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Social Issues

why no one should talk about "emotional adultery" ever again

I’m shifting the schedule a little bit this week because today is Bisexual Visibility Day— and this week is the first-ever Bisexuality Awareness Week. This is the first year I’ve been out, and seeing communities come together like this– online and off–makes me incredibly happy. I came out to all of you as bi a little while ago, and so far, nothing has made me regret that decision.

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to say today, especially since there’s so many awesome people talking about what it means and what it’s like to be bi, but I realized that until I met people like Eliel Cruz and Dianna Anderson, I had never really connected the idea that bi people could be Christians … which is extraordinarily awful, as one of my best friends from college flat-out told me he was bi but I decided I didn’t believe him when he proposed to his boyfriend. Nope, he’d been gay all along, I decided, and “bi” was just a transitory stage. I’m not the first or last person to think that, especially since “how does it feel not being able to act on your bisexuality, now that you’re married to a man?” is a question I get asked all of the time.

But, today, I’d like to talk about what it means to be bi and a Christian, since that’s not something you see all that often.

And, as a bi Christian, I need to ask all of us to stop talking about emotional adultery.

I ran into it yesterday when I was reading Real Marriage, as Grace and Mark reiterate several times how important it is for men and women to only have friendships with people of the opposite sex because the risk of “emotional adultery” is so great, and it makes me feel both anger and despair, because I’ve heard the same message preached from the pulpit less than six months ago, at a church that prides itself on its open-mindedness. It bothers me, deeply, how casual it’s usually presented, too– it’s just assumed by most Christians that this is just common sense. They say things like “be careful not to become close friends with a lady, guys,” as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and every time I hear it I want to cry because what they’re saying is:

Samantha, you cannot have any friends.

The reasoning behind “emotional adultery” is that it’s too dangerous for us to be close friends with someone we might possibly ever have pants-feelings for, but the problem is that, for me, that is everyone. I could possibly grow to have romantic feelings and sexual attraction for any person I happen to like being around. Hell, I was in love with my best friend growing up for years and I had no idea until recently– the intense jealousy I felt every time she had a crush on a boy should have told me something, but it didn’t.

Every time someone starts talking about “emotional adultery,” I feel pain because whoever is speaking doesn’t realize I exist. There’s this huge and amazing and beautiful part of me that they’re not just ignoring– they haven’t even stopped to take the time to think about what they’re saying. In my personal experience, every time I’ve stopped someone going off on a “guys and girls can’t be friends” tangent, their reaction has unanimously been stupefaction. Wait– what? is all their faces say and it’s clear that they don’t know what to do with the information they’ve just been handed.

If I can be just friends with women, then all ya’ll need to STFU about how guys and girls can’t be friends, and how risky close friendships are between people of the opposite sex. And I’ve been really close friends with some of the most amazing and beautiful women I’ve ever known, and yeah, on occasion wow she is so hot has interrupted my train of thought, but guess what? I’m a mature adult who values my relationships, and so far I’m the only woman in any of my communities who’s been out as queer. I respect my friends and their boundaries and the fact that they’re straight, and they will never be interested in me that way, which is fine.

It’s the same with all the guy friends I’ve had, too– and I’ve had a few really close friendships with guys. I don’t know what I would have done without those friendships, as they were the people who kept me going when I just wanted to give up, who showed me what love and acceptance looked like. But, even though we’ve spent a lot of time together– even alone– and even though they’ve been my emotional rocks through some pretty wild life seasons, it doesn’t mean that I was doing something “risky.” I was just being a friend.

And, honestly, this whole “emotional adultery” nonsense is just plain not biblical. I know, I know, this is me, trying to put the “biblical” label on something, but I think this interpretation is pretty safe, as “they shall know you by how you love one another” isn’t just about dudes loving dudes and gals loving gals, but everybody loving everybody, and “great each other with a holy kiss” is in there somewhere, and so is that whole bit about being sisters and brothers in Christ.

Being a Christian is about love and support and community, and nothing that I see anywhere in the Bible lends any support to the idea that men and women are supposed to have segregated friendships and segregated communities.

Photo by Mathias Klang

it took forever to understand myself

lightbulb[art by Yasutoki Kariya]

The first time I felt arousal was in the arms of a woman.

I don’t remember how old I was. All I know was that it was summer and we were in my best friend’s backyard, playing “War” with her sisters and brother; hiding from the Nazis in the plywood fort her father had built. Huddled underneath the window, we were curled up against imaginary blasts and shrapnel, and she was holding me.

I could feel her lips against my hair, and suddenly, I forgot what we were doing and where we were. It . . . felt so good. Blissful. And for those moments, before our characters made a run for it to the “cellar,” I melted into her arms and never wanted to leave. It was like stepping into a hot shower and feeling the water cascade over me. I felt shivers, and goosebumps . . . but I didn’t understand what was happening. I had no words to explain what I was feeling. I had never heard the word arousal, had no context for desire.

For years I treasured that memory, although I have never admitted what I felt that day to anyone.

For years I was frightened, terrified, sickened at the thought that I might be a lesbian. I ferociously tamped those thoughts down, but as years passed and I never had a crush on a boy, the fear increased. What was I supposed to do? Every time we had a sleepover and we were in the same bed, or cuddled up next to each other on the floor in her family’s living room watching a John Wayne or Roy Rogers movie, I fought, desperately, against what I wanted to feel, wanted to think. I found excuses to touch her, to brush my fingertips against her skin, to play with her silky-soft chocolate hair. I wanted to be with her. But I couldn’t. I could never say that, never tell her, never do anything. The want would sit on my tongue, trying to burst out of my lips; desire was an ache I could never acknowledge existed.

For years I was in love with my best friend, and I had no idea.

When I went to summer camp and met a cute boy from Texas that made my heart do pitter-patter flip-flops, I was ecstatic. Over the moon. The relief was bone-deep. Good good good I’m not a lesbian thank God. I threw myself into that crush, but it inevitably fizzled and I grew desperate again. My prayers became fixated on finding a man who I could be with. All through high school I tried, fiercely, to “like” boys the way my girlfriends did. That all the young men around me compelled nothing except disgust and revulsion I attributed to a dislike of “Southern preacher boys,” which was the only kind of man I knew.

When I was 17, I went back to summer camp, and met the most bizarre person ever. In a conversation one day about relationships, he told me that he’d dated both men and women, and I was hopelessly confused. I asked him how that was possible, and his response was “I’m bisexual.”

“Bi– what? What does that even mean?”

“It means I’m attracted to both men and women. I bat for both teams,” he laughed.

Something inside of me perked up, curious and interested. That sounded . . . familiar. I instantly slammed the door in my mind, refusing to acknowledge that feeling of recognition.


My freshman year in college I had a fledgling crush on a boy that I nurtured with more passion than was probably healthy, especially considering I didn’t really want to spend my life with him and I knew any relationship between us would be disastrous. But every time I walked into my bathroom and saw my suitemate in nothing but lacy lingerie I tried to think of that boy.

My junior year, when I was roommates with one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen, I reacted by throwing myself into a ill-fated relationship with John*, trying to block out images of her getting dressed, of watching her curl her hair and put on makeup and get ready for bed.

When I cuddled with my best friends on a Sunday afternoon, studying and taking naps together in mounds of fuzzy blankets and pillows, I blocked out anything that told me that what I felt around my friends was something different. All girls think and feel this way, I told myself confidently, ignoring fantasies and dreams that woke me up in the middle of the night.

I didn’t give a thought to how, every year, the women in my prayer groups knew that if they wanted I would massage their shoulders and play with their hair. I paid no attention to how much I loved it when my friend put her head in my lap and we would read together while I ran my fingers through her hair– it never occurred to me that what I was feeling was . . . not very straight.

I only had one way of framing sexuality: either you were straight, or you were gay, and being gay was sinful, evil, wicked. That young man who’d told me he was “bisexual” was making it all up– he was gay, but trying to deny it by saying he liked women, too. I couldn’t be gay, because I knew that I liked men, that I fantasized about men, that I wanted to be in a straight relationship. The thought of sex with a man turned me on, so everything I noticed about women? It was nothing. Women are just beautiful, and I’m a person that appreciates beauty. That’s it. That’s all it can be. That’s all I’d let it be.

In the last year, I’ve slowly come to terms with this reality. It was a slow process, and involved a lot of me going back and looking at experiences I had from girlhood onward and dismantling all the lies I’d told myself for years. I admitted that the first time I’d ever been in love, I had been in love with a girl. I acknowledged that what I felt for my roommate wasn’t just an aesthetic, objective appreciation of beauty, but attraction and desire– and I was lying when I tried to tell myself otherwise. At first I thought of myself simply as “queer,” because, after all, I ultimately fell in love with and married a man, and I had never given serious thought to being in a relationship with a woman– or so I believed at the time.

I don’t know why I fought so hard against being honest with myself. I didn’t even really come up with this on my own– it was my partner who pointed out a lot of this to me, who helped me come to terms with all of my memories of being in love with and attracted to women. He helped me admit that over the course of my life I’ve been attracted to women far more often than I’ve been attracted to men, and that this is ok, and he loves this about me.

I spent over a dozen years being terrified of this part of who I am, of doing everything I could to avoid facing myself honestly– but I’m done with that.

I’m bisexual.

And not only is that ok, and not only do I accept this– I think it’s wonderful.

Feminism, Social Issues

"God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines

vines book cover

I’ve posted Matthew Vine’s video “The Gay Debate” before, and I’m planning to watch it with my small group this Thursday. The first time I watched it, I was deeply compelled by the idea he opened his talk with: that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. To me, the idea was remarkably similar to something Augustine said:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

I appreciated this emphasis on the consequences of what we believe and teach, and I’ve tried to incorporate it as I’ve been delving into my theology. If my “theology tree” would result in harm and damage to people, then I really need to re-think it and maybe go and plant another tree.

I did feel, however, that the video, while effective, wasn’t complete. There are limits to what a videotaped talk can do, and it left with me more questions than I had answers. I started looking into what Vines’ opponents had to say in response, and while their counterarguments were lacking, they did raise some important points.

When I found out that Vines would be writing God and the Gay Christian (set to release April 22), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I knew that a book was a much better format for his argument, and I thought it might answer some of the questions I still had.

It’s a well-researched book, but obviously not exhaustive– or exhausting. While a book like Torn helps illuminate the reality of being both a Christian and gay, God and the Gay Christian moves just beyond that and gives a substantive argument for why the two are not just compatible, but healthy and good. By the time I set it down, I was absolutely convinced: being gay is not a sin. Being gay and being in a relationship is not a sin. Sex between same-sex partners is not inherently sinful, although Vines takes the traditional evangelical stance of reserving sex for marriage.

One of the most interesting things about reading this was the approach he took– very often, people who believe that God doesn’t condemn a gay person who wants to be in a relationship are accused of “dismissing” or “ignoring” the Bible. It happened here on my blog last week– I was told that I was “cherry picking” Bible verses because I was obviously ignoring what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. I insisted that I was not ignoring the presence of those passages, but that I did not agree with the “typical” interpretation of those passages. Vines could never be accused of not taking the Bible seriously or of ignoring the passages (although I’m positive some people will still try to say exactly that), since the book is devoted to those verses.

But, more importantly than that, Vines has something I certainly don’t: a traditional evangelical “high” view of Scripture as inspired and inerrant. I lost that a long time ago, so it was fascinating to watch him unfold his argument from that perspective– and it helped me feel more comfortable with those who also believe in inspiration and inerrancy. It helped reassure me that just because someone believes that the Bible is “inerrant” it doesn’t mean they’re going to fling it around like a weapon.

I think the one issue that I have with the book is that I personally feel that it participates in bi erasure. Just like there are only so many things you can do in a video, there are also only so many things you can do in a book, but I think one element of his argument is troubling, and since it’s a rather core part of his argument, it’s worth mentioning.

Vines points out that, historically speaking, sexuality wasn’t understood in terms of orientation, and that ancient societies tended to perceive sexuality as a matter of appetite. Men who had sex with other men weren’t gay– they were seeking “more challenging” experiences in order to satiate an enormous appetite for sex. Vines argues that was a central part of what Paul, especially, was writing about: not orientation, but excessive and uncontrollable (possibly abusive or exploitative) appetites.

In the midst of presenting all of that, however, he spends a lot of time talking about how ancient Greek society saw everyone as being capable of wanting sex with opposite-sex and same-sex partners, and how that was generally understood to be a result of excess. In bringing that up, he does nothing to mention that bisexuality, just like gayness, doesn’t correspond to that model. Being bisexual is just as much a matter of orientation as being gay or lesbian, and it has absolutely nothing to do with being “greedy”– which is a common misconception hurled at bi people.

He doesn’t actively lump in bi people with that historical conception, but that conception lingers today, and he didn’t address it at all. I personally felt that he did what straight people commonly do; being bi isn’t a part of his lived experience, so he . . . just forgot. This is not an egregious failing and I still think his book needs to be read and shared and discussed, but it bothered me.

There is, however, something I really appreciated about Vines’ approach. I just finished reading Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt, and one of the central focuses of the book is reading the Bible not as a legal contract but as an illustration of the covenantal, trust-based relationship God wants to have with us. I think God and the Gay Christian is an excellent example of how to do that– even with his “high view of Scripture,” he wrote out a way for us to stop seeing the Bible as a legal contract to constrain our behavior and put boundaries on our relationships, but as the open, loving, give-and-take conversation with God that it was intended to be.

That all said, I think God and the Gay Christian needs to go on every Christian’s to-read shelf. I think that the biggest reason why bigotry seems to be such an integral part of the evangelical cultural experience is simply because many people have never encountered what Vines argues. Not everyone is going to be convinced, of course, but at least they’d be more aware– hopefully they’d even stop telling people like me that we’re “clearly ignoring the Bible” and understand that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible, even when it comes to LGBTQIA persons and their lives.

*edit: I talked to Vines, and he said that one of the things he tried to correct in the final version was about my concern here– I only have the ARC, so I haven’t read the final version.

Feminism, Social Issues

modesty rules and transphobia

trans flag

Trigger warning for transphobia, slurs.

I’m extremely hesitant to talk about this issue. I’ve been doing all I can to learn from and listen to trans* women and men– to do everything I can to understand and to love. I’m someone who is cisgender (“cis” meaning “on this side” and “trans” meaning “across”)– and completely cisgender: I fit almost totally into cultural and societal gender norms (not conservative evangelical ones, but that’s another conversation). Because of that, it’s difficult for me to truly wrap my mind around what it could be like, or to imagine myself “walking in the footsteps of a stranger.” I try, but I am just now starting to learn, and there’s a lot I don’t understand.

For example, just yesterday I was listening to a woman on twitter, and she was frustrated with the term “transgendered” being used so often in conversations about Chelsea Manning. It took me a while to figure out why, since it was a term I was used to hearing at that point. But then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I’m cisgender, not cisgendered. I am cis. It’s not a verb. “Transgendered” implies that being trans* is a process, an action, when it’s not. Trans* men and women are. A trans* woman, although she might have been born anatomically male, is a woman, end of story.

I’m also learning about concepts like “dead names,”(Chelsea Manning is no longer Bradley, and referring to her as such is more than just insensitive) and how important it is to recognize the humanity and autonomy of trans* people– just like every other human being on this planet.

But, this process is difficult for me, and I’m realizing that it’s directly tied to the Modesty Culture I grew up in.

There are many reasons that women are given for why we’re to be “modest.” Today, many of the reasons I hear revolve around the “stumbling block” idea– that women are to make choices based on how men perceive and react to those choices.

But, in the intensely fundamentalist environment I grew up in, the primary reason for “modesty” was integrally linked to femininity. This remained true throughout my fundamentalist experience– all the way up through college. Modesty, among other things, meant dressing like a woman. Looking like a woman. Acting like a woman. Being lady like and delicate.

Most of that revolved around wearing skirts and culottes. We weren’t allowed to wear anything that even approached something that looked like pants. At one point, I heard a pastor preach against wearing skirts with a jeans-type zipper and button fastener in the front. Because those look like mens’ pants, and that’s not feminine. I also heard messages preached against business suits, blazers, and button-up shirts. If we were going to wear button-up shirts, they could not be made out of cotton, could not be Oxford style, and we had to make sure that they buttoned “correctly.”

Tied up in all of this was horrible, rampant transphobia– in the extreme. Cross-dressing? Abomination. Drag? Straight for the pits of hell. Long hair on a man? A horrible shame and a curse upon him. I can’t tell you how many stories I heard growing up where some preacher was in line somewhere, standing behind a man with long hair, and being “horrified and appalled” when they realized that who they had assumed to be a woman was actually a man. The first time I ever heard about the sorts of procedures and treatments trans* people need, like hormone replacement therapy (part of the standard course of treatment for gender dysphoria), I was in a revival service, and the evangelist was railing against “those disgusting hermaphrodites.”

I’m coming to learn that transphobia is the most accurate term to describe these sorts of people and ideas. It is purely based on fear– and a powerful, nearly-overwhelming fear at that. And it’s not just fear of the unknown, on something that almost can’t be known unless it’s your experience, although that’s a part of it.

It’s fear of what trans* people, and other LGBTQ people while we’re at it, represent to fundamentalist Christians: a breakdown of gender roles, and, therefore, a breakdown of patriarchy. I realize that’s a big, grand claim– almost to the point of being vague and useless. But, I grew up in a culture where they use the term “biblical patriarchy”– and it’s a good thing. I had a hard time, at first, understanding what feminists meant when they said “patriarchy” because it represented “biblical thinking about gender roles” to me.

Trans* people fly in the face of biblical patriarchal teachings. They are living, breathing, proof that what they think about men and woman is essentially, deeply flawed. Gender isn’t a binary. Sex isn’t even a binary. It’s fluid, it doesn’t fit inside boxes, and, sometimes, it defies definition. It isn’t a matter of either/or. Our gender can grow and change over time.

But, for the people I grew up with, not forcing yourself to fit inside Victorian gender boxes is not just a sin, it’s an abomination. Being a woman doesn’t just mean I have a vagina: it means that I’m submissive, passive, vacillating, beautiful, weak, fragile, delicate . . . Being a man means being dominant, aggressive, decisive, bold, strong . . . and straying outside of those boundaries means violating something very deep, something that is seen and portrayed as being so much a part of nature that not identifying as cisgender is unthinkable.

I’m not exactly covering new territory here– everything I’ve said here . . . to anyone who isn’t just now discovering these things, it’s old and tiresome and monotonous. There’s much more vibrant and interesting discussions to be had, experiences to be shared. But, it’s where I am. It’s not where I’ll always be. But I’m learning, and I hope you’ll learn with me.

To quote the magnificent Flavia Dzodan, “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”


one time, I had a crush on a girl

woman in white

At the college I attended for undergrad, room assignments were unpredictable. You had no idea who your roommates were going to be until you arrived on campus in the fall semester, and you were only permitted to request one roommate when you frequently had three. In the tight quarters of my dormitory, who your roommates were could make or break  your entire year.

I was fortunate enough in my roommates– I only ever had one fight all four years, and I managed to end up with a junior nursing major every year– by the time I graduated, I knew more about what a junior nursing major went through then they did, I think. One of my roommates was Julie*, and she was dedicated to her work, always optimistic, tidy without being neurotically clean, kind and gentle, encouraging, and in general one of the more awesome roommates I had.

She was also beautiful. Stunningly gorgeous,  in fact.

And it was the first time I’d ever noticed how beautiful a woman was.

In the environment I’d grown up in, the only thing I was really taught about physical beauty is that it was deceiving– the implied idea was that beautiful women could not be trusted, and I believed that, although not consciously. But, looking back, all of my friends through high school and early college . . . didn’t fit inside either my idea of a beautiful woman or my culture’s ideal. I tended to avoid women I felt were attractive, and for reasons I didn’t understand, I felt more comfortable around those who didn’t fit inside what I thought was beautiful. When I talked about this idea, which is weird that I did, come to think of it, I emphasized how important it was for me that their personality shine through. I wanted to be friends with people, and not with people’s looks. And, over time, as I got to know these women, anything about them that didn’t fit inside my culturally constructed idea of beauty… faded. It ceased to matter, not that it ever really did.

However, when you combine this principle, this innate distrust of anything beautiful or attractive, with the idea that any kind of attraction that isn’t for the person you’re married to . . .  things become more difficult. There’s no difference between appreciating beauty and lust. The way I’d been taught, they were one and the same, although they only ever phrased it in heterosexual terms.

The year I lived with Julie was a terrifying year for me, because I thought I might be bi-sexual, and growing up believing that identifying as LGBTQ was an “abomination before God” made me tremble and panic. I struggled so hard that year, because I couldn’t not notice Julie, and I was convinced that even just noticing how attractive she was made my sexuality questionable.

I figured out a long, long time later that I could have been spared some gut-wrenching agony  if I’d had a real, honest understanding of sexual identity and sexual attraction. I would have realized that there was a difference between noticing that Julie was gorgeous, a wonderful human being, and a woman I admired, and being aroused by her, which I was not.

But I didn’t know the difference.

I didn’t even realize there was a difference.

I think this is one of the central problems with the abstinence-only form of education. Many people seem to be afraid that if you give teenagers information about sex it’s automatically granting approval for them to have sex. It’s why conservatives fight programs that make condoms available to teenagers; it’s perceived as “giving up,” as just shrugging our shoulders and saying “oh, well, they’re going to do it anyway, might as well make sure they’re smart about it.” Because of this, being “smart” about sex, or being taught about our sexuality is conflated with permissiveness.

The supposed solutions of the abstinence movement are entirely too easy. It promises that abstention guarantees mind-blowing sex once you’re married, which is ridiculously not true. Any kind of sexual act, intercourse or otherwise, requires people to listen and respond, and it takes time to learn. That’s just common sense, and anyone can learn to have amazing sex with the right person, married or not.

It also teaches that the only way for teenagers to not have sex is to know as little about it as possible– which means they don’t just lack an understanding of the mechanics, but that any kind of discussion surrounding sexuality, attraction, desire, and arousal are all silenced, and teenagers are left without enough information to process their daily experiences in a healthy way. Many of us end up completely guilt-ridden because we noticed a man or a woman was attractive, and we think that’s lust. Or, we may even go to the extreme of purposefully looking for and marrying people we aren’t sexually attracted to because we’ve been so assiduously taught to avoid that in all its forms.

In most environments, abstinence-only education seems to be based on a huge shame of our bodies, or splintering off our sexual selves from the rest our physical experience, and I don’t think that’s healthy. Finding a balance is important, and sexual over-indulgence (from porn addictions to what have you) can be damaging like any other form of indulgence, but being educated about the nature of our bodies isn’t indulgence, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We were designed to experience intense physical pleasure in a variety of ways, and we weren’t given that ability strictly to deny it, but to enjoy it.