When I was in 10th grade my friends started having sex. Of course, several had already done so and some until this day have not, but in 10th grade people began to talk openly about their experiences, or at least their thoughts about their future experiences. Contrary to what one might think, the Evangelical communities I was a part of were profoundly supportive of discussion about sex, at least when it came to looking at the concept within a covenantal relationship, namely marriage. There was regular dialogue about the consolations and the dangers that come with sex, a (usually) strong presentation of the ethos behind the Church's traditional teaching on abstinence, the debate within Christendom over sex as pleasure vs. sex as only procreative, the Hebrew concept of `echadh,' or two becoming "one flesh," and a myriad of others ideas.
These conversations left me convinced that sex is actually a gift.
Although it's not 'everything' in a relationship, sex has nevertheless been given by God to creation as the ultimate expression of human physical intimacy and to consummate a life long promise that reflects the love between Christ and all of His redeemed, whether it makes a baby or not.
This learning time was quite comprehensive—far more than just sex behaviors, body parts and broken hearts. We were talking about dating practices, defining chemistry, defining attraction, the practice of self-control and discipline when it came to hormones, being "friendly" vs. "flirting," the role gender potentially plays in friendships and in romance, safety and consent, the significance of physically expressing emotion and the list only goes on. The discourse was as philosophical as it was pragmatic and of course, comical.
We were navigating what it meant to connect, to become vulnerable and how to establish boundaries. Ultimately, my friends and I were determining what it meant to integrate our orientation into our 16-year-old identities. Surprisingly so, apart from some of the basic presuppositions that distinguish faith communities from more secular ones, most of what I was hearing inside and outside of the Church was pretty consistent.
It seemed as if both believed, amongst many things, that sexuality was complex and profoundly more than a mechanism of our biology.
I was being equipped to look at sexuality as an integral part of human identity and not the whole. I was coming to understand the big picture of what it meant to 'come of age' as a person and particularly as a rational, emotional, spiritual and physical person attempting to follow the example of Christ.
As beneficial as all of these experiences were, no matter where I was gaining insight and perspective, it was all insight and perspective under the pretense that everybody was straight. In fact, where I grew up it wasn't until my junior year of high school that I heard someone explain 'gay' as more than just a kind of kinky sex act.
Because of this, since I have come out, I have felt generally overwhelmed, often confused and usually pretty clueless (and NOT in the adorable Alicia Silverstone way). It can be argued that much of what I was taught about sexuality transcends where any of us happen to land on the orientation spectrum and I've indeed been able to see a lot of overlap between what it meant to be "straight" and what it means for me to be gay but I think its safe to say there are at least a few distinctions when it comes to sexual dynamics within homosexuality versus heterosexuality.
Because of this deficit in education, the phrase "second adolescence" has come to describe this time for LGBT people to figure things out.
Somewhere in the flurry of existential crisis and what I like to call "The Aftermath of The Closet," many LGBT people feel at a loss for how to carry themselves relationally. This season of an LGBT person's life is often marked by sexual experimentation that can be quite euphoric, albeit chaotic and potentially damaging.
Secular social science has made great advances in creating LGBT sexual education resources and de-stigmatizing LGBT sexuality and gender expression. But many gay Christians, especially those raised in conservative and evangelical contexts, continue to experience a disconnect between the primarily secular conversation on queer sexuality and their Christian faith-based sexual ethic.
Few spaces exist that allow LGBT Christians to hold a conversation on what we're supposed to do with our newly claimed sexual orientation.
I'd like to believe though that as both the Church and society overcome their historical bend toward homophobia and transphobia, resources will become increasingly available for LGBT young people, both of and not of faith, to begin their journey of toward expressing their sexuality in a healthily, life-giving way. A way that doesn't give them over to the destructive relationships, substance abuse, depression and anxiety that have long been associated with second adolescence.
Further, I'd like to believe that we're coming into an era where there are multiple available role models and adult mentors who provide helpful voices in how one gay "dates and mates" in a way that can still be distinguished as Christian. Voices that don't prioritize or minimize expression of orientation in a person's life, but simply discuss the wide range of ideas and concepts associated with being a LGBT young person.
Maybe puberty only happens once physiologically, and maybe no matter how hard I try I can't make lyrics from Dashboard Confessional or The Spill Canvas resonate the way they did in 2006, but I do know that I am starting to see what it means to be a person of faith who takes ownership of what they believe, lives accountably for what they do and attempts to walk humbly in all spheres of my personhood.
So if feeling like I'm in 10th grade all over again means I can eventually be one of these voices and positive influences then bring on the process.
...but for everyone else's sake, I'll omit the Hollister ripped jeans and pungent perfume.
Photo via flickr user gem fountain