THERE MUST BE such a thing as a unicorn — that mythical creature God made for progressive Christians to date. Someone who is thoughtful, lives for social justice, and wants to creatively build God's kingdom. It wouldn't hurt if he was nice to look at, too.
Unfortunately, I've learned that being an activist and a Christian are often mutually exclusive, especially in the desert that is Southern California — Orange County, no less, or the land of middle class suburbia. I assumed that if I ever wanted to get serious about dating, I'd have to move to the Bay Area or Boston. Perhaps colder weather is more conducive to unicorns. When I found myself in St. Louis, Missouri for Urbana 2015, I took the wind chill as a good omen.
Sure enough, my baseless rationale was confirmed! A good friend of mine introduced me to Matthew, and in our first conversation, he mentioned that he had founded a group that ministered to people with same-sex attraction. He went from unicorn to Optimus Prime.
"I care about that, too! How did you get involved? (And how are you possible?)"
"I struggle with same-sex attraction."
I might have cocked my head a bit. Really? Why would my friend send this guy my way? But we kept talking. In the span of that 10-minute conversation, I had heard enough to know that I was intrigued. And he was cute, so I agreed to meet up with him after the conference sessions were over.
I shelved his same-sex attraction as something to ask about later; sexuality is on a spectrum, and I didn't know what he meant exactly by same-sex attraction. Let's just first get to know the guy.
That first encounter evolved into Skype dates across time zones, even country lines, and the more I got to know Matthew, the more I couldn't help but grow to like him. Meanwhile, I was learning about his theology on sexuality: He believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, or one is called to celibacy. And while he does feel attraction towards men, he believes it is a sin to act upon it.
Our conversations eventually funneled down to a question I never thought to answer before: Is it important to me that I feel
Is it important to me that I feel sexually desired?
I remember the shift when I first felt desired by a guy in college, instantly recognizing that, "Oh, this is what it means to be a woman." In that moment, I knew how messed up, yet how true, that was. How tragic it would be if being sexually desired was the only thing that defined a woman, but it was the first time I could distinguish any difference between feeling like a girl versus a woman.
The power of sexual attraction makes me wary of it. Having felt sexually desired, I know what a power trip it gives me: of creating tension in the air that crackles with just a brush of the arm, or of hearing someone's breathing turn heavier because I'm standing too close. Sexual attraction just feels great.
Sexual attraction also gives me more grief than joy in my singlehood. Throw in a white gold purity ring and 20-some years of repressed sexuality; because of sexual attraction, I've felt used and I've used others, because I didn't know how to navigate it well or what to navigate it toward day-to-day.
But knowing that Matthew did not have any sexual attraction for me made me feel strangely free. Aspects of myself that I typically monitored — how I dressed or how much I lowered my voice — none of these held weight anymore because they simply did not apply. In full confidence, I knew that he was talking to me not for how my looks made him feel, but for his interest in my personality and my passions in life. I felt more seen and lighter, because the only thing I had to do was be myself.
But knowing that Matthew did not have any sexual attraction for me made me feel strangely free.
It wasn't an indefinable chemistry or changeable feelings that would bind us, but our excitement for what God was doing in each other's lives, unencumbered by lust. There was a hardcore idealism there that surprisingly appealed to me.
This budding relationship made me wonder: Can sexual attraction be optional icing on the cake when the cake itself was so hard to find? I may have mixed feelings about sexual attraction, but in my quest, I never imagined that I had to give it up. A unicorn is hard to find, and over time, I forfeited my hopes for someone with dancing skills or proper spelling, and I downgraded progressive theology to moderate. But sexual attraction was a given, because it wasn't a preference I chose — it felt inherent in me, oftentimes outside of my control.
Can sexual attraction be optional icing on the cake when the cake itself was so hard to find?
I wasn't sure if sexual attraction could be similar to any other compromise people make in choosing to commit to another. No matter who I'd end up dating, he would be far from perfect. People choose what they're willing to live with because the rest of a person is worth it. If sexual attraction is only there for a limited time anyway, could I do without it and just focus on intimacy?
My own parents are living proof that a marriage can be founded on other values. They got married after three dates; I doubt sexual attraction was very high on their list of priorities. Instead, they shared a similar vision for family and a desire to be part of a bigger world than South Korea. Their priority for me is that I find someone culturally compatible so that they can communicate easily with my future in-laws.
Once sexual attraction was on the cutting block, it became unusually negotiable.
"What if he realizes later on that he wants to be in a same-sex relationship?" I would trust that he would choose to be with me, on a daily basis. Any couple — dating or married — deals with the possibility of a significant other one day choosing to opt out of the relationship because of the option of someone else.
I would trust that he would choose to be with me, on a daily basis.
"Aren't you worried he'd be attracted to other men?" I don't see how that's any different from me worrying about a boyfriend being attracted to other women.
"What if the sex is horrible?" I wouldn't know! What would I have to compare it to if I've never had sex before? And I imagine we'd practice until we got it right.
"Am I attracted to this person?" — the most common question I hear — is the main determining factor in figuring out who to date. But no one questions why it's asked in the first place, and meeting Matthew forced me to do so.
Despite all the rationales I came to, I have to admit that there's a delight in the energy between two people that feels meant to be shared. If I wanted someone while not feeling wanted back, I imagine I'd feel selfish instead of fully enjoying the excitement together. Joy intensifies when shared.
I also believe my sexuality is hardwired into how God made me and I want to respect His design. Yet Matthew showed me what it looked like to put all things under God's sovereignty — even with something as seemingly innate and natural as sexual desire — whether I agreed with how he did it or not.
Matthew showed me what it looked like to put all things under God's sovereignty — even with something as seemingly innate and natural as sexual desire.
Could I make that kind of a choice if God ever called me to it? I would hope so.
The closest similarity I can think of is my choice to save sex for marriage. As liberal as I am in other areas, I must seem particularly conservative in this; friends have even called it unhealthy and unloving toward myself. But all of who I am belongs to God, including my sexuality. I believe that the fullest expression of sex is in the context of marriage as a mutual generosity between two people, so my choices reflect my belief. I can't speak for Matthew, but I would imagine his pursuit of marriage with a woman is his way of honoring God with his choices as well.
The irony that both of our perspectives are conservative is not lost on me, especially coming from someone who has same-sex attraction like him and someone who is socially liberal like me. Yet at their best, I believe conservatives protect traditions while liberals press traditions. Matthew and I may have different expressions of sexuality, but with those choices, we still get to honor God and wrestle with an ever expanding understanding of who He is.
We may have different expressions of sexuality, but with those choices, we still get to honor God
Ultimately, we decided to stop pursuing the relationship. He wanted to be with someone who shared his beliefs on sexuality, and I figured out that yes, sexual attraction is important to me.
It's one of the few saving graces of dating: You figure out why things matter to you.
• • •
So did I find a unicorn? Or was he something else? We met briefly and went our separate ways, but indelibly, he followed after God in a way that impressed me. For that, he was indeed magical.
Sarah D. Park is a freelance writer whose work focuses on the cultivation of cross-racial dialogue with a Christian faith orientation. She is also a story producer for Inheritance Magazine and manages communications and storytelling for several organizations. She is an Angeleno on the inside who is currently based in the Bay Area.
WONHO FRANK LEE is a freelance photographer who primarily shoots for Eater LA and recently received his MFA from Cal State LA. Follow him on Instagram @WonhoPhoto.