Sex Without Bodies
Even as our culture has swiftly moved toward accepting same-sex marriage, the term "homosexual" has already disappeared among those who have taken the time to listen and learn from gay and lesbian neighbors and friends. For good reasons, the preferred language among those neighbors has become "LGBT"—"Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered" (or "Transsexual").
We should welcome this shift, because it actually helps clarify the multiple sexualities whose representatives have banded together to seek legal recognition and relief from stigma and shame. Indeed, the initialism LGBT is increasingly augmented by references to Queer (or Questioning) and Asexual persons—thus including those who find their sexuality ill-defined by the existing heterosexual or homosexual categories. It also often seeks to include Intersex individuals, the small but real number of persons whose bodies are born gender-ambiguous.
The proliferation of initials signals the formation of a powerful coalition. But it also reminds us of the important differences between the members of that coalition. Christians cannot simply accept or reject "same-sex marriage" and think we have settled our sexual ethics. The LGBTQIA coalition has other challenges for the church.
Begin just with those who identify as lesbian and as gay. Patterns of sexual expression, relationship formation, and identity discovery are markedly different between gay men and lesbian women. Statistically speaking, gay sexual orientation seems most often to emerge early, definitively, and persistently; lesbian orientation is more fluid and ambiguous. (This has implications, too, for claims of "recovery" from homosexuality, claims that have often proven unreliable for "ex-gay" men.)
The Next Frontier
Indeed, sex itself is markedly different for gays and lesbians, research shows. Men in stable, committed gay relationships readily "[make] open arrangements for sex outside the couple," as a recent New York Times article put it; indeed, more than 40 percent have done so.
Meanwhile, large numbers of women in committed lesbian relationships seem to cease sexual activity altogether over time. These are not just male and female versions of a single simple thing called "homosexuality," let alone merely "homosexual" versions of a single simple thing called "sexuality"—they are profoundly different human experiences.
Bisexuality raises even more complicated questions, and it is the next frontier that church leaders, whatever their position on "homosexuality," will confront. Some Christian leaders have come to believe that blessing same-sex unions is the best pastoral response to those with a persistent same-sex orientation who seek covenant faithfulness. But what about someone who does not report a stable orientation? Should the church in any way steer them toward marriage to the opposite sex? Even the slightest bias toward male–female complementarity may soon be considered just as bigoted as believing that gay and lesbian relationships cannot be blessed at all.
This leads to the fourth term of the sexual-minority coalition: persons who experience themselves as transgendered (meaning a psychological dissonance, as distinct from the physical ambiguity of intersex persons)—"trapped" in the wrong body. This is yet another difficult pastoral challenge, since it is not about gender preferences in one's partners (transgendered people report all four possible combinations of "orientations") but about one's own identity as a man or woman. The reported experiences of transgender persons also raise the most complex hermeneutical questions, since there are not obvious biblical texts that address the issue. (Jesus' reference to "those who are born eunuchs" may well refer to the phenomenon of intersex births, known to ancients just as much as to us today.) How should the church compassionately respond to reports of intense psychological distress relating to one's biological or socially assigned gender?