There are a lot of very screwed up gay Catholics out there. By “screwed up” I mean isolated, neurotic, guilt-ridden, anxious, depressed, tormented, narcissistic, and self-pitying.
It’s impossible to say whether this is the effect of a regime of imposed celibacy. Because what we’re seeing is not just a generation of people who have grown up under a regime of imposed celibacy. We’re seeing a generation of people who have grown up under a regime of imposed celibacy and imposed silence.
Of the two, I very much suspect that silence is more destructive. Celibacy can ennoble. Silence can kill. Let’s make things easier for the next generation, and see how they turn out.
I’m on day 30 of Clean Of Heart, which is cool. Father T. is my official accountability partner, but as I’m not willing to ask him to give me time every single day to talk about the silly, petty mechanics of my lust, even though he’d never put it that way; and, knowing what a thorough and generous shepherd he is to his flock, I doubt he’d have time anyway. So we only talk once a week or so. But imagine my delight when somebody else in my life decided to start using the program and asked me to be their partner! Now we both get one.
Speaking of partners, it turns out that there is some kind of trend among some gay Christian folk to have some sort of unclassifiable relationship that isn’t marriage, exactly, and isn’t pointing towards marriage, either, because it is celibate; but isn’t friendship, exactly, either, because it involves a kind of exclusivity that friendship doesn’t. I presume it involves an amount of cuddling that friendship doesn’t usually involve, either.
I don’t know what to think about all that. Maybe it depends on which side you approach it from. It would be a terrible idea for me to enter into a kind of relationship like that, because it’d be a movement away from my commitment to celibacy, even if it wouldn’t by itself constitute a rejection of celibacy.
On the other hand, it would obviously be a good thing if two gay men who had previously been sexually active with each other decided to make their relationship celibate; good in the same sense that Benedict XVI famously, and misconstruedly, said that for a male prostitute to start using condoms, after having not used them, would be step in the right direction; even though the best thing would be for him not to be a prostitute at all. But, you know, baby steps.
I can tell you about the hundreds of times I have felt the need to cuddle, embrace, hold, and kiss another man. I know the ache of wanting a hand to hold and a partner to love. It is such a strong desire at times that I feel as though my heart is about to rip out of my chest. I feel the desire streaming through my veins, and in every fiber of my being. It is a burning ache that yearns to be satisfied and is begging to be quenched.
I know what he means. At the same time, I don’t believe this is something that simply needs to be accepted as a permanent feature of his day-to-day existence. It has to be accepted and offered up right now, yes, and doing so will get him further along the road that he needs to travel.
But this kind of heartwrench doesn’t only point to the fact that he’s celibate and would rather not be; because this isn’t the way that straight, single people express themselves. This kind of heartwrench is what comes to people, gay or straight, who have deep wounds that badly need tending.
A gay guy that aches for touch that badly isn’t going to find healing in getting a boyfriend who will touch him, because such an ache that intense is indicative of something else. But, the point is, a straight guy that aches for touch that badly isn’t going to find healing in getting a girlfriend who will touch him, either. In both cases, it’s a bandaid rather than a cure.
Yesterday I set up a Facebook page. I also put some social-media links on the navigation bar, up yonder, and some liking-and-sharing buttons at the end of every post. You won’t hurt my feelings if you ignore them.
Realer Than Real
The cover photo on the Facebook page, by the way, is Nicholas Roerich’s Bridge of Glory. Miniature version below. Click to embiggen.
His landscapes always seem alive, his earth less an expanse of dead dirt and more the hide of some huge, slumbering animal. In that way he reminds me of Charles Burchfield, who was a pantheist and, well, it shows:
Roerich’s landscapes are often visited by gods, who always seem larger than life, not only in dimension but in quality: in that way they remind me of the creatures of Ray Harryhausen. Cf. Roerich’s Order Of Rigden Jyepo:
For Burchfield, on the other hand, God, or a god,1 is rarely visible, but he suffuses the landscape, or maybe waits just outside the frame — cf. his Autumnal Fantasy:
I like painters who make things look realer than real — not because reality isn’t enough by itself, but because if our doors of perception were cleansed, then I imagine the world would look a lot more like Roerich and Burchfield than it does. As it is, we’re bound to trudge along with foggy eyes for the time being, but it’s good to have a reminder of what we’re trudging towards.
1For the regexp-inclined among you, that’d be /(a\s)?[gG]od/.
I’m working on a real post or several, but in the meantime, I am going to piggyback off of Mudblood Catholic’s 100th post. What a post. Here are the bits that made me nod and grin the hardest. [Indented bits are him, other bits are me.]
The trouble about discussing sexuality — and this is not peculiar to gay sexuality — is that it involves you in nearly everything. There’s a sense in which sexuality is the crossroads of our being: every level of our self is involved in it at once.
Yes, totally. That’s why it’s actually fortuitous that the culture at large is in such a lather about homosexuality: we’re being forced to confront all sorts of things that have never been quite this urgent before. What’s marriage? What’s sex for? Are men different from women, and if so, how?
The common Catholic tactic of implying that giving up sex shouldn’t be such a big deal to someone who isn’t selfishly hedonistic, betrays a woefully shallow outlook on sex and sexuality. Yes, there are other modes of experiencing and expressing love; yes, we don’t “need” sex the way we need food and drink; that isn’t the point. The need to love and be loved as a specifically incarnate being, the need to give of oneself, and the need to create, are real needs of the human person; and erotic love — truly or falsely — holds out the promise of all three.
I plead guilty. Not very long ago, I was all “What’s the big deal, guys, it’s just SEX”. But the thing about sex is that it’s never just sex. For me — a guy from a big Catholic family, who got somehow remarkably and providentially plugged into a big Catholic community, that’s magically full of tolerant-yet-orthodox people — for me to say “Dude, celibacy ain’t no thang” is about as fair as a silver-spooned ivy-leagued trust-fund kid telling a panhandler “Have you tried working harder?”
God is remarkably prosaic…the practice of prayer and taking part in the sacraments have a very unspectacular appearance. But they are of the essence. Prayer is our lungs; the Eucharist is our heart; Confession is our immune system.
A lot of the authors I’ve read seem to imply that, once you have some solid friendships under your belt, you stop being lonely and don’t want a partner any more. To that, I have to respectfully cry bullshit. Loneliness is a feature of all human life, and, yes, being the single one in a group of predominantly married friends can exacerbate that instead of helping. You need friends because intimate friendship is something that every person needs to be a healthy person, not because they act collectively as some kind of surrogate spouse.
True that. It’s probably unavoidable, at some stage in the journey, to use your friends as a collective, surrogate spouse, but that can’t be the end.
“Father, I wore those weird shoes with the individual toes.”
“This problem is beyond me, my child.”
Sexuality involves more than just the urge to make; it also involves the more specific urge to beget — to be a mother or a father. The fight of the LGBT movement for adoption rights is not just about making a political point about equality; I think it is linked to this far deeper desire.
Yeah, Gabriel, wow. Who woulda thought a brony could be such a mensch?
Arleen Spenceley, who to judge by her writing appears to be some sort of human Catholic firecracker, is working on a book about love, chastity, and sex. She gave me a mini-email-interview to get a few words from my particular quadrant of that universe, and has agreed to let me stick ’em here, because that way I get an extra post practically for free, and so do you! I wrote this fast, and have done a little light editing since the email.
What does it mean to be chaste when one is attracted to the same sex?
Speaking broadly, it means the same thing for me as it does for anyone else: integrating my sexuality into the rest of myself. More specifically, it means celibacy, since there’s no way for me to be morally consistent and be in a sexual relationship with a man, and I don’t believe I’m called to marry a woman, although some in my situation may be.
The celibacy part is actually easier than is widely believed. What’s harder, for me, is what my spiritual director refers to as “emotional chastity”. There are times when I feel drawn to a man, emotionally above all, but I have to accept that the sort of emotional bond I’m looking for with him isn’t actually appropriate. It would be appropriate if he were a woman, or if I were a woman. So my heart reaches out for this kind of deep connection which either can’t or shouldn’t exist — whether “can’t” or “shouldn’t” is a more appropriate word is still an open question for me.
That’s not to say that I can’t or shouldn’t develop deep relationships with other men, and in fact these relationships are some of my greatest sources of joy. But I’m coming to understand that there’s a line that can’t be crossed even with my closest male friends — not a physical line (which is obvious), but an interior, emotional line. That’s emotional chastity, and that’s hard.
This segues into the next question:
Do you believe you’re missing out because you don’t date men or have sex with them?
Oh, absolutely. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t missing out. The fact of the matter is that celibacy is profoundly unnatural — which is to say that a human being is built, emotionally and spiritually and physically, for union with another human being. There are a lot of good reasons why that might never happen with individual people, but the fact remains that, on the natural level, there is something in our makeup that is frustrated by celibacy. It is not good for man to be alone. But there it is: this is a broken world, and good things come at a price. For me, the price for living in the truth is that I remain without a mate. It’s a price I am willing to pay.
I’m still recovering from the overflowing love and support I got in the comboxes, and on facebook, and by text message, and via twitter. I’m delighted, but not surprised, to find out that all the people in my life who I suspected of being kind and compassionate and generous really are that way. Thank you all so much. More than one of your messages brought tears to my eyes,1 and one in particular actually reduced me to a human puddle for a short while.
It’s really weird to have hidden something for so long because people might think it’s creepy or ugly or bad or sad or gross, only to have everyone in the world congratulate you when you let it out. Whaa? I think I just had my native simile jarred.
2: Haters Gonna Hate
Of course, it was also weird to have my celibacy treated as a personal affront, and to be called brainwashed and “douchey”, and to be told that I’m only celibate because nobody would want to have sex with me anyway, and to be warned that celibacy is impossible and I’m bound to start raping people left and right at any moment. Okey doke.
These things didn’t bother me, partly because the support FAR outweighed the insults — like, a hundred to one — and partly because these people weren’t even yelling at me, but at some bizarre brain-monster that their own prejudices had conjured up.
They reminded me of the crazy homeless people who walk back and forth down the street all day, screaming at the air. You wish you could do something for them, but they can’t hear or see you, and if you get too close, they’ll just fart at you.
3: I’m Different From You
That’s what I want to tell people who don’t know why I felt it necessary to come out publicly. Being gay doesn’t just mean having a particular bizarre sporadic arbitrary desire to sleep with other men. It means dealing, day in and day out, with what Melinda Selmys calls involuntary currents of homoeroticism. It means, for better or worse, the whole way you relate to other human beings, both men and women, is a little bit different from what people expect.
So it’s not only about what happens in the bedroom, but also in the office, on the street, at the movies, and at the dinner table. It’s a big deal. I don’t mean that every human interaction is secretly, unconsciously, about sex, or even that sex is the most important human interaction. I just mean that if your sexual preferences are different from other people’s, it’s a good indicator that a lot of other things about you are different, too.
4: I’m the Same As You
…And that’s what I want to tell everyone else. When I make some personal revelation to Ryan G.2 about my jealousy, or envy, or loneliness, and he looks at me and says, “Yeah, that’s perfectly normal, I’ve totally been there” — even though he’s straight and I’m gay — this means the WORLD to me. Growing up secretly gay, unable to share the things you feel most deeply with almost anybody — this has the effect of reinforcing, ever more deeply, the idea that you are fundamentally different from everybody around you.
That takes a long time to unlearn. But unlearning it, piece by piece, is where most of my healing has come from. The things I deal with are ordinary human things. Most men have, at one time or another, experienced the discomfort of liking something that Guys Don’t Like, or being more sensitive than is supposed to be appropriate for men, or being jealous or envious of their male friends. All that stuff might be a bigger deal for me than it is for them, but it’s just normal guy stuff.
5: Talking About It
I had a delightful, somewhat beery conversation with a Kung Fu buddy last night, all about religion in general and Catholicism and Buddhism and atheism and agnosticism in particular, and why on earth someone would want to be celibate, and what tolerance actually means.
This is part of why I came out: because I care deeply about these things, and I want to lay all my cards on the table when I talk about them, or at least to have the option. And I want other people to ask the things they have been wondering, without feeling like I’m going to bite their heads off for it.
6: Not Talking About It
On the other hand, when I went to pub trivia with some friends last Tuesday, the subject didn’t come up once. At first I was silently all But doesn’t everyone want to talk about how gay I am?, but that soon gave way to gratitude: for them, it was and would remain a total non-issue, unless it happened to be relevant to the situation, which it wasn’t. That’s exactly the way it should be.
7: What’s Next?
I have no idea. There’s a documentary coming out about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, and I’m in it, so there’s that. I’m not sure when it’ll hit the youtubes, but I’ll keep you posted. If you’ve emailed or facebooked or anythingelsed me in the last week, I probably haven’t responded yet, unless you clearly weren’t looking for a response. But I will, and if I don’t, I absolutely GUARANTEE that it’s an accident, because of overactive spam filters or accidental deletion or who knows what. If this is you, I’m sorry! Please feel free to be persistent.
Meanwhile, here’s a video of a hillbilly and his raccoon dancing to Aretha Franklin.
1Or anyway, they would have, except that would be SUPER GAY, so I probably just cleared my throat or something. 2The G., of course, stands for “Gooseling”.
[But] this vocation, this call of love, makes itself felt in very diverse ways . . . The young Christian woman who remains unmarried in spite of her own desires may—if she firmly believes in the providence of the heavenly Father—recognize in life’s vicissitudes the voice of the master: Magister adest et vocat te — the Master is at hand, and is calling you. . . . In the impossibility of matrimony, she discerns her vocation.
I like the piece, although it’s more statement than argument. It proposes a way of thinking about celibacy without going very far towards convincing us that we should think of it that way, or showing us how to think of it that way. But that isn’t nothing.
It reminds me of a quotation whose source I can’t remember: Love can always transform necessity into choice.
This comes to my mind most often when I’m in the middle of a depressive episode and the pain won’t stop. I ask myself: “Is this something I would voluntarily take on if I knew it would help my friend [x]?” And if the answer is Yes, then the question of whether it’s voluntary or not becomes moot, since the result is the same: I accept it, I will it, and it bears fruit, both in my life and in the lievs of those I love.
This idea of offering up suffering is so important to my life, and so central to my understanding of Catholicism, that I was astounded to notice Andrew Sullivan, a lifelong Catholic, had apparently never heard of it. I’ve been reading Sullivan’s Love Undetectable, and while my fingers fairly twitch with the urge to respond to a lot of what I’ve read, I don’t want to respond in full till I’ve finished. Still, this passage deserves a look:
Abstinence forever; abstinence always; abstinence not for the sake of something else, but for its own sake…Jesus’ suffering was at least for something [emphasis added], for forgiveness, for universal redemption, remaining in his desperate isolation on the cross a symbol of human brokenness who opened his pinioned arms to everyone. It was an act of eternal solidarity with the suffering, not an arbitrary invitation to the ordeal.1
Dear God, man, every one who’s ever been born has been issued an invitation to that ordeal. And who said it’s arbitrary? And Jesus came, not just to suffer for us, but to present to us a means of lifting up our own suffering. Forgiveness, universal redemption, solidarity with brokenness — these are all things which, because of Christ’s sacrifice, our suffering can mean and does mean. Here’s John Paul II on the subject:
Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.2
As awesome as this is, it’s also Catholicism 101. Where on earth has Andrew Sullivan been all his Catholic life that he hasn’t heard of this?
1Page 43 in the paperback edition. 2From his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris. Full text here.
Hey, this is a neat post from the Marriage Matters blog:
I don’t mean that [priests] simply acquiesce to celibacy, but they embrace it with their whole heart. I am not simply referring to men who think to themselves, “Golly, marriage would be good. Women are beautiful. Sex sounds nice. But, oh well.” I’m speaking of men who have stared into the eyes of a woman with the passionate desire to sweep her off of her feet, profess his love and fidelity to her at the altar, make sweet, sweet love to her, and have a huge Catholic family; men who have looked straight in the eyes of an individual, particular, woman with whom he is in love—and who is in love with him–and said, “I choose Jesus. I choose priesthood. I choose celibacy.”
Whole post is here. It’s quick and not overly ponderous, and I liked it for its genuineness.
In other news, the date for moving out is SOON, because I am DYING up in here; also I am taking a long-overdue week’s vacation to go speeding around New England on my faithful iron steed (if she’s out of the shop by then, ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseGod) and see Sal & others; and also I just got back from my first session with a new therapist who, as far as I can tell, really gets it. So I am, relatively speaking, pretty chipper. Hoorah.
One of the dangers of a life like mine — being single, living alone, working a job that mainly involves staring at glowing rectangles all day — is that your faults tend to get hidden from you.
When I was a teacher, It was impossible to avoid my faults: how little it takes to make me lose patience, how I have it in me to be casually cruel even to a sixth-grader if I’m short on sleep, how prone I am to sulking when my free time gets hijacked.
Living with the community in Peru, even for just a few months, was the same. I remember doing chores with Brother Pedro one day, sweeping the floors but avoiding his eyes because just looking at him made me furious; muttering Hail Marys under my breath like they were curses, because it was either pray for his wretched, pedantic soul or beat him to death with the broom. All this because — I honestly can’t remember; probably something about the tone of voice he kept using, or this way he had of sniffing and lifting an eyebrow.1
It’s lucky I come from a big family, and that nearly everyone in my family has a big family. I’m surrounded by role models.
Caleb works overtime every week, sometimes six or seven days in a row, just to make ends meet, and all he wants to do with his time off is give that time away to his family. Caleb comes particularly to mind because I’m housesitting for him this weekend, and noticing how all I can think of is how far of a drive it is from my place to his, and how his stupid dog won’t quit licking me.
But it’s not just Caleb. I could say the same about my other married brothers and sisters. Sacrifice isn’t just something they do from time to time, when they quit watching TV and get around to it. It’s how they live.
People keep telling me how wonderful I am for, well, just not having sex with anybody. And believe me, I snap up those compliments like my brother’s stupid dog snaps up doggie treats.2 And frankly, yes, it’s hard work remaining chaste and celibate.3 It’s difficult, and it causes me pain.
But I have less and less patience with this question: “How can the Church require homosexuals to be celibate? How can she impose such a heavy cross?”
Why do people think that living a good life is supposed to be easy? Readers, whoever you are — gay, straight, married, single, relatively healthy or inflicted with any one of a billion possible debilitating pathologies — you will be asked to carry a cross. It’s going to be hard, and it’s not going to be fair.
This is a world where evil is real, and where the only real antidote is love — not medicine, not political change, not advanced anti-suffering technology, but love. And love always costs.
Suffering and self-denial aren’t extraordinary; they’re par for the course. What did you expect?
1Yep, I was an expert on the shades of emotional inflection in a language I could barely even speak and a culture I knew nothing about. 2And rawhide strips, and shoes, and newspapers, and toys, and the cat’s food (but not her own), and bugs, and cigarette butts…I think I’ve lost sight of my original simile. 3Not a redundancy. Celibacy means refraining from sexual activity. Chastity means integrating your sexuality with the rest of your personality, in a way that’s appropriate to your station in life. The former is required of some people; the latter is required of everybody.
I tried for over an hour to write this post about what happened today at the gym. It was about how, even though I found out my gym buddy Eddy is gay, and found this out by him hitting on me, and had to tell him that yes, I’m (1) gay, but also (2) Catholic and therefore (3) celibate, I feel nothing but good and satisfied and proud of myself.
Well, I do feel good and satisfied and proud of myself. I don’t feel regret. Starting something with him isn’t something I could have done. Eddy’s got a gentle smile and is built like a tank besides, and did I mention I have sort of a thing for Latinos? But in the end there’s only one man worth starting over for, worth turning your life completely upside down, and that man’s a Jew, not a Puerto Rican.
All the good ones are gay. Ladies? Amirite?1
I actually didn’t notice, until I emailed my friend D. about it, that I was kind of upset. I noticed that I was using more exclamation points than usual, and asking more questions, in rapid-fire: what do I do now? Do I start steering clear of the steam room? Change my gym schedule so we don’t run into each other? Can we still be friends? Should I have been more clear?
But I was clear. I told him I’m celibate; that I knew I couldn’t be both gay and Catholic; that I chose the one that I knew was more important. He apologized, said he felt like he was being a mala influencia, and I told him No te preocupes, I understand, I would’ve done the same thing.
It’s not that I’ve ever thought about him, much, outside of when we happen to cross paths. It’s not that we’re a match in any way, if being a “match” romantically with another man were even possible. It’s — heck, it’s not even that I’ve never been hit on by a man before. Just not by anybody I actually knew or liked.
Just as well I couldn’t patch together a glib post about how it’s all fine. Sometimes it ain’t fine. It’s not terrible, either, just not fine. Así es.
Just as well, too, that I’ve got Adoration tomorrow morning. It’s not like Jesus isn’t used to me complaining.
1I have never actually typed this word before. Looks a bit like one of those Old Testament peoples: And the Israelites cut down the Amirites by the edge of the sword. And also their King, Og, who smelled of spoiled meat.
The Church recognizes that sex is a sign, not the reality. It is sacramental, but it is never proposed as the sacrament of the altar…That’s not because sex is impure. It’s because sex is a raging fire that will burn out of control once you remove it from the only safe place it can be found: the fireplace of the marriage bed. Kept there, it is as pure as virginity.
In other news, Amy Winehouse is dead. I don’t know if she was a good woman or a bad woman, but she was certainly a wounded one — something I and many of y’all can identify with — and she made music that was beautiful and genuine. That is certainly something. Let’s pray for her.
Speaking of The Beautiful and The Wounded, do you all know Heather King? She is an “ex-lawyer, ex-drunk Catholic convert.” I keep meaning to read her memoirs, Parched and then Redeemed, but her blog is lovely. Excerpt from The Gestalt of Christ:
Christ never spoke with hubris and he never spoke with obfuscation. He spoke in such a way that we are invited to ponder the deepest mysteries of ourselves, our daily lives, and the people around us. I mean is not Christ the original, ÜBER koan, and everything he said and did a koan? He is utterly transparent and utterly unfathomable. He revealed himself fully and he also said “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” [John 16:12]. He was all secret and had no secrets.
Happy Sunday! It rained all over my frustrated attempts to fix my turn signals, but now the sun is shining and I’m off to a barbecue, sans bike.