Not My Identity
By Joseph Bowman
Christian artist Matthew West sings one of my favourite Christian contemporary songs. Its title is “Hello, My Name Is.” And the first verse starts out like this:
Hello, my name is regret.
I’m pretty sure we have met.
Every single day of your life,
I’m the whisper inside,
That won’t let you forget.
Hello, my name is defeat.
I know you recognize me.
Just when you think you can win,
I’ll drag you right back down again,
Til you’ve lost all belief.
Oh, these are the voices,
And these are the lies.
And I have believed them,
for the very last time
Hello, my name is child of the one true king.
Hello. My name is Joseph Bowman. I am a child of the one true king.
I am exclusively same-sex attracted and I have been my entire life. But my identity is not in my sexual orientation. It never has been. My identity is in Jesus Christ. I am a child of the one true king.
Growing up, I was the shortest, smallest, scrawniest, most unathletic kid in school. I was bullied, teased, picked on, called every name in the book, including sissy, fag, queer. You name it, I was called it. Even into university, I was still the smallest kid and the bullying continued – even worse – in the dorm. I had my room sacked, my clothing and belongings stolen or broken intentionally, food sabotaged and I was hazed more than once.
And, oh yeah. I figured out that I liked boys and not girls. But… growing up in a Christian family being “gay” was just unthinkable. Those were two things that just don’t play nicely in the same sandbox together.
From my university years onward… I spent 20 years of my life begging God to make me straight. If there was a book written in the 1980s and 1990s for Christians who wanted to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, I owned it. These books were supposed to fix me.
For the next two decades, I went to prayer and healing ministries. I saw a Christian counselor for 17 years. I went to ex-gay reparative therapy support groups. I participated in the Living Waters program (another program for people with sexual brokenness), twice in fact. I attended several Exodus International ex-gay conferences for many years. These things were supposed to fix me.
In 1997, I began to feel the first deep stirrings toward a call to ministry in my life. In August 1999, I packed up my belongings and I moved to St. Louis, Missouri to begin the M.Div. program at Covenant Theological Seminary. Seminary was supposed to fix me. Seminary was really supposed to fix me.
A year later, I dropped out of seminary, a very broken man. I was supposed to be fixed and I wasn’t. I went to a ex-gay reparative therapy live-in program in Memphis, Tennessee called Love in Action.
This was supposed to fix me. In fact, that’s pretty much what that live-in program “promised” to do. Go through their counselling and therapy; work what they tell you to do and you’ll be rid of your same-sex attractions. It didn’t work.
I came home to Canada and I continued to see a Christian counsellor every other week for another six years. This was supposed to fix me. Do you see the pattern?
In 2005, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation I had attended in Toronto for more than a decade got a new pastor. I was very forthcoming about my life journey. This pastor said: “So, you’ve been in reparative conversion therapy for 15 years and you aren’t healed yet?” My answer was no. My attractions had not changed despite all these years of therapy.
Less than two weeks later, I got an email from this pastor – not a letter, not a face-to-face conversation… an email. He deemed that I was (direct verbatim quote): “too needy and too broken” to be allowed to come to church… “and until he had psychological proof that [I] could relate to people in a healthy way” I was no longer wanted or welcome at church. I was disfellowshipped. Too needy and too broken to be allowed to come to church. That’s what I was told. I could have run away from God and church and faith, but I did not. I continued to see my therapist every other week for another two years. This was supposed to fix me.
In the summer of 2007, my counsellor looked me square in the eye and he said: “Joseph, if this never goes away... if you are never healed of your same-sex attractions... WILL YOU STILL FOLLOW CHRIST?”
And my initial answer was no. No way. Absolutely not. I wanted to be fixed. I wanted to be married with kids and a house with a white picket fence like normal people. How could I possibly continue to trust in God if I’m never going to be healed of this. It didn’t matter that I had never once acted on my attractions – and I still never have, by the way – I just wanted to be fixed. I wanted my attractions gone. I wanted change. I wanted to be straight.
And my counsellor said to me, “Joseph, the issue isn’t that you’re same-sex attracted. The issue is that YOU HATE YOURSELF BECAUSE OF IT.” And he was right.
Within a week, almost all my self-hatred was gone. All my self-loathing was gone. I had a sense of self-worth and self-esteem restored. And for all intents and purposes, I came screaming out of the closet. Coming out email sent to over 400 people, rainbow flag bumper sticker on my car and everything (which has since long since been removed).
And my counsellor said to me: “You don’t need me anymore.” For the first time in my life, I felt like a whole person. Coming out of the closet was the most soul-nourishing thing I ever did.
But I do not call myself “gay.” I did for a few years. I think I needed that at one point. but I do not any longer. I don’t believe God made me this way. I don’t believe I was born this way. So… I refer to myself as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. “Gay” is not my identity.
I believe that God is sovereign over all things. God knows all things from the beginning of time. And in His sovereignty, He has NOT healed me of my same-sex attractions. They still exist. But my self-hatred, the root of my problem was healed. For all intents and purposes, I FEEL FIXED.
I still very much hold the traditional view of scripture that acting on my attractions is sin. I always will believe that. And with God’s grace and mercy, I will never act on my attractions and remain pure. I am 53 years old and I am a virgin and I hope to die one. (Yes, I just said that out loud.)
But especially in the last couple years or so I have realized that the end goal wasn’t heterosexuality. It wasn’t gay to straight; it was lost to saved (to borrow a quote from Emily Thomes a former lesbian and now committed Christian). The goals were obedience, purity, and holiness.
The call to ministry never waned in my life. For years, I said “no” to a call to ministry in my life because I thought that I was unfit for ministry until I was “fixed.” But I could no longer say “no” to God’s call on my life. So, here I am. Now I wait to see what doors will open.
The chorus of Matthew West’s song, Hello My Name Is goes like this:
Hello, my name is child of the one true king.
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free.
Amazing grace is the song I sing.
Hello, my name is child of the one true king