Symptoms, Causes and Loving Those with Same-Sex Attraction

“Being loved by God and being able to love him in return is where true joy resides.”

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For months Alex had back pain. He went to the doctor, who assured him it was just a pulled muscle. As the weeks wore on, the pain only increased—so he was given stronger prescriptions to deal with the pain. Finally, the pain was unbearable, so he went to a new doctor. This doctor looked deeper and discovered that Alex had stage 4 cancer. The missed symptoms left few treatment options and he was dead within a few months.

Treating the symptoms and not the cause, sadly, is all too common. There is an ongoing discussion about how to best help those with same-sex attraction (SSA). The popular consensus—even among many in the Church today—seems to be that the best thing to do is to accept them, let them live out their passions, and celebrate their diversity. Their lives are just like those of heterosexuals, or so the argument goes. What this position requires, however, it to overlook so many symptoms—depression, substance abuse, porn addiction, suicide, cancer—as well as the underlying cause.

(Herein I will be distinguishing between those who experience same-sex attraction who do not wish to engage in the gay lifestyle, and those who call themselves gay, who are living an openly gay lifestyle with all the trappings.)

The stories of many SSA men are remarkably similar and boil down a common theme: As a young boy, I felt more comfortable with girls but I longed to be accepted among men. This deep desire for acceptance and love by men is played out in sexual encounters, but it never truly gets at the heart of the issue. 

How then, can we best help these men (and women, too, although their issues are slightly different)? Do we just help them cover up the pain with more drugs, alcohol, and porn? Or do we actually offer them a prescription that will truly bring them healing?

Two men have recently painted stark pictures of the destruction of the gay life. (Warning: what follows is a very sanitized rendering of two highly graphic articles). The first was written by Michael Hobbes, entitled, “Together Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness,” at the Huffington Post. The article chronicles the widespread lethal behavior of gay men, including hookups, drug abuse, and emotional trauma. Hobbes, who voices no inclination to leave the gay lifestyle, points out the disturbing trends among LGBT, particularly men: 

Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to take their own lives. We’re twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. And just like the last epidemic we lived through, the trauma appears to be concentrated among men.

Additionally, the article continues: 

[G]ay men everywhere, at every age, have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, incontinence, erectile dysfunction,⁠ allergies and asthma—you name it, we got it. 

Hobbes rejects what he calls “minority stress” as the root of gay men’s distress. The heart of the issue, he makes clear, is a deep loneliness that cannot be assuaged through typical gay-lifestyle avenues. Even as the gay community celebrates their many social victories, Hobbes explains, “the rates of depression, loneliness and substance abuse in the gay community remain stuck in the same place they’ve been for decades.” Marriage equality—hailed by many to be an affirmation of gay men—has little consolation. Christopher Stults, who studies the differences between gay and straight men at New York University, is quoted as saying: “Marriage equality and the changes in legal status were an improvement for some gay men, but for a lot of other people, it was a letdown. Like, we have this legal status, and yet there’s still something unfulfilled.”

Quoting psychologist Alan Downs, Hobbes concludes on this empty note: “We want to have man after man, more muscles, more status, whatever brings us fleeting validation. Then we wake up at 40, exhausted, and we wonder, Is that all there is? And then the depression comes.”

In an even grittier description, author and writer Joseph Sciambra describes his own experience of the gay lifestyle in a series of articles on his website. In 1999, I walked into the world famous Castro District of San Francisco as a disaffected young man of almost nineteen years of age. I had grown up bullied and lonely, and I was looking to finally belong,” he writes in an article called “Surviving Gay…Barely.” After stomach churning descriptions of his life and all that he went through to feel a sense of belonging, it is clear nothing worked to make him feel more loved and less lonely. After 10 years, Sciambra’s body could take no more. “I walked into San Francisco, but I had to be carried out.”

Sciambra, who now ministers to those still living a gay lifestyle, explains the big picture of a gay man’s struggle. “In our overwhelming desire to understand the world and ourselves, we were willing to go against nature and God Himself. We disregarded the fundamentals of physiology and for that violation we paid dearly on an unbelievably devastating collective and individual basis.”  He continues, “In the process, we threw our bodies and the surrounding culture into chaos; in a feeble attempt to right ourselves we demanded that society recognize our rebellion. But a law instituted by men hasn’t changed our physical structure.” 

Both Hobbes and Sciambra make clear that the real issue for men who experience same-sex attraction is that there is a deep loneliness that plagues them. Every hookup, drug hit, porn high, is directed at overcoming this deep longing. And yet, for those like Sciambra, who have given up the lifestyle, peace and healing can only come through the grace of God. 

The popular debate focuses on whether gay men need to leave their destructive lifestyle or continue to embrace it. But to suggest that they remain in it is similar to giving a child with pica more mud and dirt to eat in the hope of healing them. The destructive lifestyle is a result of their wound. It is not the means to heal it.

More fundamental, and sadly overlooked, is the question with which we are all faced: will we allow ourselves to loved by God, who promises to help us carry every cross and every burden? Will we let our restless souls find love, acceptance, tenderness, and strength in our Creator? Are we willing to submit to his law, trusting that that is truly where our happiness resides? 

Daniel Mattson offers us a way forward in his new book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace. Like Sciambra, he tells the readers that he felt like an outsider and found comfort among girls. But, he adds, “I was desperate to feel like a man.” 

Mattson is looking for the original wound—not just glossing over it by dwelling exclusively on the symptoms. Through his understanding of who he is, who God is, and their relationship to each other—the wound could be not only be diagnosed, but brought to the steady stages of healing. He found the Divine Healer. 

“We don’t really understand what will make us happy,” Mattson writes. “Being loved by God and being able to love him in return is where true joy resides.” He continues, “All of the sex, all of the porn, all of my hopes and dreams of loves and earthly happiness, where a two-dimensional caricature of happiness. Happiness comes when we finally know who we are, why we’re here, and where we are headed.”

“I finally know that to have sex with a man really leads me away from true happiness”, Mattson concludes, “Thanks be to God, I know that now. That was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m glad I learned it.”