Many of us spend most of our lives hiding. Maybe not hiding like in crime chase movies where the good guy is running from good guys who think he’s a bad guy because they’re being manipulated by bad guys who know he’s a good guy… but hiding nonetheless. I know I have. Hiding my lack of self-esteem behind a mask of serene confidence. Hiding an addiction to pornography and intense guilt that came from depression behind zeal for everything else that was good. Hiding my fear of the future just behind the surface, never letting it bubble up to the top where others could see it and judge me as somehow less.
I hid my secrets because, in most cases, I was ashamed. Ashamed that I didn’t really have the golden face of courage that everyone else saw in me. Ashamed that underneath the facade of righteousness, I was a sinner just like… no, probably way worse than everyone else. And ashamed that I didn’t have the faith that I believed in so deeply. The faith that had saved me from life and death countless times, yet was still kept out from changing my heart to become God’s.
But even as the guilt and shame went away, as I learned that God doesn’t hate me for being attracted to men (a lie I had heard only in my mind – proof that Satan knows how to hit me where it hurts), and as I let God into my life, I ran into another roadblock in opening my heart to the world.
A taboo is something vehemently prohibited by culture and society because it is too sacred or too awful for the common man. Touching the ark of the covenant, the throne of God, in the Old Testament, without being a priest or a Levite, was supremely taboo. Enough so that we read of God striking a man dead who reached forth his hand to steady the ark. Taboos usually serve central purposes in societies, and can tell a lot about the history of a culture because they last beyond what they may have been designed for. Like the law of Moses – Christ came and fulfilled the law, giving a new and higher order, but many people still follow it today.
Some taboos are put in place by God. The commandments outline the boundaries of acceptable human behavior, and apply universally to all men. But some taboos are put in place by men… and these are the ones that form the substance of modern society.
Taboo and law aren’t the same. We elect leaders to represent us and implicitly agree to abide by the laws of the land. But in many places, following the law is more of a choice than a commitment. Take speed limits, for example. Laws require motorists to obey traffic laws, including posted speed limits. Yet speeding, even when it causes catastrophic accidents, is not taboo. On the contrary. It’s taboo to drive the speed limit in the far left (fast) lane and taboo to tell anyone to the contrary. Questionnaires that ask about past criminal records specifically make exemptions for criminal behavior on the roadway unless they are for high-stakes driving positions… because it would somehow be taboo to use that information in a selection process.
Taboo and what makes sense aren’t the same either. Modern health has affirmed for years the importance of food’s impact on longevity. But instead of honestly telling the American public that the number one cause of death is diet, we put vague indications like “diets high in certain types of fiber, especially soluble fiber, as well as low in cholesterol and saturated fat, may reduce the risk of heart disease, a disease with many factors.” Um, can we get a more wishy-washy statement? Or maybe a statement that has guts to it? Logic would state that eating anything that would cause you to die would be the closest thing to taboo. But it seems that people who limit their diets come under societal wrath instead. Try taking sugar out of your life completely, or even limiting your consumption to the maximum safe limit as directed by the American Heart Association – 100-150 calories/day for adults and far less for children (a can of soda has 130 of those, and almost everything you buy today has sugar added) – and see if the world supports your decision. Yeah. That makes no sense.
And neither does the taboo that we shouldn’t talk about the things we face within ourselves. When people have external conditions – whether as mundane as blonde or red hair or as dramatic as being 7 foot 2 – we talk about it. We realize that it has an impact on their lives, and then we do what we can to help them leverage whatever it is in their lives. People with red hair use more sunscreen because we find that their skin is often more sensitive to burning. People who are tall buy larger clothes, and sometimes we encourage them to play basketball. But when the conditions are internal, and don’t have external shows, then society sometimes tells us to not ask… and not tell.
It begins with fear. Fear of the unknown, and fear caused by other experiences. Manic depressive mood swings can cause someone who was completely rational to do things he would never do – completely destroying his life and causing irreparable chaos in the wake of a manic attack. Epilepsy can hit and make people out of control. Autism may be a liability if the person needs to work with other people. And being a guy attracted to other guys… let’s not even talk about that one.
I’m not saying that the actions that can come from those conditions are desirable. Manic mood swings are dangerous and can destroy families. Epilepsy can be awful depending on conditions. Those with autism (like me) may find themselves in situations where their lack of understanding of social norms can cause lasting repercussions. And homosexual activity is sinful. But the conditions themselves… are not inherently undesirable. I’m bipolar, autistic, and attracted to men. But I look holistically at my life and see all three of them as enabling blessings, and even competitive differences, instead of unspeakable taboos. But I had to push out from the taboo that wanted me to stay silent.
I think that part of the taboo comes from the belief that acknowledging things make them more vivid parts of our lives. And that belief is definitely well founded in some cases. Sharing the fact that you’re attracted to men is an easy way to make yourself a target for other men who have the same attractions. They’re a thousand times less likely to approach you for sexual favors if they don’t know. Some other parts of the taboo are a fear of being judged or mislabeled by others. If I say I’m gay, what does that mean? Does it mean I have sex with men, or that I’m celibate and committed to living by gospel principles, or that I’m married to a woman but still exclusively attracted to men besides her? The circumstances and impact of “gay” have dramatically different tones based on the individual… and when there aren’t enough categories that accurately match what someone is looking for, maybe it’s better to say nothing at all.
I guess I wish that we, especially in the Church, would cast off our fears and societal taboos and embrace what the gospel teaches. Turn to your brother, confide in him, and he in you, and be bound together in Christ. I wish we would go to Sunday School and share our own personal experiences with healing from God… and ask others to help us on our journey. That we could talk about the issues that we face – just like the prophets do – without mincing words or speaking in cryptic references. That we could lose our taboo.
Because I think that losing that taboo, and allowing people to realize that solving their problems with the help of others, leaders, and the gospel is okay… instead of simply trying to solve them alone… that we’ll keep a lot more people who feel that they are taboo simply by definition.