What is homosexual? 

What Does Homosexual Actually Mean?

Some of this stuff seems so basic and obvious.  But even now in the year 2000, in many churches, and in the wider community, ignorance seems to reign!

Some Terms

'Gay' is a term often used to refer to homosexual men.

'Lesbian' is a term often used to refer to homosexual women.

Coming out' refers to telling people that one is homosexual.

'Outing' is the publicising by others about a person's homosexuality, either to try and get them discriminated against in some way, or to gain status for homosexuals groups by showing that prominent people of good reputation are homosexual. 'Outing' can have severe effects on a person's life, ranging from verbal abuse to loss of job or accommodation, and even to being severely bashed or worse.
It is important to be aware if people are 'publicly out.'  The fact that we learn of someone's sexual preference, does not mean it is appropriate to tell others.

'Homophobia' is the fear, revulsion, and hatred of homosexuals. Often we project our own repressed fears of being homosexual onto gay and lesbian people. 'The secret that the homophobe wishes to keep from him or herself is that he or she, too, might feel sexually attracted to a person of the same sex.(2) This can be subtle. One place I know, doesn't mind Mary's homosexuality, "It's just her personality problems…." No one else seems to have "personality problems."

There is considerable confusion about what the word homosexual actually means!

    When I was at school, a male teacher molested a boy at a neighbouring school. Our community called him a 'homosexual'.

    Some people think 'homosexuals' are the people who do weird and disgusting things in public toilets, or in gaols or on long naval cruises.(3)

    Others say homosexuals are ill. Some say 'it' can be healed, others that it is genetic in origin.

    During childhood there may be experimentation between members of the same sex, which passes as they become older. Adolescence may bring confusion about one's sexuality identity, and experimentation.(4) Some call this homosexuality.

In strict terms 'homosexual' pertains to the sexual attraction that most adults feel - except that attraction is to someone of the same gender. Some people are strongly heterosexual, some are strongly homosexual. Many people can witness that occasionally they will feel some homosexual attraction. Most of us fit on a graduation between

exclusively homosexual ----------- exclusively heterosexual (5)

'Homosexual' is simply an adjective meaning 'the same sex' 'Homo' is not from the Latin for 'man. It's from the Greek for 'same.'

Heterosexuals are not always blameless and homosexuals always bad. Heterosexuals are not just faithfully married men and women. Heterosexuals also manage "adultery, fornication, divorce, promiscuity, prostitution, sadomasochism, rape, incest, and child sexual abuse." All 'heterosexual' says is that a person prefers a sexual partner of the opposite sex. ....All 'homosexual' says is that a person prefers a sexual partner of the same sex. Both groups of people act out behaviours which are sometimes healthy and sometimes pathological and destructive.(6)

In the world of medicine and psychiatry homosexuality has ceased to be defined as an illness. The judgement of the American Psychiatric Association is that it 'is a variant, not deviant, form of sexuality.(7) The majority of homosexual people are psychologically healthy.

Sexual behaviour with children (paedophilia) (8) is due to immature sexual development (and perhaps moral development) on the part of the perpetrator. It may seem 'homosexual' in nature, but it doesn't happen because the perpetrator is homosexual, but because of the immaturity and/or illness of the perpetrator. Most child molesters are heterosexual.

Homosexuals do not lead other (perhaps younger) people into homosexuality. It is frequently assumed that homosexuals are child molesters. This is the 'received wisdom.' But, Teesdale states,
'A comprehensive American study seeking to provide guidelines for the employment of teachers reveals no evidence that homosexual teachers are more likely to harm the children they teach than teachers who are heterosexual..... Unquestionably child molestation is a reality, but this is an abuse perpetrated by a minority of psychologically maladjusted people, a few of whom have a homosexual orientation; many more however, are heterosexually inclined.(9)

'Child molestation [is]… pretty much of a dead issue. A large proportion of homosexual (sic - Jan) offences are perpetrated by mentally ill men who have also molested females at one time or another. At least 75% …. have heterosexual histories and 50% are married…. two-thirds [were] older friends of their victims or family members.'(10)

In some cases heterosexual adults indulge in homosexual behaviour, eg in prisons, where there is no heterosexual outlet. Toilet homosexual behaviour is often done by heterosexual males, including married men. Homosexual rape by heterosexual males occurs. The Uniting Church does not and will not condone any such behaviour. It is clearly promiscuous and/or violent, and against the biblical injunction to love our neighbour.

A Question Of Behaviour?
There has been a major divide over the definition of homosexuality during the Uniting Church debate. There are some who maintain it is a 'condition.' That is; it is something innate in a person over which they have no choice.... they just are homosexual. Others say it is not a 'condition', but simply a 'behaviour.' That is; one always basically chooses to be homosexual, even if the reasons are very deep seated in one's past. There is no innate condition as such. (11)

These two positions reflect two things.

Firstly, the experience of homosexual people and scientific researchers. That is; there are data which tend to support both positions.

Secondly, the positions often reflect hidden agendas such as 'Gay is OK', or 'It cannot be a condition but must be a heal-able behaviour because of what the Bible says about it.' Often people's attitudes about what homosexuality actually is, may be coloured by whether they already have a relatively positive attitude or a very negative attitude. Those who are more tolerant tend toward seeing it as a condition, and those who are less tolerant tend toward seeing it simply as a behaviour.

Despite this, there are men and women of impeccable behaviour, psychologically healthy, including Christians, who are 'homosexual'. That is, they are sexually attracted to members of the same gender. And they claim this is not something they have consciously chosen, but that it is just how they are.

We need to accept that there are others who have felt themselves to be 'homosexual' who experience some kind of healing. Neither side can deny the felt experience of the other.

What Causes Homosexuality?
Despite some confident statements, this is an area of scientific uncertainty. I don't propose to re-hash the debate.

However, I object to one thing. Some assert that homosexuality is simply behaviour coming from childhood conditioning only. In principle this means it should be able to be healed. (12) I am not a psychologist, but I do not think it necessarily follows that because something is only psychological conditioning- and the jury is still well out on that anyway- it can therefore be healed or 'undone', as it were.

Can there be 'healing'?
To use the word 'healing', is to load the question It may be fairer to ask if gender orientation can be changed.

Many homosexual people have sought 'treatment'. Many kinds of treatment have been attempted. Where people are young and highly motivated, professionals report about 30% success. This is mostly with people who experience some heterosexual arousal. But more often no treatment is successful in causing change.

A Uniting Church report said it could find no occasions where prayer, or charismatic experiences were claimed to cause a change that were. "confirmed by adequate professional assessment." Sometimes people cease homosexual behaviour, but the basic attraction to the same gender remains. (13)

Change appears possible in some situations. It does not seem possible in others. Teesdale notes that 'An absolute suppression of homosexual feelings in a person can cause debilitating psychological illness. (14)

Indeed many homosexual people report wholeness and healing comes when they have accepted, rather than repressed, their homosexuality.

'Sister Mary' said that in accepting her sexual identity, she experienced the gospel "in a way so powerful that I find myself saying and doing things I would never have dreamed of saying or doing" before. She felt like Jesus had personally said to her: 'Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you' (Mark 5:19) (15)

When are We Having Sex?
What actually constitutes a sexual act? Many in the UCA say homosexual people can be in the church but must refrain from sexual activity. Sexual intercourse constitutes a sexual act. We would probably agree that the formal kisses we unwillingly gave unfamiliar relatives at the insistence of our parents were not a sexual act. But let us think back to teenage years. Where did petting actually start? What constituted right and wrong? How much sexuality is there in our relationships with friends who are not our spouses? These are hard questions to answer. It is very hard not to relate to people in ways that exclude our gender and sexual orientation. If this is true, what exactly do people mean, when they say homosexual people must refrain from sexual activity?



(2) Ruether pp 30-31
(3) Borhek pp 108 In sexually segregated situations, such as prison or military service, normally heterosexual person may turn to homosexual acts because the opportunity for these is available but heterosexual opportunities are not. The behaviour usually ceases when heterosexual opportunities are available.
(5) Teesdale pp 2
(6) Borhek pp 108
(7) Grammick, J. Homosexuality In The Priesthood And The Religious Life. (Crossroads 1989) pp x
(8) Grammick pp xii
(9) Teasdale, Jennie Understanding Homosexuality (A Background Paper To The UCA SA Synod October 1990) pp 7
(10) Fairchild, B. and Hayward, N. Now That You Know, What every parent should know about Homosexuality (Harvest/HBJ 1979) pp 110
(11) This was the position of a paper by Rev. Cindy Pattishall-Baker during 1991-2. Pattishall-Baker, C. Homosexuality, A Modern Appraisal pp 7
(12)) Pattishall-Baker pp 1 ff.
(13) UCA Assembly Homosexuality and the Church pp 16- 17
(14) Teasdale pp 7
(15) Sister Mary "The Lost Coin" in Grammick pp 60


      Jan Thomas