I want to begin this post by saying that I'm not by any means an expert in the areas of same-sex attraction, homosexuality, or gender dysphoria. I have been very fortunate to talk to some of the experts over the years, and I will be naming resources so that if this is an issue you want to study more, you'll be able to do so. I'm also going to follow this post by re-running a series of posts by one of those experts, Briar Whitehead (an astounding author who very kindly wrote a series on the spiritual and cultural issues behind all types of sex addiction, including SSA sex addiction for the community a few years ago).
Today, I'll speak a little bit to the experiences I'm seeing in those I work with.
On the rise
While I don't know if more people in society are identifying as homosexual today, homosexual and bi-sexual sexual acting out amongst self-identified heterosexual SAs seems like it may be. I haven't taken a poll on this, but in our peer supervision sessions my colleagues and I are aware of more of it... as well as more gender dysphoria (i.e., "trans") that's coming out later in life (rather than the teen years when most people who are going to struggle with gender issues do so). This is just as true within the Christian community as outside it.
While a minority of these men (all of the ones I'm thinking of are married to women) are in the process of re-identifying as homosexual, the vast majority state very strongly they do not identify as homosexual now and never have. This despite the fact that some of them only engage in homosexual behaviors in their acting out (i.e. use homosexual porn, chat sexually with men, attraction to/acting out with men). Likewise I'm aware of men who reject the "bi" label despite the fact that there is an obvious portion of their sexual acting out that demonstrates same-sex attraction... as well as a portion that is consistently heterosexual.
Today I'm going to focus more on the experiences of those couples where the SA (as always, I'll write as if the SA is the husband, though we know this isn't always the case) definitely feels he is not homosexual. Briar, in the third part of the post, will speak more to those cases where the husband does identify, or his partner has over time (often through years of celibate marriage) come to identify him as homosexually orientated.
A wealth of narratives
Part of what can make same-sex acting out seem more frightening to a spouse* (or parent) comes from the narratives we may have grown up with about homosexuality. I'm going to lay out a couple of them here (please note I'm talking about past narratives you and I may have grown up with).
Liberal, Western culture: people are either gay, straight or bi (maybe: "bi" people may just be gay people in denial). Gay people are born this way. Homosexuality is encoded in their genes and it needs to express itself. They can never be who they were truly created to be in a heterosexual relationship.
Western conservative church culture: Gay people are particularly abhorrent to God. They are engaging in a disgusting, unnatural type of sin. Anyone with same-sex attraction should just stop it, and if they don't they'll get the punishment they deserve.
Today we see some bend in these two extreme narratives. Some in the liberal western culture admit that orientation may actually not be something one is born with, but rather can be fluid throughout the lifespan. The conservative church is moving more toward compassion for homosexuals and those with unwanted same-sex attraction.
There is a western liberal church culture as well today that aligns with western secular culture. Their narrative may run something like: we support gay marriage because if God made people with same-sex attraction then clearly he wants them to be able to live out the fullness of who they are in relationship.
For the Christian, who is same-sex attracted or homosexual, trying to navigate these various narratives can be downright painful and anxiety-provoking. However, it is a journey they will have to embark on in order to determine their own narrative: which may be one where God plays a bigger and different part than in the narratives above (see more on this in the writings of Mark Yarhouse). In any case, for the spouse of someone with unwanted same-sex attraction, there isn't a lot that's hopeful in any of the above "standard" narratives.
In an attempt to help partners of sex addicts consider some other possible narratives, I'm going to just throw out a few things I've noticed about guys with same-sex acting out who don't identify as gay or bi:
- Some are getting healing from their porn/sex addiction and finding there is a concomitant relational healing going on with their spouse and a declining interest in others (sexually-speaking)
- Some guys with SS acting out get healing from childhood traumas (homosexual molestation, exposure to homosexual porn, etc.) and then find they are able to stop the same-sex acting out (which looked kind of like trauma re-enactment).
- Some guys make a decision that their spirituality is more important than their gender or orientation... and they're finding ways to lean into God to ease the symptoms of their gender dysphoria (e.g., anxiety) and/or same-sex attraction, so they are increasingly attracted to their wives
And while all that may be cause for PSAs to celebrate, it is also true that some men with same-sex acting out are losing their marriages... more often because of the addiction, with it's lying, hiding and abuse than because of who/what he is acting out with. This is particularly the case when there is little or no spiritual foundation for him to cling to in recovery (again, just my own observation).
In the coming posts, Briar will speak more on some of these issues as well as those cases where he may identify (or may be definitely identifiable) as gay or trans.
*I wish to note that some PSAs do not find their husband's same-sex attraction more frightening, it actually comes as somewhat of a relief to them because certain other issues (e.g., feeling they need to compete) are avoided. I in no way wish to imply anyone should find it more concerning. More on this in future posts from Briar.
If you would like to share with the community your experiences with a husband with same-sex acting out and/or gender dysphoria, but want to do so anonymously, I'd love to hear from you.