The Body Still Loves to Dance

One of my spiritual practices during Lent turned out to be sorting through boxes of my papers for my archive, a process that continues. I warned readers that this might lead to nostalgic posts! The excerpts here come from a commentary I wrote for Frontiers Newsmagazine, published July 17, 1992.
Exodus International President Joe Dallas gave the opening address at a conference of “ex-gay” ministry leaders and members held at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego June 21-27.
This was an assignment I did not want. I approached the gathering of 500 registrants, to use a biblical phrase, “in fear and trembling.” Maybe it was the uncomfortable memory of my straight and narrow fundamentalist past. Maybe it was the expected conformity of participants, from a dress code (“no tank tops, tight-fitting clothes, immodest bathing suits or skimpy shorts”) to thought code (“Exodus International reserves the right to deny conference participation to anyone whose views are not in agreement with our doctrinal and policy statements”). Maybe it was the workshops on avoiding “impure thoughts” or masturbation as “the ‘M’ word.” Or maybe I just thought they’d all be loony.
But they weren’t, and I discovered that though gay sex may be verboten, some things never change. Camp humor abounded. People were caring and sensitive and carefully huggy. Haircuts and clothing, though not overly provocative, were still stylish and colorful; in a workshop on masculinity, I heard rumblings of discontent at a suggestion that they rid themselves of their wardrobes and patronize barbers rather than hair stylists. En route to a session, two ex-lesbians were kvetching about one’s lack of punctuality and the other’s lack of patience. And two ex-gay boys next to me in the opening worship were thrilled to find someone with a car: “We need to go to a mall really bad!” one emoted while in the next breath telling his friend, “I really want to be here; I’m longing to be closer to God.”
Ultimately, I’m not sure what I expected, but I did not anticipate everybody would be so “nice” and “normal.” But then, they thought that I thought like they did—that homosexual behavior is sin, an affront to God. Yet in none of the presentations or workshops that I attended—even those designed for the newcomer—did I hear why they thought so: no scripture, no theology. It just was.
Fundamentalists of whatever faith need God to be in control, and on God’s behalf, they are controlling: stressing uniformity over unity, obedience over independence, authority over reason. As do many other Christians, they also believe in spirituality controlling the body’s feelings and needs. These were recurring themes throughout the day, not only in word, but in deed: the design of the presentations and the “workshops” made no provision for questions or interaction among the participants—though individual counseling and laying on of hands were available, and special interest groups, such as one on AIDS, were encouraged.
Faces brightened over those who “left the lifestyle,” and hushed tones described others who “had fallen.” Cheers greeted the introduction or mention of a wife or husband, and nods of agreement met veiled references to Satan. Disparaging references were made to “pro-gay” churches, “sympathetic” media, and a psychoanalytic profession which had caved into “political pressure” from gays. One man drew vigorous applause when, noting that gays were better than their group at “building solidarity,” he suggested that they hold their own “Ex-Gay Pride March.”
The day ended as it began: with a worship of emotionally stirring group singing, led by a church musician who declared that Jesus “took my homosexuality on himself in the cross, and took it to the grave.” In the morning I had felt sad, witnessing these young people giving themselves over to a God whom they thought didn’t like gay sex. I knew that this would be, for most of them, a way station on their way out of the closet and possibly out of the church.
Now I felt sad leaving them, as a camper feels sad leaving a spiritual retreat. We belonged to each other sexually and spiritually, but they did not nor could not know that. Years from now I might meet one in a bar, and he will tell me he was forced to choose his sexuality over his spirituality. The fortunate ones will be those who find their way to a congregation which welcomes them as self-affirming gays and lesbians
But in the meantime, the music tapped into the erotic energy of the crowd, which stood to sing. Jesus, put your arms around me and hold me; it’s true I love you. Hands began lifting in a charismatic gesture, as if to touch God, as if opening to God’s embrace. I will come, while you sing over me: How I love you, child, I love you.
The beat led to clapping hands and discreet movements of the bodies surrounding me. I noticed that hips loosened in gay dance bars by the pulsing music of Donna Summer or Madonna now swung easily in praise of their Lord.
The Shakers, a Christian cult, got their name from their ritual dances. They, too, did not believe in practicing their sexuality, and perhaps their shaking dances emanated from some deep erotic wish. For no matter how our spirituality might deny it, the body still loves to dance.
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