I had a moment of revelation this morning, when various strands of current experience suddenly fell into place and I glimpsed the deeper connections between them which helped resolve my confused state of recent days.
I reflected on the profile of the supporters and trustees of Changing Attitude England. We are mostly people in the 40 to 70 age range, with a minority above and below. We are people who are either single, or living in stable relationships which look like marriages to me, and increasing numbers are indeed in civil partnerships. We are in truth, a very orthodox, ‘middle class’, Church of England profile group of people, even extending to our gender and sexuality variants, which have always been a part of my C of E milieu.
These thoughts arose as I reflected on two particular conversations I’ve had with Africans in recent days, which I place in the context of the many African conversations I’ve had. Both were men in their early to mid twenties. For both, their first sexual experience was with another man at a young age. Both have had relationships with men but both told me they now have girl friends. Their relationship with the girls in both cases is distant. They might meet once a fortnight. The relationship may or may not be sexual.
The two men might identify as gay or bisexual if asked to label themselves, but I knew as I talked with them that such categories weren’t really going to accurately describe their identity. They may have girl friends in the same way that many African men on Facebook say they are ‘interested in men and women’ and have pictures of women on their profile. It is a way of communicating that you are gay for those with ears to hear. Many gay Africans have women in their life as a foil for their gay sexuality.
I could write more about the complexity of the identities adopted but lets keep this blog short and save more reflection for later. The first revelation that came to me this morning is this.
Gay (and lesbian) Africans create false identities for themselves in the public realm to enable them to pass as straight and avoid prejudice and homophobia. They also create false or confusing internal identities, engaging in relationships, intimacy and sometimes sexual activity which is ‘unnatural’ to their natural selves (I know conservative Christians will disagree with me about this).
The much vaunted African Christianity which claims to be faithful to orthodox tradition and teaching is in fact creating a very unhealthy environment for human relationships in which people create false public identities (an idealised self) and more worryingly, a false internal identity. Both the young men I talked with are committed Christians, of course, and neither reflects on their personal integrity and morality in the light of their Christian faith and ethical teaching.
By contrast, the UK LGB&T people I know are deeply faithful to themselves, their partners, their faith and tradition and to their God. For this quality of integrity it feels to many of us that we are trashed by the Church. I don’t want to write any more this morning, but you can see where my argument is going.