By James Howard Russell
Allah’u’abha! I am a 41 year-old third-generation Baha’i. I’m also gay. On the six-point Kinsey scale I eventually nailed myself as 4.5, which is at about the 75 percent mark across the scale (0 totally straight, 3 bisexual, and 6 totally homosexual). Sadly, this means to me that 75 percent or so of my sexual interest is devoted towards men. Woops, I am one, and people have a problem with that
I met a Baha’i recently who told me he had — living in Seattle — never even met a gay Baha’i, and so after some thought, I’ve decided to share a little of my journey from a man that has had homosexual feelings since before puberty, hated himself for them fiercely, and come out alive on the other side to write this.
Just a little background about me: like others in this country who went to school in the 1980s or prior, I was taught by American society that a man being attracted to men was considered morally wrong before I even knew to associate that concept with myself. When later I finally had accept in myself an innate attraction to other men, you can imagine the impact on my self-worth as I had to accept that my brand-new sex drive as a young man, such a part of any young man’s excitement when embarking towards manhood, was broken.
In high school I frequented libraries looking up with fierce — but ultimately futile — hopes that I would find evidence this hated trait was a phase I would grow out of or a condition that I could be cured of. Come to find out that curing doesn’t work, and overwhelmingly hurts those who try, increasing suicidal ideation when relapsing, and so forth.
“Okay,” I realized at some point, “So my unbidden but immovable homosexual desires are evil… gotcha. What did I do to be born evil again? Do I have to stay evil? Or can I just hide being evil and pretend to be good?” This latter means doing what gay men had done throughout the ages, hide it like crazy, deny it, have sex in secret, and marry a woman to really hide it? Sorry, to me that latter seems more evil than having sex with men.
I realize that to live with a man and have an emotional and sexual relationship with him _is_ a life choice and one forbidden in the Faith. I maintain that in my case, at least the attraction is _not_ a choice: who (in the 1980s, at least) would choose to be a kind of societal leper? Not I.
Sadly, sexuality is not changeable by human means, at least not at this time in history, and few of us have the spiritual capacity to just ignore our inner desires altogether. You can deprioritize sex and fantasies in your head to a degree, sure, but it’s always there in the background. And, because as far as you know you were born this way like myself — that is, not molded in such fashion by molestation or other abusive means – you have to then transfer the hatred of the characteristic with yourself, because you have it.
So, over the years I did some reading, and successively found what I was looking for layer by layer. First I found that Shoghi Effendi interpreted Baha’u’llah’s law against pederasty as also against Baha’is having homosexual sex. I’ve talked to gay Baha’is or straight non-Baha’is that are interested in the Faith but can’t get past what they see to be a denial of human rights and bigoted.
But read further, and the Guardian also said if we’re to start sanctioning Baha’is who engage in homosexual sex, we’ll also have to start sanctioning Baha’is who have extramarital heterosexual sex and Baha’is who commit adultery, and he noted that at that time – which he called a “low water mark in spiritual history” – to engage in such sanctioning would be “ridiculous.”
Against Baha’i law as it is, seeing homosexual sex listed alongside extramarital heterosexual sex for the first time in my life in any context, and it makes perfect sense suddenly to me. How many do you know who married as a virgin? Not many? Me either. I can’t recall any, actually. Thinking about it, extramarital sex in this country is the norm, not the exception, and virgins are hard to find these days.
Is this, then, an indication that even if I do have sex with a man, that’s not so different than two heterosexuals having sex outside of marriage; against the law, certainly, but not such a huge deal I should — or anyone should — hate me for it? That sounds more right to me.
I’m clearer now that Baha’u’llah’s laws are to protect all mankind, world over, and to promote the betterment of the entire world. Looking at it, created as we were said to have been by God with love, out of love, to love him in return and serve your fellow mankind. It sounds more reasonable, then, that Baha’u’llah gave us these laws to avoid self-harm on our part; a sort of fence of guidelines that we’re more than welcome to walk out of, but the path is likely gonna be rockier there. If these laws were, then, given to us as a loving parent gives rules to a beloved child that they don’t want to see get hurt, not random torments to suffer under.
Ultimately I know I have to choose a man or a woman, and know and accept that I am giving up something dear to me either way. Either I go against my sexual preference and try and find myself a female mate who’ll actually want me after being honest with her about my history and sexuality, or I will choose a good man, and in so doing lose the potential for a husband and wife family team, which I do see great value in for those capable, it’s clearly much harder to have biological babies for obvious reasons, and not least having to potentially deal with anti-gay bigotry that is not gone just because of legalized gay marriage. It’ll go underground more, but it’s not gone.
Thankfully, after this journey through Baha’i writings and my own conscience, soul, and moral compass, it’s finally becoming evident to my heart and mind that I am not defined solely or even mostly by my sexuality, not, at least, by Baha’u’llah. And as a man, gay or not, I need to love all of me, even the parts I may not like or understand — because even those parts may prove to have hidden value. Would I be writing to you now this very personal facet of myself that will likely make at least one person who sees it here uncomfortable? No, I’m not a sadist. However, maybe I can help reach the next gay Baha’i I meet as disillusioned and self-loathing as I once was? Such is my hope.
My heart tells me that regardless of other people and their beliefs, God loves me unconditionally and wants the best for me, and the answer to my question is that no, I am no less of a man in Baha’u’llah’s eyes, and He tells me that God would never promote hatred of any of His children for any reason, even for being gay. I thank God that not too late in life I can learn to see myself as a man, not as a “gay man” or as a “bi man” or including any another a stupid qualifier.
I think you’ll be interested to know there is an official Baha’i organization (a committee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada) I’m part of that is set to spread all over North America as soon as we can. It’s called BNASAA (Baha’i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse). We want to start local service groups, a term for people organizing Baha’i-led groups, prayer circles, youth deepening (KEY ONE), and other such activities that would ALSO serve the 5-year plan. Please like us on Facebook
I’m James, I’m gay, I’m a Baha’i, and I’m doing the best I can. Contact me at jhrussell [at] gmail [dot] com for more information.
Thanks for reading,