Rekers, Evangelicals, Gays, and the Meaning of 'Is'

The George Alan Rekers story is over, but it still haunts me. I think this is because I can't help taking seriously the seemingly absurd statement Rekers made on his website after the stories of erotic massages from a male prostitute came to light:

"I have not engaged in any homosexual behavior whatsoever. I am not gay and never have been."

I do not believe this, and probably no one except Dr. Rekers believes this, but I am sure he believes it.

I was in college when Clinton was impeached and we as a nation were schooled about the definition of "is." I had grown up in an abstinence-only evangelical world. How well I and my raised-evangelical and raised-conservative-Catholic friends remember that moment in 1998 when the terrible light dawned on us: "You mean oral sex is sex? Oh, no!" More than one devout girl who had been having oral sex with her boyfriend for years stopped instantly the minute she learned that the House of Representatives viewed this as full-on fornication. Personally I decided to go ahead and keep strategically working with Clinton's definition, impeachment be damned. This was, thank God, a slippery slope.

I'm all for sublimation in theory and I certainly practice a lot more of it than I'd like, but it has its limitations. As Ross Douthat implicitly observed in his recent column on red and blue families (and you will not be surprised to learn that this was not his intended takeaway point), "family values"-type families -- "legitimate" kids, low divorce rates -- are apparently only achievable in a world with easy access to abortion (the blue states). Heteronormative anti-abortion abstinence culture produces teen parents, out-of-marriage births, and lots of divorces (the red states).

Though I am committed to my own liberal Protestant values, I will always be moved and grieved by the red-state culture from which I came and its otherworldly denial of real bodies. I care about cultures of sexual shame, especially insofar as they disproportionately damage women and gay people. I can't forget where I came from, and if there is a religious exodus from red state culture (not an Exodus International exodus! a real exodus!) I want to be part of it.

I sometimes respect and sometimes pity (or, as one of my Catholic friends might say, I sometimes pity and sometimes patronize) people who try to live up to sexual values that negate absolutely every desire in their body. But I also feel a kind of tenderness for people who just can't quite do it: who insist, after sixty interminable years of perhaps never allowing themselves to have an orgasm while in the room with someone they are attracted to, that God owes them or will at least allow them this one caress, that this caress cannot be sex, and that they have a right to these commodified crumbs under the table of pleasure and intimacy, because at every moment, even as they let themselves tremble just a little with the sensation of this slight secret touch, they are still exercising such extreme and bitter restraint.

The tenderness I feel for these people is significantly mitigated when they have made a career of hating on their own kind. But I still feel can't help feeling compassion, because their suffering and dissociation are so extreme. Today's young evangelicals blithely have anal sex to preserve their virginity, and back in 1998 Bill Clinton was just saying whatever he thought he could get away with in order to get away with what he wanted to get away with. But George Alan Rekers is a man who knows, in his every nerve ending and in his soul, the precise definition of "is."