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Caleb and I both have terrible senses of direction. We were driving together once, trying to find our friend J’s house. I knew where it was, or thought I knew, but we ended up on the opposite side of town, a good twenty minutes from where we were supposed to be. The worst part was that we had just left a house where J’s brother was working, which I knew, but I hadn’t asked directions, because — well, because I already knew!

When Caleb realized where we were, he exploded: “This is just like you!

That may have hurt a little bit, but more than that, it surprised me. It’s hard to think of yourself as being just like anything, because we see ourselves from the inside, and from the inside I don’t look like a coherent whole at all.1 I see the decisions I make from day to day, but seeing patterns is harder, or maybe impossible.

Walker Percy2 gets it:

One of the peculiar ironies of being a human self in the Cosmos: A stranger approaching you in the street will in a second’s glance see you whole, size you up, place you in a way in which you cannot and never will, even though you have spent a lifetime with yourself, live in the Century of the Self, and therefore ought to know yourself best of all.3

Well, this is one thing that friends are for. Friends see into the heart of you, see what you are, in a way that you never can. They know you; they name you.4

But there’s all the difference in the world between a name and a label. A name is the secret of who you are, the one thing that sums you up: it is your Word, the way the Son is the Word of the Father. A name is rich and full. A label flattens, simplifies, steamrolls.

Elsewhere, Percy says of a certain woman — I don’t have my copy of The Thanatos Syndrome handy, so I’m paraphrasing — “She had given up on the mystery of herself, she had taken another woman’s advice: be bold, be assertive.”

Although this probably applies to everybody, I think it especially applies to men with SSA. Growing up with SSA means, for many people, never knowing exactly what you are. Not fitting in — not only in the sense of being bullied or rejected, but not being able to identify with any group, not feeling at home anywhere. Feeling yourself to be not a man, maybe, but certainly not a woman, and androgynous least of all.

I wonder — I am about to speak out of ignorance but also sincerity, and I ask your forgiveness in advance if I offend — I wonder if this is what makes some men with SSA take on a gay identity, and take it on so deeply that they are swallowed whole, so that their own old friends stop recognizing them.

Taking on a pre-defined identity — something already warm, already ready to slip into — would be a relief for anybody. No longer having to work out, in fear and trembling, what I am, but having it all pre-fabricated, complete with taste and style and a welcoming community.

But it doesn’t solve the question of Selfhood. It only postpones.

This is one reason that, despite my sensitivity and musicality and slightness of build and tenderness of heart,5 I don’t know if I could ever be comfortable describing myself as gay. It’s not a bad word, but it is a label, not a name.

Oh, but as usual, George MacDonald says the whole thing better than I ever could.

1 Makes me think of a horoscope from The Onion: “Don’t worry: You’re more than just a collection of annoying, loosely bundled neuroses. There are some tightly wound and dangerous psychoses in there, too.”
2 I love Walker Percy, I lurve him. I would marry Walker Percy. If he weren’t married, male, old, and dead.
3 From the introduction to Lost in the Cosmos.
4 I am thinking of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, where “naming” someone is the opposite of “X-ing” them. To name someone is to fill the vacuum of their selfhood with love and intimate knowledge.To X is the opposite of that.
5 Although please bear in mind that I am also extremely badass.

12 thoughts on “The White Stone

  1. Dante

    Wow, Steve, as I have comne to know and expect from you over time, you have come up with another excellent post which demands reflection before response. And since that is SO not-Dante the Extrovert’s m.o., I am going to force myself to THINK and then reply…ok tghat’s enough thinking….:)

    I will say at this point that, as you have known me for quite some time now, you know that I DO use gay and in doing so it does not mean for me any self-determined label, descirption, or predefined course of action. What I find it DOES do is inform those very few who need to know the nature of my fundamental consitutional psycho-sexual-emotional orientation. I disagree strongly that ‘gay’ must mean and has come to mean for ALL that one approves, supports and advances the militant loud-mouthed MINORITY subculture lifestyle.

    I find SSA way too clinical. I find it to have become the battle-cry of a certain segment who tend to use it as a “in your face I am not like you” designation. Pride? Who knows. It IS hard to be a observant Catholic and name yourself as ‘gay’ so I can’t fault them for wanting some other designation, ANY other designation that will allow them to feel better about themselves.

    I use ‘homosexual’ in place of gay and before using SSA because it is a simple basic easily understood neutral term, though it is increasingly becoming one not liked by both the left-leaning ‘gay subculture’ crowd and the right-winging “I am not gay but SSA” folks.

    When all is said an done I think the name/label/designation war is futile and stupid. Why? Because I fundamentally agree with you, my friend, that I am a man, a human, a Christian, a Catholic and so much more that my psycho-sexual-emotional orientation. We ALL carry the wound of priginal sin in one way or another and yet Jesus loved ME so much, became man for ME, died on the cross for ME, rose from the dead for ME, was glorified in Heaven for ME, sent the Spirit for ME…yeah for ME however you wish to name me…a gay, SSA, homosexual, queer, and *(#$-@*^%@# kind of guy. (You’ll have to guess that one :) And the BEST thing is Jesus knew this all along.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: The power of a Name « The Ponderings of JD

  3. Justin

    Great points, Steve. I think your comment about slipping into an identity is spot on; I think that’s why a lot of men with SSA like drama, at least I do, because it’s a pre-defined role I can do and not have to feel uncomfortable about. I can be the manly man I don’t think I am, or in any case be someone, anyone, other than who I am. A respite from being me. Yeah, a pretender, let’s get the cards out on the table. Not that have done that many productions though.

    As for Dante’s comments on labeling, I prefer to say that I have SSA (NOT “I am SSA”), because shifts it away from being an identity and more into the realm of an incidental condition, like “I have bipolar disorder” or “I have depression”. I guess I can see how this can come across as clinical, but that’s the point; it’s a disorder, not a lifestyle, not intrinsic. Admittedly for some with SSA it is more intrinsic than it is with others; I feel I am a heterosexual who got mired in homosexual attractions, so I see my SSA as extrinsic.

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  4. Dante

    I hear you, Justin. I really don’t care to get caught up in the title wars (which is what they usually become in my experience) but I would say that there are guys who are heterosexual and have that wiring misfire somewhere along the way and deal with homosexuality to various degrees and in various forms; they feel afflicted. Then here are guys who are as psychology says (and church documents infer) “consitutionally” or “definitively” homosexual and heterosexuality sparks absolutely nothing within them. I am guessing (just guessing) that maybe this basic rudeimentary distinction might also be a possible line of demarcation for the ssa v. gay debate.

    There are guys who act “as if” they are straight perhaps hoping it will “catch” or who relearn behavior as if they are heterosexual because, despite the social and media agenda, its no party to be gay, ssa or whatever. WHO would ever choose it if they want a peaceful riding the waves kind of life? There are those who seek to say “gay is ok” because they were born that way. Well…all kind sof disbilities are congential so being born a certain way makes notning “normal” it simply makes someone who they are. For ALL kinds one thing is absolutely certain: there will be no interior freedom and peace, no joy of the Holy Spirit if one does not actively accept themselves and their life as it is now, realizing that NOTHING they might do or not do can make God love them one bit more or less. Then from there one can move on with life, healing, and all kinds of blessings God has in mind of those who love him.

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  5. Zach

    “I wonder if this is what makes some men with SSA take on a gay identity, and take it on so deeply that they are swallowed whole, so that their own old friends stop recognizing them.”

    This bugged me. I don’t know how to define objectively what a gay identity is. Because I didn’t change that much from when I was “straight” to when I was “bi” to when I’m now “gay”. I’ve always felt more/less comfortable in my masc. gender as well. I don’t really identify with a lot of psychological issues other gay men seem to cite. I HAVE psychological issues, but they’ve arisen as result of other instances.

    This sentence: I just happen to be a guy who dates another guy. That’s the extent being gay makes up my identity.

    Reply
  6. Steve Gershom

    I guess I’m not entirely sure what I mean by a “gay identity” either. I was thinking particularly of men who, after coming out of the closet, seem to change their personalities completely. I’m trying to understand why this happens sometimes.

    I’m also thinking of the fact that some gay men make being gay the center of their personality — the conversation always comes back around to that. Again, not every gay man is like that, but some are.

    Maybe the personality change can be explained because, once someone comes out, he feels free to act in ways he wouldn’t have acted before (because someone might figure out his big secret); so maybe what looks like a change is actually just a revealing of what was there before? I’m trying to see it from both sides.

    Do you think I’m being fair, Zach, or am I out of line?

    Reply
  7. Dante

    Steve wrote: “Maybe the personality change can be explained because, once someone comes out, he feels free to act in ways he wouldn’t have acted before (because someone might figure out his big secret); so maybe what looks like a change is actually just a revealing of what was there before?”

    I would say BINGO! to this observation but for some it is a “qualified Bingo” :) Many of us re-invented ourselves so as to both fit into our particular social mileu as well as hide. Not so much a personality change but more of a modification yet it still brought about a repression of at least poart of who were are as personalities.

    For me, gladly, I have never been a “flame”, a “queen” (sorry for the stereotypes but they do get a point across) or in any way effeminiate in my speech or mannerism. Quite the opposite and when I finally revealed the big secret to a coulple of close friends, knowing what a joker I am at heart, they really thought I was bullshitting them. Once I proved to them otherwise (don’t ask) they were truly floored.

    BUT the reinvention I had made of myself to reform myself into an image other than what I was at heart, was no free to SLOWLY revert to who I am. I was thoughtful of the people in my life who would be confused or hurt (no man is an island) and so I began the transformation by slowly allowing the real me to be relevaled and known (and by this I do not mean “come out” to one and all as gay…there is for me absolutely no need for this). But things like art, writing, interior design as one of my favorite hobbies/informal jobs..you know…the GAY stuff. LOL.

    Externally, the kind of clothes I might wear – still within the norm but more Euroepan in fidelity to my origins and likes and which is seen as a bit “fem” to many USA guys. Oh and the tats. Yeah I went through my 20s without them even though I wanted them but I somehow felt they were connected to the “secret” (yeah, stupid, but go figure) yet to get them became a freeling thing and now I have 7 nice ones.

    Anyhow I found this change as some would describe it, and this freedom to be who I was, as others might name it, to be the BEST thing about telling some close others about my sexuality as a part of who I am and not hiding it 24/7×365. Oh and in case anyone cares or wonders…no I have never gone into the lifestyle or subculutre though I am surrounded by it, but as a guy I admire puts its I am happy to be “Catholic, gay and feeling fine, thanks.” :)

    Reply
  8. Zach

    Steve wrote: “Maybe the personality change can be explained because, once someone comes out, he feels free to act in ways he wouldn’t have acted before (because someone might figure out his big secret); so maybe what looks like a change is actually just a revealing of what was there before?”

    I want to follow up on that as well.

    In general, I don’t see any change as necessarily revealing what was already there. Coming out is significant for a lot of people, even if it’s not a difficult stage (although, let’s be real, it almost always is). And when you get past people being okay with you being gay, telling them you prefer modern theatre to the racetrack is a lot easier than saying you’re gay. It’s like getting past the first big hurdle, the rest are hilariously small. You feel free to try out lots of different types of hobbies or identities.

    I’ve never bought the meme of a one, true identity. I feel like I have a core of values and interests, but there is no true “me” for myself or anyone else to “know”. I have a history, I have hobbies, but I am not inherently a scientist. I am not inherently a piano player. I just like those things right now.

    Likewise, I wouldn’t say being attracted to men is inherently my identity, but I don’t see that changing. My partner is way too adorable for that to happen!

    So, I guess I always saw the “gay identity” as just a free one. I love the queer community for it’s immense diversity of cultures, histories, and activities, ranging from hiking to theatre-going. As for those who fall into the stereotypes… maybe it’s just an easy way to try and understand what you’re becoming a part of. While I was coming out, I had a big support network of people who were completely apathetic, and that was probably the best thing. Others don’t, and I think coming out to people lends them to have expectations for the person coming out, and it’s easy to fill those expectations and find social recognition.

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  9. BettyDuffy

    Hi, I’m new here, and late to the discussion. But your point about a change in personality when people come out struck a chord.

    I’m a married heterosexual woman, but one of my best friends from childhood was a gay male. I say “was,” not because I disapproved of his coming out, though it made me sad to see him fall into a life of sin–just as it made me sad to see girlfriends becoming promiscuous–and just as I was disappointed with myself when I encountered my own personal struggles with chastity. I say “was,” because the personality change was incredible. Our common interests, ones we had shared from a pre-sexual age, simply diverged.

    There were some new affects, yes, though he’d always been a little bit effeminate, but more than anything, it seemed like all the fun things we used to do, innocent things– “play”– all of it disappeared. He became very serious, mission oriented, raising awareness, being defensive even when not under attack.

    It was very similar, actually, to what happens when good Christian girls become sexually active–as a lot of girlfriends from that same time went through similar transformations.

    Since the changes came about when he became sexually active, rather than at puberty (likewise with girlfriends) I’ve often wondered if it wasn’t more of a response to sin rather than homosexuality.

    It’s been interesting to watch another transformation: some of my female friends who were promiscuous in high school, having married and rejected formerly sinful lifestyles, return to that sense of “play.” Sex and making conquests no longer occupies so much mental space.

    I realize I’ve just made a lot of sweeping generalities–but this is a mystery I’ve been trying to decode. Why does sex change people so much when it takes place outside of marriage?

    Reply

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