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[The first of a proposed series.]

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.1

I was sixteen the first time I told anybody. I went to confession to Fr. T, who’s known our family for years. I don’t think I went in there planning to spill the beans, but it came out anyway: I’m gay. He said, Do you want to talk about it?

So we did, once every week or so over the next I-don’t-know-how-many years. I learned so much. I learned how angry I was, for one thing: so angry that I had no idea I was angry, like a fish doesn’t know it’s wet. Angry at God, at my father, at myself. I learned how hurt I was, too. Same deal there. Fr. T would ask me how I felt about something and I’d respond with some elaborate logical answer — not what he was asking. I think I still remember the first time I was able to say: fucking awful. It felt good to say.

Talking to Fr. T helped me learn that I could talk to other people, too. In college I learned to let down my guard a little bit, and opened up to a roommate about feeling lonely. I opened up to a couple of friends about my SSA, and then to my older brother. Eventually I was able to open up to the rest of my family.

The more you open up, the easier it is. The more times you experience the compassion and love of friends and family, the more possible it becomes to believe that there’s nothing inside you so shameful that someone won’t understand. Eventually you stop thinking about it as shameful at all.

You start to see yourself as your friends see you, and as God sees you: wounded and struggling, yes, but always beautiful, always worthwhile.

1 William Blake. The Poison Tree.

15 thoughts on “How It Got Better #1: Talking

  1. Ron

    Talking about anything definitely helps. You’ll feel less isolated, and in the process of talking and listening you just may gain insights you would not have found otherwise.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    hey, I don’t think there’s anyway to message you privately… but I can’t believe this blog… It’s great, and an amazing blessing to me at a really desperate time in my life… I have so many questions for you…

    Reply
  3. Lori

    Another touching post … God bless Fr. T … and God bless you!

    In my own life, I’ve been thinking of how certain Catholic things have been such a blessing to me; this church gives us many valuable tools to navigate life. And it is filled with wonderful men & women like Fr. T.

    Reply
  4. Dante

    Amen, Steve. When I FINALLY let it out and shared my soul with 1 then 2 of my closest buds – and they responded with the love they have always had for me – the entire world seemed to open up and shout, alleluia! The shackles were shattered. The lock of the prison door was anihilated. Pulverized. Dust.

    And THIS is the ‘secret’ which the 12 Step movement has known and championed for +- 70 years: “To admit to God, to ourselves and to another human beong the exact nature of our wrongs” (Step 5). And this is why fellowship – be it in a recovery group of 30 or an intimate friendship of 1 – is VITAL to sobriety, recovery, health, wholeness and all things (as you nicely put it_ that are “fucking awful”.

    I made this intimate disclosure fully to my closest buds about 10 years ago and man…live didn’t end…it only changed for the better.

    Reply
  5. Dan S

    Steve,

    This might sound like a stupid question.
    When you told your family and friends, what were their reactions to you? What were you hoping to hear from them?

    I ask because I have often thought of what i would say or how i would react if a loved one “came out of the closet”. Besides the obvious, I love you, how can one “minister” to a person who tells them of their SSA to another?

    Thanks

    Reply
  6. Lee

    God Bless Father T!!! Would that more priests understood what it means to minister to the “struggle” of their penitents. True love as Christ has for each one of us is not in condemnation, not in telling a person how they should be or not be, but in compassion and mercy.

    I am truly enjoying your writings, Steve and am glad that you do write.

    Reply
  7. Justin

    Dan S.,

    I’d say be accepting and be supportive of the person with SSA. (Don’t of course approve of any immoral behavior but I assume we’re talking about a chaste person here.) Don’t shrink back or treat them any less affectionately than before. You can say “You have my [unqualified] support” or “I’m behind you 100%” or “I have no intentions of letting this diminish our friendship”. Anything reassuring or empathetic. I’m willing to bet that anyone who discloses to you wants to talk about it, so do that. “That must be quite a burden” or “Do you want to talk about it?” or “I’m here for you whenever you want to talk.” Whatever you do, don’t respond with silence or try to change the subject. Once I had someone respond with “Well, I have SSA, too.” Someone else responded with, “All men experience SSA to one degree or another.”

    The biggest fear someone who is disclosing has is rejection. The second biggest fear is that they will negatively alter the dynamics of the friendship, which is basically the same thing. Anything you can do to counter those two notions will be a big help.

    I’ve disclosed to a handful of friends (I can count six off the top of my head) and have found great acceptance (even, ironically, from women I was going out with). There was the one case where a person who I thought was receptive responded with silence; that’s still an awkward situation for me. I had one priest, my spiritual director, who, while not saying anything explicit, was not reassuring and made me feel uncomfortable enough to end the relationship.

    Reply
  8. Dan S

    Justin,
    Thanks for the advice. What you say makes sense, and seems like it “should’ be rather obvious. However, i asked because it is not obvious to me.

    There is another challenge. Assuming that the person chooses to live in that lifestyle, while i think it would be wrong, I also think that I shouldn’t be keeping myself at arms length either. People are people. We are all broken to some degree. I even see, in myself, the stupid programming that society put into me about women and what healthy attitudes of sexuality toward women are. Goodness, it’s all screwed up. When that crap is put in your head in your formative years, it is an active battle to not let the old tapes play in your head when you are older.

    None of us are really defined by our sexuality. The key is in seeing the person as a person, as Jesus would. not gay or straight ( really never liked those phrases anyway).

    How to minister, be a friend, love them, even if they might be embracing that lifestyle is the challenge too. We are called to be an icon of Christ. That is what our baptism means. That’s what I hope to be (and I’ sure we all hope to be).

    BTW, i say all of this in hypotheticals as I don’t have anyone close to me (that i know of) with SSA. So forgive my ignorance of experience here. But I guess that’s why I was asking in the first place.

    Sometimes, as an aside, I get this little quiet stirring in my heart from the Holy Spirit that I need to move in a certain direction, and this might be one of them. I dunno. Maybe my desire to learn more about ministering to others struggling with this is in preparation for some real world experience coming my way. Seeing the way God has worked in my life in the past, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case. That’s why I feel so blessed to come along this blog. Maybe the best way to continue, is just to pray on it for now.

    Thanks

    Reply
  9. Justin

    I think for people who are disclosing who are involved in the lifestyle, we still need to support them as persons and love them while expressing our disapproval of their behavior, carefully distinguishing the sinner from the sin (love the sinner, hate the sin).

    A good discussion about their relationship with their father and mother might be in order. Men with SSA tend to have a poor relationship with their fathers and overbearing/suffocating/overinvolved mothers. Perhaps if you can help them see how their feelings are rooted in dysfunction you have a hope of getting through to them but I expect this would be difficult.

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Justin, about trying to help men with SSA “see how their feelings are rooted in dysfunction” — wow, I think I’d have to know someone pretty well before I’d be able to say anything like that to them. And they’d probably have to ask first.

      Reply
  10. Justin

    Steve,

    Well, all of this is rooted in discretion, of course. I just know for me, understanding the role of dysfunction is what keeps me firmly convinced that my SSA is disordered and that chastity is “right” and it’s what I cling to when on occasion my faith grows thin. It’s a natural law type of argument against SSA: If, fundamentally, I realize I’m tempted to act out because I know I am compensating for the shame my father inculcated (not to mention because I’m jealous of the man’s perceived masculinity), that helps me resist the siren song of the gay rights movement that says that this is natural and wholesome and so forth. Thus I am less tempted to abandon my faith to go live the lifestyle, because even without faith it is as plain on the nose on my face that SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH THIS! Returning to my point, perhaps if we can (gently, with much discretion) steer people toward this natural, non-faith-based insight, we can make inroads. Your mileage may vary.

    Reply
  11. Steve Gershom

    Hey Justin,

    I reread your above comments to Dan S. (Dan, my apologies for not answering your question — don’t know how I missed it) and I see that you have a good head on your shoulders about it.

    I think it’s perfectly appropriate to try to “make some inroads,” assuming that you’re close enough to the friend to be able to say some very personal things. Even then, I think such a thing will be unhelpful unless it’s solicited. But that is all part of the discretion you already mentioned.

    Peace
    SG

    Reply

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