Tag Archives: lesbian

When forbidden sexuality meets unchanging religious tradition

(RNS) Multiple reports are surfacing that Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen’s profile was found on gay dating apps, that he had tried to pick up men and that on prior occasions he had patronized the Orlando club in which he massacred so many on Sunday (June 12).

If this is true, it matters a very great deal.

It might move the motivation for Mateen’s horrific act to a very different and psychologically more complex place in which one man’s inability to reconcile himself with his sexuality cost 49 other people their lives — and then cost him his own life.

It might end up making the motivation of the horrifying Orlando massacre look more like: I want you. God says I can’t want you. So I must kill you.

And it opens up the broader issue of the severe mental health challenges facing young people who discover, against the stern teachings of their religious traditions, that they are attracted to members of the same sex.

This intersection of religious authority and forbidden sexuality is a very dangerous one, and it must be navigated by all who are raised in religions that reject same-sex attraction and relationships. It is a problem in multiple religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and leaders in all religious traditions face the urgent responsibility to address it.

As a privileged married heterosexual and an evangelical Christian ethicist, I finally came to terms a few years ago with how terrible this problem is for LGBT Christians and embarked on a reconsideration process. It led me to a posture of solidarity and moved me to open up my traditionalist lifetime-covenantal-marital sexual ethic to include gay and lesbian unions. This was seen as a grave error by some of my fellow believers. But many LGBT people and their families were desperately grateful. It offered at least one way out of the impasse between traditional religion and sexuality.

Look at it this way. When a young person from a strict religious upbringing discovers the powerful force of his own sexuality, it is scary enough. But if that sexual interest flows toward people of the approved sex, religious authorities have at least a marginally comforting answer: You and your sexuality are normal, but you need to wait till you are married to have sex. It’s difficult, but it can be done. Pat on the back, and out you go.

But for lesbian, gay and bisexual young people, the answer is very different: You are not normal. Your sexuality is uniquely sinful, a rejection of God himself. You must repent and change. You can never act on these sexual attractions. How long must you wait to have a sexual or romantic relationship with someone you actually desire? Forever. You can never, ever, do it, or you will incur God’s wrath.

These answers come from all recognized and trusted authorities in the young person’s world — first parents, then also religious teachers and leaders, and finally most friends from church, synagogue or mosque. Quite often the answers are accompanied by the sternest, sometimes the cruelest, verbal, emotional and even physical violence. Even the very tentative declaration that a young person may be feeling some same-sex attractions can send religious parents and pastors through the roof. At best, relationships survive, but the person’s sexuality is rejected by those whose approval matters most.

So when the irresistible force of a forbidden sexual orientation runs into the immovable object of an ancient religious tradition, what is the affected person supposed to do?

A large number of young adults ultimately abandon their religious traditions as hazardous to their health. Some are in gay nightclubs early Sunday morning because they are welcome there — and would not be welcome in church eight hours later.

Others spend years attempting to conform their desires and behaviors to the religiously prescribed options, such as celibate singleness or heterosexual marriage, remaining in their religion at the cost of cauterizing their sexual identity.

Some ping-pong back and forth between these options, both of which they find agonizing and neither of which they can sustain.

Others eventually find peace in creating, or discovering, a version of their faith that can accommodate the sexuality they have, rather than the sexuality that the tradition demands they have. They find a place where they no longer have to choose. This is usually a very long and difficult process.

And it may be that one particularly troubled young man “solved” his problem over the weekend through mass murder.

So, to America’s orthodox religious leaders, I again ask:

Is the consistent, acute, totally predictable psychological distress caused to these young adults by your understanding of God’s moral rules a relevant consideration for your teaching and pastoring?

In light of this suffering and what is now known about human sexuality, do you still believe that this is what the God you are trying to serve really requires?

Might it be that some aspects of your understanding of sexual ethics are revisable rather than the eternal will of God?

Which of you will take some risks to get a serious conversation going about these issues in your faith community, on behalf of your own most vulnerable young people?


By David Gushee

Greysexual, aromantic and questioning: A guide to the brave new world of sexuality

A new study claims women are either bisexual or gay but ‘never straight’. Lesbian writer Kaite Welsh decodes the latest sexuality labels

Always assumed you were straight? Well, according to a recent study don’t be so sure. Women, claims Dr Gerulf Rieger, are just as likely to be turned on by naked women as naked men. “Even though the majority of women identify as straight,” he explains, “our research clearly demonstrates that when it comes to what turns them on, they are either bisexual or gay, but never straight.” It might come as a shock to Dr Rieger that these three are far from our only options. The blurring of sexual boundaries has made headlines repeatedly this year, with over 50 per cent of young people identifying as neither gay nor straight.

Young lesbian couple sitting together countryside

While you may be familiar with the LGBT acronym – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender – more and more letters are being added of late. The current term du jour is LGBTQIA – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex and Asexual -but even that doesn’t cover it. The Kinsey scale, once used to rate human sexuality from 0 (100 per cent straight) to six (100 per cent gay), no longer applies. Sexuality isn’t even a spectrum – it’s a pick and mix of infinite possibilities and combinations. It’s not just the new sexual orientations that have labels – you might read this list and find yourself on there. Words like ‘monosexual’ (just being attracted to one gender) and ‘allosexual’ (feeling any kind of sexual desire) have been coined to describe more usual sexual identities, the things you might consider ‘normal’. The truth is, normal doesn’t exist. It never really did. And what you might consider unexceptional is someone else’s different.

So, as a lesbian, here’s my guide to the brave new world of sexuality:


Straight people, I don’t know if you realise this but you talk about yourselves a lot. What with your marriages and children and holding hands in the street, your sexuality is on display all the time. We can move on.


Talk show host and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres has been awarded the 2,447th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of her contribution to the world of entertainment.

Women who like women. Not ‘women who like women because they’re bitter/ugly/haven’t found the right man’. We just like other women. Of his research, Dr Rieger explained that “although some lesbians were more masculine in their sexual arousal, and others were more masculine in their behaviours, there was no indication that these were the same women”. Or, as we like to say – ‘butch in the streets, femme in the sheets’.



Like being a lesbian except you’re statistically likely to earn more and less likely to be judged on your appearance. Just because you’re marginalised, doesn’t mean you’re not still privileged.



Alan Cumming in Any Day Now: a performance that dominates every scene

No, it doesn’t mean you can’t make up your mind. And no, it’s not an invitation for a threesome. Bisexual people like men and women. It’s often considered ‘a phase’, assuming someone is experimenting with a trend or isn’t ready to admit they’re gay, and whilst this does happen – plenty of people realise they’re bi and stay that way. LGBT charity Stonewall has recently launched a campaign to end biphobia.



This is a tricky one. For some people it’s a slur, for others it’s key to their sexual identity. In the past 20 years it’s been reclaimed by the LGBT community, particularly in academia, and is often used as an umbrella term that can mean you’re gay, bi or omnisexual (more on that one later). Oh, and straight people? You can’t use it. We can. No, it’s not fair, but neither is centuries of institutionalised oppression.


Here’s the big secret – it’s OK not to make up your mind! Or to choose an identity you later find doesn’t fit. Do what makes you feel comfortable, be open with your partner(s) and don’t ever feel like you have to label yourself.


Wonderfully unearthly: Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes in the BBC drama Sherlock

If sexual orientation was a menu, asexuals wouldn’t even be in the restaurant. They’re just not into it and don’t feel any kind of sexual desire. This doesn’t mean they’re broken or repressed, they just don’t fancy it – or you. But don’t confuse it with abstaining – celibacy is not having sex, asexuality is not wanting to. They often refer to themselves as ‘ace’ for short.



You might think that this sums up every man who’s never called back, but while many asexuals are happy to have relationships, aromantics really would just rather be friends. They simply don’t experience romantic attraction.


Someone who experiences occasional and/or mild sexual attraction. They may act on it, they may not.

“It’s easy to dismiss these new definitions on the sexual spectrum as a fad.”


Unlike asexuals, a demisexual has to really get to know someone before they can feel sexual attraction towards them. If you’re thinking “Well, isn’t that everyone?” then congrats – you’re probably demi!


Someone who feels sexual attraction to other people, as opposed to asexuals who don’t experience any sexual thoughts or feelings at all.


Multiple partners – not just for Mormons anymore! Many poly people feel that this is as much a sexual orientation as their preferred gender(s), and experience similar problems when coming out.


You recognise that there are more than two genders, and you’re attracted to all of them – well, provided they’ve got good taste in TV and are nice to their mum.


You only find one gender attractive, meaning you’re straight or gay/lesbian.

It’s easy to dismiss these new definitions on the sexual spectrum as a fad or attention-seeking, but human sexuality is a mysterious beast. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you love or why – just how you treat them.

By Kaite Welsh

The Epigenetics of Sexuality – Wrong on So Many Levels

Another day, another truly execrable epigenetic report. Epigenetics is the study of chemical modifications to our genetic material which influence how genes are expressed. It provides the mechanistic link between our genes and our environment, and is a beautiful area of biology. It is involved in phenomena as diverse as the flowering times of certain plants and the gender of crocodiles, and from novel treatments for cancer to the coat color of calico cats. In the last few years scientists have developed new techniques to analyze the patterns of epigenetic modifications on the genome, and there is a tsunami of papers emerging. And unfortunately some of them are very bad indeed.

The latest awful study hasn’t even been published yet, instead it was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles took saliva samples from pairs of identical twins, some of whom were gay and some straight. They analyzed the epigenetic modifications and announced they had found five that together would predict the sexuality of the donor accurately 67 percent of the time. The authors also speculated that this may give us insights into the cause of homosexuality.

Does 67 percent of the time sound good to you? Try thinking of it another way. Would you bet anything beyond a dollar on something that will be wrong a third of the time? In yes/no situations, you could flip a coin and be right 50 percent of the time on average. Sixty-seven percent doesn’t sound so impressive now, does it?

And that’s not the only problem. The number of twin pairs was far too low to generate any genuinely meaningful statistical data. Saliva samples contain a mixture of cell types that may have different epigenetic modifications, and why would saliva be a relevant tissue in which to study sexuality anyway? And there are other technical problems, but I am pretty sure you’ve recognized my direction of travel by now.

So why am I wasting my time on an unpublished piece of badly performed science? By rights, this should have sunk without trace, not because it’s controversial but because it isn’t much good. But Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal, wrote a piece on it and then the non-scientific press picked this up and gave it a ridiculous amount of coverage. I can’t quite bring myself to castigate the popular press, but Nature? This really should be placed in your “What Were We Thinking?” filing cabinet of shame.

The ludicrous amount of coverage of a basically uninterpretable experiment suggests a surprising amount of interest in the basis of sexuality and I am even more irritated by this than I am by poor use of statistical analyses. I think of myself as a naturally curious person, it’s why I am a scientist. I wonder about loads of stuff all the time — how cell phone signals move, why dead dragonflies fade but butterflies don’t, why most people are more interested in life on Mars than in their own neighborhood. But with the exception of wondering what the Kardashians are up to, there is nothing that I am less curious about than why I am a lesbian. And I think that is very common. I know few gay people who waste any time on this. In contrast, it is almost always a straight person who asks this question of someone who is gay.

But here’s the thing. I have never heard a straight person wonder why they are straight. No matter how it’s dressed up, the question is always one of investigating the deviation from the norm. The defense that is usually put forward is that studies such as the recent one are just looking to explore the biological basis behind a range of human behaviors. But that position is both naïve and potentially dangerous.

I am old enough to remember a former chief rabbi in the UK stating, on the premier radio news program, that a test for homosexuality would be a good thing because pregnant women could choose to abort affected fetuses just as they would for any other disease. I can marry my partner now, but when we first got together our relationship was defined in British law as “pretend.” Although things have generally improved in the west, would you want to be gay or lesbian in Uganda? South Africa? Yemen? Tennessee?

Science doesn’t operate in a neutral vacuum divorced from wider society. Every one of us has a responsibility to think about how our research will be interpreted and used. The very questions that we phrase demonstrate our biases and assumptions. And the odd thing is that whenever we attempt to apply simplistic biological algorithms to complex and charged human conditions, we usually end up with bad science and a lot of hype. Look up any study on race and intelligence and you’ll see what I mean. Human cognition and emotions are essentially too complex to be properly modeled by childishly simple algorithms, however comforting those might seem at first glance.

I know some of the responses to this blog will be that I am a Luddite. I will try to respond quickly, but I should warn you that I may be too busy Googling the latest exploits of Kim and Kanye.


By Nessa Carey