Homosexuality: It’s an Orientation, Not an Action

When the story of Patrick Henry College Chancellor Michael Farris’ threatened lawsuit was picked up by various news outlets and blogs in the past week, we at QueerPHC braced ourselves for the inevitable response from the Patrick Henry College community telling us that we were unnatural, immoral, unbiblical, you name it.

Instead, the response from Farris was far more disturbing. He said we don’t exist.

In an article published in the Loudoun Times-Mirror this morning, he said, “[Homosexuals] could not sign our honor code,” as “part of the honor code is to be sexually pure.”

“We don’t think that there are any such students,” Farris said of LGBTQ students at the school, adding that the administration thought our blog was a “hoax.”

(Quick! Clap if you believe in fairies!)

Ahem.

There’s a stark difference in the definition of our terms. In the eyes of those like Farris, homosexuality is just a sexual action or sexual lifestyle. For us, it’s an orientation, a marker of personal identity. Is it possible that there are no students having gay sex while enrolled at PHC? Entirely possible. But that doesn’t erase the existence of LGBTQ students at the school.

In a student body where there are so many virgins, why is it difficult to believe in the existence of a gay virgin?

It’s difficult if you believe homosexuality is completely synonymous with having gay sex.

In addition, Farris seems to think that any LGBTQ student who signed the honor code would be lying. But if a student’s sexuality has been repressed for years, they may not even realize they are anything other than straight or cisgender until after they enroll at the school. Personally, I did not begin to come to terms with my orientation until I was nearly ready to graduate. A student may also realize they are LGBTQ, but attempt to suppress it because they believe that being queer is wrong. Enrollment at a school like PHC could be part of a larger attempt to continue to live as straight or cisgender. Finally, since many parents hold the purse strings, some LGBTQ students might not have much of a choice as to where they attend school.

But regardless of why we enrolled at the school, we have all studied at PHC. It’s time to acknowledge our existence.

37 thoughts on “Homosexuality: It’s an Orientation, Not an Action

  1. Just a note to any outside observers…. The opinions of the PHC leaders (specifically as cited in this article) do not reflect the opinions of the entire student body. Sure, there are a lot of students who would agree with Dr. Farris’ assessment, but there is a large minority that are sitting around facepalming at this misguided perspective of homosexuality. As a private college, PHC has the right to mandate an honor code and a belief system for their students, and those who attend must sign an oath to follow it. But that doesn’t excuse a butchered understanding of homosexuality (as an orientation) amongst school leaders.

    • Zach, definitely. There’s a broader range of perspectives within the student body than most caricatures of the school would suggest.

    • Zach, If I could like this comment, I would. Very well-said. I am a little miffed, though not surprised, that Farris is not acting a little more street wise here. Of course there will be students with gay orientation at any Christian school of higher learning.

  2. Farris, and anyone who thinks the way he does, really should read “Torn” by Justin Lee. He does an excellent job at both explaining and illustrating the difference between sexual ATTRACTION and sexual BEHAVIOR.

    I am so sorry that people claiming the name of Christ say such insensitive things.

  3. This is a brave blog, about an important reality: Sexual orientation is not a choice. People are what they are. Kudos to you.

  4. Here’s the funny thing that I have observed over the years, it’s so predicable it’s almost fail proof: those who openly opine the evils and immorality of homosexuality are almost always, homosexual. Ironic isn’t it?

    • Isn’t that always the case? The loudest denouncers of homosexuality are usually those that are closeted, repressed homosexuals themselves. ;)

  5. I applaud what you are doing. Farris is wrong and you will be on the right side of history. Discriminating against people for their sexual orientation is so antiquated. Who the heck cares who someone is attracted to. In the big scheme of things, is it really hurting anyone? I get so damn tired of people using Jesus as their excuse for discriminating against others. I’m sure if Jesus were alive today, he would be appalled at Mr. Farris’ behavior and those like him.

    You are doing something really positive here. Keep it up!

  6. As I once considered myself among the vanguard of Farris critics, I agree that his remarks are generally moronic.

    On the other hand, one of the valuable lessons I learned at PHC (in logic class, no less) was the principle of intellectual charity: interpret someone’s words as the author would want them to be interpreted, that is, in the way that makes them “look best.” Accordingly, it seems that you and Farris are using the term “homosexual” in two different ways. You, Kate, mean “homosexual” to refer to a disposition, a sexuality that may or may not be “chosen,” but is in any case bound up with a person’s identity, not merely his/her conduct. Farris, on the other hand, appears to be referring to homosexual conduct or “active homosexuality”–that is, to people (regardless of their sexuality) who engage in (illicit) sexual conduct with persons of the same sex. Perhaps, more problematically, he refers to “unrepentant homosexuality”: assuming that homosexuality is sinful (like alcoholism–and only for the purposes of argument!), folks who consider themselves dispositionally homosexual and engage in homosexual conduct unapologetically.

    All that said, then, you know as well as I do that the codes of conduct at PHC are, for better or worse, crystal clear. It is against the “rules” to engage in extramarital sexual conduct, heterosexual or homosexual. Setting aside whether such rules are prudent or enforceable, they are the rules, and everyone knows it. As I read it, that’s all that Farris meant. So, no, unless you’re a lying hypocrite, you can’t be a PHC student in good standing and engage in homosexual conduct (or “fornication,” etc., etc.). Right?

    Same goes for all the other rules: you can get kicked out for drinking, for doing drugs, and so on.

    And it doesn’t matter if a person’s sexuality “evolves” while at PHC, or if one didn’t “know” that one couldn’t subscribe to the honor code, statement of faith, etc. Apparently you’re too young to remember the case of the student who converted to Catholicism while at PHC and decided he could no longer sign on to PHC’s statement of faith in good conscience. So he left, and the feeling was mutual from the administration. (Again, these are facts; I wish PHC were more open to Catholic theology–but it isn’t, and that’s clear to everyone.) How is your grievance distinct from the student who converts to a theology that doesn’t conform? How is it different from the student who thinks that recreational drinking is acceptable? How is it different from the student who thinks premarital sex is permissible? Or from the student who thinks chapel shouldn’t be mandatory?

    Look, PHC is what it is. Trust me: I broke more rules than I kept while at PHC, but I was under no illusion that I wouldn’t deserve punishment (or even explusion) if caught. Institutions aren’t obligated to conform to your image of reality.

    • Bugsy, you may very well be correct that that is what Farris meant when he used the word “homosexual.” However, the point is that that is not how the word is used by those of us who are LGBTQ or by society at large. This is exactly the kind of ignorance and misunderstanding that we are hoping to change with the blog. It is far too common for conservatives to say “homosexual” when what they really mean is “a person who is engaging in sex with someone else of the same sex.” That’s not what the word means at all. When they say “heterosexual” they do not mean “a person who is engaging in sex with someone else of the opposite sex,” rather merely that the “heterosexual” person is attracted to members of the opposite sex. (I’ve actually posted about this common misunderstanding by conservatives before, and Kate linked to those posts.)

      I do remember that ‘incident’ with the student converting to Catholicism, and it has not been the only one like it. In some of the cases the student felt the need to leave and did so, but in others the student chose to remain—sometimes with the administration aware of the situation, sometimes not—and was allowed to do so. Even after the ‘evolution’ in by personal beliefs about the sinfulness of being homosexual, I still had no problems agreeing with the honor code, statement of faith, etc.

      We are not arguing that students should be allowed to engage in ‘gay sex’ while at PHC (I happen to be a fan of the college’s admonishing students to wait until marriage to have sex). What we are arguing is that LGBTQ students and alumni should be able to be open about their lives and be able to discuss queer issues without fear of reprisal from the administration or bullying and shaming from their fellow students and alumni.

      • You’re wrong about the “society at large” bit. The LGBTQ movement may want society to interpret the word “homosexual” that way, but that interpretation has been prescribed to society. To say that it has been accepted is an entirely different matter, and one I think you would find not to be true. No matter how badly you want to believe that society should or may someday agree with your interpretation of the word, you do yourself no favors by assuming that everyone else uses the word the way the author of this blog does. That’s like the reasoning the moral majority people use.

        The debate is as much about words as anything, and the author of this blog is a part of that word game as much as ol’ Farris is.

        Meanwhile, much of society would just as soon not be asked to speak on the subject, and many will say whatever they think will avoid a confrontation. If we’re honest, confrontation is what’s left when a lot of this boils down.

        But that doesn’t mean that society agrees that a “homosexual” is any certain thing.

        It’s important to note that the Bible, to which PHC (more or less) staunchly holds, characterizes homosexuality as an act, not describing it as any kind of separate but equal identifying sexuality. Homosexuals are mentioned as such, but in a class of others including gossips and adulterers, implying that they are identified with what they have done. So the Bible does call it a sin. For what it’s worth, however, the Bible also does not seem to distinguish that kind of sin as being uniquely worse than any other kind. It appears to have been the LGBTQ movement’s idea to characterize homosexuals as some “other” kind of human than straight people, which in my opinion was neither empirically justified nor tactically clever on their part. It’s the main flaw in the Du Bois approach to minority politics, in that it guarantees cloistering of the group’s members and some level of ongoing discrimination from non-members due to the need within the group for constant and often adversarial differentiation from those outside it.

        Meanwhile, the church at large needs to remember and lean on the governing truth that it is their job to show God’s love to people, not to judge. I don’t know whether Mike Farris would sit and dine with homosexuals. (He’s surprised me a few times before – maybe he would.) Regardless, I am pretty sure Jesus would have done so.

        • Homosexuals are mentioned as such, but in a class of others including gossips and adulterers, implying that they are identified with what they have done.

          Actually, that’s impossible. As you suggest yourself, the concept of a category of person defined by their sexual orientation, and in fact the concept of sexual orientation itself, did not yet exist when those biblical passages were written. Any translation that purports to refer to such a category of person is false. New words for things don’t appear until a new concept demands them, and the words “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” didn’t appear until the late 19th century.

          Using language to accurately describe material reality is not a game, nor is it a tactical issue. Are “heterosexuals” people who are identified by what they have done, or by something else? Do people have a predominant orientation toward partners of a specific gender, or do they not?

          • One of the foregone conclusions for at least one side of the conversation is that God invented gender, sexuality, and the lexicon in which it is described. You literally just implied that the reason the Bible doesn’t describe it the way you do is that no one had yet thought up your point of view yet. That would seem pretty effectively self-refuting if you think the Bible is canon.

          • @elgaberino, I didn’t mean to imply it, I meant to unequivocally say it. The human beings who wrote down the stories that comprise what we now know as the Bible could only use the words and concepts they had. Those concepts described material reality as they understood it. What most accurately describes material reality today is different because our body of knowledge is different. The fact that human beings are born with predominantly one neurological gender or the other and are oriented toward intimacy with people of one gender or the other is something that we have come to understand, just as we have come to understand that our planet orbits the sun and not the other way around. Neither of those facts negates the value of the Bible, in my view – but they do require us to apply discernment in a different way. I don’t see how framing the issue as “God invented these concepts and the lexicon that describes them” is helpful, except as a way of saying it’s pointless to converse with someone for whom it’s a forgone conclusion that nothing you have to say matters because they already know everything. And I would have to agree with that. Both sides in a conversation have to agree that there’s something to discuss.

        • Also, Mike Farris explicitly cited scripture to justify not sitting down to “even a meal with such people” when Soulforce was here, so I think his answer to that is “no.” Unless he’s changed his mind.

          • *Thinking* …WHAT verse could he possibly use for that? (Although I have to say from what I read, I felt those “Soulforce” people were just looking for confrontation. I am so tired of all the people just looking to stir one another up. Have you heard of that conservative comedian guy who keeps going around pissing off picketing union members, then acting like he’s accomplished something?)

          • I Corinthians: 11

            But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

            This is just a wild guess, but I’m thinking he believes that LGBTQ people are “sexually immoral.” Whereas I believe that, while we are capable of either sexually moral or immoral behavior just as any cisgender or heterosexual person is, pretending to be other than how we were knitted together in the womb is definitely immoral, as is the demand that we do so.

          • Quite right. I am straight, and I wanted to break the honor code in lots of other ways that I didn’t. Wanting to do this or that doesn’t preclude you from signing. I mean, God is the judge of the heart. If you have an attitude of doing something without doing it, he considers that the same thing as doing it. But for purposes of a human institution like a school, no one can take that role. All they can really judge is your actions. So that’s all they can ask you to control.

  7. Hey all. I just wanted to say that at least one family in purcellville gIves you our full support. And while I may not be LGBTQ, I have many friends who are and I’m sure they will agree when I say we all send our love and luck you collective way. Blessed Be!

  8. Just saw an article about this website on the Loudoun Times website. Full support here in Sterling and Fairfax! Gonna tweet/facebook/everything else about this.

  9. Kudos to you for having the courage to write and maintain this blog. Please know there are many religious people – even Christians – who do not engage in this kind of bigotry. Fight the good fight my friends! J.B. Good

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  11. Shame on you. Lesbian and gay students at PHC need a voice that represents them with dignity and respect. By calling yourselves “queer” you are reinforcing everything PHC believes about you. I am fully aware of the view that calling gay people “queer” is cutting edge and progressive. It is neither. It hasn’t been cutting edge for 20 years. And it isn’t remotely progressive. Gay people aren’t queer. When you assert that they are, you are allying yourselves with the ideology of PHC.

    • This kind of reminds me of how annoying I found the name of the LGBT group at my college: TEA, which stood for “Tolerance, Education and Acceptance.” Nice group, terrible name. Education is a fabulous idea, but what kind of internal shame must one have to have “tolerance” as a goal? Or even “acceptance,” for that matter. I simply expect to be accepted as who I am, I don’t request it, and I sure don’t feel the need to show those who irrationally hate me that I’m just as good and nice and wholesome as they are – because they are none of those things.

      So I must respectfully disagree, Steve. It seems to me that cringing like a kicked dog at the term “queer” is what would reinforce the smug and false notions about us held by the overlords at PHC – that we should see what makes us different from cisgender and/or heterosexual people as a kind of unfortunate burden or liability, at best something to be minimized as we try our best to seem just like them. It only works as a slur if we believe that about ourselves. But it isn’t a liability, it’s a gift. Whatever you happen to believe about God and creation, queer people have perspectives and knowledge about sexuality and gender that straight folks don’t have direct access to, and they can benefit tremendously from what we have to teach them. Dignity and respect? That’s when we say sorry, but the fact is that your “slur” means exactly the opposite of what you thought it did.

  12. You may not know this. but saying that homosexuality is just an orientation and then embedding yourself in the “LGBTQ” paradigm creates an irreconcilable tension. You’re right, in the abstract, that the mere fact of a particular shape to your eros does not necessarily imply anything more than that. But I have been around, out and happily homo for decades, and “LGBTQ” carries with it an almost inescapable set of other values and, yes, agendas, that you can’t control, that have a life of their own. So I have to say that, as honestly innocent as your intent may be, for this school to accept you would eventually mean that it would be continually pressured to compromise its beliefs. I have never yet seen a scenario in any institution where the original cry of “All we want is….” stopped there. Never. And that’s something, IMHO, that you cannot control. I am no fundamentalist Christian, but I believe people have the right to shape and limit their communities, religions included. You knew that beforehand. If you want to be accepted as “LGBTQ” –a Yugoslav-style political hodgepodge based NOT on sexual desire but on gender rejection, btw– then find somewhere else to go and leave that school alone. There are a lot more important things than your feelings.

    • Do you even realize that in the U.S., many students don’t have a choice about where to go to college until they turn 25? Until a student turns 25, the parents are required to provide financial information on the student’s FAFSA form, and are generally expected to make a substantial financial contribution (often an amount that the student cannot realistically obtain from other sources) towards the student’s education. Since many Christian fundamentalist parents will not provide FAFSA information or funds for their offspring to go to a non-fundamentalist college, many students at institutions such as PHC don’t actually have the option of finding somewhere else to go. These students therefore have to choose between their identity and their education. If you’re so set on students not going to colleges that don’t fit their beliefs, you should lobby for increased financial aid opportunities for students without parental support.

      • I grew up poor. Worked during and for a while after high school before going to PHC. Paid for college largely myself. My parents didn’t help pay. I got other help, but none of it was federal loans. Accepting help from your parents, and then blaming them for your inability to go anywhere else, is patently disingenuous.

        • @elgaberino: Congratulations on successfully funding your education.

          I think this question has already been addressed – in many cases, these students don’t have the opportunity to explore who they are apart from their parents’ expectations before going to college. We’re talking about 17 and 18 year olds. If you were completely aware of and comfortable with your own sexuality at that age, again, congratulations. Perhaps you didn’t grow up in an authoritarian family that dismissed or punished any hint of self-exploration or independent thought. You might benefit from reading some of the blogs written by former members of the quiverfull subculture. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/ is a resource where you can find testimony of the kind of independence-crushing abuse that you were presumably fortunate enough not to experience.

          It might seem to you terribly courageous and romantic and principled for a young person in such a situation to stand up to their parents, but even outside the PHC community it too often results in that young person ending up on the street with nothing – no family, no church, no marketable skills, no means to an education, and extraordinarily vulnerable to abuse by predators, all because the people who are supposed to love them unconditionally failed in their responsibility to do so. How flippant and easy it is for you to call those who understand their situation, and therefore bide their time and get their feet under them as adults “disingenuous.” They are anything but. The proprietors of this blog didn’t have to put their time and talent into this project; they could have quietly graduated and gone on to live their lives, leaving those who came after them at PHC to fend for themselves. What they are doing takes tremendous courage and integrity and love.

          Another thing I think you miss is that, while private institutions enjoy freedom of association, anyone who is part of an institution is also free to advocate for change within it when it does things they feel are harmful. Much of the criticism of this blog seems dependent on the idea that anyone who disagrees with PHC’s position on human sexuality is obligated to “leave them alone.” Not true. Students, alumni and employees have every right to advocate for positive change, especially if they love and value the school. Such advocacy does not violate the First Amendment rights of the school’s administrators – they just don’t like it.

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