“the homosexual lifestyle” — a rhetoric of bigotry

The term “the homosexual lifestyle” has appeared a number of times on this blog in the last few months. I continue to be perplexed every time I see it and hear it in the church or society. Along with all those other terms that are used against the lgbt community, it is a term that somehow carries enormous weight and meaning in our society despite the fact that it really should not be considered a valid term. My problem is that I don’t often hear this term (or other similar language) challenged for what it is — bigotry. I’d really love it if this ridiculous language would stop, both on the blog, and in church and society.

The Homosexual Lifestyle. The Homosexual Agenda. Against Family Values. Against God. Unnatural. I’m sure you can think of some yourself. Wasn’t the same of rhetoric used against other hated people in the past? Jews? Communists? Multiracial couples? Check out this comparison between the Anti-Semitic language and propaganda used by the Nazis and Anti-Gay language and propaganda seen today.

These phrases carry all the fear and stereotypes against lgbt people that no one can quite put into words. Maybe it is because everyone knows those fears and stereotypes don’t reflect reality but they all hold them anyway. Maybe it is because no one wants to admit to the freakish and sick fantasies that straights have of what lgbt people do. Instead, these vague euphemisms are used to insinuate everything that straights hate and fear but are afraid to say about gays. Even more, I wonder if these euphemisms are used to insinuate everything straights hate and fear about themselves but would rather foist on lgbt people? By existing, and being out, and demanding equality, and challenging traditional gender norms, and being unapologetically sexual, lgbt people fly in the face of convention and are somehow enormously threatening. I think it is because we are honest.

So, let me try to deconstruct this term just a little bit.

“The homosexual lifestyle” seems to insinuate dark things like promiscuity, pornography, prostitution, polygamy, gender roles, anal sex, oral sex, kinky sex, desire, immorality, disease, child molestation, perversion, fornication, pathology, subversive elements, and the commoditization of sex and sexuality. You could even throw in self-indulgence, control of the media, wealth and elitism, obsession with style, and butches or femmes if you wanted. I would ask if any or all of these exist as part of “the heterosexual lifestyle?” or maybe even the “the American lifestyle?” These stereotypes no more (and no less) represent the lgbt community than mainstream entertainment media represents the non-lgbt community. I’ll try to not judge you straight folk from what I see on primetime television (Desperate Housewives anyone?) if you try not to judge lgbt people from what you hear from your homophobic families or churches as well as the media.

Maybe I’m wrong and the “homosexual lifestyle” just means gays and lesbians loving eachother and living lives just like all the straights? Why would anyone have a problem with that? That doesn’t seem scary or mysterious enough to me to carry weight it does in society.

As far as the Homosexual Agenda — my only agenda is gaining equal rights in church and society and picking up bread on the way home from work today. So I ask you all to consider the language you hear used against the lgbt community and the language you use. Let’s frame the discussion in ways that are valid and useful without using stereotypes or the coded language of hate and bigotry. Most of what I’ve seen on YAR has been great, let’s take it even further.

In case you need an example of homophobia rearing its ugly head in langauge, propaganda, and politics: Putting The ‘Hate’ In Hate Crimes.

Comments (20)

  1. joe

    that article you posted at the end was remarkable. i, myself have often wondered what the “gay agenda” was and who were the masterminds that organized it.
    i’ll be honest, i do not fall in the camp of homosexuality being ok. i just dont. but God has been teaching me about how we “define” people and label them. i used to belive there was some sort of “homosexual agenda” and there was some grand consipracy to “bring down america”. i dont see it that way anymore.
    anyways, just saying it was a good write up. it was good to read and the article you posted with it was fantastic too. it’s nice to see, while we wouldnt agree on all aspects of this topic, there is a common ground.

  2. Dan S

    I always thought “Homosexual Lifestyle” was meant to mean “promiscious sex with strangers”.

    I will risk stereotypes here and say that, yes indeed, there is more promiscious sex among male homosexuals than male hetereosexuals. But the only reason that happens is that there are no women around to provide the brakes. I don’t see much promiscuity with Lesbians. In fact, Lesbians tend to be not terribly promisicous compared to the average coed.

    So, perhaps we should relabel it: “Male Sexual Lifestyle”, which I’m convinced must come with its own “Male Agenda” as well.

  3. michelle


    I’m curious about where you’re getting your statistics. There are a lot of assumptions in what you just wrote. You seem to be assuming:

    1) women in general don’t like sex as much as men (or “put on the brakes” for some reason)


    2) men in general don’t have self-control when it comes to sex

    Where do these assumptions come from? Personal experience and actual observations (and if so, how large is the circle of people you are observing)? Academic research? (and if so, could you give citations? and what are the researchers’ backgrounds/biases?)

    In addition, you state that “there is more promiscuous sex among male homosexuals than male heterosexuals” and “Lesbians tend to be not terribly promiscuous compared to the average coed.”

    I’ll set aside the use of the word “coed” for now (a term that is out of date and pejorative) and just ask again: Are you stating these things as facts? If so, again, I ask you where you’re getting your stats. You’re making some pretty major claims. Do others on this blog have access to any actual statistics on promiscuity male/female; homosexual/heterosexual)? I’ve been looking on the Kinsey Institute site, but haven’t been able to find anything yet…

  4. jdaniel

    Dan S,

    With all due respect, I don’t think you’ve got a lot to stand on in your assertion that there is more promiscuous sex occuring among male homosexuals than male heterosexuals. I don’t have any data to refute you per se, but it seems to me that you are making an assumption that is probably not particularly helpful here. You know what assuming can do, right?

    The fact of the matter is that for many Anabaptists any lifestyle involving homosexuality does not exist (conceptually or otherwise), except as “the homosexual lifestyle” which as you and Katie point out is thought to be one of unfathomable promiscuity [my own emphasis]. We can deal with the heterosexual promiscuity in society around us (and/or within our borders) because we have purposefully developed a sub-culture built on strong heterosexual marriages and families. In other words, we have a sanctioned lifestyle in which heterosexuality can be safely and “properly” expressed. There is no such thing for the lgbt community in the church.

    I think part of what Katie and others are saying is that we need to stop assuming that homosexual = promiscuous, dirty, etc. And we need to start making space, not only for dialog, but for lgbt members (i.e. we need to allow them to be members) of our churches and communities to show us how to include them in our framework of sexuality as followers of Jesus.

    p.s. thanks Michelle for your very diplomatic approach!

  5. Dan S

    The larger point that I’m trying to make (badly, it seems), is that homosexuality has nothing to do with promiscuity. My claim is that any extra promiscuity that happens amongs homosexuals is due to maleness, not homosexuality.

    This is all based on personal observation, so yes, if there are scientific studies that say this is all wrong, I’d love to see the data too.

    I went to Indiana University 20 years ago, so yes, I could be culturally out of date as well. And note that a secular Big Ten school is going to be very different from a small Christian college. But at that time, my gay male friends were much more promisicous than my my gay female friends, and my straight male friends were much more promiscuious than my straight female friends. I don’t believe it is sex drive so much as there are (or were) more social constraints put on women than men regarding sex. If you don’t think that’s true anymore, I’d love to hear how you think it has changed.

    But I do think sex drive plays into it too. I think men think about sex a lot more than women do. This isn’t to say men can’t control it, or that women don’t have sex drives. Women in general enjoy sex every bit as much as men do, but it doesn’t seem to be in their heads as much as it generally is for men. Again, I would welcome any studies that would disabuse me of these notions.

    Nor does it mean that gay mean are unable to control their sex drives. I know a number of gay men in long-term committed relationships, who I wish would be welcomed by all churches, and who could be legally married. Any percieved prejudice in my remarks above should be ascribed to my opinion of men’s sexual attitudes, not homosexuality, nor any specific people.

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  7. Skylark

    A couple of years ago, I encountered a Christian who claimed homosexuality is wrong partly because it is synonymous with promiscuity. Then he tossed out some ridiculous, misleading statistics: one saying the average homosexual sleeps with 1,000 people a year, and the other saying less than 1% of homosexual encounters last longer than a year. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that pissed me off.

    I decided to do some checking. I’ll have to dig through my boxes of college projects to find the studies I read, but here’s a fairly decent synopsis:

    -Men in homosexual settings tend to have more sexual partners and temporary sexual pairings than men in heterosexual settings.
    -Men in heterosexual settings tend to have more sexual partners and temporary sexual pairings than women in heterosexual settings.
    -Women in heterosexual settings tend to have more sexual partners and temporary sexual pairings than women in homosexual settings.

    *When men have sex with other men, there are more sexual advances made and more expressed desire to have sex with many people.
    *When women have sex with other women, there is more emphasis on long-term relationship and a desire not to seem too pushy.
    *Lesbian couples reported fewer requests for sex from the partner than gay couples reported.
    *Heterosexual couples reported incidents of sexual requests that fell in the middle between the gay and lesbian couples. In those cases, the male made most of the sexual requests.

    Several researchers suggested this was a function of gender roles, whether by nature or nurture. In social conditioning, women are taught not to take up too much space (as somone recently said on YAR), and not to seem greedy or pushy. A horny woman is less likely to ask her partner for sex than a horny man if she perceives her partner may not want to for whatever reason.

    My interpretation of this:
    If a person wants to claim that promiscuity rates are a good measure of “sin” for a form of sexual expression, then we ought to be raising up lesbians as the example of virtue. Or maybe the asexual people–they’re fewer and farther between, but I’m pretty sure research would indicate they don’t sleep around much at all. ;-)

    Back to Katie’s point: I totally hear ya. This mischaracterization of “the homosexual lifestyle” is a big part of why I long felt extremely uncomfortable with the belief that homosexuality is sin. My dad’s gay cousin and the cousin’s long-term partner never pushed their sexual identity on the family. They just wanted to be loved as an equal part of the family. There’s nothing insidious about that.

  8. Dan S

    Thanks Skylark. That is essentially what I am saying, and I’m glad there is some research to back it up. Homosexuality does not *cause* promiscuity. Being male, whether by nature or nurture, is a bigger contributor to promiscuity, so when anyone makes generalizations about the “homosexual lifestyle”, they are really making generalizations about a “male sexual lifestyle”

    I love the point that if lack of promiscuity is an important behavioral value, then lesbians should be raised up as examples of virtue. Amen.

  9. folknotions

    Michelle: I applaud your response, however I am much less diplomatic than you, to my own failing.


    I think you have based far too much of your opinion on this matter on your own personal experience.

    Anecdotal evidence for determining the very personal, sexual practice of an entire group of people is highly suspect. A lot of straight white guys I know play hockey. Does that mean straight white guys in general play hockey?

    Especially when you claim to know that women think of sex more or less. I think it’s a tenuous thread to follow when you assume the thoughts of another person, much less a whole group of people.

    Maybe I should post this as something new for discussion, but I don’t want to start another thread.

    I hold to scripture as my primary teacher. As such, I submit the following:

    1) The Mennonite Church Canada or US has never made a statement which has conclusively grounded anti-queer teaching in the Bible. Much more comes from the Confession of Faith which does not explicitly determine a stance on being queer with biblical backing. Loren M. Johns has arranged the following list of statements regarding queer sexual practice:

    1a)They have never grounded it in scripture because you can’t conclusively find it in scripture.

    2)Anti-gay sentiment stems not from scriptural Christian teaching but from secular gender assumptions (i.e., “dudes do chicks and chicks do dudes, and dudes don’t do dudes because that’s gross and chicks can do chicks but only if they do guys too”). On top of the immature, though commonly accepted secular argument that I just used for an example, it is thought that queer women are forsaking their responsibility to settle down and have kids…or that they haven’t found the right man yet. I think you find more of these sentiments come from secular assumptions rather than Pauline teaching.

    3) Talking about “natural” and “unnatural” sexual practice is a fishy area. I submit, despite even those who identify as queer and say “this is how God made me”, that sexuality is always a choice, even for heterosexuals, but heterosexuality is considered “natural” because it has institutional support.

    Any thoughts?

  10. Skylark

    Folknotions said: “3) Talking about “natural” and “unnatural” sexual practice is a fishy area. I submit, despite even those who identify as queer and say “this is how God made me”, that sexuality is always a choice, even for heterosexuals, but heterosexuality is considered “natural” because it has institutional support.”

    What and who you do is a choice, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that any person could choose to be attracted to someone they’re not. People fall in all points on the continuum between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual. While the people closer to the middle may have some influence over their interests, I’ve know people who are simply so straight or so gay by nature that no amount of trying by them or others could change that. And certainly a person’s interests can change over time, but I doubt most people can do it by sheer willpower.

    “[…]queer women are forsaking their responsibility to settle down and have kids…or that they haven’t found the right man yet.”
    I had to chuckle when I read this line, folknotions, because my first thought was, “Or it could be that I’m just straight until I find the right woman.” :-D

  11. folknotions

    Skylark…hahaha I like that turn at the end.

    I agree that it’s not a choice that can easily be swayed or changed like underwear. I am advancing Foucault’s theory of sexuality being a choice, since it has been different in every culture, we choose our sexual practice and also choose how we view sex. I think there can is a much more cogent argument to be made in that regard, rather than trying to talk about being “born queer” or “born straight”. Instead, we recognize sexuality as something which is molded by society. In our society, we mold people to have monogamous heterosexual relationships. Any deviation from the norm is marginalized.

  12. Dan S

    I think you have based far too much of your opinion on this matter on your own personal experience.

    folknotions, I understand the desire to want men and women to be the same in most ways. After all, it is percieved differences that have subjugated women for most of human history (because those percieved differences usually favor men in attaining or retaining power). The recent decision by Lancaster conference to redact women’s ordination papers is a depressingly minor example, given the scope of history in this area.

    But c’mon, it isn’t really that controversial to claim men and women are built differently when it comes to sex. Whether it is a lifetime of personal observation or the actual data that Skyelark referened, it makes sense, given that the main biologicial difference between men and women are their sex organs and their hormones.

    Let’s not let our common desire for equality between the sexes straightjacket us into believing they must be the same in all ways all the time.

  13. folknotions


    I think you should re-read my post. I said nothing regarding whether women and men must be the same in all ways all the time. In fact, I don’t believe they should be expected to be the same. However, I think both sexes should have the same FREEDOM. You are confusing two different ideas.

    Additionally, my comment on you basing your opinion on personal experience has little to do with the argument you presented in response to me and the one I presented in response above. My original argument still stands, that when you make assumptions about sexual practice, or gender expression, based on some people you know, you are not providing a sound argument.

  14. Skylark

    folknotions, I think you’re saying something quite different about choice than I originally thought you were.

    Here’s what I think you’re saying: Collectively, as a society, we choose which expressions of sexuality to endorse and attractions to view as natural. It’s not so much one person choosing this or that but the social pressures that guide how we view our sexual experiences and feelings.

  15. folknotions


    Yes, that’s exactly right on one of the two points I’m making. I think sexuality is twice interpreted.

    It is once interpreted by personal choice and then (and before)by societal choice. Society is much more fixed than the individual, much more slow moving. Society molds sexuality and the individuals within the society mold the society. However, there is always room for change in society, since society can never actually stay fixed as it would hope to.

    Therefore, there are two choices being made

    1)we make a personal choice with regard to our sexuality.
    2( But before we’ve made that choice, society (which pre-dates us) has made a choice about what is natural and worth endorsing.

    Consequently, society informs our decision with regard to our choice of sexuality.

    Now, when I say “choice”, it’s not like other choices like whether or not to have a hamburger for dinner or if you’re going to college to be a doctor or a lawyer. It is a choice with the consequence of determining your identity, since so much of our identity in this culture is bound up in our sexual expression. That’s why I’m saddened to see the church identify members based on their sexual expression.

  16. Dan S

    folknotions, it seems we and others are talking past each other. No where am I implying people shouldn’t have freedom to be who they are.

    Life experience can be a faulty way to discern truth, but it can also be entirely accurate. I would guess the criticism I’m recieving is based on other people’s life experience or worldview rather than scientific study. Pointing out that there exists flaws in certain deductive reasoning (e.g., male hockey players) doesn’t really say much about the issue at hand.

  17. jdaniel

    Dan, just so you know, i felt like your response to my criticism (and Michelle’s) cleared up most of my questions. you clarified your point and admitted that you were making some generalizations.

    folknotions, as if this wasnt’ enough to lose me,

    Additionally, my comment on you basing your opinion on personal experience has little to do with the argument you presented in response to me and the one I presented in response above.

    i was afraid you had lost me with your notions of choice. are you saying that (1) given our sexuality (i.e. some inner drive we don’t have a choice about) we make a choice or choices about how to express that sexuality and that (2) society also prospectively chooses to label/critique/value/devalue/etc. our sexuality and its expression?

  18. folknotions


    The material you quoted from me above is definitely confusing. I was trying to follow the thread in both my comments and Dan S.’s comments that I think were getting off topic. Probably best just to disregard at this point.

    You have my notions of choice exactly right. I think we are born with sexuality (the inner drive) but at some point we choose how to express that sexuality, which represents a spectrum of choices (exclusively hetero, exclusively homo, bisexual, pansexual….).

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  20. Jim

    You guys are making this way too difficult. I’m a gay man. I have always been gay and have always been a man. I don’t recall ever having made the choice to be gay or to be a man. As a child nothing traumatic happended to me, my home was stable, my father was a good guy and I was born into and raised in the church. I was very conservative, and still am, when it comes to dating and sexual activity. I dated girls until I was 28 but in my heart I knew I was living a lie. Plain and simple, I am and have always been gay. Even as a child before I understood the concept of sexuality, I remember catching myself looking at men and admiring them both physically and intellectually. I must ask you straight folks, did you chose to be heterosexual and if you are a man do you not have any control over your sexual behavior? Again, I don’t recall ever making the decision to be gay, I just am. And even though I’m a man, I am perfectly capable of expressing myself sexually in an appropriate manner and in appropriate places. Lighten up people. Live and let live. Life is too short to be waiting time on debating sexual preference.

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