What Is Queer?

Br. Gabriel, OP asks in the comments:

I want to ask a really, really, controversial question. Your post made me think about it because you didn’t say anything about it explicitly but I felt it might be lurking in the background. The question is about the inner fear of not doing everything to “fix this” issue. What if part of the fear of and ostracism of reparative therapy is that it partially restores the notion that SSA is a mental disorder even though the clinical community has formally dropped SSA from the official list of mental disorders and diseases?

You’re right, Br. Gabriel, that’s a whole can of worms!

I’d like to write a cohesive, coherent, exhaustive post on the topic, but I’m not ready to do that yet. So I’ll just reply, more or less off the cuff; let’s see where that gets me.1

To begin with, I don’t see how it is possible for anybody to simultaneously hold these two positions:
(1) Homosexual sex is an intrinsically disordered action.
(2) The desire for homosexual sex is not a disordered desire.

Those two positions couldn’t be more contradictory. If gay sex is okay, then desiring it is okay. If gay sex is disordered, then desiring it is disordered.

Or maybe someone would argue that gay sex isn’t intrinsically disordered, but that God has somehow forbidden it anyhow? That seems even more absurd than the first set of propositions. God doesn’t forbid things arbitrarily.

Notice that I’m talking only about the act of homosexual sex. I’m not saying that SSA is solely and simply the desire for gay sex. Far from it (see below)! And I do think there are many aspects of SSA which are good in themselves. Exactly what those aspects are, and how they are to be integrated into the rest of the personality — well, I’m still working that out.

Melinda Selmys has a really excellent post on the topic here. I still don’t know how much of it I agree with, but there’s a lot to think about. Here’s an excerpt:

Gayness is not reduceable to homosexual sex, or the desire to have homosexual sex. It is a way of relating to other people, a way of appreciating human beauty, and a way of relating to one’s own gender. Most people who identify as chaste, gay Christians, are referring to involuntary currents of homoeroticism and gender-queerness that run through the personality.

I love that last sentence. SSA isn’t the final word or the whole word about who I am, but I don’t think it can be thought of as a discrete part of my personality, either. Whatever it is, there are threads of it running through most of what I call myself. Some of ’em are good are some of ’em are decidedly bad.

Some of the bad ones: envy, insecurity, a sense of irreconcileable difference, a sense of shame. Maybe those things are intrinsically connected with SSA and maybe they aren’t, but they are absolutely central to my experience of the phenomenon. During periods of my life when I’ve felt secure in my own identity, happy with who I am, and grateful for the thing in my life, my sexual attraction to men has all but disappeared. That can’t be an accident.

Some of the good ones: a certain appreciation of masculinity as masculinity; a certain openness to same-gender emotional intimacy. Neither of those things are necessarily present in people with SSA or absent in those without it, but again, those things are very closely tied to the way I’ve always experienced SSA. And, unlike my sexual attraction to men, these things don’t disappear during the good times.

Oh boy, that was longer than I meant it to be. I don’t have any answers, but I’m interested in what y’all have to say about it.

1 Probably in trouble.

33 Comments on “What Is Queer?”

  1. Katherene says:

    I don’t know, but it seems to me like it is a mental disorder but also more than a mental disorder. I mean, I think there are a lot of factors that go into a person developing SSA and I think there are a lot of factors to consider and deal with in dealing with it.

    What human condition could you compare it to?

  2. Sarah says:

    Lurker here. 🙂 I’ve learned so much from reading this blog and other recommended blogs on this topic. SSA is not something I’ve personally experienced, but as a Christian want to better understand because I don’t often like what I see in the typical cultural Christian responses/understanding. Anyway, this post got me thinking… regarding mental disorders status… so some personalities/temperaments are more prone towards depression than others – are especially melancholic (vs. say those who are naturally sanguine, choleric, etc). There are many wonderful strengths of being a melancholic person. They are often artistic, detail-oriented, sensitive, idealistic etc. But, if/when clinical depression comes knocking, I don’t think we’d hesitate to say they are struggling with a disorder. This doesn’t mean the person is defined by depression or should work to eradicate their core melancholic tendencies, but they do need to guard against and address this weakness towards a disorder – depression – or in spiritual terms, despair. Is this kind of what you’re getting at here with SSA being something that is intertwined with your personality and has both good and bad elements? If it is, it makes sense to me because so many of us have both strengths and weaknesses in our personalities that we must address and may even make us prone to certain legit disorders if we’re not careful… but that doesn’t mean our entire being or entire personality is merely a “disorder.”

    1. Sarah,

      Yes, I think the analogy with a meloncholic temperament is extremely apt. Well said!

  3. Ben says:

    Dear Steve and fellow readers,
    It’s interesting that you write of this today. Over the past week, I’ve been inspired by last Sunday’s 2nd alternative reading at Mass (Gal 5:16-25): “Brothers and sisters, live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law…”

    Whenever I’ve been tempted by a homosexual thought, I’ve always recognized it as something from within, something connected to my united self. It’s my SSA, I would think. It’s acting up, and it’ll never go away. But in the light of the above reading, something that I’ve heard variants of throughout my life (Live by the Spirit, not by the flesh…) something clicked (perhaps the grace of the Holy Spirit).

    By the grace of God, I think I’ve discovered that, indeed, there is not one unified “me” when I have a lustful thought or am driven to an impure behavior. It’s the lie that my thoughts MUST define who I am. No, there’s my heart—following the Spirit—and then there’s my brain/mind offering a tempting thought—the flesh. My study of neuropsychology has helped me to see that habitual behavior (from brushing one’s teeth to driving to work to masturbating) is something that the brain is wired to do. When the brain is used to a behavior and that behavior is stopped, our brain will try to get us “back on track” by bringing it to the conscious mind. So when I see an attractive person, my sexual response is not necessarily because I’m “gay” but that I have in the past made a pathway in the brain by giving into the lustful thought of a similarly attractive person. Putting this scientific information together with last week’s second reading I think I finally understand what St. Paul is talking about!

    In fact, on several occasions in the past week, when I was tempted by the flesh, I simply (not easily, mind you) recognized that I want to live by the Spirit, not by the flesh—I consciously said this—and I found that the temptation either flew past me, or I quickly moved on from a sinful action instead of dwelling on it, crying how wretched I am.

    I’ve never really written about an experience like this, so I hope it came out clear, and I hope someone might find it helpful. I had to share it with someone, since I have nobody to talk to in my world.

  4. Peter J says:

    I’m not so certain that those two positions aren’t simultaneously tenable; I hold just those two and rather comfortably. That’s not to say that it isn’t still “illogical,” but I’m a cynic when it comes to syllogisms. If you word it and fix your definitions right, you can make anything “logical” or “illogical.” I won’t take the time to accept my own challenge and “make it” logical, but I will point this out: your line of thinking makes the desire for out-of-wedlock, heterosexual sex also “disordered.” I do think it is disordered, but not in a “there’s something wrong with my brain” type of disordered. It’s all part of the healthy functioning of your body.

  5. anonymous says:

    could it be understood with analogy?…
    1.Stealing is an intrinsically disordered action.
    2.but the desire for stealing is not a disordered desire in all cases (except one*)…
    (* kleptomania… a disorder)
    the desire to steal is not a disordered desire when it is caused by hunger, or acute need of money to cure a sick loved one!… in these cases,it’s one of the natural desires ,no?… but our ethics step up and narrow out our possibilities for us. Stealing (the act ) is crossed off our list and we might turn to the next higher option,begging?… did that make sense? 🙂 God bless you Stevie!

    1. anonymous,

      I see your point, but I would argue that the desire for stealing is a disordered desire.

      The desire of a hungry man for bread, on the other hand, is not a disordered desire.

      So, the desire for food is good. But stealing is the wrong way to get it.

      Similarly, the desire for same-gender intimacy is good. It’s just that homosexual sex is the wrong way to get it.

  6. Peter,

    I’m not sure it’s useful to discuss this logically with somebody who doesn’t believe in logic, but I can’t resist a little: there’s a difference between something that intrinsically disordered (homosexual sex) and something that is only disordered when taken out of its proper context (heterosexual sex).

    Or maybe you don’t hold that homosexual sex is intrinsically disordered, but only disordered in certain contexts? You’re welcome to hold that position, although it is decidedly not the position of the Church.

    1. Dylan says:

      It may not be useful to talk about logic with someone who doesn’t believe in it, but it may be only that Peter isn’t clear (as his terms suggest) that he doesn’t believe in it. I’m a philosophy major, so I can’t resist.

      “Make it logical” involves what’s called a vague term. Colloquially, when we say “logical” we mean logically correct–that is, valid and cogent. It is true that in a syllogism you can make anything logically valid by putting it in correct syllogistic form and excluding formal fallacies: your premises lead to a valid conclusion. But to make a syllogism cogent, the premises and conclusion must be true, involve no material fallacies. In the colloquial sense above, you cannot make everything “logical.” Logic (Socratic) necessarily entails epistemological realism (that truth is the conformity of the mind to reality), because behind every premise there is the principle that things cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same respect (the principle of non-contradiction, also called the first principle.) For instance, I am living and not dead. I am living now (time) as an organism with intrinsic unity (respect). To say that I am also dead you must change the time in which (in the indeterminate future when I lose intrinsic unity) or the respect in which (certain skin cells, or a limb).

      Steve does a good job of making those distinctions in his more directly relevant response.

  7. Rosario says:

     I identify so much with what you write it’s uncanny.
    I just want to comment on even our ssa desires necessarily being intrinsically disordered since their aim is intrinsically disordered action. 
    It’s an incredibly depressing realisation. 
    I’d previously consoled myself that so long as I didn’t act on my desires I was good, but that repression doesn’t answer why on earth I am experiencing desires that can’t be from God since they don’t feature in His plan for humanity and I can never fulfill without sinning. 
    I’ve been trying to read about Theology of the body and that also has led me to the stark realisation that I do not and cannot comprehend the very heterosexual spousal relationship between Christ and His Bride and God and His Creation. 
    I literally feel like I’m going mad-at the very least that I’m deeply damaged. Why would God do this?

  8. anonymous says:

    Yes,stealing is a disordered “action”… and the ‘desire to steal’ which is still in the head is not evil IF the person with that desire is able to curb it and has insight into WHY it is not permissible.
    Though I don’t like Freud very much, I am tempted to use his id -ego -superego theory) forgive me 🙂 … its like the id ( which is primitive,instinctive,child-like,wants what it wants,and wants it right now ) is hungry and wants to steal and the ego says it’s not appropriate to steal and the superego explains to the kid- id …all the reasons why,” of course,Id, you should not steal!” and “here’s how you can earn money to buy food” etc..
    hebrews 4:15, matt 4:1-11, romans 7:14-25 all explain that being tempted IS NOT disordered, but the acting upon temptation- is sin,disordered.
    the ssa id wants homosexual sex and the heterosexual id wants to fornicate,masturbate,be adulterous (st.francis of assissi was so tempted against his celebacy ,he actually threw himself into the thorn bush hedge to overcome himself..phew!)… the good news is: IT’S NORMAL to be tempted.

    JESUS was tempted,no? So why are we afraid. Of course it hurts our pride that ,we are so vile!( big surprise,human beings ARE vile without the ever-flowing GRACE of God through Jesus ….so our temptations can be our classrooms for humility and our battlefield for using the sword of the spirit (Word of God memorized) 🙂
    if same-gender intimacy leads to the near occassion of sin, i think it would be safer to steer clear of temptation till the ‘Spirit leads us into the desert’,and then we can’t really avoid the tempter who will be there ..
    You know there are two kinds of mental disorders,right? One is neurotic -ie. the patient has insight into his/her problem and the 2nd is psychotic( ergo. no insight)
    People with neuroses (eg. phobias,OCDs) can be treated with behavioural therapy etc with minimal use of drugs, and you know what.. all of us get neurotic sometimes, obsessing over certain temptations that hover around us like flies that refuse to go away… the only solution, ignore the fly,shoo it away…keep shooing it away,eventually it will tire and you will have become stronger to face your next battle with similar flies,because you know,you ‘have the power to face all conditions through the strength that Christ gives you.’ 🙂
    Psychotic mental disorders are really serious sicknesses that need medical attention and thankfully,yours is NOT that :)! …the very fact that you have the blog tells us,you have insight and that too of the best kind – from the Holy Spirit!:)
    when the ssa person (say,a boy like yourself) has the desire for intimacy or if a heterosexually attracted person ( say a girl) has the desire for intimacy and there is a person, a boy, a likely candidate around : When the desire for intimacy is conceived in the mind… perhaps to know if it’s really a holy desire..like for pure friendship only – ask yourself- would i be the same around a girl? am I treating this boy as a person? Is it a relationship like that between Jonathan and DAvid or between ST.John and our Lord Jesus that I am aiming at?… if so ,”be at rest once more Oh my soul for the Lord has been good to you!”psalm 116:7 🙂
    OUr desire for intimacy,friendship is a reflection of our deeper desire for God… but it’s tough to have that meaningful friendship with HIM when we can’t touch Him or even see Him. I have cried deep tears of loneliness, yearning for Him… not nowthough,(as usual, when God gave me the gift of a husband,(the temporary solution to the eternal longing)I have grown a little less ardent in my desire for God..valuing the gift above the giver 🙁 …). It’s a bittersweet pain… and only the blessed stay pierced with that arrow of longing for God… Reccomend me to Jesus,O st. Steve ;),won’t you?

    God bless you bro!

  9. Joe K. says:

    Hey, Steve,

    I thought I’d chime in here. I think in a lot of ways it’s mostly irrelevant what the psychological/clinical community says about homosexuality. Homosexuality a philosophical question, not a medical one. (You are aware of a lot that follows, Steve, I’m sure; this may be more for some of the commenters I’ve seen.) That is, most physiologists/psychiatrists work with the framework of helping the patient live a happier, more successful life. They aren’t in the business of determining right and wrong/good and bad in the bigger sense.

    So, for example, if it’s easier for the homosexual to act out on his desires, and it makes him happier, (and it “doesn’t hurt anyone else”—a modern cliche) of course the doctor will suggest doing it. They’re not utilitarians across the board or anything, but for the most part, that is what drives that community. And it’s usually pretty helpful stuff, except when it comes to larger moral questions. (I obviously do not mean to disparage the entire psychological community; there are clearly psychologists and psychiatrists who are aware of these things. I’m merely speaking generally about what drives things like “homosexuality is no longer considered a disordered paraphilia because it’s not in the DSM anymore” and all that.)

    Philosophers on the other hand Are in the business of determining good and bad. And the rightness and wrongness of homosexuality is basically a metaphysical question. That is, “ordered” and “disordered” are questions about the universal nature of what a thing is. So, for example, a philosopher would argue, sperm, semen, the penis, the male body, and the human male are ordered toward procreation with the female by their very nature; all three are absolutely intrinsically connected and aimed at that end and wouldn’t meet that end unless they first possessed in them an aim toward that end. As such, if any part of these things is not ordered toward that end, it is DISordered.

    A medical person, on the other hand, is not really doing that; he’s not determining what a thing Is. So a medical person might say “a human male is whatever a human male wants to be,” ignoring completely everything a human male possesses by being a human male. (This is what I think you were getting at when you said God doesn’t forbid arbitrarily, as these things are intrinsic to our natures.) As such, they would say, “why not seek out your male lover! Aren’t you miserable and all mixed up without him!” without even considering whether such a thing would be Actually disordered in the true sense of the word.

    I think what drove the change in the psychological community is basically a change in the philosophical outlook of the whole world. The world went from intrinsic nature stuff, where we were discovering the true nature of the world, to individual determination stuff, where we were Defining things Into a meaningless world—from realism to nominalism, etc. etc. But that’s a whole, major different issue that people can write books about. (I recommend “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser.)

    But your bigger question here, which I think is the most interesting, is what I want to really talk about. What I think you were basically saying is that while Sexual Attraction to people of the same sex, by itself, is disordered, many of the Other words that homosexuals think are Not. This is a very good question. I do think that whatever makes a male sexually attracted to other males (and I think it’s probably more physical and biological than we really know) also makes them different in other ways. I, and most people with SSA I see, are exceptionally compassionate, sensitive (to emotions and beauty (for some reason)), introspective, and Aware. Things matter to them, and not in a passing sort of way. At the same time, as you pointed out, and continually point out on the blog, they are unsure, broken, timid, (often) weak, and generally have a Very difficult time relating to others in a positive way.

    My friend (one of the very few who know about my SSA) and I were talking the other day about a miracle pill cure for homosexuality. Imagining one existed, we questioned, would I take it? My immediate response was “of course; I’d be healed; it’d be like taking a pill to cure diabetes.” But it seemed to upset my friend. He thought that if I took the pill, I’d no longer “be me.” Which is a really interesting thing for him to say, since he knows how frustrated I get with my SSA. And he wasn’t just referring to my sex drive obviously. That is, he, at least on some level, recognized that my SSA helped me to be a good, sensitive, compassionate, and wise friend to him. (He is heterosexual, incidentally, in case someone is thinking he may have the hots for me.)

    In other words, I do think there’s something there that shouldn’t be gotten rid of. (I will add, though, that in many contexts, especially things that men are good at—war, where people have to exhibit impossible courage, etc.—even the Good things about SSA, like sensitivity, may be a serious problem.) There are things in humans that either help them toward their end or don’t. Accordingly, there seem to be things in SSA men that do (being able to see that my friend needs help) and other things that absolutely do not (freaking the f out when my friends invite me to go play some sport).

    What really seems to be the rub, though, is that sexuality (and everything that goes along with it) really is such an enormous part of what humans are that a disordered orientation mess up so much more than we can really deal with. And this makes sense, of course, considering intrinsic nature stuff. That is, procreation and love are an Enormous part of human flourishing, so not being able to do those things properly is Obviously going to be incredibly bad. While being able to determine the difference in shades and colors are not really a very big part of human flourishing, so being colorblind, while sucky, isn’t crippling like same sex attraction is.

    1. Joe K.,

      Dude, time for you to write a blog. The interwebs need more thoughtfulness, coherence, and being right about stuff.

  10. Joe K. says:

    Dear Steve,

    Is there any way to edit comments? I hate reading over something I’ve written and not being able to fix stupid errors. Being super anal is probably one of those things that runs with SSA. Maybe Freud was right…

  11. Joe K. says:

    For example, “What I think you were basically saying is that while Sexual Attraction to people of the same sex, by itself, is disordered, many of the Other words that homosexuals think are Not” makes no sense.

    It’s supposed to be: “What I think you were basically saying is that while Sexual Attraction to people of the same sex, by itself, is disordered, many of the Other unique characteristics that homosexuals possess are Not.”

  12. jp says:

    Joe K., what an outstanding comment!

    but i do have a question:
    do you think that something like sensitivity is a “feature” of SSA? Maybe what you mean is that men who are homosexually inclined tend to be more sensitive than heterosexual men?
    I am not a very tender-hearted, sensitive person, to my shame. I’m also happen to be a homo. So either my disordered homosexuality is doubly disordered, or I need to learn tenderness and try to be sensitive in spite of my homosexual inclinations.

  13. I’m humbled that my question would spawn a whole post. I was actually feeling very nervous and insecure that there was no response in the comments. The question, after all, could cause a lot of anger, frustration, and pain. I think that pain is expressed well by the comment by Rosario.

    I do disagree with Joe K. on one point. My question is exactly about the possibly of SSA being a clinical/medical issue (this doesn’t exclude it from being a philosophical issue). I’m not really interested, at this point, in the goodness or badness of the desire (the ethical evaluation). My concern is more about the real fear of it being a clinical disorder (there are those wo claim that SSA was removed from the DSM for political reasons contrary to the science). This seems to be at the center of a lot of depression I see – the fear of being crazy.

    I think this is important for so many reasons. I mean, take the “magical pill” scenario you thought about with your friend. A good man should have all the traits that you identify as being part of SSA. Jesus had these traits. Yet he was the perfect example of masculinity. The “Magic Pill” wouldn’t destroy those good traits in you. It would simply eliminate the disorder. There really isn’t any reason to believe that there is a causal relationship between those positive nurturing traits and SSA. What the scenario tells me is that we really don’t understand masculinity. It tells me that ‘straight’ guys are also really messed up because they (we) are taught that those nurturing traits are effeminate. But, taking Christ as the model, the regular contemporary understanding of masculinity is itself disordered.

    A good example of this was a well intentioned attempt to fight the effeminization of young men at a youth event I was at. The guys running the event, great guys all, used a lot of Braveheart and sports imagery to explain masculinity. I got in trouble for expressing a different understanding of masculinity. But I had to because I knew that there were guys there, who like me, wouldn’t relate to what the organizers were saying. I feared that they would begin to question their sexuality if they were a guy like me. I hate sports, and most things the guys tend to like. I enjoy art, poetry, and music. I loved singing in the choir. My favorite movie is My Fair Lady. I love shopping. I know how to sew, knit, and iron. I’m not gay.

    I think it is important that we remember that Christ didn’t play football. Jesus cared for people, he defended truth, he stood his ground, he suffered for his beloved unto death. Jesus was very manly even though he never carried a broad sword or oggled women. The work of care and compassion requires more courage than most aggressive acts. That level of intimacy is frightening for a lot of people.

    So, if you were to take the “magic pill” you wouldn’t cease being you. You would be free to be you more intensely because one more barrier to total freedom would be removed. I some ways, if SSA is addressed as a physical disorder it would be easier to heal so that all those great masculine ways of caring and nurturing could be gifted to a family. Am I crazy for thinking this? Am I way off?

  14. Joe K. says:

    Thanks for the positive responses. I was actually a little unhappy with what I wrote up there, so I appreciate the encouragement. I hope to write something someday about this stuff, Steve, but I’m not totally comfortable with that idea yet. You have a better voice for this stuff anyway. I like to speak in absolutes and make broad philosophical claims. That kind of stuff always turns people off. I think this type of writing requires a lot of nuanced storytelling and introspection, not over philosophizing.


    I was probably speaking too broadly, but I’ve just noticed that certain traits seem to run together. That is, I don’t know the hard and fast rules about what “normal homosexual” is, but there does seem to be clear patterns. There seems to be Some overlap with what women are like (which is why I think there are so many female commenters on here), but in a lot of ways homosexuals and females could not be more different. Women are a different sort of breed altogether, and I think comparing homosexuals to women Too much is ultimately unhelpful. Though it’s not a completely Terrible place to Start, for what it’s worth.

    At any rate, I don’t think I would use the word disordered again there with respect to your less-than-sensitive personality, as I think disorderedness is tied to notions of ultimate ends. Humans are ordered in a certain direction—that is, a human flourishes when he possesses certain traits. (This standard applies to all living things, incidentally, not just humans. A wolf that can’t hunt properly or a roach that doesn’t run away when it feels a vibration is disordered with respect to what wolves and roaches are/what allows wolves and roaches to flourish.)

    A person who is ordered perfectly to its end (whatever that may be) is a kind of good version of a person. Homosexuals then are disordered with respect to that broader direction: human being. What makes a good human being, not what makes a good homosexual, is what is at issue. (And this “good” language shouldn’t be taken as a moral condemnation of homosexual inclinations. In the same way a person born without a limb is not as “good” a version of a person born with working limbs, so too is a person born with homosexual tendencies not as good a version as a person born with healthy sexual tendencies. It only becomes a Moral issue when a person makes a choice contrary to human goodness. So, if a human person flourishes with A, B, and C, and he Chooses -A, -B, and -C, he would only Then be a “bad” person morally-speaking.)

    So, if a particular homosexual isn’t like other homosexuals, I wouldn’t say he’s disordered necessarily, because humans are not ordered toward homosexuality; they are ordered toward the broader human ends. In other words, a man who doesn’t get aroused by other men but instead is aroused by women isn’t a “disordered homosexual;” he’s an Ordered human male.

    In your case, if you are not a very sensitive person, I would not say you were a “disordered homosexual,” even if you were not like most other homosexuals. I Might say you were a “disordered human being,” but that would only be if you were So insensitive that you couldn’t relate to other human beings, and you failed to ever feel compassion for them. (Something I seriously doubt, considering the fact that you’re reading this blog.) Being able to relate to other human beings and protect and care for them is how human beings flourish after all. Without that, we’d likely all perish.

    All I meant to point out, and I think Steve implied exactly this in this post, is that SSA seems to carry with its many problems some interesting benefits. Perhaps in the same way an autistic person may be a savant. That is, while it’s no doubt bad to be autistic, and it no doubt counts as a Serious disability, there is clearly something Good about an incredible memory or an ability to play music better than anyone else in the world. And the reason these things Are good is because they are good for human ends.

    So, for the homosexual, his desires to have sex with people of the same sex are clearly bad and contrary to the good end of human beings, but his ability to relate to others, to appreciate beauty, to be empathetic in a way others aren’t is clearly Good and conducive to the good end of human beings.

  15. Rosario says:

    I agree with Br Gabriel OP that sensitivity and compassion are not exclusive to men with ssa and also that ssa is something that were it eliminated by a magic pill, you would be free to be you more intensely. 
    So how do we eliminate ssa? 
    I hate myself so much for having ssa. It affects my relationship with God because I feel that nothing I do, think or feel will ever be right in God’s eyes.
    As Joe K said, a disordered orientation mess up so much more than we can really deal with. I wouldn’t mind being chaste forever if I was straight because at least I would know that my desires were legitimate and part of God’s plan.
    What’s the answer? I’ve prayed so hard, begged every Saint and Angel in Heaven, done every novena, devotion and pilgrimage to plead with God to heal me.  I’ve tried so hard and I feel like I’m barely hanging on by a thread.     

    1. Dear Rosario,

      I’m not an expert on this subject, but I have a dear friend whom I admire greatly who is both SSA and an expert therapist who works with those who choose to seek healing. He says that beneath every SSA is a wound, often buried deep in childhood, which made it difficult for the person to experience same-sex intimacy in non-sexual ways.

      Perhaps for a girl it might be an unavailable, cold, hypercritical, or abusive mother. There are many ways this wound can occur, so don’t consider my little list exhaustive, by any means. The point is that it in many, many cases it does have something to do with environment.

      He makes the point, however, that the SSA person started out life with a sensitive temperament that made the wound more profound than it would have been for someone else. He describes his own SSA developing in earnest in adolescence (though he experienced it much earlier), when his craving for male intimacy (because of a hypercritical, verbally abusive father) crossed over into erotic feelings because of the perfectly natural sexual confusion that occurs during that highly hormonal and sensitive part of life.

      This is apparently very common. Because he had never felt accepted by other boys (dad couldn’t teach him to throw a ball or hang out and do other “boy” things without verbally abusing him), his weight became a problem, he got more and more isolated, and his craving for masculinity and masculine acceptance became “sexualized,” as he puts it. He desired other boys, rather than experiencing his own masculinity as being something natural and good.

      I guess I’m telling you all this because you are on the Cross and Jesus is very close to you in all of this. He doesn’t despise or reject you because of this suffering, he draws near to you, especially when you feel most alone.

      There is a wonderful program within the Catholic Church called “Courage,” and a sister program for families of SSA loved ones called “Encourage.” They are very welcoming and would not exclude you if you are not Catholic. They have a wonderful, joyful conference every year (I believe in Maryland), and have support groups all over the country.

      Here’s the link: http://couragerc.net/

      I hope this helps! I’ll be praying for your peace and that God sends you the right friends, support, and encouragement. May you rediscover the joy of your salvation in our sweet Lord.

      Lisa Mladinich

  16. Joe K. says:

    I don’t think you’re way off, Br. Gabriel, but I think you perhaps misunderstood my post a little bit (or I wasn’t clear). What I was trying to say is that whether something is in or is not “disordered” is Not a scientific question. It can’t be. Science merely identifies and classifies changes in the material world; it makes no claims about philosophical truths.

    What “science,” for example, can you point to that says sexual attraction to children is “disordered?” It Clearly is, but why is it? It’s not because science says it is. Science says nothing one way or another about that. Science just describes what happens in the material world. “Order,” by its very nature, is a philosophical determination.

    A scientist or a doctor Can say some particular tendency is disordered, but to do so he would have to make a philosophical claim. He would have to say something like “A pedophile is disordered because he cannot have normal sexual connections with adults.” But that’s just begging the question. It’s assuming that sexual connections are good. It’s also assuming that such things should be consensual and with adults. But science does not say those things. Those things are both philosophical determinations based on broader philosophical claims.

    In other words, I would not fear whether it is a “clinical disorder” or not. While it’s probably impossible to completely separate science from philosophy, there’s nothing special about “clinical disorder.” All “clinical disorder” means is a disorder that the scientific community has chosen to accept, normally by consensus or something else less reliable like the political climate. Whether something actually Is disordered, though, is something that precedes that community.

    Also, as I pointed out in my most recent comment, saying homosexual tendencies are “bad” is not equivalent to saying they are Morally bad. Someone is only Morally bad when he chooses what is contrary to human goodness. See that other comment I made.

    I also don’t think classifying homosexuality as disordered would be the same thing as classifying homosexuals as Crazy. “Crazy” is another disorder altogether. It’s usually related to an inability to connect what people see and feel with reality. Homosexuals never seem to really have that problem.

    But to the final parts of your comment, I basically agree with you, and I understand what you mean. I wasn’t saying that masculinity is some macho-only thing. It’s not. That type of masculinity is clearly a bad thing. I was simply trying to say that things like sensitivity are a good thing, and that perhaps people with SSA have more of that good thing. That’s not to say that SSA itself is good because it happens to have that incidental connection. It’s just to say that the sensitivity (or whatever else) taken by itself Could be a good thing and can be properly cultivated.

    As far as magic pills go, we’d have to know more about the reason people are homosexual to determine whether a magic pill could take away one and not the other. For example, imagining homosexuality has to do with how brains and hormones work, if we were to alter the brain or the hormones to encourage normal heterosexual attraction, we might Also affect how the person’s brain works in other ways. That is (and I have no idea how brain chemistry works), if the hormone reactions that cause SSA are somehow connected to (or are the same as) the hormone reactions that cause an increased sense of empathy, it would be pretty difficult get rid of the SSA and keep the empathetic tendencies.

    Again, I have no idea how any of that works, and homosexuality is probably Way more complex than “these hormones equal arousal when seeing naked men.” But I would not be Totally surprised if something like the development of the brain in utero affects sexual orientation. And accordingly, that that Same brain development leads to empathetic tendencies, etc. And this isn’t to say that homosexuals are empathetic in some special way and heterosexuals are not, or that heterosexuals can’t really be truly empathetic unless they have homosexual tendencies. It’s just to say that what makes empathy (or sensitivity or whatever) in us might be on overdrive (or whatever) for people with SSA.

  17. Joe K. says:


    What you are doing is absolutely proper in God’s eyes. There is no reason whatsoever to hate yourself for having SSA; that is far outside of your control. People are born with disorders every day. Homosexuality is a terrible disorder, but what you Do with that disorder is what God is concerned with.

    You cannot control what you feel, and you can only rarely control what you think. But you can control what you do. That, and that alone, is what pleases or displeases God. Don’t worry about the rest.

    It is Enormously difficult, and God is clearly capable of understanding that, but all the more special you are for overcoming it. Be encouraged always.

  18. Ima says:

    Just a thought. I was reading about a child with Down Syndrome who asked her mother if she would have DS in heaven, and her mother said no, she wouldn’t, but the child was disturbed by that answer because she felt as if she wouldn’t be herself without the DS. Something important would be missing.

    I also know of some people with high functioning autism or Asperger’s who say they wouldn’t want to be cured.

    Now DS and autism are certainly disorders (or maybe disabilities would be a better word) and yet the people who have them often have extraordinary positive abilities along with the disabilities. The world would be a worse place if there were no people in it with these disorders.

    Researchers are running into this seeming paradox when they think about curing some disease by “fixing” it genetically. It often happens that you can’t “fix” a disease without destroying some good that comes along with it.

    Not that we shouldn’t try to cure diseases, but we need to be careful and have some piety and humility when we’re meddling with God’s mysteries.

    It seems to me that God is doing something here that He often does: takes a negative thing and brings positive good out of it–some particular good that wouldn’t be there if the negative thing were simply abolished.

  19. Ima said, “It seems to me that God is doing something here that He often does: takes a negative thing and brings positive good out of it–some particular good that wouldn’t be there if the negative thing were simply abolished.”

    Yes! (a lot of yes!)

    Indeed, God only allows (moral or any other kind of) evil or defect to bring about a *greater* good; God only allows a negative thing to bring about a *greater* positive thing. Not even just another particular good thing. A greater one. Wow.

    Of course, sometimes we wonder what that greater good is. Hence all our talking and all our reading. ~_^

    But it’s wonderful to be reminded like this about why, despite all the questions, we don’t worry. Thanks, Ima. ^^

  20. Rosario,

    I believe I understand your pain. My own struggles (disorders?) grieve me tremendously. I pray to be healed, I weep, and I get depressed about it all. However, what I have is hope and joy. Hope in the Lord that he will heal me when he knows that it is the right time for me to set those crosses down. And joy in knowing that Christ is King and I am so blessed to be his subject no matter where I dwell in his kingdom. So, don’t lose hope and instantly rejoice in the Lord even where it seems that there is little or no reason to rejoice. Rejoice!

    Joe K.

    I think I understand what you are getting at. I don’t want to chase down the rabbit hole of the relationship between the empirical sciences and philosophy. That would distract us.

    I think the reason I wanted to hold to the clinical aspect is because this is a self critique I’ve heard expressed by people with SSA. It seems to be an attempt to laugh at a fear. The problem is I hear a lot of pain behind the attempt to be courageous.

  21. Sky says:

    I’m a bit late to this party, Steve, but I’m curious about this part:

    You said that “During periods of my life when I’ve felt secure in my own identity, happy with who I am, and grateful for the thing in my life, my sexual attraction to men has all but disappeared.”

    Is it maybe the other way around? I can only speak from my own, similar experience, but I would venture to guess that this is more to do with a general freedom from concupiscent thought than sexual attraction to men, specifically. If envy, insecurity, and a feeling of difference are central to your experience of SSA, is it possible that the reason you don’t feel those things on any given day is that you simply don’t feel particularly concupiscent on such a day?

    1. That’s a fair question, Sky, and I’ll have to think about it.

      It might be significant that those things — the “symptoms” I associate with SSA — tend to fluctuate, not on a day-by-day basis, but with the seasons of my life. There was a period not too long ago, lasting about a year, where all of those things bothered me only slightly, and the SSA was correspondingly diminished.

      I’ve often thought that if I could successfully deal with the attendant “symptoms”, then the sexual component wouldn’t bother me at all. Been thinking about a post on this subject, actually…

  22. Daniel says:

    Steve and Br. Gabriel,

    I thank God for your witness and your courage to blog about this topic. I am a 24 year-old “closeted” homosexual and a practicing Catholic and I am angry with God for having made me this way. What I mean by “closeted” is that my policy of those knowing my orientation are those who need to know, i.e., my spritual director, confessor, parents (not sibling or extended family), and extremely close friends.

    I am still committed to living my life according to the Church’s teachings after having freely discerned out of the priestly studies as a seminarian and two years spent as a novice in a Benedictine monastery because of my orientation, however, I cannot deny the feeling that there is no place for me. I say this because, now, as a gay Catholic and lay faithful I do not know how to reconcile the quest for my true love with Catholic teaching.

    More to my point, if I choose to believe that such a person exists for me am I able to continue practicing my faith?

    1. Daniel says:

      My apologies, second paragraph should read:

      I am still committed to living my life according to the Church’s teachings. But after having freely discerned out of the priestly studies as a seminarian and two years spent as a novice in a Benedictine monastery because of my orientation I am confused as to my place within the church. I say this because, now, as a gay Catholic and lay faithful I do not know how to reconcile the quest for my true love with Catholic teaching.

  23. Grandfather says:

    Steve, I am responding to your two (deliberately impossible) positions:

    (1) Homosexual sex is an intrinsically disordered action.
    (2) The desire for homosexual sex is not a disordered desire.

    My response: It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and did not sin. Martin Luther (I know he left the Catholic Church) said it is not wrong if a bird flies by you, but you should not let it build a nest in your hair.

    Yes desiring is disordered, if it means fantasizing, lusting, imagining, looking at a man as a potential sex partner. Jesus indicated that how you look at someone is a serious matter, when he said a man who lusts after a woman is guilty of adultery.

    However if “desire” means experiencing same-sex attraction, that is no more a sin than experiencing opposite-sex attraction. To labor the point, Jesus did not mean a man should not find a woman attractive, but that he should not imagine her providing sexual pleasure for himself — he should leave her alone, even in his thoughts.

    Because of original sin, all human sexuality is compromised. I think it is a waste of time to fret about whether one’s lusts are heterosexual or homosexual. They are temptations, and one may always choose not to sin.

    I hope this helps. I just learned about your blog and like it.

  24. Monica says:

    Daniel, I am sorry to hear that your potential priestly vocation didn’t work out. Your willingness to even consider giving your whole life to the Church is heroic in itself!

    Don’t despair!

    Our overly-romanticized, overly-sexualized culture tells us that it is in only an exclusive sexual relationship with our “true love” that real happiness will be found. This is a disappointing illusion. No human can fill that God-shaped hole in our hearts. Marriage, too, is a heavy cross, not without its joys, but it’s more about death to self than it is about romance.

    Regardless of the cross we carry, our True Love is is ultimately to be found in God alone. Your situation offers you an opportunity to have an undivided heart in your relationship with God, even if you are not a priest or religious. Perhaps you could give John of the Cross a try, say, “Living Flame of Love” (not just the poem, but his extensive commentary on the poem). Would it be that you could know Christ as the True Love of your heart and soul. Let your quest be for the union with Him that He absolutely wants with you.

    Might He show you the mission He has for you alone. And might the Church begin to open its arms more and more widely to people like you, recognizing the gift that you are to us!

  25. Grandfather says:

    On the Internet one is supposed to lurk before one leaps. I just jumped in, I was so excited to find this blog. Since then I have looked at the other comments, and luckily I don’t seem out of place. (Monica, very nice!)

    One of them said he wished he could edit his comments. Me too. Here is a rewrite of my next-to-last paragraph:

    “Because of original sin, all human sexuality is compromised. For a Catholic trying to live chastely, I don’t think it makes any practical difference whether one’s temptation to lust is homosexual or heterosexual. The problems are the same: custody of the eyes and reining in fantasies.”

  26. Boss says:

    This is gay

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