Note: As detailed elsewhere, children’s art invokes the curiosity, wonder, and “beginner’s mind” that makes for an especially productive conversation across difference. “As children we fall in love with the wonder of being alive,” teaches Tsoknyi Rinpoche. What would it mean to regain that kind of curiosity and wonder?
It’s especially common to hear those who experience same-sex attraction describe a period of time involving a lot of “fighting, forcing, resistance, controlling, fixing, or suppressing” of body and mind – including sexual feelings, thoughts and physical sensations.
Although moving beyond self-aggression is worth talking about on its own, it’s not always clear what exactly people mean by these different terms. What is clear is that these various terms hold different meanings for different people. Based on my own review of sexuality narratives, there are at least two ways this set of terms (“fighting, forcing, resistance, controlling, fixing, suppressing”) are being used:
1. These words refer to any attempt to resist, reconcile or seek evolution of sexual attraction. One especially common way to use the above terms is referencing (a) any resistance to one’s enduring sexual attractions (or sexual orientation) – whether resisting thoughts, feelings or physical sensations or (b) any attempt to seek reconciliation, change or evolution of one’s enduring sexual attractions (or orientation). This could include different types of prayer expressing related concern, any kind of therapeutic attempt that sees one’s pattern of attraction as somehow problematic and any kind of personal effort that approaches the attraction as unwanted.
From this vantage point, these examples (and others like it that stops short of full acceptance of one’s enduring pattern of attraction) can accurately be labeled as harmful “fighting, forcing, resistance, controlling, fixing, suppressing.”
2. These words refer (only) to especially aggressive attempts to fix, fight or force one’s attractions. Compared to seeing these terms (“fighting, forcing, resistance, controlling, fixing, suppressing”) as reflecting any resistance to enduring attractions, a second way of using the same words is more bounded – underscoring especially aggressive or harsh ways of resisting or attempt to control these attractions.
Rather than critiquing all prayer or therapy or personal efforts that see a pattern of same-sex attraction as problematic, this targets particularly harsh kinds of therapy, prayer or personal efforts as concerning. It is against these especially direct or confronting approaches towards feelings, thoughts and sensations that concern is raised (from this perspective), rather than against all resistance or attempts to seek change, evolution or reconciliation.
While it’s generally taken for granted that anything not fully embracing, must be fighting or resisting or suppressing or controlling, proponents of this second approach would disagree – seeking to carve out another way of working with thoughts, feelings and sensations that stop short of embracing them, while also staying far away from harshness or aggression.
Implications. Rather than some abstract intellectual exercise, these distinctions have real life consequences, and arguably play out in various practical ways.
For those who define these terms (“fighting, forcing, resistance, controlling, fixing, suppressing”) broadly, they will understandably experience most anything that falls short of embracing same-sex attraction (as good and fundamental to one’s identity) as problematic. From this vantage point, then, virtually any religious conservative therapeutic approach, religious conservative educational efforts and religious conservative norms for intimacy or marriage may be automatically seen as involving self-aggression – and thus simply cease to be seen as feasible or realistic.
By contrast, those who define these terms more narrowly will understandably not evaluate such a broad spectrum of practices as reflecting self-aggression, relative to those holding the first view. Instead, they will emphasize another set of marital, therapeutic and educational practices as both feasible and viable – each reflecting reasonable and healthy ways of working with the experience of same-sex attraction.
By acknowledging the diversity that exists in how people use these terms, my aim is to make space for both different understandings and the associated differences in working with the spectrum of emotions. Although it might seem politically advantageous to underscore the first and ignore (or mischaracterize) the second, for the sake of maximizing freedom, safety and well-being, I hope both options will be allowed space and respect.