She writes and speaks convincingly of just how new the idea of sexual identity really is and yet how pervasive this idea is today. Speaking personally, I can identify with how she charts the change in thinking. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I do not think I ever thought about sexual identity. I was who I was -- an identity that was largely shaped by and changed by association -- I was a child and son of my parents, a Christian and student, single and later married. It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that the categories of heterosexual or homosexual even began to enter the framework of this identity. As Paris recounts, those born after those years think of themselves first in terms of sexual identity and only later in terms of an identity shaped by association. So powerful is this transformation in thinking that the categories of sexual identity introduced into medicine and psychology have become the dominant topics of conversation both in and outside of church and family.
Paris does a good job of distinguishing behavior from identity and framing out the some of the history that preceded our present day preoccupation with sexual identity as opposed to a concern for sexual behavior. "Sexual identity categories radically individualized the meaning of sex in the human experience. So the meaning of sex is now located primarily within the individual and her private, innermost feelings." This has shifted the whole framework of the discussion away from association and behavior to what is individual and felt by the person. We seem locked in a way of thinking about sexual identity that is foreign to the Scriptures and distracts the Church from the message of the Gospel.
Paris suggests that the point of the Gospel is not to make people heterosexual but to the make them holy in Christ. The shape of this holiness is not self-realization or the freedom to act upon feeling, impulse or desire but to "training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" as St. Paul counsels in Titus 2. Yet, the Church has been extremely distracted by this attention (should we say "invention") of sexual identity and the message of the Gospel has been transformed into either a rejection of the sexual identity of some or the liberation from all restrictions or boundaries on sexual identity. The point is not about sexual identity but about the holiness imparted to us in Christ and the work of the Spirit to lead us past simple assent to desire or feelings and to lives marked not by freedom for self but by service to others.
Think how different this perspective is, say, from the counseling services offered by a major university: Sexual identity is life long process of discovering and celebrating your sexual orientation. Today there is a variety of sexual orientations on the sexuality spectrum. Students can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or questioning. Sexual identity is an important piece of an individual’s overall health and learning to recognize and celebrate one’s sexual identity is an important part of becoming a mature adult. According to this offer of help from the student counseling services, the first and biggest step to becoming a mature adult is learning to recognize and celebrate one's sexual identity. Is it no wonder that youth and young adulthood is stressed? In the vulnerable time of young adulthood, fraught with more than temptation but a whole new burden -- beyond figuring out how to be independent of parents and home, deciding upon a career path, and socializing with peers -- teens and early twenty-somethings must also figure out their own sexual identity and then learn how to celebrate it. Good thing I went to college when costs and grades were about my most important concern.