Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Women, Attraction, and Me

Warning:  In dealing with both sexuality and my struggles, this post is more frank at times compared with some of my other posts dealing with such matters, which are more "polished."  Reader discretion is advised.

In an ironic twist of fate, I actually never thought of myself as "gay"--that is to say, with same-sex attractions to the exclusion of any real opposite-sex attractions-- at least not consistently, until some point during the last year.  That's right, after being married.  I'm going to say, right now, that I think I was wrong to ever come to that conclusion, but right or wrong, I had rarely held that belief about myself before.  There was a brief period of time when I was fifteen, when I first realized I had same-sex attractions, that I actually did consider that I might just be "gay."  But after that there was a three to five year period when I didn't really notice the same-sex attractions at all, and then even after they returned full force and never let up again, I tended to think of myself as having both same-sex and opposite-sex attractions.  By pop-cultural labels (although I don't justify the use of these labels at all) this would make me "bisexual," not "gay."

So what happened?  Why, after so many years of not believing I was exclusively attracted to men, did I finally cave in and say that I wasn't attracted to women, that I loved my wife and enjoyed our intimate life and was attracted to her in certain ways, but that it wasn't a "straight" sort of attraction?  Why?  Because I finally succumbed to the pressure of society's lies about attraction and sexuality.

We live in a culture that is absolutely obsessed with lust and eroticism.  This has become so predominant that it has made its way even into Christian culture.  Christians have, often enough, conceded that sexual attraction must be the same thing as a raw, powerful urge.  Sexual attraction has been reduced to "Which gender would be most likely to 'turn you on' if the person walked into the room naked?"  That's it.  Visual stimulation and raw arousal have become the "litmus test" for sexual attraction.  So, for example, no matter how much I may enjoy being around my wife, no matter how beautiful I may think she is, no matter how much I may love her, no matter how much I may enjoy our sex life and long to engage in it with her, our society (and, sadly, many Christians) would say that I don't have a legitimate sexual attraction to her unless the simple sight of her naked body had the power to arouse me, the way that the image of a nude man might (if the context were sexually charged or suggestive at least; I do not get outright aroused by mere nudity on either gender).

Woah, duuude!  I totally can't even concentrate around
hot girls, man...

Now, I will say that there are times, sometimes more common than others, when I do have the sort of attraction to my wife that society would admit is a genuine sexual attraction.  And because I know my wife feels good about herself when I have those sorts of feelings toward her, I do seek to cultivate that and I hope that such a thing becomes more and more common.  I do want that, even if it's not necessary, because it is nice, it's enjoyable to have those sensations.  So I hope it gets more frequent, with time, and stronger.  Eventually I'd love to consistently have that reaction.

But I think I was wrong to ever believe that I had to experience that in order to believe that all the other ways I have been attracted to her were and are real.  A sexual attraction is simply that:  Attraction toward having sex with someone.  It doesn't matter if the reason you enjoy and desire it is because the very sight of her nude body drives you mad, or because you find the idea of sex with her to be the highest sort of affection, unity, and security with her.  Both are legitimate expressions of genuine sexual attraction.  The former is more raw and immediate, but the second is just as valid.  

I've had that second sort of attraction to women throughout my entire life.  And until I was fifteen years old, and stumbled upon gay pornography, that second sort of attraction was the only kind of attraction I'd had to anyone, and that "anyone" was solely female.  I wasn't all that interested in pornographic portrayals of women, because my attraction to women was more holistic.  I wanted to love a woman, to become one with her, to be by her side, to have us comfortably and lovingly (in marriage) explore one another's bodies just as we explored each other's heart and soul.  I wanted to give of myself to a woman, including my body.  I deeply desired to one day make love to a woman who was my wife.  But it was not a desire that was easily susceptible to the pornographic appeal our culture insists must be part of an attraction, because it was not primarily about certain visual stimuli "driving me crazy."  But did this make it any less real?

Well it says here that--
Oh...rhetorical question...

In recent months, I've finally started to reclaim what I once knew about myself:  That my attraction to women, and my wife in particular, is just as real and valid as any stereotypical "straight" guy's attraction to women.  It may not always look the same as his, nor the same way that my same-sex attraction looks (although, like I said earlier, sometimes it does, and that's happened more often over the past half-year and I have hope it will happen more often still), but that doesn't mean that it "doesn't count."  

It will take me a while, I think, to regain the confidence that my attractions to women do count.  And why?  Because it's taken years to tear down that confidence, so it's reasonable to think it might take years to get back up to it.  As of the time when I was a senior in college, no one could have convinced me that my attraction to women, although it certainly looked different from my attraction to men, was not real.  People who knew me back then can vouch for the way I openly pined for girls, and it was not an act!  But it was different.  While other guys looked at a beautiful girl and might have a reaction "below the waist," I--although I could certainly muster such a reaction and while throughout that period I often thought of a hypothetical "wife" during my struggles with masturbation--had a reaction primarily in my chest.  While other guys looked at girls as potentially "hot," to me they were "amazing" and "magical."  

So it took the greater part of a decade to reach the point to where I no longer thought my brand of attraction to women was legitimate.  I never really found myself addicted to "straight" porn, but had a terrible habit with "gay" porn; an empty meaningless fling with a woman wouldn't have done anything for me, while an empty meaningless fling with a guy (despite still not being nearly as appealing as a meaningful connection with him) did have a certain raw appeal that had no counterpart in females.  I let myself fall into the trap of thinking that my porn habits and the question of whose body by itself would provoke my desire the most was the key to determining my sexuality.  So more and more, I felt that maybe my opposite-sex attractions were an illusion, wishful thinking.  Less and less did I consider myself attracted to both genders until, one day, I nervously confided in my wife that maybe I had no actual attraction to women at all, aside from the capability of enjoying sex with her and obviously loving her.  It could take at least just as long, and be just as rocky a path, to get back to where I once was:  Confident that my attractions to women "count," even if they differ from the average male's.  

There are some things, however, that have given me pause, and have tempted me to sabotage my own efforts at recovering my full awareness of the validity of my opposite-sex attractions.  During my time of thinking I was simply "gay" I developed, as a consolation, a passion for one day being a beacon to others who were exclusively same-sex attracted and yet who were, like myself, people of faith. "This is possible:  Marriage to an opposite-sex spouse, having a family, without compromising traditional Christian values; you can have that even if you're gay, and it can be loving and authentic and real."  And I still believe it's possible.  Examples such as Josh Weed (look him up) make me believe that.  But if I am not "gay," then I am not an example of that possibility myself.  

Oh no!  How will they get along without your
shining example?!

Another such thing is fear that I am just kidding myself about the opposite-sex attractions.  That tempts me to just decide my attractions to men are exclusive, so that at least I won't have the experience of being disappointed if I find out the attractions to women are an illusion.  I'm an obsessive person, by temperament, so I'm constantly fretting that maybe I'm engaging in wishful thinking, as if I only imagine my attraction to women, even if I have more moments lately where that attraction seems more acute, jarring, and physically strong, as the typical "straight" or "bi" guy's attractions to women are.  It's easier to just call those flukes.  Because it would require less work to simply assume the most difficult reality is the true one, then anything else can seem like a mental house of cards, fragile and prone to collapse.  I get scared of that collapse, and run right back to thinking "No, I'm just gay; I'm happily married, love my 'private' life with my wife, and love her dearly, but I'm still 'gay,'" because it's easier to just "accept" that than it is to summon and maintain the mental energy that goes into overcoming my obsessive fretting and worrying in order to have confidence that it might be otherwise.  

In the end, the state of my attractions to women is not simple.  As a flawed human being, sometimes a particularly confused and stressed one, I reserve the right to be inconsistent.  But sometimes I do muster up the courage to not only resist but outright defy the definitions society places on what it means to be attracted to someone.  Sometimes, I feel on the cusp of some paradigm shift that will truly liberate me.  Will it make me "straight?"  Probably not.  My attractions to men may be here to stay no matter what my attraction to women is like (although to be sure I can integrate those attractions into my life in ways that are healthy, acknowledged, but not sexually acted upon).  But maybe I can find it within me to not put my sexuality in a "box," and to know that, whatever labels society might like to put on it, it may well be more malleable and fluid than labels could ever suggest. 

Note:  The article "Against Heterosexuality, by First Things, is an argument that labels and categories surrounding sexuality, even including the so-called natural "heterosexual" orientation, are all artificial constructs anyway that actually do harm to traditional Christian sexual ethics.  I quite agree with this article, whatever my own sexuality may look like at any given time.  So it's worth a read!

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