report, (New York: Crown, 1980) p.68

23 Alan P. Bell and Martin Weinberg, Homosexualities, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978) p.222

24 Mendola, op. cit;, p.71

25 Ibid., p.67

26 Bell and Weinberg, op. cit., p.219

27 The Advocate, July 26, 1979, p.45

28 Arnie Kantrowitz, “Romance: Old and New”, The Advocate, August 20, 1981, p.17

29 Stranack, op. cit.

30 Edmund White and Charles Silverstein, The Joy of Gay Sex, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978) p,13 and 15

31 Ibid., p.13

32 Charles Silverstein, Man to Man, (New York: Morrow, 1981) p.334

33 Don Clark, Living Gay, (Millbraw, Ca: Celestial Arts, 1979) p.82j

34 Idem.

35 Ibid., p.80

36 Idem.

37 Ibid., p.83f

38 Psychology Today, op. cit., p.85

39 Letitia Anne Peplau, “What Homosexuals Want in Relationship”, “Psychology Today, March 1981, p.28

40 R. W. Jones and J. E. Bates, “Satisfaction in Male Homosexual Couples”, Journal of Homosexuality, Spring 1978, pp.217-224

41 The New York Times, December 7, 1980, p.5

42 The New York Times, May 6, 1979

43 Cf. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Volume 43, Number 1 and Psychology Today, June 1981

44 Donald Symons, The Evolution of Human Sexuality, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979)

45 Donald Symons, “Eros and Alley Oop”, Psychology Today, February 1981, p.60

46 Peplau, op. cit., p.29

47 William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Homosexuality in Perspective, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979)

48 Behavior Today, July 9, 1979, p.5

49 Cf. e.g. David D. Burns, Interpretation of the BIAS Test, privately printed, U. of Pa. Medical School

50 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Macmillan, 1943) pp.95f

51 Ibid., p.99

52 Burns, op.cit.

53 Cited in Behavior Today, February 25, p.8

54 Lewis, op. cit.

55 Idem.

56 Idem.

57 Ibid., p.100f.

58 Ibid., p.100

59 Smedes, op. cit., p.212

60 George and Nena O’Neill, Open Marriage, (New York: Evan, 1972)

61 Nena O’Neill, The Marriage Premise, (New York: Evans, 1977)

62 Eugene Schoenfeld, Jealousy: Taming the Green-eyed Monster, (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1980)

63 People, March 24, 1980

64 Herbert Zerof, Finding Intimacy, (New York: Random House, 1978) p.40

65 Ibid., p.67

66 Bell and Weinberg, op. cit., p.223

67 Tim Dlugos, “Guess What’s Hit the Fan?” Christopher Street, September 1980

68 Bell and Weinberg, op.cit., p.223

69 Cf. e.g. George Levinger and Harold L. Raush, eds., Close Relationships, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977)

70 People, March 24, 1980

71 Smedes, op. cit., p.82

72 Ibid., p.84

73 Ibid., p.85

74 Cited in Perspective, May-June, 1981, p. 13

75 Psychology Today, April 1981

76 Time, August 10, 1981, p.30

77 Christian Century, July 29 – August 5, 1981, p. 755

78 Geoffrey Bromily, God and Marriage, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), p.40

79 Ibid., p.3

80 Ibid., p.4

81 Cited in The Life Community Newsletter, September 30, 1979

82 Cited in Cynthia Scott, “When Divorce Strikes”, Moody Monthly

83 Bromily, op. cit., p.5

84 Smedes, op.cit., p.210

85 C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963) p.15

86 Smedes, op. cit., p.73

87 Ibid., p.243

88 Ibid., p.228

89 Ibid., p. 236

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