Many years ago, when I was president of a Christian student club at a secular school, a young man came through the door. He had a smattering of thoughtful questions for the group of friends in the room, but I could tell that something bigger was on his mind, so the two of us headed to the coffee shop for a heart-to-heart. "I really like a lot of things I read about in the Bible," he confided. "That great," I responded, "so what's holding you back?" "Well, I'm gay," he explained. "And God hates gays."
Versions of this story continue to play out every day, and it seems as though Christians are obligated to land in one of two categories: allies or enemies.
Last month, Bill 18 passed in Manitoba legislature. Social media surrounding this anti-bullying legislation over the previous months divided the public into two camps: the supportive, tolerant allies and the homophobic enemies. I, for one, do not grant those classifications.
While no one is for bullying, the question of mandating that schools support students who want to start gay-straight alliances is loaded-and misguided. I wonder if this reduction of persons to merely their sexuality is helpful.
Identifying someone-or in the case of schools, encouraging students to identify themselves-primarily as a sexual being rather than a human being, particularly at the confusing and overwhelming phase of life that is high school, is dangerous.
I don't want to encourage young people to "identify as" straight, L, G, B, T, Q, or "other." Young people are in school to learn, to explore, and to grow. Labels restrict, creating fragile bonsai trees rather than deeply rooted oaks.
We are not defined by our sexual propensities. This truth is evident beyond Christian communities. An article in the Guardian caught my attention last week: Jim Morrissey has officially come out as a "humasexual." To clarify, Morrissey explained, "I am attracted to humans. But, of course, not many." Thanks for the compliment to humanity, Jim. But what stood out to me were the surprisingly astute questions the Guardian posted to encourage commenting from the general public: "Is Morrissey right in refusing to pigeonhole his sexuality? Is our sexuality simple enough to be confined to binary categories? Does it change over time? Are there benefits and downsides to defining our sexuality?"
Sexuality is complex and confusing, even beyond the sweaty locker rooms and charged hallways of high school. When we submit our sexuality to cut-and-dried labels, we deny the truth that original sin runs deep and that human desires do not always fit elegantly into socially acceptable categories.
I am equally reluctant to submit my own identity to the labels of "ally" or "enemy." Gay friends of mine have shown reluctance about introducing me to their significant others until they can confidently assume what designation to assign me. But I'm not called to agree with every move others make. I may be confused by a cousin's decision to be a vegetarian, or wonder why my friends have chosen to have eight children, or believe it's flat-out wrong for anyone to drive an SUV in the city. And yes, I believe that God intends for us to express our sexuality in holy matrimony alone. Yet my friends and I share a more deeply rooted common ground, the fact that we are all image-bearers of our creator.
So for educators, especially Christian ones, the task is difficult: let's spend a little less time on labels, and a little more time on what's written on hearts beneath them. This is what forms generous, kind, open-minded citizens, not bullies.