Quia tacui or, The Strange Paradox of the Charismatic Homosexual
3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (Psalm 32)
The first two words of the title come from the Latin Vulgate translation of this psalm. They translate to “When I kept silent”; the Hebrew word the Psalmist uses for “to keep silent” is charash, which carries several disparate meanings: to keep silent, to plow, to scratch, to turn a deaf ear and finally, to fabricate. I don’t remember what led me to this Psalm today, but it resonated with me even as I toggled back and forth between several translations of it and coverage of the Eddie Long lawsuits. The word charash kept floating back to the surface of my mind as I read about his alleged abuse of young men who reportedly loved him, revered him. It isn’t the first such story I’ve heard – a minister’s grandson gets most if not all of the church gossip in his particular circle of “the saints.” I began to wonder what creates the men who do these things. What did they endure that caused them to ultimately end up as predators rather than protectors? Charash began to tell me a story that may explain. I speak from my own experience and the knowledge of others’ experiences.
For the boy who realizes he is gay in a Charismatic environment (most Black churches fall under this umbrella to one degree or another, but I realize that the experience crosses color lines) the first lesson is to keep silent. He feels the love that truly dares not speak its name and thus many men tell stories of looking at other boys and men in their churches/families, wondering if they also felt the same desires, the same feelings, but never EVER asking. Perhaps the sermons about “speaking things into existence” and “the power of life and death residing in the tongue” play a part; in any case the gay Charismatic boy learns very quickly what not to say, even hint at about himself if he wishes to feel loved and safe in his environment.
From here it’s a short step to learning how to plow, to turn under and bury anything that might give him away. The lifted pinky, a voice just a trifle too high. The body that at puberty starts to betray him when in the company of other boys with surprise erections, palms that sweat and lips that go dry with fear and lust at the mere presence of the object of desire. He learns how to turn these reactions, these desires… really to plow his true self under and leave only the facade of complete willingness and usefulness behind. Like earth ready to be sown. And in many ways he is – Charismatic boys find the act of burying their true selves so destructive to the ego and any sense of self that exists that they are impressionable, easily led by anyone who gives them affection. Acceptance is our heroin.
But sooner or later the scratching begins, from within and without. The sting of the pastor’s words in the pulpit, of the whispers and rumors, the jokes (whether directed at them or at gay men in general) – these things threaten to uncover what he’s so carefully buried, raking at his carefully concealed secret. And as if it feels the scratching outside, the secret inside him starts a scratching of its own. A clawing towards daylight, towards freedom, an urge to rebel.
But to rebel is to be lost forever.
So the silence continues. The true identity is plowed further beneath the surface. But the scratching does not stop.
All this is done as if in a vacuum, because any plea for understanding and real acceptance goes largely ignored. Friends and relatives ignore anything about him that does not fit into their image of him. The straight, holy, GODLY him. The one who was born even before he was in the daydreams of grandparents and parents who see football games, a pretty young wife, a position of honor in the church, and at least one grand/greatgrandchild reflected in the newborn baby’s bleary eyes. They turn a deaf ear to all the subtle things that say, I can’t do this but I try for you. Release me. Love me for who I am so that I can get the hell out of this prison.
The crisis that eventually comes is terrifying. Maybe he is caught in the arms of another boy. Or a letter intended for one person falls into the wrong hands. It can be any number of things. But the person who “corrects” him thinks of him/herself as kind. I won’t tell anyone else about this, but you need to repent. Pray and be cleansed. We could never get over it if you continued down this path. The gauntlet is thrown – conform or be forsaken. Live the life we planned for you and we’ll surround you, beaming with joy. Live the one your entire being screams is truly YOUR life and you will live it without us. Faced with such a decision, the young man quickly realizes there is another way. Another, older man who has crossed this particular bridge usually teaches him; as long as it all looks good on the surface, he can conceal another “self” and even give it the desires of its heart. But the surface must be perfect, more perfect than the lives of the straights around you. It’s not enough to simply be holy; he needs to radiate ANOINTING. A walk with God so much bigger than life that no one notices what peeks from behind the glowing exterior. And so the young man fabricates with great care two “selves” – a church self and an Other self (often he cannot bring himself to say a “gay” self – he still believes that silence is golden… to do is one thing, but to give it a name…). Neither one is really him. They cannot be – they both lack the fullness that characterizes a whole person. The church self must be sexless at least, or better yet, rabidly heterosexual and macho, yet so full of the Lord’s grace that every aspect of life is spiritualized. He seems immune to earthly lust because he behaves as if one foot is already in Heaven. The Other self has no characteristics, no thoughts, no feelings, only hungers. Hungers for actions. Actions with no faces, no names, nothing to become attached to or fall in love with. He is faceless; like ancient statues of Priapus, the Other self’s primary feature is his throbbing hard-on, constantly demanding satisfaction. He is sewn carefully into the underside of the church self, a lascivious lining, like an outlandish reversible garment.
And when the seams are satisfactorily concealed, the young man dons his coat of many colors with its dark, intense underside, and steps onto the platform with lifted hands to speak to the screaming, cheering multitude.