Kyle Keating wrote a great post for Spiritual Friendship about the video Tom Daley released Monday, where he shares that he’s in a relationship with a guy. Kyle highlights how people have run with Daley’s video and claimed that he’s gay, but that Daley didn’t say he was gay—he said he still fancies girls and that he’s currently in a relationship with a guy. Daley is 19 years old, and neither he nor the 7 million people who have viewed the video know what his future sexual identity labels or relationships will look like. Daley needs time and space to figure it out.
This video, and the way people have responded to it, raises a number of questions about sexual identity. It’s had me thinking about bisexuality, fluidity, the complexity of gay people who straight-marry and the straight friends who want flings with gay girls. While I’ve been opposed to people insisting gay people should experience a change in their orientation if they follow Christ long enough, I think sexuality is much more complex and fluid than we often allow it to be in our discussions. Lisa Diamond’s longitudinal study of women over a 10 year period that she wrote about in her book, Sexual Fluidity (you can read a short version here), highlights just how much our strict categories for sexual identity labeling fail to capture the mystery of sexual attraction and identity.
When I say that I’m gay, I’m describing a persistent, ongoing attraction to women that I’ve experienced up to this point. I decided to use that term after 15 years of examining my attractions, my efforts to change them, and the implications of referring to myself as anything other than solely-attracted-to-women in light of the ex-gay narratives that often frame “change” as an expectation. I wanted to be clear. That was something I needed a long period of time to discern and it works for me as a descriptive term: for who I am, where I am, and what I want to communicate. That won’t work for everyone. That shouldn’t be pushed upon anyone. A label is limiting to a certain degree, and if it is accepted prematurely, it can solidify a way of being in the world that might turn out differently if the person (particularly a young person) allows themselves to be a complex person in a process throughout their formative years of development.
It’s also important for us to keep our sexuality in perspective: this is one characteristic, among thousands of characteristics, that makes up who I am. I’m a lover of Jesus, passionate about social justice, an adventure junkie, a small-circle-of-close-friends type person whose heart explodes when I hear stories and who can spend hours alone with my imagination—and I’m gay. It’s been helpful for me to say I’m gay when I’ve had an understanding of the weight (the small amount of weight) that I give it when I conceptualize the whole of who I am. In our sexuality-obsessed culture though, it can be easy for someone to allow their sexual identity to take up more space than it needs to take up, and I’m grateful for the wisdom of those who helped me hold off on labels that might have been blown up for me prior to understanding its role and weight in my life.
It would be good for all of us to hold our labels loosely. There are different shades of gay, and we need to allow room for people to be who they are, where they are, with the understanding that their experience of their sexuality might look different in different seasons (it also might not). I tend to push back against those who insist fluidity will occur because if it’s going to occur, it will happen naturally and it won’t be because that person is more spiritually mature. While it’s good to accept the fact that many people are oriented toward the same sex (what I’m referring to when I say I’m gay), I hope we’ll also leave room for there to be nuance in the way people experience their sexuality and choose to disclose that to others. Young people figuring out their sexuality in the church are in a confusing process, and we can help them by not adding to the confusion of giving them 2 (or even 3) categories that they feel pressure to fit into. I appreciate Tom Daley’s willingness to live in the tension of fancying girls and dating a guy. I think the tension he experiences is rather human. It’s great that he doesn’t feel pressure to answer all the questions that come with that or shut down parts of himself in order to fit into a strict category. I hope we’ll allow more people the space to be a in process, with an identity rooted in Christ and an openness to what that means for their expression of their developing sexuality.