I recently came across this very interesting article by Christy McFerren while reading Denny Burk’s blog. Burk has been posting about gay and lesbian issues for a while now, and he has done a better job than most evangelical bloggers of promoting the stories of men and women who actually struggle with same-sex attractions. He has written about Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting, and now Ms. McFerren is throwing her hat into the ring of this emerging genre of “struggle memoir.”
It’s hard to critique a memoir. Everyone’s struggle is individual. Everyone’s struggle is unique. I don’t just mean struggles with homosexuality; I mean struggles, period. So let me be clear that I’m not criticizing Ms. McFerren’s struggle. In fact, her story is as glorious and miraculous and touching as any redeemed sinner’s. And there’s a lot of good in this essay. The passage that Denny Burk underlined, and which I’m quoting here, is one of the best I’ve read about this (and all) Christian struggles:
Sometimes I agreed with God about my sexuality because He is Lord, and love is a choice, and that is all. My emotions were left out of the equation so many times because I had to believe either my feelings were lying to me or God was. I purposed in my heart to honor God’s design no matter how it felt, for a very, very long time. I could feel in the waiting that Life was at work in me. Hope was at work in me.
Pretty awesome, right?
But the rest of the article leaves me a little underwhelmed, but for reasons that I haven’t really encountered before in all my years of blogging. This isn’t the tired “mainstream ex-gay” narrative. Ms. McFerren doesn’t devolve into therapist-speak or pseudo-scientific theories about unfulfilled childhood needs that caused her sexual orientation, nor does she really conflate dangerous lifestyle choices with homosexuality (that’s more of a male ex-gay thing, anyway).
Actually, I’m writing this and even I’m having a hard time expressing what rubs me the wrong way about this. Maybe it was the first paragraph, when she says that even from a young age that she knew homosexuality was intrinsically wrong. I think that might play into the stereotype among evangelicals that all gays and lesbians know their behavior is intrinsically wrong, and that they are secretly ashamed of it. I have it on good authority that that’s not the case. While you would be right to say that I should have had an early emotional conviction against my budding sexuality, I can’t say that I did. I really didn’t. I liked men, I wanted to be with a man (romantically much more than physically) and I was angry with God for saying “no” to all that.
Ms. McFerren had an emotional repulsion to the idea of growing old and dying with another woman. I had no such repulsion. It took convincing. It took the Bible. It took sound theology and a sound understanding of God and wise friends who could point me in the right direction (even though many of those friends were just online acquaintances at the time). Maybe my natural aversion to charismatic Christians tripped me up when she started talking about the “voice of God.”
Or maybe it’s simpler. Ms. McFerren does a great job of recounting how terribly lonely this struggle can be. In fact, she says that she felt the loneliest after checking in to a live-in program.
Oh, wait, but then a paragraph later she says she was never alone? Okay, now we’ve hit the nail on the head. This is what rubbed me the wrong way about this memoir. It’s inconsistent. Now, far be it from me to begrudge someone for having contradictory recollections of their struggle. Heck, my entire previous two blogs are a plethora of contradictory recollections. But I think McFerren hints at the fact that this is a lonely struggle, and that straight Christians often don’t understand (even when they mean well), and then backtracks just so she doesn’t offend people.
It’s okay to fight. It really is. But I think the negative side effect of an article like McFerren’s is that those who do give up the struggle — and I see more and more every day — are simply giving up the fight, and it’s all on them. It’s not. If McFerren is being totally honest about the people that surrounded her, then she is a truly blessed woman who had incredible support and love. We don’t all have that, though. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that most of us don’t have that. Most churches are not well-equipped to deal with this issue (and many other “taboo” issues, obviously). What makes me cringe about this article is that a straight Christian man will see it and say, “Fight on!” to a struggling man or woman, and then do nothing to aid in the battle.