What Is Sex, Part II: I Only Do One Thing

Part I of this post is here.

Not everything is about sex, but sex is about everything. Look at this, from Mr. God, This Is Anna:

Anna had gotten one end of the burst balloon trapped by her foot to the pavement. While she was stretching it with the one hand, she was poking it with her right index finger.

“That’s funny,” she murmured. Her unblinking eyes solidified this experiment like some twentieth-century Medusa.


“What’s up?”

“Will you pull this for me?”

I got down beside her and was handed the burst balloon.

“Now pull it for me.”

I stretched the balloon for her and she stuck her finger into it.

“That’s funny.”

“What’s funny?” I asked.

“Wot’s it look like?”

“Looks like you’re sticking your finger into a burst balloon.”

“Don’t it look like a man’s bit?”

“I suppose it does, kind of.”

“Looks like a lady’s on the other side,” she said.

“Oh! Does it? Let’s have a look.” I looked, and it did in a way.

“That’s funny, that is.”

“Well, what’s so funny about it?”

“If I only do one thing,” she poked her finger into the balloon again,”it makes a lady’s and a man’s. Don’t you think that’s funny, Fynn? Eh?”

The “one thing,” as I take it, is somehow God’s act of creating us, and not only us but the animals, and not only the animals but the universe as a whole. I don’t know why, but creation is dual: male and female, seed and soil, receiver and giver, divine and human:

All the universe has got a sex-like quality about it. It is seminal and productive at the same time. The seeds of words produce ideas. The seeds of ideas produce goodness knows what. The whole blessed thing is male and female at one and the same time. In face, the whole thing is pure sex. We’ve taken one aspect of it and called it sex, or made it self-conscious and called it Sex. But that was our own fault, wasn’t it?1

It’s one reason Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, about a planet with androgynous inhabitants, was a very interesting idea but didn’t really work: they just all seemed like a bunch of gay guys. Either it would have taken a more talented author than LeGuin to make it work, or nobody could have done it, and I suspect the latter. Humans don’t make sense without gender.

When I tell people I don’t believe that homosexual acts are right, I don’t mean two men shouldn’t have sex; I mean they can’t.

The first time I realized this was while watching porn2 a few years ago.3 These two men were clearly working at something, working pretty hard in fact, and I enjoyed watching it, I guess, but suddenly the whole thing seemed surreal: what on earth were they trying to accomplish? Who were they trying to fool?

I felt like I was watching somebody play golf with a pool stick, or use a tennis racket as a hammer. It was sad and weird and almost funny.

I don’t mean that two men or two women can’t love each other, and take care of each other, and support each other emotionally and spiritually and physically, and be tender towards each other. Recently my friend Jack P. amazed me by saying, of a mutual friend of ours who is also straight and male: “I love him so, so deeply!”

That’s not gay. That’s just people being people.

What I do mean is something like this: masculinity and femininity mean something; they’re not accidental and they’re not arbitrary.

I get that people don’t want to be limited by their bodies, and that between body and soul, or body and spirit, or body and mind, there is sometimes a deep disjoint.

Being both soul and body is a mystery beyond all telling. That mystery goes all the way to the heart of us. That’s why there’s no pain like the pain that happens when it goes wrong. Sex is what we’re made of, and when your sexuality is broken — as all of ours is, in different ways and to different degrees — it feels like fissures in your heart.

1 From Mister God, This Is Anna, by Fynn. It’s worth reading the whole context. As for its being our “own fault”, yes and no. What Fynn is getting at here has something to do with must have gone wrong with sex after Eden.
2 I guess I’m embarrassed about that, I dunno. Nearly every guy I’ve talked to about it either watches or has watched porn at various times in their lives. It’s objectively shameful, the way any sin is objectively shameful, but it’s hardly unusual. I’ve been porn-free for a long time, thanks to this book.
3 Proving that (1) no matter what I’m doing at the moment, I just can’t turn off the analytical bit of my brain, and (2) God sometimes uses really unexpected things to educate us.

55 Comments on “What Is Sex, Part II: I Only Do One Thing”

  1. Levi says:

    I read your blog regularly and most times I don’t agree with what u saying when it comes to homosexuality. As a bisexual man(make of that what you will) I think that love exists in different forms claiming that sex is purely for porcreation which is what ur argument comes down to is absolute crap! Sex is about love not just creating new life

    1. Allison says:

      It’s about both.

    2. Nan says:

      Look at the complementarity of man and woman. Man was designed to fit into woman. Woman was designed to receive man and to bear his children. Those are biological facts. Neither two men nor two women fit together as nature intended. Sex was never designed as a purely recreational activity; it was always designed for procreation.

  2. richard says:


  3. Narcissus Goldmund says:

    This is brilliant! But I’d add that it feels worse than fissures in the heart. It’s my feeling that there’s a common belief among OSA (and some SSA) people that gay is just the opposite of straight, that what some guy feels for his girlfriend or wife is the same drive that a homosexual feels for their lover. But it cannot be. The day I realized that I might never know that kind of romantic love (not obsession) that I hear reflected in music, read in literature, see in art – that was a pretty dark day. I’ve not figured out yet how to mend or fill that fissure. All is not totally dark though: what your friend said about loving that other guy deeply? I’ve felt that once, many years ago, and it surprised the shit out of me.

    1. Julia says:

      I’m happy that you wee able to feel that way about someone; I felt that once too. How did it turn out for you?

  4. Renee says:

    “It’s objectively shameful, the way any sin is objectively shameful, but it’s hardly unusual.”

    I felt the same way when I was talking openly and honestly about have sex as a teenager on radio.

  5. ocryan says:

    Using an instance of pornography as your “aha” example is problematic, to say the least. Pornography, like its sibling prostitution, is _not_ sex. It’s a simulacrum performed and produced with commercial intent, regardless of the gender/physical sex of the participants.

    1. I’m confused, ocryan. You just agreed with me. Did you think I was somehow endorsing porn?

  6. ocryan says:

    No, I thought you were saying that sex between two people of the same gender wasn’t “really” sex.

    You said, “When I tell people I don’t believe that homosexual acts are right, I don’t mean two men shouldn’t have sex; I mean they can’t. / The first time I realized this was while watching porn…”

    Did I misunderstand you?

    My point was that an example taken from pornography can’t be used as a test case for judging the validity/reality/feasibility/anything, really, of sexual expression within a real-life relationship.

    1. Oh, I understand you now. Yes, I was arguing that sex between two people of the same gender isn’t really sex.

      And now I see your point: that porn isn’t the best example, because presumably the porn actors aren’t in a loving relationship with each other.

      I’ll give a bit of ground, and say that same-sex genital activity between two people in a loving relationship is *closer* to real sex than genital activity between two porn actors is. But I’d still say that both are poor imitations of the real thing.

      I still think the insight I had was a real one, since the insight was largely a physical one — I glimpsed the physical absurdity of same-sex genital activity — and there’s no physical difference between two actors doing it and two lovers doing it.

  7. Lisa Twaronite says:

    So by the same definition, any sexual relations I have with my male partner (I’m female) aren’t “real,” unless they’re intercourse?

    1. Depends what you mean by real. If you mean “they happened” and “they felt good” and “they made us feel close to each other”, then sure, they’re real enough. But that doesn’t make them sex.

  8. Lisa Twaronite says:

    So only intercourse is sex? I think it’s just a matter of definition, then.

  9. Lisa Twaronite says:

    It’s a semantic discussion — and reminds me Bill Clinton saying he did “not have sexual relations” with Monica, because all he did was receive oral sex from her.
    The meaning of “sex” is best defined by the consenting adults involved, I think.

  10. J.B. Toner says:

    Except that if everyone has his or her own definition of a given word, then we can never talk to each other. Certainly oral sex is a form of sexual relation – i.e., Clinton was indeed an adulterer and also, incidentally, a perjurer – but just so we can all inhabit the same page here, what Joey means by “sex” is presumably the Church’s definition, in which the *possibility* of procreation must be present for an act to be considered actual Sex. (Although as I recall, even the Catechism explicitly says that physical pleasure is also one of the “functions” of Sex. It’s not ONLY about procreation.) And the reason for that, which I think is Joey’s main point here, is that the entire cosmos is built upon the principle of receiving and being “impregnated” and bringing forth fruit in a billion different ways. Sex is just sort of the most obvious manifestation of that universal process.

    1. Thanks, JBT. That is what I meant.

  11. Joanna says:

    I think I get what you’re saying here. I had the same experience with contraception. Having been brought up to believe that sensible responsible Protestant people used contraception so that they had a respectable number of kids like decent people, I was surprised to find that the whole thing felt kind of odd. So, what are we doing here? We’re putting a rubber thing on so that the thing that we’re doing doesn’t actually work? It’s a bit like chewing up your food and then spitting it out again. Or, even worse, I’m taking this little pill that fools my body into thinking that it’s pregnant so that I have all the side effects of pregnancy without the actual baby. Weird!

    Don’t get me wrong. I understand *why* we do this. It’s so that we can feel all the closeness of sex without having more babies than we can manage/afford/plan our careers around. But I’m an idealist. I want to have the real thing and live in the real world. I just wish there was a way of doing that without having 14 kids or having to chart your cycles every day!

    1. Lisa says:

      Hi Joanna,
      Just wanted to say that charting for Natural Family Planning is easy! Seriously, it takes like 2 seconds at the end of the day, and you get into a daily routine- like brushing your teeth. And I may sound like a broken record here, but NFP doesn’t = millions of kids. It means you’re open to the possibility of kids. If you’re familiar with your cycle and your body’s signs it’s a discussion between you, your husband, and God whether or not to try to grow your family at that time.

  12. Faith says:

    I’m with J.B. Toner. Lisa Twaronite thinks it is about semantics because she has a fuzzy definition of sex. I’m old. When I was growing up sex stood for sexual intercourse. It didn’t mean anything you do that might be sexual. Even kids knew the distinction in their slang. Kids talked about getting to first or second base. Guess what a home run was? It wasn’t oral sex, that was only 3rd! Or they talked about going all the way. Homosexual relationships are about never going all the way. Never consummating their relationship because they are at odds with the universe. The one that created the man’s bit and the lady’s bit and said if you put these together you can make a family. What Clinton said was so stupid because everyone can see right away that adultery isn’t just the technical ‘going all the way.’ It is also the about the other things that lead up to it! But that doesn’t change the fact that sex itself, that is sexual intercourse is about lady and man bits meant to fit together so that something wondrous and biological can happen!

    When people say things like sex is not about creating life it is about love, they are just so off the mark. It’s like saying food is about being a good cook and sharing a wonderful meal with friends. Yes, this certainly can be true! But it is not the reason for food. The reason for food is ultimately biological. It is about nutrition. If we only eat food that is poor nutritionally, we starve. Bad stuff happens. Same thing with taking the biological process of continuing the human species and saying it is only about ‘love.’ We live in a physical world. Our physical needs and our spiritual needs are tied up all together in this package we call our body. The Church has a holistic approach. It doesn’t compartmentalize. It sees the whole picture. It sees God’s divine plan. Whenever you start messing with that, well you get a lot of pain and sorrow, kind of like the fall out we see from the sexual revolution.

    1. Efcee says:

      Well, I am bit new here, but in reply to what you and others have said, I think the argument is not that sex is about love and not procreation. Granted that sex is both for unitive and procreative elements- love and children…the question then is from where do we get the idea that it has to do both…in as much as food is for nutrition and the pleasure of eating, many times people eat not for the nutrition but for the pleasure…and I have an example of such foods in my environment… for heterosexual couples it is allowed to enjoy the unitive aspect of sex as a means of engendering love even in infertile couples…why can’t such consideration be extended to homosexual couples who like infertile heterosexuals are physically not open to procreation but who love themselves and willing to give themselves in an act of self-giving love, to knit their souls one to another and to be happy doing so? Or are we saying that people of the same sex cannot love themselves in this way? Of course they can and do especially in our world…so what’s the saying that they cannot enjoy the unitive element of the Sexual act…

  13. Great post! I have had a very long life with all kinds of sexual sins in my past from my teen years until 4 years ago when I became Catholic. I had all the usual issues with the Church’s teachings on the subject. My priest gave me the writings of Blessed John Paul II on sexuality and for the first time in my life I found what I had been looking for.

    Thanks for your courage to write!

  14. Karen says:

    So, define “masculine” and “feminine.”

    In my experience “masculine” usually means “brave, intelligent, reasonable, and self-controlled” and “feminine” means “obsessed with trivia of appearance, cowardly, dimwitted, and weak.”

    1. I’d love to be able to define those two words! But I don’t think anybody’s been able to do it. If you manage, let me know.

  15. Karen says:

    The fact that no one can define “masculine” or “feminine” suggests that the words and the concepts they name really are meaningless and arbitrary. I am female, so I’m supposed to be feminine, but in 50 years of life no one has ever been able to list for me the acts permitted or prohibited by that description. Do I have to be fearful of insects? (I’m not. I don’t want spiders crawling on me, but I’m not going to scream and run, and I rather like seeing orb-spinners in my garden.) Do I have to act like my husband makes all the decisions? Defer to anyone with a penis? My younger son hates sports and loves art. Should I beat him? Or is art creative and therefore masculine? You claim masculinity and femininity mean something, but neither you nor anyone else ever clearly states what that meaning is. Why shouldn’t I think it’s arbitrary?

    1. That’s a weird logical leap. “It’s hard to define” means “It has no definition”?

      “Should I beat him” is also a little bit of a stretch of a question. I assume you are being arch.

      Nobody has ever been able to define masculinity or femininity exhaustively. That doesn’t mean we can’t make sketches.

      Do you really feel nothing in common with other women?

      It’s odd, too, that all your sketches of femininity seem to be negative: fearfulness, deference. Who gave you those ideas?

  16. Karen says:

    I have some things in common with some women but nothing distinct from what I share with men.

    I associate bad things with femininity because historically feminine things were always inferior to masculine ones. I value reason, intellect, and creativity, and think emotionalism — traditionally feminine — is a bad trait. I honestly can’t think of any traditionally coded feminine traits that are not worse than their masculine counterparts, and I think women are quite good at expressing those “masculine” things, such as physical courage, logic, rationalism, and strict control of our emotions. I object to forcing women into traditional roles because those roles encourage women to express inferior traits.

    1. Nan says:

      Historically feminine things were different than masculine. It’s only in the last 50 years that women have tried to be men.

      1. Karen says:

        I know feminine is different from masculine. What I want to see is the definitive list of feminine traits. If women are the opposit of men, and men are supposed to be brave, that requires women to be cowards. If men are intelligent, women must be stupid. If the creative impulse is masculine, then the feminine version must be to be dim.

        1. Chris says:

          “I know feminine is different from masculine.If women are the opposite of men, and men are supposed to be brave, that requires women to be cowards. If men are intelligent, women must be stupid. If the creative impulse is masculine, then the feminine version must be to be dim.”

          My understanding is that men and women are not opposites, they’re complimentary. To use your examples, physical bravery is held as ideal for men. Diplomacy and social graciousness (which requires another type of bravery) would be the complimentary feminine trait. Both men and women are called to cultivate their intelligence, be it abstract or social. Men tend to thrive with the former, women with the latter.

          Both genders are called to grow in virtue. There are going to be some broad similarities within a gender and differences between genders, but there’s far greater variation when you get down to the individual level. That’s why marrying someone complimentary is so important. Husband and wife can help strengthen each other’s virtues, even if they each have traits that are usually attributed to the opposite sex. Ideally marriage is a spiritually symbiotic relationship.

          “What I want to see is the definitive list of feminine traits.”

          Why? Work on the cardinal virtues- discretion, justice, restraint, and courage. Find a husband with a complimentary nature. Offer good council and support to him, listen to his in turn. You’ll end up with just the type of femininity you are made for.

          1. Karen says:

            Because “social intelligence” isn’t real intelligence, it’s simply good manners, and I completely reject the idea that being polite is a female trait. You have set up a world where women do nothing but clean up the messes men make, both actual dirt and metaphorical rudeness. Women shouldn’t get a pass on things like killing roaches and men shouldn’t be allowed to be jerks.

          2. Karen says:

            Also, the word is “complEmentary” with an e instead of an i. Autocorrect doesn’t know the difference and keeps sticking me with a word that means “flattery.”

          3. Chris says:

            Commenting on Karen’s reply below:

            I apologize for my spelling. It was late, I was tired.

            “Because “social intelligence” isn’t real intelligence, it’s simply good manners…”

            Wrong. Social intelligence is not good manners, it’s understanding human interaction. Good diplomats and ambassadors have it, smart police detectives have it. The U.S. military tests extensively for social intelligence in it’s officers. On the crass end of the spectrum there are pick up artists and con men. There are hundreds of studies on social intelligence and how it affects education and career.

            “and I completely reject the idea that being polite is a female trait.”

            And bravery isn’t exclusively masculine. You speak in broad strokes, so lend others the same courtesy.

            “You have set up a world where women do nothing but clean up the messes men make, both actual dirt and metaphorical rudeness.”

            Not at all. Everyone, male and female, are called to virtue. Just because my husband is more diplomatic than I am doesn’t mean I can be a rude jerk, any more than his being brave allows me to be a coward. It’s not an “on/off” polarity. Masculinity and femininity aren’t checklists. They’re more like an “if/then” flowchart. They depend heavily on the situation at hand. You seem to be determined to equate masculinity with consequence-free privilege and femininity with weakness and debasement, when it’s just not so.

            “Women shouldn’t get a pass on things like killing roaches and men shouldn’t be allowed to be jerks.”

            No one has implied that men are allowed to be jerks.

            And on a final note, I’ve killed black widow spiders, scorpions, and water moccasins without hesitation. I leave the roach killing to my man and I don’t apologize for it, either. 🙂

    2. Sarah says:

      It’s been a long time since you posted your comment, but just in case- I’d like to call into question the idea that those traits you listed are necessarily negative. As someone who is very emotional (and is married to a man who is also emotional), I fail to see how that’s a bad thing. I spent a long time being yelled at by teachers for being emotional (which was their only complaint as I was always a high achiever and graduated from college summa cum laude- so I’m not arguing that women can’t be intelligent by academic standards), and I used to see that as a failing. Why would God make me that way? I realized as an adult that it was a gift- a gift have I used to sit down with the family members of hospice patients and provide professional bereavement counseling, to tutor students, to be present to friends and family who need me- the list goes on. My Master’s Degree taught me how to use therapy, evaluate functioning and needs, and advocate for the fulfillment of those needs- but the ability to empathize- to look at a person and feel something close to what they’re feeling, not just pity- is a gift that no one could have taught me. Emotionalistm not an inferior trait, and it’s one my husband, a psychiatrist, relies on daily to serve his patients in a Christlike manner.

  17. Laurie says:

    Hi Karen,

    Your personality, your preferences, your values, and your feelings on this topic are shared with quite a number of women (myself included). A man cannot consider the topic from the female perspective so yours is quite distinct from them, though there may be some who take the time to relate and would be willing to voice the same points.

    I think the struggle is that when we look at the physical world and try to write tangible definitions, we fall on the temptation to limit our description to behavior and personality.

    You are feminine in the same way you are Karen. You just are. We know because God put the identifying marker of the Y chromosome.

  18. Laurie says:

    That’s embarrassing… you have the marker of the double X chromosome. 🙂

  19. P.J. says:

    A concept I have some trouble understanding is tied to something you’ve written, Joey — and it’s something that’s also found in Catholic teaching, if I’m not mistaken.

    We are told it’s not a sin if two people of the same gender love each other — which, of course, is great news. It’s wonderful knowing that — if that should ever happen to any one of us — that God will not be offended by the mere act of two people loving each other, even if they happen to be of the same gender.

    But out of love (which is not offensive to God) comes the subsequent desire to be in the company of the person you love. And from that comes the desire to be affectionate with the person you love (maybe simply embracing — a desire not motivated by lust, but motivated by the heart when you love someone). And from the act of embracing the person you love might come the desire to kiss…

    Notice how none of the above actions are sinful; they are all actions which naturally spring forth when we love someone. Unfortunately, however, if we continue with that non-sinful behavior (the spending time together, the embrace, the kiss) we likely would end up expressing this love sexually — presumably the next logical step.

    I guess the concept I have trouble with currently is how it’s not a sin to love someone, to desire that person’s companionship, to embrace that person, to kiss that person — but the next step in the natural progression of these events is offensive to God, even though it originates in the non-offensive love the two people feel.

    How does something which is “good” and has God’s blessing become horrible at a certain point?

  20. J.B. Toner says:

    P.J. – I think the “sin,” or anyway the mistake, comes not from taking an action too far, but from confusing the meanings of two different actions that look the same on the surface. I can greet my mom or my wife with exactly the same all-enfolding bear hug, but the kind of love being expressed is very distinct in each case. The kind of love I have for Mom simply doesn’t have a “next logical step” in terms of physical expression. I show that love for her in a different way, but in a way that’s every bit as real and defining to me as the kind I have for my wife. I take the exact same road to get to church that I take to get to the bar, but there’s never any confusion in my head or my heart about which place I’m going to; and so the NATURE of the journey is qualitatively different, even though an onlooker might not be able to tell any difference in the route that I’m taking to get there.

    1. P.J. says:

      J.B. —

      Thanks for the reply, but from your response, I feel as though maybe I didn’t make myself clear.

      The point I’m making is that “gay” (still not comfortable with that word) people have the ability to feel the same love you feel for your mother AND feel the same love for another person that you feel for your wife.

      We have the capacity to feel love like you do.

      The only question I’m having these days is what are we supposed to do when we feel love for someone like you feel for your wife?

      1. JBT says:

        I remember a post awhile back in which Joey said he asked that very question to a priest, and the guy came back with something to the effect of, “Try a good firm handshake.” If my (incidentally hypothetical) wife were in a twenty-year coma and my only two choices were to betray my faith or forswear all physical intimacy, I really don’t know how I’d handle it – but I do know that if anyone gave me a slick, scoffing answer like that, I’d be overwhelmingly tempted to hand him his larynx. How does one deal with the anger and loneliness of essentially being forced to “choose” celibacy? Dude, I have no idea. How do I sit here in perfect safety and presume to pass judgment on the “weakness” of a man who abandons his faith rather than being dragged away to the Soviet gulags? I’m not sure there’s anything I can say that won’t sound heartless or glib. Believe me, it’s never crossed my mind to question the fact that the love of someone with SSA is every bit as real as the love of someone without it. What I do question, all the time, is whether our suffering – the suffering of any and every human being in one way or another – is really destined to bring forth some kind of deeper joy and glory somewhere down the road; but at the end of the day, I still believe the answer to that question is yes. And that belief is the only real answer I have.

      2. savvy says:

        I would like to respond to your question. Love is total self-gift. Sex is unitive and procreative . Violating either of the goods of sex, or discarding one for another only makes a partial gift of self, rather a total communion of persons. In the case of an opposite sex couple that is open to creating new life, but have a mess of a marriage, the unitive good is being discarded for the procreative good, and in the case of a gay couple, who are committed to each other, the procreative good is being discarded for the unitive one.

        Both, are only making a partial gift of self in sexual terms. Saying yes to one, but not to the other.

        It’s the larger question of what it means to love as embodied persons.

        1. Efcee says:

          May I then ask you what the case is for infertile heterosexual couples whom nobody seems to have a problem endorsing the marriage and sexuality activities that go on within? And by infertile I do not mean secondary infertility but primary infertility. Are we saying that primary infertile heterosexual couples who love each other shouldn’t get married because there is a mess of the procreative aspect of intercourse? Are we saying that primary infertile couples cannot make a total gift of self to each other because the sex is not procreative? That is Absurd and Nowhere does scripture teach that…I feel we have fixated and are obsessed so much with sex and the things we are used to about them that we are failing to consider certain things from scripture…Sex is not the defining attribute for a total gift of self…it’s the fact that people are ready to give their lives for the good and for the well-being of the other…

          It seems that homosexual couples who genuinely love each other can enjoy the unitive aspect of the Sexual activity as one of the means of expression of the love they feel for each other, just like primary infertile heterosexuals..

          I feel the Church has concentrated so much in sex and not on love…the gospel we need to preach to same sex attracted people is that of love, as a church we should celebrate love, the love of friendship and communion, the love that makes man not to be alone, in whatever ‘not harmful’ form it comes…

  21. Joanna says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Yes, I am giving it a go. On my first pregnancy now, so don’t have to think about it for a while. I found out some really useful things about my body – I actually felt more in control because I understood my moods better – bit the month I got pregnant was the month I went abroad and forgot all about my charts, so I don’t think I’m predicting things accurately enough to avoid or achieve pregnancy. I would love it to work as the pill makes me SO depressed and miserable and I wouldn’t mind the periods of abstinence, I just don’t want to make a commitment and then have to embarrassingly backtrack at a later stage!

  22. mudpiemagnet says:

    It’s so awesome when someone puts into words something that has been milling about wordless in one’s brain for awhile. Thanks for this post, and others. You are spot on- there is something about the male/femaleness of creation that makes the whole thing almost like a “This Way!!” sign, pointing towards God.

  23. Gregory Peterson says:

    Some cultures recognize a third gender. Masculinity and femininity are evolving social constructs.

    I think that the American moral imagination has always been dangerously deficient in regards to minority people.

  24. This is very, very good. But the question that arises to me, and continues to confound me–is why, oh, why, oh why–do you call yourself “gay?” I’ve read your Q&A on this, but I’ve never found it convincing. You ARE masculine, through and through, made for union with a woman. That’s the beauty of being made in the image and likeness of God, and in your most recent letter to the world, you say “get to know my life, because my life is the context of what I mean by gay.” I think of it another way: the Church’s understanding of man is the context of my life, as a man attracted to other men. I think your life only makes sense, and your attractions to men only make sense, when you look through them with the long lens of the Church’s understanding of man. Getting to know your life, and the context of your understanding of yourself “as gay” isn’t what’s important to know. What we need to do, in looking at every man or woman, is to look at them through the eyes of Christ, and the only place where we can understand how Christ sees us is through the Church.

    Male and female aren’t accidental, or arbitrary, just as you wisely say. But it seems to me that you’ve not taken the logical next step to say that regardless of how you may experience your sexual attractions, and no matter what the current terms are for people who are attracted to the same sex, there is a truth that does down to the deep core of us that transcends our culture. You’re a Lewis fan, as am I. It’s sort of like that “Deeper Magic” in the Magician’s Nephew, that goes deeper than Jaden’s magic. The lingo “gay” is like Jaden–on the surface, cultural, if you will, while the distinction of “male and female” is Aslan and the “deeper Magic.”

    The recent encyclical of Pope Francis has an intriguing line: “Language itself, the words by which we make sense of our lives and the world around us, comes to us from others, preserved in the living memory of others. Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory.”

    I don’t think you’re living in the “greater memory” of the Church, if you call yourself gay. Besides, if you’re 4ish on the Kinsey scale, aren’t you really more “bisexual?” 🙂

    Isn’t it far more true that those (perhaps rare) moments when you are attracted to women actually are more “true” about you than the more visceral feelings you have when attracted to men? (This is something I experience as well). This is why I find it so strange and bizarre when I read of Melinda Selmys having a “mixed-orientation” marriage. She’s in a marriage, as God intended it: male and female, joined together as one. The fact that she still finds women attractive has no bearing on the reality of what her marriage is, and always will be: exactly what God intended for marriage.

    I think your blog is great–but as a fellow brother in Christ, who digs guys as much as you, I’m going to keep challenging you on your view of yourself. You’re not gay, brother Joey, and in the eyes of God, no one is.

    I think these words of John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor are very helpful in thinking about whether or not anyone “is gay.”

    “It must certainly be admitted that man always exists in a particular culture, but it must also be admitted that man is not exhaustively defined by that same culture. Moreover, the very progress of cultures demonstrates that there is something in man which transcends those cultures. This “something” is precisely human nature: this nature is itself the measure of culture and the condition ensuring that man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being.”

    God bless you–I do love your blog.

    1. Thanks for the kind words.

      I don’t think the meaning of the word “gay” is set in stone yet. I’d like to help with the evolution of the word. I should have some say in the way words are used. It’s my language, too, right?

      I think it’s too late to invent another term and have it gain acceptance. “Same-sex-attracted” is cumbersome, and when I use it, I feel like I’m consciously and purposely cutting myself off from people who identify as gay: saying to them, in effect, “I’m not like you.” I don’t want to do that.

      I have noticed with interest that even some people who use “SSA” use it basically the same way that I use “gay”. For example, I’ve seen People Can Change send out mailings that talk about “SSA men”. Why not just say “gay men”?

      For me, the two statements “I am gay” and “I am primarily attracted to men” are identical. I don’t understand why the big deal.

  25. Thanks for the reply, and the conversation. I guess I’m not sure why you don’t think that it could be a big deal. I’m thinking now of a mother who found me through my blog, and called me yesterday, crying that her 17 year old son told her matter-of-factly that he’s “bi.” When she asked him if that means he’d like to have a girlfriend, he said, “well, yes,” and if he’d like to have a boyfriend just as much, “well, naturally.” He’s bought into the idea that LBTQ labels are givens, as states of being, and I think this is one of the best laid plans of our enemy since he tempted Eve in the Garden. I think too of all of the men and women I’ve met over the years who first discovered that they were attracted to the same sex, and the only explanation they had for this was what the world has been feeding them–in a concerted effort–that this means that they are gay, that they were born that way, and then they were lead to disastrous consequences because they believed what the world was saying to them. No matter how much we might want to change language, we don’t have control over how it’s used or conceived of by others, and when someone says “I’m gay,” it’s generally understood by others as something that goes down to the core of them, and a rather innate and essential quality of them, which usually leads down the road towards a relationship, or at the very least, sexual activity (which is why everyone following Catholic teaching who says they’re gay always has to tag on “but I’m chaste”).

    What do you think of the 1986 Letter section on identity? What are your thoughts on the Canadian bishops and their pastoral letter, using the phrase “same-sex attraction,” where they wrote that “the expression ‘person with same-sex attraction’ refers to one who feels an erotic and emotional attraction, which is predominant and not merely episodic, towards persons of the same sex, whether with or without sexual relations. The terms “gay” and “lesbian” are not used to define people in the Church’s official teachings and documents. Although these words are common terms in current speech, and many people use them to describe themselves, they do not describe persons with the fullness and richness that the Church recognizes and respects in every man or woman. Instead, “gay” and “lesbian” are often cultural definitions for people and movements that have accepted homosexual acts and behaviours as morally good.’”

    Have you considered that perhaps these bishops, and others of our bishops, like Archbishop Cordileone, who also said that “gay and lesbian” aren’t in the vocabulary of the Church think it’s a big deal—for reasons you don’t understand just yet? Isn’t there some deference owed to our Catholic hierarchy, especially on things which intersect our lives so intimately?

    Sure, it’s noble that you’d like to try and change the language of the world, but language doesn’t work that way. Language develops organically, and despite best intentions, no one’s going to change the language of public school sex education programs, or the language the United Nations uses in promoting the normalization of LGBT sexual identities across the world or the way “I am gay” is portrayed in popular media. Isn’t a bit naïve to think that you, or I, or anyone else, no matter how much we claim the language “is mine too, right?” can actually bring about that sort of universal change? It feels good to be a David against the Goliath of the sexual revolution, (I feel that way about myself!) but I think with language, and anthropology, our safest place is to rely on the Church’s definitions of man.

    I think it’s unwise too to encourage anyone to “come out” even if they think they want to—or need to, in order to be more authentic about themselves with their friends. I think the USCCB was wise when they said this back in 2006: “For some persons, revealing their homosexual tendencies to certain close friends, family members, a spiritual director, confessor, or members of a Church support group may provide some spiritual and emotional help and aid them in their growth in the Christian life. In the context of parish life, however, general public self-disclosures are not helpful and should not be encouraged.” Are they making a mountain out of a mole hill, or do they understand things better than we can?

    My motivation isn’t to “try and find a better term,” but rather to get our focus away from “gender” or “sexual orientation” or describing ourselves as some sort of tribe cordoned off as a distinct class of people because of our sexual attractions, and rather getting back to Genesis: male and female, made for union with our sexual opposite. Incidentally, I don’t find that rejecting “gay” cuts me off from anyone. Rather, it opens up an invitation to speak about what it means to be made male and female, through the eyes of the Church, which leads to exactly what you were talking about in this blogpost. A lot of people think I’m crazy when I talk that way, but I sort of like that, to be honest. 🙂 And they’re always intrigued by my thinking on the subject precisely because I consciously don’t call myself gay. I’m sure some of them call me gay behind my back, but whenever they do, they’ll also be thinking about why I don’t say it, even if they think I’m in crazy-denial about myself, which is why I think it’s actually a valuable distinction to make, and a helpful evangelization tool.

    I don’t have any particular loyalty to “same-sex attraction.” I agree it’s a bit cumbersome—but so are consubstantial and transubstantiation, and their cumbersome nature doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not we use them or not. Besides, when I talk about this, or write about it, I view it as an opportunity to be a creative writer, or a colorful speaker. I change up the way I talk about it all the time, but never use “I am gay,” because “I am” is a powerful statement, and regardless of how much we might want to redefine language, or have people get to know us through the context of what that phrase means to us in our life, they already HAVE a context for what that means, quite separate from their relationship with you or me. Your friends do view you differently now, because you told them you’re gay—and it’s not the sort of viewing you differently that saying “I am Catholic” causes people to view you differently than they’d view a non-Catholic. “I am gay” is viewed as far more all-encompassing than a mere descriptor of a person. It’s just the way it is in 2013.

    One of my friends who found my blog said to me, “your life finally makes sense to me,” but see—it made sense to him in the way HE understood “being gay” to be. He assumed, (incorrectly) that the reason I’m not married, or why things didn’t work out with the one woman I hoped to marry was naturally because “I’m gay.” My dating history with women all fell into place, because he now views me as a “gay man,” in the way he understands the term, regardless of how long or how well he knows me, or how much I’ve explained my thinking to him. He’s got me figured out now, because of his understanding of what it means to be gay, and since “I am gay,” there’s no way things could work with a woman. Another dear friend of mine recently said to me that when I have dated women, I always dated manly/boyish looking women. Which isn’t true, by any stretch of the imagination, and I realize that’s her rewriting my life history through the lens of me “being gay,” without her even realizing it, and she’s one who’s totally on board with my pursuit of chastity. There are a ton of others ways in which the subtle aspects of my personality are now filtered through the lens of me “being gay,” such as my desire to bake, or my success as a musician, or my eye for photography. The wife of a friend of mine just suggested to her husband that “you should go buy shoes with Dan,” which is something I’ve never heard her suggest before they found my blog about nine months ago. Another friend seems to assume that “gay guys” are attracted to effeminate men, which mystifies her, since they’re so “lady-like,” and presumably she thinks this about me now. It’s just silliness what “being gay” means to people, and you and I don’t have control over that–because the context is cultural more than it’s personal. This will happen to you too, if it hasn’t already. It just will, because once that “I’m gay” is out of the bag, there’s no putting it back in, and trying to put your lens of what “I’m gay means to me” on the eyes of everyone who looks at you as a gay man now is like chasing feathers in the wind—and usually they’re blowing in the wrong direction.

    And finally, (this is a lot longer than I planned it!) I have known plenty of people who desired to be “more authentic” with their friends, and then came out as gay, and it had disastrous effects on them—precisely because of how people contextualized their lives through the meaning of “being gay” in the broader world.

    I think there are a lot of reasons to have pause, and why it could be a big deal, and I think it’s important to consider a lot of these things, before we embrace whatever phrases the world happens to use about us.

    Anyway, thanks for the reply, and thanks for the conversation. I hope we can meet someday and chat about these things over a beer, and I look forward to your appearance in your upcoming documentary. I’ll be in one with two other people that will be released probably in January, so perhaps we can trade DVDs!

    God bless you!


    1. Dan, I’m sorry, but this was way too long for me to read. If you want to discuss this — one point at a time, maybe a couple paragraphs at a time — I’d be happy to do that, preferably via email. But this much text in one message is much too oppressive.


  26. Hi Joey,

    Sorry my post was much too oppressive in your eyes. I’m not sure why a long post is oppressive, but you could read it a couple of paragraphs at a time, if you’re interested in what I wrote. If not, that’s OK, but to say that it’s “much too oppressive” I don’t really understand.


    1. I mean that when I see a huge comment like that with lots of complex points in it, I feel like answering it would take much more energy than I’m willing to invest in a question that I’ve already settled in my own mind.


  27. Hi Joey,

    Thanks. That I can understand. “Much too oppressive” just took my by surprise, and made me scratch my head, and say “huh?”

    I suppose I think of these things differently. I enjoy reading others who think differently than me–a lot–which is one reason I used to spend a lot of time at the Gay Christian Network. It was helpful for me (and intellectually stimulating) to read what others thought–especially about the things I have settled in my own mind. Because sometimes my thinking changes, and if not, I know better why I think as I do. I also really enjoy seeing where my thinking intersects and contrasts with others who have reflected on this too. It’s that whole “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.iron sharpening iron” thing. When I’ve done radio interviews, I tell them that I’d like to really hear from people who disagree with me. I learn from them, and it helps me too.

    Anyway, I’d say I agree with you on 90% of what you say…but I find the 10% where I don’t see eye to eye with you the most helpful for me, and the most valuable (and most stimulating) part of your blog, personally. If that makes sense.

    God bless!


  28. George says:

    Joey, I want to thank you for this post. That last sentence “fissures in your heart” has resonated on me for days. I have taken it into my prayers daily and has helped me a lot.

    How is your prayer life? Maybe you have said it before, but do you have a daily routine?

  29. Rivka says:

    Just wondering about something here — I’ve wondered about it on and off, but it’s about the people who are born intersex, who are *actually* androgynous. Can they ever have sex as you are defining it here? If so, with whom? With other intersex folks? I admit that this is the exception, not the rule, but if, as you say, we *are* our genders, and these poor people are born without genders (approximately 1% of the population are born intersex), then who/what are these people? If souls are gendered, do they not have souls? It is a question that I’ve yet to find addressed by the Church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *