Ex-gay – Do terms matter?

We have been moving around this topic again for awhile. I thought I would bring it back after reading a well written post at Disputed Mutability regarding terms and how same-sex attracted people describe their changes or lack thereof.

Here is a quote from DM’s post:

We have an important responsiblity to communicate clearly, honestly, and accurately. We might find it unfortunate that the world should use and understand words in a certain way. But we have a responsibility to be aware of how our words will be understood, and to take care that people will not get the wrong idea. Civilization as we know it depends on words not being able to mean whatever we want them to mean. If I am “completely heterosexual,” all is permitted.

DM also makes three broad suggestions that might provoke some discussion here:

1. We ought not to be absolutely allergic to speaking in terms that people will understand.

Even though we may dislike certain words with their common meanings, sometimes they are the best way to convey the truth. Sometimes, if someone asks you if you are gay or homosexual, the best answer is “Yes, but…” or “Well, sort of, but…” We have to recognize that in most cases people who ask us these sorts of questions, though their conceptual foundations may be messed up, are primarily interested in our sexual attractions, or sometimes our behavior. They are generally not primarily interested in our sense of identity, especially if they already know what our beliefs are. So we need to acknowledge this in the answers we give to them, and answer in a way that communicates the truth. If our attractions are predominantly homosexual, and we are responding to the questions of someone who may not be able to understand a complex explanation of our views, sometimes the most accurate, honest, and IMHO most God-honoring answer to the question “Are you gay?” or “Are you homosexual?” is “Yes.”

2. We can turn our conversations toward a vocabulary we find more suitable.

We’ve done this pretty well with “same-sex attracted,” I think. (I personally prefer “homosexually-attracted” or “homo-attracted”, partly because they’re easier to understand, and partly because I think a lot of people just need to get a grip when it comes to applying any “homo-” word to themselves, but whatever.) Some of us don’t feel that words like “gay” or “homosexual” accurately convey what we’re talking about, so we use different terminology.

I think it’s fine to tell our conversational partners that we can’t express our views fully in their preferred vocabulary, and to share our own with them. And with minimal creativity and effort, we can explain our sexuality and our convictions without using any orientationist buzzwords at all. We can say things like, “Well, I’m attracted to men, but because of my religious beliefs that sex belongs in the context of marriage between a man and a woman, I’m not looking for a sexual relationship.”

I honestly think this is the best way to handle both how we present ourselves to others and how we think of ourselves. If you’re really worried about gay identity, then stop thinking and speaking of yourself in gay-related terms altogether! Saying “I’m not gay!” buys into a gay identity worldview just as much as saying “I’m gay!” does. You cannot “move beyond” the latter without moving beyond the former as well. The same goes for “heterosexual” and “homosexual.”

If we don’t like the orientationist vocabulary of “gay,” “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” “sexual orientation,” and the like, we can simply decline to use it, for the most part. We do not have to abuse it by employing it in a way that misleads others.

3. If we’re going to use the world’s words differently from how others are using them, we ought to make that clear.

So, my personal feeling is that we ought not apply the adjective “heterosexual” to ourselves unless we are overwhelmingly predominantly attracted to the opposite sex. And, we ought not to describe ourselves to outsiders as “not gay” or “not homosexual” if our attractions are predominantly directed towards people of the same sex. (Within exgay circles and with those Christians who understand what their words mean, I suppose people can use whatever lingo or dialect they want. I’m mostly concerned with how we present ourselves to those who won’t understand our linguistic eccentricities.)

But, if some of us feel that we absolutely must say, “I’m not homosexual,” then we ought to explain why: “…because I believe that nobody is really homosexual,” or whatever the reason is. If we are predominantly same-sex attracted and we say, ”I’m not gay…” we had better add “but you see, I think that gayness is a matter of identity rather than attraction.” Specifically, if we are going to talk in non-standard terms, we ought to be explicitly crystal clear about our attractions. “I consider myself heterosexual…but when I’m real stressed and tired and lonely, I sometimes still get turned on by a good-looking guy.” Yes, we might sound like idiots, but better to sound like an idiot than to deceive others. And that fact that saying those things sounds idiotic may indicate something about whether we should be saying them at all! (See my two preceding suggestions.)

There’s more good stuff in the post but that should be more than enough to get us going. I know some like the term ex-gay whereas many do not. I wonder what will become of it.