Before the Deluge

All of us have a sexual orientation that bends toward the self

Some parts of culture are like a river: they flow through the terrain on a definite course. You can decide what you want to do with a river—float along with the current or swim against it, lounge on the banks or dive in. There is a place where the river is, and a place where the river is not.

But every river has a flood stage. This year, one particular river in our cultural geography rose above its banks. The cause of homosexuality, which has been gaining ground for years, spilled over into nearly every part of American life.

From courts in both the United States and Canada (which overturned prohibitions against sodomy and legalized same-sex marriage, respectively) to trend-setting, or trend-driven, pop culture events (the MTV Music Awards and the Tony Awards ceremonies both featured same-sex smooches), and perhaps most vividly in the Bravo TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy—in 2003 homosexuality consolidated its claim to be both exceptional and normal, both oppressed and privileged.

With uncanny timing, the Episcopal Church's General Convention approved the consecration as bishop of a priest who had dissolved his marriage and later began a long-lasting relationship with a man. Tellingly, deputies agreed to consecrate someone who was sexually active outside of matrimony even before they approved a tentative exploration of rites that Episcopal churches might use to solemnize such a relationship.

These developments were no more surprising than a flood after 40 days of rain. But they still force us to confront questions that once were easier to ignore.

First, what is the meaning of sexuality? Is it, like so much in consumer culture, an opportunity to define my identity by carefully excavating, and duly satisfying, my individual ...

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