I am a woman who desires men, but I don’t define myself that way. Who I am depends equally as much on the parents who raised me, the town where I grew up, and the schools I attended. I am an introverted and somewhat socially awkward intellectual, who likes Renaissance music, science fiction, and macaroni and cheese. I am all of these things and I like all of these things completely apart from my heterosexuality.
I could identify myself as a Virginian born-and-bred or a New York transplant, as a blogger or a lawyer or a stay-at-home mom, but these categories don’t constrain or pigeon-hole me. I was born with the last name Smith and at marriage changed my name to Santos, but changing my name did not change my ethnicity or my identity. On a deeper level, I am a former WASP turned Catholic convert, who believes in a higher power with a special plan in mind for me.
So I don’t post my sexual preference on my Facebook profile, parade it through the streets, wear certain colors on certain days, or join special-interest groups. Because I can’t be reduced to a certain type of longing.
My sexuality didn’t matter much when I was a child and likely won’t matter much when I’m 90. While heterosexuality is an integral part of my marriage to my husband, our vows to love each other through riches and poverty, sickness and health, encompass far more than a ratification of our desire. And although sexual desire exerts a powerful emotional pull, it is not the most important aspect of anyone’s life. At the most basic level, we humans need to ensure our own survival, which means obtaining food, shelter, and clothing. We want to stay safe from danger, which means protecting our health, our property, and those we love. We need to educate ourselves in order to be gainfully employed. We can do all of these things without sex entering into the picture at all.
Moreover, sexual preference is a slippery thing. It is not set in stone, the way some people would have us believe. Particularly for adolescents who are still seeking a sense of themselves, sexual preference is astonishingly fluid. In fact, some scientific research reports that same sex attraction in adolescents is more likely to change than to remain fixed.
One study followed approximately 10,800 adolescents between the ages of 16 and 22 years old. Of the 16 year-old males who had exclusively SSA, 61% had opposite-sex attraction at age 17. For same-sex attracted females, 81% changed to opposite attraction in just one year.
The study also compared sexual attraction at ages 17 and 22, with similar results. For example, 75% of adolescent males with SSA at age 17 had opposite-sex attraction at age 22.
In contrast, the same study found that 98 percent of adolescents experiencing heterosexual attraction retained that orientation into adulthood, as reported by Michelle Cretella, M.D., vice-president of the American College of Pediatricians.
Sexual desire is a powerful passion, but it is always a mistake to let our passions confine and define us. Our passions can lead us to love, and even to divine love, but they can just as easily lead us to ruin. Strong sexual desire can swamp our sense of right and wrong, dragging us under in an emotional flood, drowning our reason. Succumbing to the temptation of the moment is one thing. Turning our sexual desires or preferences into the keystone of our identity is quite another.
I am so much more than simply a woman who desires men. And since that is true, every homosexual is more than simply a man who desires men. Every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning individual is more than a disembodied sexual orientation. Each one is an individual, who is funny or reserved, impulsive or controlled, gregarious or shy. They might be musicians, doctors, actors, lawyers, or members of any other profession. They might be baptized Christians or a professed atheists. And, like all of us, they might be lonely, hurting, in need of friendship, in need of love, in need of being saved.
So when someone says “love the sinner and hate the sin,” perhaps we should think instead “love the person and weep for the desire that leads them to sin.” Because we all have our temptations and our unhealthy desires, but we can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to that. Every one of us is more than our desire.