The Gift of a Burden

It’s amazing how telling people about your SSA changes your perspective on the matter.

I just reconnected with my old friend J. I called because he had just broken off his engagement and I thought he might be a mess about it. Turned out he was more or less okay; eventually the conversation turned, like they usually do with J. (even when he is not engaged, he tends to have marriage on the brain) to my romantic prospects. “Anybody in your life right now?” he wanted to know.

“Meh,” I thought, and said: “Yeah, not really. I’m gay, J.”

Pause. “I’m — not sure if you’re joking or not right now.”

“No, it’s true,” I laugh, “no joking here. I’m gay.” Man, this is easier than it used to be.

So we talked about that for a little while and then went on to other stuff. That “meh,” as a prelude to telling what used to be my Deep Dark Secret, felt good. Experience has shown me over and over that my SSA just doesn’t matter to the people that I consider friends.

A recent email from a reader1 made me think back to an earlier time and an earlier attitude. The reader, who also has SSA, was considering telling a relative about it, but he wasn’t sure if he should. He said he had to consider his motives carefully, and whether he would only be telling his relative out of a desire for consolation.

I don’t know this reader’s whole story, and I can’t judge his situation. I don’t blame him for feeling as he does, because I remember feeling that way. Besides, the reason he gave for not telling is probably only one of seventy, each of which needs consideration. In other words, I pray that neither he nor anybody else takes what I am about to say as a judgment on them.

But of all the reasons to tell or not to tell, I think this is a very bad one.

One of the first people I ever told was my friend Hilda in college. I remember standing with her in a secluded corner of the campus, wrestling with the decision, knowing she was watching me wrestle without knowing what I was wrestling with. I remember saying, with the intense gravity that characterized almost every second of my life at that time: “It’s just that I wouldn’t want to burden you with this.”

“Steve,” she said. “Don’t you know that you would be giving me a gift?”

You men and women with SSA, if you are wondering whether this knowledge will be a burden to your friends, think of this: how did you feel the last time a friend of yours told you about something awful they were going through? Did you wish he hadn’t? Or did you feel honored? Was it a burden or a gift?

Or maybe you don’t have friends who confide in you. Are you glad that nobody burdens you with the knowledge of what they carry? Or do you wish they would?

Many of us grew up carrying heavy things all by ourselves, usually out of emotional necessity: we just weren’t able to believe that people wouldn’t run away screaming or retching. We were so disgusted with ourselves that we thought everybody else would be, too.

But carrying heavy things by ourselves can habituate us to the notion that we are charged with a unique and terrible cross, that it is our job to suffer in a special way, that suffering is even our calling. Many of us, probably without realizing it, even come to believe that God wants us to suffer, actively desires it.

Not true. Not true, not true, not true. Whatever God is like, He’s not like that. Carefully read Lamentations 3: “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to anyone who seeks help from him…He does not willingly bring suffering or grief to anyone.”

Jesus didn’t tell the woman with the hemorrhage that it was her job to suffer, and he didn’t tell it to the thousands of other people who came to him all day long for healing. What makes us any different?

I’m not saying to run out and tell everybody everything all the time. Sometimes it’s not their business, and sometimes your motives might really be bad. But consider this: asking help is an act of trust and an act of love; it can sometimes be a greater act of love than giving help. And wanting help, wanting consolation — that’s not bad. That’s human. That’s good.

I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.

1 I did ask the reader in question whether it was okay to write this post. I hope he’s not regretting saying yes.

25 Comments on “The Gift of a Burden”

  1. Jon. says:

    That’s some great advice. Thanks! It seems that it is easier for me to “come out” to friends than it is to family. I only say this because I’ve been able to “come out” to a couple of friends, but still haven’t come up with the courage to tell anyone of my close family members. They say that everyone’s cross is just as heavy as yours or mine. That none of us has a heavier one, or a harder time carrying it than others. But the fear and shame sure make it seem that way sometimes.

  2. Jordan says:

    Too good.

    My mentor once asked me why I thought I was so much more compassionate and holy than other people – why I didn’t believe anyone would respond to my confessions as graciously and gratefully as I tried to respond to theirs.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that they have consistently saved me from despair, I would really hate wise people. Glad to hear things are easier.


  3. This is exactly where I’m at regarding coming out. I’m continually amazed that what i thought for so long was a heart-breaking soul bearing means of disclosure isn’t really that big of a deal to most people. The first 10 or so people I ever told I did really need their support, but after that it’s just a part of me that i appreciate some people knowing simply because I can be myself. I don’t have to live in a world of lies when questions about relationships or girls come up. I can joke with friends about ironic things and the more out I am the less of an issue SSA really is. It is still not a casual thing for me to come out, but I no longer feel like a freak or that by coming out to someone I am placing some undue burdon on them. I appreciate their support but the fact is that I’ve got family, and friends who provide that deep level of support in my down times, so no one really has to do anything other than know at this point. This is also why i’m an increasing advocate of using the term “gay.” It’s normalizing and communicates far more effectively with anyone who doesn’t make a big deal of it, what’s going on.

  4. Nathaniel.M.Jameson says:

    Hi Steve,

    Love the blog entry, as always. I do think many of us suffer in silence, needlessly, out of the pressure of not overwhelming those we know. But I still believe that prudence is important, and as a Catholic, I think that it’s very important to be true to the anthropology of man, taught by the Catholic Church. Yes, to say, “I’m gay” is an easy to understand phrase, but the question I have, in light of Church teaching, is anyone really “gay?”

    Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not an ostrich with his head in the sand. Of course I know that when we say about someone “he’s gay,” it includes certainly an easy understanding that someone is attracted to a member of the same sex. But I think it’s so much more than that.

    The Bishop of Oakland recently said to the Conference of Gay and Lesbian Ministries that “gay and lesbian” are not in the Church’s vocabulary.

    This aligns with the 1986 Pastoral Letter as well, where the Church refuses a reductionist view of the person as “homosexual or heterosexual.” I find the concept quite liberating, and have consciously chosen to never use the phrase, “I’m gay,” even if people might say it about me behind my back.

    Despite what a lot of people in the Catholic blogosphere are saying these days, I think it’s fundamentally important that we who live with SSA refuse to use the labels of the world’s construct of man with regards to ourselves, and that when we say “I’m gay,” we’re saying something that the world says about us, and say something that God would never say about us. The distinction I think is very important.

    The point about suffering is intriguing as well. Lamentations doesn’t say that God DOESN’T bring suffering. Rather, it says that he doesn’t bring it willingly. But suffer we do, and God does allow it for our good. But not willingly.

    My favorite view of suffering, in light of SSA, comes from Thomas Merton.
    “Suffering, therefore, must make sense to us not as a vague universal necessity, but as something demanded by our own personal destiny. When I see my trials not as the collision of my life with a blind machine called fate, but as the sacramental gift of Christ’s love, given to me by God the Father along with my identity and my very name, then I can consecrate them and myself with them to God. For then I realize that my suffering is not my own. It is the Passion of Christ, stretching out its tendrils into my life in order to bear rich clusters of grapes, making my soul dizzy with the wine of Christ’s love, and pouring that wine as strong as fire upon the whole world.”

    Never a truer word has been spoken about the power of God’s redemption of the suffering of SSA than this.

    This is me talking about this very subject at last year’s Courage Conference. It’s about 23 minutes. Curious to know what you think.

    God bless you, Steve!

  5. George02 says:

    Thank you all for your comments, and for the nice Merton’s quote. In my case only my confessors and my 9 therapists have been told about my SSA. At a moment I would have definetly needed to tell some friend about the SSA to find some support, understanding and being less lonely. However I think that doing so would have made me feel more miserable as I was wrongly persuaded that I had to carry the burden on my own and with nobody knowing it, and that if anybody knew I would be rejected. I thought that the better way of being humble and recognizing I needed help was going to therapy (though they all turned out to be useless). I am still convinced that I don’t need to tell anyone else, and that even thinking of that would perhaps make me focus too much on the issue. I prefer friends to be there in all other sort of things that affect me as a person, as of course I am not only my SSA. At this very moment it’s not being so heavy and I don’t feel their knowing about it would help me a lot. I must say that this view may be a result of finding these blogs (thanks again forever : Steve, Tony, Jordan, O&G, Kevin, Victor and all of you participating with your comments) where I found a sort of connection on the topic that for many years ruined my life, with people sharing the same “burden” and with an enlightening perspectves that gave me peace (eg: “better than fair”).

  6. Hi George,

    I think it is wise to listen to your heart about whom to tell about this part of your life. I agree with you–I am not my SSA, and in fact I think it’s the least interesting part of my life, and no one should feel pressured to tell people about this part of his life. The Psalmist says, “Above all things, guard your heart.”

    That being said, I have found it very helpful to be able to walk with others in this journey, and one can do so with confidentiality, such as with Courage. It’s a great gift to be able to find people who understand you, and understand your struggle.

    It took me a long time to tell some friends, and I am very careful about who I talk about this–and the time for doing such things should always be guided by prudence and discretion. In this society of “It Gets Better” and the sort of cult of “coming out,” I think we can easily believe that life will automatically “be better” by telling everyone. But once one DOES tell someone, there is no going back, so one must feel peace about such things first and foremost.

    God bless you all!

  7. anthony says:

    when this issue is a problem in one’s life, it is very important to have people to tell and talk with. a pastor, a priest, a counselor and a support group. all very important.

    but more than that, it is up to each person to decide who they should tell. it can be healthy to tell certain others, and it can also be very negative. we live in a culture that has way too much “reality show/talk show” drama influence and fall for the line that “revelation” of personal areas equals healing and growth when it can also just be regression and drama.

    sometimes we may feel i have to reveal this “heavy cross” to others, and this need to reveal may say more about my lack of real acceptance of my orientation and deeper self.

    also one reason why many of the people that one tells are not freaked out or surprised, is that they probably already figured it out and know it. and the revealing could just be making an issue out of something that is not an issue.

    most importantly, if i am a man trying to live a chaste life……that is all many need to know. there are many people who have to live chaste and stay single for many reasons, the reason why is not that important (unless the issue is still a big conflict in me then i need the support group etc) what is important is how well i embrace the call to live chaste life with real generosity and vitality

  8. Narcissus G says:

    I am firmly in George’s and Nathaniel’s camp here. I spent years worrying myself sick (and nearly suicidal) over whether or not to come out. In one of those “I can’t breathe anymore, my face feels all prickly, I just want to die” episodes, I told a relative who is clearly a lesbian. Worse thing I ever did and I regret it to this day. No comfort, no relief. No advice. She couldn’t even reciprocate. And now, in her eyes, I will always be gay. I found no peace until I found the Courage Apostolate. Turns out, I wasn’t gay, I just disordered desires. Much easier to deal with. I haven’t been suicidal since. Now, I don’t have to be the gay uncle. I’m just unmarried. The cross and burden for me are those defects of character that the disorder has imprinted: severe lack of confidence, feeling non-masculine, over-sensitivity. But I can work on those things personally or with therapy. To accept them as part of the cross of being “gay” would be sinful to me.

    I also agree with Anthony that people have already figured it out in a lot of cases. I am sure my now elderly parents know. And to disclose anything now would certainly destroy their peace. I don’t know about anyone else, but even though I can be a real dick, I have no desire to destroy anyone’s peace. That is why we have priests, counselors, online anonymous support groups, etc. Personally, I have also found support on blogs such as this one as well as the commentors – so thanks, guys.

  9. george02 says:

    Thank you all for sharing your own experiences. It is truth that it can be very helpful to walk with others in this journey. That’s why I consider providential having found these blogs and a kind of third step ( previous steps for other story) of conversion in my life. After many years of absolute lonelyness I feel I am walking with you all, no matter that it is at a distance. I may say that today with this conversation, I feel specially happy as if I would be just sharing in person with you these thoughts, speaking with real brothers the same language learned with pain, and peacefully encouraging one each other.

  10. Sky says:


    I’m also very thankful to Steve, Kevin Aimes, Eve Tushnet, Melinda Selmys, Wesley Hill and others for their outreach and ministry. God knows I’ve needed their blogs, and I’m forever grateful. THANK YOU, GUYS!

    But I’m also grateful to the friends I’ve told about my desires, and the acceptance I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t expecting. One of my good friends said she had always known when I told her. She listened without judgement when I told her I was pro-gay marriage, and rejoiced later on when I told her I embraced church teaching. And had been praying for me all the while. It was just a few days ago, in fact, that she laughed about how great it was having a “gay friend”: not because she was treating me as an accessory, but because I could love her in a way that no one else could.

    Perhaps the main thing of same-sex attraction is that it’s disordered attraction, but I have to believe there are unique gifts that the Lord provides through it, transforming our wounds into witness. My friends and I joke about how well I “transcend the gender barrier”, and how I’m fluent in ‘guy’ and ‘girl’ (though ‘girl’ is still my native language). Often they even ask me for advice. “What does it mean when guys do such-and-such?…”

    So I don’t think it’s good to regard lack of confidence, feelings of non-masculinity, and over sensitivity as sinful natures. Frailties, perhaps, but not sins. They are amoral qualities. “Manly” is not the same as Christ-like.

    Though maybe you’re right, and “gay” isn’t the best word to describe us – not because it’s reductionist, but because of the philosophy it can imply. “Homosexual” is too clincial and “personal with homosexual tendencies” too unwieldy. I’m starting to dislike “same-sex attracted” as well; it’s equally unwieldy and is (I think) associated with the reparative therapy movement, which I shy away from. So for now I don’t have a good label for myself. I’ll use whatever words are necessary to convey to a person my stance and state, if it’s their business.

    But it is some people’s business. As Steve said, it can be a greater act of love, of trust, to ask for help than it is to give it. And when we forget that God’s love can be manifest in many ways, like the help of a friend, we cut ourselves off from that love. It’s prideful, even, to think that we can and should suffer alone, that we can make it through without God’s help – the help which He gives through our friends, and through His body.

    1. Well said, Sky, as usual.

  11. Mary says:

    So interesting. I would be curious about your view on how revealing SSA is akin to a longtime alcoholic revealing their alcoholism to friends. I am thinking about a longtime alcoholic who has been sober for many years. Do you think there are parallels?

  12. Mary says:

    I want to amend my last statement to say that I fully realize that the desire to drink to excess is not at all exactly the same as the desire to be sexual with those of your same gender, and I am sensitive to this fact, but I think there might be parallels.

  13. Rose says:

    I’ve been a lurker for a while, Steve, and I think you’re a rockstar. I’ve been praying for you especially as you battle depression. I just have to say that this post is phenomenal, and though I don’t struggle with SSA, what you said about suffering is just what I needed to hear.

    “But carrying heavy things by ourselves can habituate us to the notion that we are charged with a unique and terrible cross, that it is our job to suffer in a special way, that suffering is even our calling.”

    I think that sometimes when we’re saddled with a cross (for me it’s infertility) we try so hard to carry it that we end up giving it more weight than it has. I’ve been doing that. Thanks for wording it so beautifully, and waking me up!

  14. Other Mary says:

    I want to echo Rose in saying that while you speak, Steve, from a unique SSA perspective, what you say about your suffering and joy speaks to people beyond those with that same cross. For years I suffered in silence with anxiety and intrusive thoughts because I was afraid to burden my family and friends with them. It was only when I began speaking of it that I was able to, with God’s grace, begin to heal.

  15. Anthony says:

    Thanks for another great post Steve, I ditto all the other comments. Very few people in my life know, but those that do are very supportive. I keep wondering if I should disclose this to more people, but then keep coming around to the fact that I think enough people already know, and I can’t find a really good enough reason to tell more (save the empathy thing). And, I can always talk to God about it. He knows me better than anyone. Right now I find it more important to focus on fostering healthy, intimate and chaste relationships with those I love and who love me, and that doesn’t necessarily mean revealing my SSA to them. But, time will tell. Peace, and God Bless.

  16. Will says:

    Personally, once I developed a stronger connection with God , I was able to overcome some of my fear of being open with others. Once I realized that my relationship with God was paramount, and that God loves me, then I did not care as much what others might think about me. In other words, if I know who I am and God knows who I am, then what difference does it make what others might say about me? I say, let others think what they will….I have no control over what others might think anyway. In other words, if I know that my actions and thoughts are good in the eyes of God, then that is all that matters. It does not matter what others might say or think about me. Even though this sounds simple, it took me a long time to understand this, because I was not close to God and was living in fear of others for a long time. So, to me, the label “gay” is not that important. It is only a word, and all words are just “suppositions” and not “facts.” I help to define the word “gay” by how I live my life. The meanings of words evolve over time. They are used for human communication and have importance on the level of human interaction. Only God knows me as I truly am. First and foremost, I want to please God. Thanks.

  17. TheGafster says:

    To back up Nathan’s point, Courage doesn’t allow their members to refer to themselves as “gay or lesbian”.

    1. Will says:

      I understand the point that homosexual or gay is more of an adjective than a noun. I guess I believe that all nouns are in flux anyway. The word “gay” is a word that means different things to different peoplle. I think that to the general American public, the word gay no longer really implies a particular form of behavior or set of beliefs. It just describes same-sex attraction. As an American citizen, I might as well use the same vocabulary as other American citizens. Personally, I don’t want to live in a “Catholic ghetto” that has its own separate vocabulary, any more than I want to live in a “gay ghetto” that has its own lexicon. It is a confusing issue for a lot of people, I think, and I still struggle with it, to be honest.

  18. anthony says:

    Dan Mattson has an essay in First Things about the whole calling oneself a “gay catholic” discussion. some may enjoy reading it and the comments?

  19. Will says:

    Thanks for recommending the essay in First Things. I enjoyed reading it. I agree that words are important, and we need to be careful in the words we choose to define ourselves. I can understand that, for many people, the word “gay” still suggests a particular lifestyle that is not in line with Catholic teachings, and I can understand the hesitation to use that word. However, maybe by calling myself a “gay Catholic,” I can help show others (who may feel alienated from the Church) that it is possible to be Catholic and have SSA.
    Let’s consider the word “Christian.” As a Christian, I want to help define to the world what it means to be a Christian in a way that the world can understand. Many who call themselves Christians, in my opinion, do not act in a loving way. Similarly, I can help define how a person can be “gay” but still Catholic at the same time.
    I do not necessarily agree that SSA is something that should be celebrated as “good” in itself. On the other hand, I believe it is part of the human condition and not something that needs to be hidden or be a source of shame. That attitude, in general, has led to a lot of problems for the Catholic Church, in my opinion.
    “Gay” is a word that is generally used in American society to describe SSA (although it can mean other things to other people). To me, it just seems that NOT to use the word “gay” gives the word even more power than it deserves.

  20. Briana says:

    I absolutely love this. My friends tell me their problems all the time, usually with an apology for venting or for “burdening me.” I’ve never understood this. Being needed and trusted by another person is an absolutely amazing feeling. I love helping people, even if it’s just through listening. I believe you covered that very well. Just backing it up from the other side.

  21. Christie says:

    Steve, it made my heart happy to hear about the ease with which you share what was once a Deep Dark Secret. My day is brighter now.

  22. Mark from PA says:

    Orthodox and Gay, I agree with what you are saying here. I actually like the term gay and find it somewhat freeing. I also have come to the conclusion that straight people who don’t like the term gay in general don’t like gay people either. I find it troubling that “Courage” doesn’t like people to refer to themselves as gay. Sadly, in my opinion, Courage has allowed itself to be used by the NARTH group which tends to hold stereotypical views of gay people. I feel uncomfortable with the term SSA. I actually have never heard anyone use this word in speech. It is not an expression used where I live. In truth I think most people have some degree of same sex attraction. Most people find some people of the same sex to be attractive and on the other hand most gay people find some people of the opposite sex to be attractive.

  23. MAMaK says:

    I am going to have to agree with Mark a little on this.
    I can certainly appreciate the beauty of someone of the opposite sex, though I don’t know if I’d yet call it “attraction.” I do feel clumsy using the term “SSA” in speech (I still do), but it is always easier to use the word “gay.” Then again, many wise people have said, “Soon will come the time to choose between what is right and what is easy.” I don’t have too strong an opinion on what word you use, just that you remember the truth of the situation.

    I find it easier to remember this truth using the term “SSA,” others may have an easier time using the term “gay” without breaking to the secular culture’s view on it. To each his own. Language is a tool for us to use however we can. The underlying concepts are objective, but the words we use to describe them are not. My friends and I have an inside joke that YOLO could be a slang term for someone who is gay (You Obviously Love Oreos (in reference to the “recent” Oreo add that sent the internet into chaos)).

    Language is a tool.

    God Bless you all.

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