My Religious Friend Might Be Gay

Photo by Steve Snodgrass - - For illustration only

Reader’s Question

A good friend of mine, now 23 years old, was raised with an emphasis on religion. He has firm beliefs on sex, alcohol, homosexuality, etc. He recently discovered that he wanted to become a spy, and God wants that for him as well. In order to do this, he has realized he must have the experiences of the things he believes are wrong. He began saying things like “this is the spy me.” He classifies doing things he believes are wrong into the “spy” category. Because God wants him to be a spy, it is OK to perform these acts that he firmly believes are wrong. Recently, he lost his virginity, frequently drinks heavily, came out of the closet (but feels that the “real” him will just have to get over these “sinful desires”), and picked up smoking. I am wondering whether utilizing these two “personalities” could harm or has already harmed his mental health. Am I wrong?

Psychologist’s Reply

It sounds as if you are concerned about your friend. I do not know whether or not the ‘personalities’ have harmed his mental health or will harm them. You put ‘personalities’ in quotation marks, which tells me that you do not think that your friend actually has multiple personalities, or dissociative identity disorder (DID). Dissociative identity disorder is usually seen in people who have experienced abuse in childhood. DID is characterized by unexplained memory loss and alternate identities that have unique names, mannerisms, even voices. If you think that your friend has DID, it would likely be best for him to seek help from a professional. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a fact sheet about DID, if you are interested in knowing more.

You said that your friend decided that he wanted to have, or had to have, the experiences that go against his religious beliefs, and so created the idea of being a spy. My guess is that if his religion forbids these behaviors, it could be comforting to believe that even though he is drinking, having sex, or smoking, God is accepting of him anyway — or even pleased with him, for being a ‘spy.’ As he labels one set of behaviors as the ‘spy,’ he can experiment with behaviors or identities that are outside of his belief system, while still identifying as someone who adheres to the rules of conduct within his religion.

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If this is the case, it sounds like your friend has created a way to manage a conflict between his religious beliefs and the choices he is making right now (e.g., smoking, drinking). Eventually, your friend might find a way to integrate all aspects of himself.

You also mentioned that your friend came out of the closet. Coming out is typically a slow and difficult process, and can be especially fraught if someone is coming out within a community that believes that being gay is wrong, or sinful. If your friend is gay and his religious belief is that being gay is ‘sinful,’ he is probably having a hard time accepting himself.

You can support him by being available to talk openly and non-judgmentally about how he is feeling about his religion, his ‘spy’ behavior, and his sexual orientation. Negative reactions from others and the fear of being treated differently or rejected can be barriers to people sharing their identity as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

For more information about coming out or how to support someone in this process, check out “The Resource Guide to Coming Out” by the Human Rights Campaign or the organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

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