Sex & Jesus: A Fundamentalist Wrestles With His Sexuality

When I was seven, I knew two things: Jesus loved me, and someday I would marry a boy. I did not yet know that the two were considered mutually exclusive. I only knew that a neighborhood boy named Coty had kissed me, that I liked it, that I liked him, and that he had gone right to the top of the "O" section of my nightly bedside prayers (which were recited in the JOY pattern: Jesus first; Others next; Yourself last). The first indication that this was a problem came when our kissy play was revealed: his parents forbade us to play together ever again. And my grandmother brushed my teeth with a bar of Ivory soap (hoping, perhaps, that I, too, might end up 99 44/100 percent pure).I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist, which meant I was fundamentalist, though we never called ourselves that, as such a label would have allied us with denominations that were political or hostile, or both -- when we were neither. By age seven, I believed it was a sin to eat pork, drink cola or coffee, dance, drink, swear, or smoke; to work, buy, or think worldly thoughts on the Sabbath; and to wear jewelry or makeup, listen to rock music, or go to movies. There were so many sins to be fearful of, and my personal transgressions were many: I called my brother a shithead (I learned the word from a non-Adventist); I ate stolen grape gum (the thief was another non-Adventist); I drank Pepsi (at a non-Adventist pool party). Soon, my list included touching the willy of a (non-Adventist) boy.Sex, in general, was a biggie in the canon of sins. My church schoolteacher told us that masturbators went blind. My grandparents' friends debated whether devout couples should abstain from sex on Sabbath (keeping the day holy) or save it for Sabbath (making the sex holy). The church's founding prophet -- whose visions began at the tender age of 15 after having been smashed in the head with a rock (though the church never related the two events) -- wrote that sex belonged only in marriage, and then only for procreation, as indulging in sexual appetite even in wedlock could corrupt. And a pastor preached that everyone had died in Sodom as a punishment for the gay people.I believed this.As a matter of fact, I attended Adventist schools right through college. I preached in a dozen states, and -- clad in powder-blue sweater and polyester slacks -- sang in a dozen more with the gospel choir Celebration (think a flock of Amy Grants). During this time, I had crushes on boys: the first-chair saxophone in academy band; a fellow campus-ministries leader; the boat driver at church camp. I flirted, got my feelings hurt, and fantasized about these fine fundamentalists, hoping God would notice I was keeping to the letter of the law if not the spirit. Meanwhile my hetero-fundamentalist friends were having sex with pagan abandon: on band trips, in dorm rooms, in the library. And God never struck them down with lightning, nor did anyone expect God to.Two weeks after I left the church, I was standing at the Park Street T station, passing out valentine condoms for the AIDS Action Committee. I had enrolled in grad school at Emerson -- it was my first non-Adventist school, and seemed to be the very epicenter of collegiate queerdom -- and had become an HIV-awareness volunteer, despite the fact that I had no firsthand knowledge of any methods of transmission.When I finally did start dating, I was reluctant to have sex with my boyfriend for quite a while, as -- apostate or not -- I was convinced I needed to wait for love. My hormones eventually convinced me that the time had come either to call it love or to burst, and I agreed to sleep with him. It was exciting in a way that a bookstore peek at The Joy of Gay Sex had not conveyed. I told him he seemed to know what he was doing, and he replied earnestly, "I try to do what I know I like." That surprise twist on the biblical Golden Rule made me laugh out loud, which he misunderstood, but I couldn't help myself: this was my kind of gospel. And, for what I needed right then, it was fulfilling.As I came out, liberal Adventists kept suggesting that it was okay if I was gay, as long as I didn't act on it. A Boston pastor extolled "the gift of celibacy" and people reminded me that Jesus had been celibate, too. I tried to remind them: Jesus died at 33. I had no intention of living a celibate life or dying (of frustration, I imagine) so young. And besides, now that I'd had sex, I really wanted one more thing to go with it: a husband.Perhaps the framework of my former church life was responsible, but I'm the marrying kind. I'm also sexual by nature, thank you -- something my church didn't like to discuss -- and I know that one is not dependent on the other. Rather than sex requiring marriage, I wanted a marriage in which I could sexually be myself. When I met my future husband, we dated for three months before sex, and, when it got to that point, it did not mean that I wanted to marry him; it did tell me, however, that if I ever did marry him, I could be sure of compatibility, which is no small consideration. The joy of sex outside marriage is danger aversion -- the danger being ultimate incompatibility with your partner. Sex is tricky and tenuous: it clicks or it doesn't, and you ought to find out before the honeymoon. The obvious truth is lost to millions of parents who send children (whom they claim to love) off into marriages to people they've never slept with. When my partner became my husband, we knew what we were getting and we liked it.So, what did Jesus's life tell me about sex? That it's natural to want to be close to your own gender (which is why John, not Mary, was the "beloved")? Or, by example, that celibacy is linked to early death? No. The best lesson I got from the Bible was that to do unto others as you'd have them do unto you is a great way to spend an evening. And I learned the most important things on my own: that I like both sex and marriage, two things that do not require each other to exist, but which, taken together, can be pretty wonderful. Jesus didn't live long enough to know that, but I have. Lucky me. Or, as I used to say, I'm blessed.

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