Hiding In Plain Sight

It’s a strange feeling, having people know about my SSA. Partly strange in that it is not strange. When I was fourteen and very far from being used to the whole thing, the idea of anybody else knowing, EVER, about what I then considered to be a shameful secret, was pure terror.

Now, not so much. It would have been different when I was fourteen and so were my friends, but by the time you’re in you’re late twenties, a friend telling you about something that’s wrong with him1 shouldn’t be surprising. You are broken? Oh. So am I. So is everyone I know.

Some old friends have come across the blog. I don’t object, not at all. Dear A.(I mean, F.) and N. and J. and anybody else who’s discovered this, recognized me, and is worried about letting me know, please don’t be. I saw this coming, and if you knew enough about my life to have known it was me, then you knew most of the important bits already.

Then again, maybe you just recognized the shape of my nose? I do have a very distinctive nose.

1 Still getting flak about this “something wrong with me” business. It’s not a moral judgment on me or any other man with SSA, just a fact. Recognizing one’s flaws — that SSA is a flaw is obvious to anyone who hasn’t been indoctrinated to believe otherwise — isn’t the same thing as self-hatred.


44 Comments on “Hiding In Plain Sight”

  1. Liz says:

    Yes, you do have a distinctive nose (well in the pic at least). 🙂

  2. Lori says:

    Quote: “You are broken? Oh. So am I. So is everyone I know.”

    AMEN AMEN AMEN

    We ALL are given battles of the spirit and flesh that the LORD will help us to overcome. It’s not just SSA but also additions, temptations, even attitudes.

    Sadly, in today’s world, some think we should just go with it; we’re born that way, so why fight it? We try to by pass the opportunity to be made holy in our struggles.

    Once again, you nailed it. And I’m so glad your friends are finding you; I suspect a deeper friendship will come of it 🙂

  3. You will appreciate this. I just wrote publicly today about my 14-year-old daughter’s eating disorder. She offered this to me, saying I could write about it. I was surprised, but knew it could be healing for us both. We are all broken. We all have wounds. We are all vulnerable, fragile creatures. The best we can do is help one another along by sharing our stories. In doing this, we put salve one each others’ wounds. Bless you in bringing your story to light even though your real friends might know now. There is power in truth and honesty. And no one can escape the cross. We are all destined to carry it at one point or another. It’s part of being human. It leads us into the arms of our loving father if we dare face it.

  4. Amanda says:

    I wish more people would admit their brokenness and realized that you’re right, we are all broken. Also, that your friends know and recognize you is a good thing in my opinion. They know you well enough to realize your honesty and integrity.

    Thank you for your blog, I truly enjoy it.

  5. Helene from Montana says:

    You are a brave man, Steve Gershom.

  6. Anna says:

    Actually, the shape of your nose was the final clue for me. (Which is saying a LOT, since I’m faceblind.) You rock.

    1. You’re not so bad yourself, kiddo.

  7. Mark from PA says:

    Steve, you shouldn’t feel that something is wrong with you. Being gay is not a flaw. I have to admit that I am not all that comfortable with the term “SSA.” Actually it was only about 5 years ago when I first heard this term and I am a middle aged person. In my opinion the term SSA is something of a put down as it emphasizes a person’s attractions as if this is the most important thing about the person. I think almost all people have some attraction to people of the same sex. For example, many women watch beauty pageants and have an appreciation of the beauty of other women. And of course many men admire wrestlers, football players and other sports stars. This is part of the human condition. Most people can find people of the opposite sex and the same sex that they find attractive. In regard to the term homosexual, I don’t really care for this word and find it too clinical. I would never use this word in speech to refer to myself. I tend to prefer the word gay. To me it has less negative connotations but I do realize that many people that have a strong dislike for gay people also have a dislike for the term gay.

    Back to the term “SSA.” When I was a child and younger teen I found women and girls to be more attractive than guys. The opposite sex was more attractive to me. However, I found “girlie” magazines to be disgusting and wouldn’t have anything to do with that stuff. As an older teen I was teased a little bit because of the way I was. I remember when I was 18 a female friend of mine showed me a letter to her from a friend of hers that had a crush on me and in it she said, “Everybody knows that he is gay.” The odd thing is that I don’t remember being all that upset by reading this. For some reason when I was younger, if people got homophobic with me, my attitude was, “Who are you to judge me?” I am not openly gay and I don’t really discuss it with people but have come to realize that some people may view me as gay. For some reason I don’t feel comfortable discussing it with people that I know so I admire your openness, Steve. It is odd because for most of my life I didn’t even discuss this with myself. I think Matthew Shepard’s death had an impact on me. When I saw those horrible people from the Westboro Baptist Church and their hatred for gay people, it really struck a nerve with me. I realized that some people truly hate people like me. I still think that I have a hard time coming to terms with this. At the time I thought that I was lucky because I was Catholic and the Catholic Church had a lot of gay priests and was OK with gay people. Since then, I have come to learn that some people in the Catholic Church have a strong dislike for gay people and some would even like them out of the Church. It is upsetting to me to know this. Even some of our Church leaders have a dislike for gay people and this troubles me. I still have a hard time accepting that some of my fellow Catholics wouldn’t like or accept me because of the way God made me. I am still trying to work this out.

    1. Steve, you shouldn’t feel that something is wrong with you. Being gay is not a flaw.

      I appreciate that you’re being compassionate, but I have to disagree. I don’t feel guilty about being gay, or disgusted, or angry, or whatever. But saying it isn’t a flaw doesn’t make sense. Did God intend for my sexuality to work a particular way? Yes. Does it work that way? No. That makes it a flaw. The world is broken by original sin, so there’s nobody who doesn’t have flaws.

      I have to admit that I am not all that comfortable with the term “SSA.” Actually it was only about 5 years ago when I first heard this term and I am a middle aged person. In my opinion the term SSA is something of a put down as it emphasizes a person’s attractions as if this is the most important thing about the person.

      If that’s how you feel about it, that’s fine with me. I suppose a person should be able to refer to himself however he wants to. I’ve always felt that referring to it as SSA allows me to think of it as something I have, rather than something I am.

      When I saw those horrible people from the Westboro Baptist Church and their hatred for gay people, it really struck a nerve with me.

      Yes, their hatred is very troubling. It’s a shame that such a small group has become so visible, and I think some people imagine that they somehow represent all Christians, when really they are…well, a group of disturbed people who need our prayer.

      Since then, I have come to learn that some people in the Catholic Church have a strong dislike for gay people and some would even like them out of the Church. It is upsetting to me to know this.

      It’s upsetting to me, too, although I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never encountered much bigotry from fellow Catholics, and certainly none from those to whom I’ve revealed my SSA. Mostly I’ve just encountered Catholics who are quite willing to accept me as I am. I even believe that these people love me enough that they would tell me I was wrong if I ever decided to cut myself off from the Church and pursue the homosexual lifestyle.

      Peace
      SG

  8. Leila says:

    I think your footnote is excellent.

  9. jason taylor says:

    Telling someone they “shouldn’t” feel something isn’t really enough, Mark. There are lots of things I shouldn’t feel either.

  10. Ron says:

    We all are broken in some way. In a perfect world it should make us more compassionate, more understanding of one another. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and as Catholics, we don’t belong to a Church filled with perfect people. The challenge for each one of us is to be who we are, to be open to dialogue with others, to be models of tolerance for other people, and to know that we will not always be treated as we would hope to be treated. As the song from the 1960s said, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

  11. MAMaK says:

    I am an 18yo Catholic who has SSA. I really appreciate this blog. I was listening to Spirit radio and heard your show a few days ago. I was really inspired by it. I have been struggling terribly recently, and you gave me just the uplift I needed to keep fighting the good fight. Thank you for being there for me even when you didn’t know. I’ve been keeping it a secret from most everyone except for a few good friends, but I decided to talk to my parish priest about it, and really start getting more help rather than failing on my own time and time again. I pray for you.

    1. That’s great! I don’t know where I’d be without Father T. Stay strong, and you are in my prayers — thank you for yours.

  12. Mark from PA says:

    I agree with what you are saying Ron. I remember that song well from high school and college. I still remember the words. We need to live by that.

  13. Ron says:

    Hi MAMaK, I agree with Steve…stay strong and fight the good fight. It is essential to have a strong prayer life, including the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and a good support system. Please check out the website for the Courage Apostolate http://www.couragerc.net There are groups throughout the country (internationally really) as well as online groups. I will add my prayers to yours.

  14. Mark from PA says:

    Steve, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your input. But did you ever think that God intended you to be the way you are and that you are beautiful to Him as you are? You see when I was a young person I never heard any of this stuff about gay people being disordered and intrinsically evil. I was out of high school when those documents were written. It saddens me to think that many Catholics view gay people as disordered and therefore defective and inferior people. However, from what I have read most Catholics don’t feel like this and are accepting of gay people. Actually Catholics are more accepting of gay people than people of most other religions. But still it hurts to know that some higher ups in our Church have a strong dislike for gay people.

    1. Mark:

      But did you ever think that God intended you to be the way you are…?

      I don’t understand what you mean. Are you saying that God intended me to be attracted to men, but knew that I couldn’t act on this attraction? That would be like God making food delicious (which He did), but also intended for some people to be unable to eat. That doesn’t make any sense.

      But maybe you mean that it is not immoral for gay men to act on their attractions? If that’s what you’re saying, I disagree, but at least you would be logically consistent.

      You see when I was a young person I never heard any of this stuff about gay people being disordered and intrinsically evil.

      The Church does not say that, about gay people or about anybody. Maybe you are thinking of the passage in the Catechism that says “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” That is very, very different from saying “gay people are intrinsically evil.”

    2. gaby says:

      I’m disturbed by commentators -on this blog and elswhere- being unable to distinguish between believing that homosexual acts are immoral and ‘disliking’ gays. The two do NOT inevitably go together. I can be ‘accepting’ of a gay person, meaning, I will treat him with kindness and respect, without ‘accepting’ homosexual acts as morally permissible or SSA as anything but disordered. I challenge anyone to name one single “higher up” in the Church who has a “strong dislike for gay people” and back it up with proof of actual DISLIKE, as opposed to mere moral opposition to homosexual acts. Why is this distinction so ellusive?!? Any person who upholds the Church’s teachings is accused of ‘homophobia’, of HATING gays, which is complete unfair and unfounded. I can hold that cheating, gossiping, lying, boasting, coveting and wishing ill of others are immoral, yet if I hated every single person who ever cheated, gossiped, lied, boasted, coveted or wished ill of others, I wouldn’t love a single soul, including my own. We are ALL defective; we all have our own particular defects; gays are no different from anyone else, but for some reason -perhaps because our modern culture considers sex as the HIGHEST good, in any way, shape or circumstance- the tendency today is to normalize SSA and to deny the immorality of gay sex, and to accuse anyone who doesn’t of hatred, dislike, intolerance, and bigotry.

  15. Duck says:

    Hi
    Heard you Catholic Answers, and I had to write a review.

    Great show and blog, BTW.

  16. Libby says:

    Wow. Kept hearing about your blog and finally found it today. Love it!

  17. Mark from PA says:

    Steve, I found this quote in a letter to the bishop of the Catholic Church regarding the “homosexual problem.” “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus this inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” I find this to be somewhat dehumanizing as it labels people with a homosexual orientation (inclination) as defective and inferior. It seems to state that gay people are ordered toward evil. I was out of school when this was written so I never read this document until a few years ago. As there are many gay people in the world, it seems that this is the will of God. If God did not want any gay people, they would not exist. I am not saying that some homosexual actions are not immoral. Some are, but not all are. If people hug or kiss one another, I don’t see this as immoral but if people force themselves on others or pick up strangers, that is immoral. But this holds true for heterosexual persons as well as gay people.

    1. “As there are many gay people in the world, it seems that this is the will of God.”

      The same thing could be said for war, AIDS, Down Syndrome, or cancer. There is a difference between things God actively wills and things He permits. I believe that SSA is one of the things He permits.

      To call homosexuality a disorder is not to dehumanize people with SSA, any more than calling Down Syndrome a disease is to dehumanize people with Down Syndrome.

  18. bearing says:

    “did you ever think that God intended you to be the way you are and that you are beautiful to Him as you are?”

    God doesn’t intend any of us to be the way we are — at least not permanently. He wants better for every one of us. Every one.

  19. MAMaK says:

    Mark,
    All humans are ordered toward evil (in a sense). We are all ordered toward sin in that we experience original sin. Some people are ordered to drinking too much alcohol. Some are ordered to an excessive temper. Some are ordered to SSA. etc. We are all “defective and inferior” to our original human dignity in this sense. We all have crosses, but each of us has a unique set. God does not desire us to be broken; He wants us to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” Obviously God not wanting us to be broken didn’t stop us from being broken, so God not wanting some of us to have SSA did not stop us from that. However, I would say that homosexual acts (such as kissing and hugging) if they are ordered to a further intention (such as forcing themselves or picking up strangers or fornicating) would be wrong for anyone regardless of attraction. However, if the kiss was just one of love or otherwise (Judas kissed Jesus as a sign of master-servant love), then there would be nothing bad about it. Kissing and hugging aren’t immoral, but the intentions or circumstances surrounding particular cases may be.

  20. Mark from PA says:

    Steve, Downs Syndrome is not a disease, it is a chromosomal difference from the norm. I don’t think you can compare a person with Downs Syndrome or a gay person to diseases like AIDS or cancer. Someone once said to be that having a gay child is like having a child with cancer, you love the child but you hate the disease. I don’t think the person realized what an insulting and ignorant thing he said. I also remember hearing a man tell of how he was bullied in school and called names. When his mom found out, she called him names too. She told him she would rather have had an abortion than a gay son.

    1. Mark,

      “I don’t think you can compare a person with Downs Syndrome or a gay person to diseases like AIDS or cancer.”

      Okay, I know you think the two can’t be compared. Can you tell me why?

      I know people with Down Syndrome who are beautiful, joyful people. But I think it would be better if they didn’t have Down Syndrome. Likewise, I know people who have battled, or are battling, cancer. They wouldn’t be upset if I referred to their cancer as a disease. They wouldn’t think I was labeling them or devaluing them. On the contrary, I think they’d be upset if I said, “There’s nothing wrong with your cancer! God intended you to have cancer!”

      Peace,
      SG

  21. Mark from PA says:

    MAMaK, I agree with you about hugging and kissing, they are also wrong if forced or with a bad intent, but good if they are used to show love and affection to a person who welcomes these signs of affection.
    However, you seem to be saying that God does not want anybody to be gay and you don’t really know that. I feel sorry for someone who is gay and feels so bad about himself (or herself) that he/she feels that God doesn’t want him/her to be that way. I think that is what some of these fundamentalist Christian sects tell people and to me this is harmful to young people. Is it so difficult to accept that God loves you for who you are?

  22. Steve, I have really enjoyed your responses. You’ve obviously grappled with this and really thought things through well and with much confusion at times, I’m sure, but in the end, you seem to have come to a true place of peace, acceptance and love, toward yourself and others. My question to you is…why has this response been so difficult for others who are SSA to receive? I think Gaby might be on to something here: “…perhaps because our modern culture considers sex as the HIGHEST good, in any way, shape or circumstance- the tendency today is to normalize SSA and to deny the immorality of gay sex, and to accuse anyone who doesn’t of hatred, dislike, intolerance, and bigotry.” This has been my experience, and it’s been so frustrating to work through, and it’s why I’m finding your blog so edifying, and the conversation so vital. Not just for SSA individuals but for everyone.

  23. Mark from PA says:

    Because human sexuality isn’t a disease, Steve. A priest explained to me that human sexuality is on a continuum. It is part of nature. I think things are better for young gay people today. More people are speaking out against bullying and mistreatment of young people. The “It get’s better” campaign is a positive development.

    1. “Human sexuality isn’t a disease” does not answer my question. Of course human sexuality is not a disease; nobody said that it was.

      If I said “hypertension is a disease,” it wouldn’t make sense for you to respond, “The circulatory system is not a disease!”

      But human sexuality can become diseased. It becomes diseased to the extent that it becomes separated from marriage and from procreation.

  24. Mark from PA says:

    Well, Steve, I just hope that you don’t feel that your sexuality is diseased. One saying that I learned in high school is “God don’t make junk.” Peace and blessings to you.

    1. I do feel that my sexuality is diseased. I just don’t feel bad about it, feel judged by others because of it, or feel that God loves me any less because of it.

      I think everyone’s sexuality is diseased, to a certain extent — just some in different ways from others. It’s one of the effects of original sin.

      But it looks like we’ve come to the end of what we can say to each other on this topic.

      So, peace and blessings to you too!

  25. MAMaK says:

    If I may add but one last snippet of opinion. Mark, you asked “Is it so difficult to accept that God loves you for who you are?” I know He does! He loves me for who I am more than I could ever truly imagine. He doesn’t love me for what I have, though. If you loved someone for what they had, we would say that you loved them for the wrong reason, and it’s true. SSA is not who I am, it’s what I have. You don’t love someone for who they are because they’re alcoholic. Alcoholism isn’t who they are, they’re much more than that. it is what they have.
    PAX.

  26. Mark from PA says:

    Oh, so you think everyone’s sexuality is diseased. I am trying to understand this. You say it is one of the effects of original sin but I went to 12 years of Catholic school and was always taught that Baptism wiped away original sin. On the one site some people (I think they might be Pius X Catholics) have said that homosexuality is caused by original sin but I was never taught this and do not believe it. But you say that you want to live a celibate life so you are surely better than guys that are skirt chasing womanizers.

    1. Mark,

      Reading the newspaper on any given day will very quickly tell you that the effects of Original Sin are not gone from the world. If that were true, Christians would never sin, never be sad, never be angry, never be lonely…

      Your teachers were right: Baptism wipes away Original Sin, insofar as it removes the punishment associated with it. But it does not remove all of the effects of Original Sin. (Life would be very different if it did!) Here is the Catechism:

      “By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.

      “Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence.”

  27. Mark from PA says:

    MAMaK, why do you compare yourself to an alcoholic? Some gay people are alcoholics and others are not. I don’t know if I am alcoholic or not. I don’t drink that much and have never been drunk so I don’t know. If someone told me I was just like an alcoholic I would feel like I was being put down. None of our characteristics is who we are, they are just part of what makes us a unique person. Sometimes it is hard to feel good about oneself. Just today a family member told me that I was ugly. I get a lot of negativity sometimes and all the put downs get hard to take.

  28. MAMaK says:

    My analogy was thought up quickly and without deep thought, so i’m sure I could have come up with a better one, but I feel that it explains my point. The point being that where one is damaged (wherever it may be), God has no emotional tie to that itself. He wishes we were fully purified, because that would mean we would be in heaven with Him, but He doesn’t love us more or less because of our flaws. He loves us for our choices in how we deal with these flaws. Everyone has to overcome selfishness, greed, hypocrisy, etc. These are flaws that we can overcome, though they may not be erased, we learn how to deal with them and live good lives. SSA is kind of like this (not exactly) in that it is a flaw (something good that has been damaged) that we learn to deal with (not necessarily erase), and live good lives.

    For us, celibacy is a good way to deal with them. marriage and the marital act are for some people, not all, and SSA is not the only reason.

    Being an alcoholic isn’t sinful. It’s a disordered desire for alcohol. Acting on it is sinful. I wouldn’t feel put down by BEING an alcoholic, just if I acted upon it and regretted it.

    I can sympathize with getting negativity, and feeling low because of it. I’ve totally been there before (it still happens sometimes), but there isn’t a lot we can do about other peoples’ free will. Hang in there, and remember that no matter what any human thinks of you, God knows you are beautiful, and His is the only opinion that matters when push comes to shove (spiritually).

    God Bless!
    PAX

  29. Mark from PA says:

    Thank you for your kind words, MAMaK. God bless you too.

  30. Virginia Daum says:

    Enjoyed your article in OSV. I don’t have SSA, but am single and old enough (60) to know that won’t change. You are so right about seeing people celebate priests, marrieds who are happy and fulfilled because they are giving. Funny, I just told that to my RCIA class. The only unhappy people I know are closed on themselves, and that’s no matter their state in life.
    Again, thanks for the article.

  31. Christine McDonald says:

    Dear Steve,

    I just finished your article in OSV, it was compelling to say the least. I am also in a desert; do you know anywhere for me to turn?

    My marriage of thirty one years ended in 2009 when my husband left me for a man. There are five children of this marrige, all are bruised and bewildered. My husband is not interested in his children any longer. He has a new name and a new life with his “husband in Massachusetts. Depression and anxiety have become a staple in my life. I keep my “game face’ on for my family. The truth is I am utterly and completely devastated. I am on many meds to keep me somewhat stable. The sin of despair has ,at times, been very strong. Everything I thought to be true was a lie.

    My ex-husband admitted to be sexually active with forty one men over the course of our marriage. He fathered our last child at thirty six years of age. I was left out of the decision making as I was unaware of his homosexuality.

    Our grief is deep and abiding. We live the other side of the gay ‘rights’ agenda. We are out here struggling.

    My ex-husband was a CCD instructor for twenty years, a Eucharistic Minister, and Grand Knight in the Knights of Columbus.

    It stands to reason why my children are confused and not so interested in the Catholic faith. My oldest son is practicing, and having his children receive the sacraments. Did I mention there are four grandchildren as well?

    Steve, you have my heartfelt admiration for putting God first in your life. You are a fine example of commitment. I, too, am praying for God to reveal His will for my life.

    I was a stay-at-home mother for twenty years. My sense of safety and stability have vanished. Please remember me in your prayers. I will pray for you also.

    May God Bless You,

    Christine

    1. Christine! You are most certainly in my prayers! I can’t begin to imagine what this must be like for you. The desert, indeed.

      I can’t respond at length — still dealing with computer problems — but I have your email address and will write when I can.

      SG

    2. One more thing: Lamentations 1:12 comes to mind — it is quoted during the Stations of the Cross: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…”

      That is not very comforting, is it? Still, it came into my mind with clarity, and I thought that was a good reason to share it with you.

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