This last Monday at meeting I was pretty excited to welcome a new person trying out SA for the first time. Mostly because he is gay. This is new territory for me. I’ve worked with offenders, guys with prison time, guys with hangups for prostitutes, guys with fetishes, guys who are drug addicts and alcoholics on the side, and guys who just don’t understand why they can’t masturbate. But never a gay man, not that I know of anyway. Generally people in SA are pretty transparent about sexuality, but you never know.
A week before this last Monday meeting I got a call from Tim. I man the phone for the local group, so I called him back to talk about SA and see what his story was. We got to talking and he mentioned he had called some SAA phone meetings, but that was the extent of his 12 step experience. I mentioned that one difference between SA and the other S groups like SAA was that we had a stated bottom line for sobriety. He asked what that bottom line was, and I said that it was no sex outside of marriage and no masturbation. A pause. “What about a marriage between homosexuals, like in a state where that’s legal?” Oh…
Now this is where things get a little interesting in SA. I don’t speak for SA. No one does. But to the best of my understanding, here is where SA stands on the question of gay marriage.
SA has no opinion on outside matters, and gay marriage is an outside matter. But, it’s not quite so straight forward to just leave it there. For the gay sexaholic, the rules are no different than for the straight sexaholic. The only sober sex is in the context of a heterosexual marriage, and not even all that is sober sex. It’s definitely not “any committed relationship.” If a LGBT sexaholic happens to be married to someone of the same sex, or in a committed relationship, or whatever, they cannot have sex of any kind. Not sex with their partner, and not sex with themselves.
Tim and I talked for a bit, and I told him that he should come to meetings and see how things played out. Being healthy is much too important to let anything stand in the way. Preconceived notions or perceived unfairness not withstanding. And on the surface of things it does seem unfair.
But actually, no, it’s not. If you read up on the early history of SA, what you will find is that in it’s infancy this question of whether sex with committed partners of whatever orientation could be sober was an open question. Those pioneers did something radical. They let their experience be their guide. They experimented with differing definitions of sobriety. In their words, nothing other than the SA sobriety definition as it stands now was sufficient to guide them to connect with God and stop acting out. If they tried to allow masturbation, they couldn’t get sober. If they tried to allow committed, non-married relationships, they couldn’t get sober. If they tried to allow homosexuals to have sex with their partners, they couldn’t get sober. That was their experience. I don’t condone or explain anything about it. I just relate it.
The experience of the gay members of our fellowship is that our bottom line provides the necessary safe guidelines to allow them to see lust and surrender it to God. And that’s really the key to why this is not discriminatory or unfair to allow straight married sexaholics to have sex, but no others. It’s because it’s not about sex. It’s about lust. I have the exact same problem that Tim has. I am caught up by the passion of lust, and I misused my sex drive. My orientation is straight. His is gay. Otherwise, same thing.
But I can have sex, and Tim can’t. In many ways, that’s actually worse for me. As the White book says, being married is no advantage over being single (or celibate gay). In fact, it’s a disadvantage, Roy K said. Why? Because as a straight, married sexaholic I have a much harder time seeing lust in my actions. I have to constantly be on guard when engaging in sex, or even just thinking about it, in order to see what the driving force is. Lust easily masquerades as relationship. Again, the experience of married sexaholics is that they have found the greatest progress in surrendering lust and improving connection with others (including their spouse) when they went through extended periods of abstinence.
So many people get tripped up on this topic by thinking in terms of rights, or by coopting the current social narrative that sexuality is a necessary part of human expression. Not acting out your orientation is “repression”, and “unhealthy.” SA says otherwise. “Sex is optional,” the White book says. I’d also say that our history in the Church shows that sexuality has nothing to do with healthy human expression. Our Lord and Savior did not express Himself sexually to be a fully actualized human being, and yet Scripture says He identifies with us completely. How many of the apostles and saints were celibate, and yet complete in their humanity. Rights have nothing to do with it, either. No, sex is not a right or a necessary part of expressing love in relationship. It’s just not.
So why can’t Tim just have some extended periods of abstinence, and safe guard against lust in a committed homosexual marriage, the same way I can? Again, in SA, it falls back to the experience of the early addicts. SA takes no further position on why this is. It seems to merely be a condition of the sexual addiction and the underlying spiritual truths that go along with recovery. SA doesn’t say anything further than that.
Now Orthodoxy, on the other hand, does go further. I don’t speak for Orthodoxy any more than I speak for SA, but I’ll try to express my understanding of what Orthodoxy tells me about sexuality. The consensus witness of Scripture and the history of the Church is uniform in viewing homosexuality as a disorder. I’m not aware of any minority view on this. I don’t feel that I have a firm enough grasp on the mind of the Church on this subject to comment further. It would merely be my worthless speculation.
Homosexuality appears to have at least some components that are inherent from birth, perhaps genetic. Some studies have pointed to particularly genetic sequences that might play a part. Of course, any time someone points to a behavior and says, “genetic,” I see oversimplification. But I don’t hesitate to accept that sexual orientation may be strongly directed by genetics. It doesn’t matter, though. I find the origin and causes of same sex attraction to be irrelevant.
I am a sex addict, powerless over lust and a slave to the passions in my own power. I understand deeply about powerless and lack of choice. I am straight. I didn’t choose to be straight. I am also an addict. I didn’t choose to be an addict. I made choices that contributed, but I cannot just choose to stop acting out or lusting. I don’t know if I could choose to be gay, or whether Tim could choose to be straight. It seems that there is evidence both ways. I have two good friends who grew up straight and then late in life decided they were gay. I have an uncle who was bi-sexual in practice, and then went straight heterosexual. The complexities of the choices or pre-existing conditions that feed into sexual orientations is something that has to be respected, but they are a distraction from the real issue.
God has joined me to Himself in baptism and the mystery of the Eucharist. I am a part of His body, and am being re-created in His image. His image does not include disorders, or sexual orientations, or addictions, or the passions. I cannot continue to act in lust regardless of my powerlessness to do anything else. Like Paul I am waging war with the law at work in my members, doing the things I do not wish to do. But I overcome through Christ who gives me strength. For 16 months now I have been safe in the grace of God from the ravages of addiction. God called me to purity, and then has made me pure, day by day. I could not do it on my own for 30 years, and I still can’t do it on my own today.
Back to Tim. About 10 minutes before I was leaving to go to meeting I got a call from Tim. He was already at the meeting spot. He was early and just wanted to make sure he didn’t miss. We have a few other guys that came. One guys is almost finalized in his divorce and just can’t let go of sex. He’s talking to a woman on a dating site with an open marriage. He just wants to see where it goes. Another guy goes to Narcotics Anonymous too. He has just a few days of sobriety, but he keeps come to SA meeting because his NA meetings just don’t get sex addiction. Tim listened really hard. He prayed with us at the end. He bought a white book and told me he heard a lot that he identified with. I told him to call me any time if he needed to talk. I hope to see him again next week.
For Tim or my two good friends who are gay, I say, I don’t care what your orientation is. I love you, and I hope you can overlook my great sin and love me too. You are always welcome at my Church and in my meeting. I wouldn’t change the SA sobriety definition, or the stance of my Church even if I could. I hope that you can look beyond the questions of unfairness and rights, and see a higher calling to something that seems impossible. Because when that impossible thing happens in your life, you will know that you know that you know that you’ve encountered God.