This is the third and final part of a talk given at the University of Dallas on October 19th, 2015. Photographs gratefully used with permission from Elizabeth Kerin.
I want to touch on one final thing, the thing I started with, and that’s my use of the word gay. I want to tell you that I’m not actually totally comfortable with this word, either. For a long time I resisted using it about myself, because I didn’t want to place too much emphasis on this one part of my personality. I didn’t want people to misunderstand and think that I was in favor of gay marriage, or that I loved Barbra Streisand, I guess?, and I didn’t want to be reduced in their minds to “that gay guy”.
I realized, though, that this was a sort of double standard. On the one hand, I didn’t have any problem saying “I’m American” or “I’m an introvert”. I didn’t have any problem with someone telling me, “I’m an alcoholic,” or “I’m a hugger”. When people told me these things, I didn’t assume that they were talking about a deeply essential part of their identity. I just thought they were describing something about the way they experienced the world.
And then, too, I met people like my friend D—, who after thirty-odd years of telling himself that his feelings were a little weird but that he was basically straight, realized that he was exactly what people meant by gay, and his first thought was that he’d have to leave the Church — not because he suddenly wanted to go out and start sleeping with men, but because he didn’t think there could be any such thing as a gay Catholic.
You could say that D— must have been badly catechized to think that way, and maybe you’d be right. But how many other people are like him? How many people outside of our very lucky circle of very well-educated people really do understand what the Church teaches about gay people? And if we insist that putting the word “gay” and the word “Catholic” in the same sentence can never be allowed, are we helping people like him to stay in the Church? Are we helping him to stay with the Sacraments? Are we helping him to be chaste? If we insist, not only that he practice a level of self-denial that is not required of straight people, but that he only use the approved language when referring to himself, are we helping him to feel like the Church is his home — or are we prompting him to wonder whether he might belong somewhere else?
There is, of course, a faction in the Church whose opinion on the question of sexual orientation is that it should be a matter between a person and his spiritual director, or his confessor, and that it’s not everybody’s business. And there’s definitely something to be said for that. But the problem is that this creates a situation where 99% of the public voices we hear, from people who are same-sex attracted, are from people who have no problem with gay sex, gay marriage, and the rest of it. That means that, for people who are same-sex attracted but are trying their hardest to live up to the Church’s standards for chastity, there are no models to follow. There’s just this profound, aching silence on the topic. And if you have a profound silence, and no particular positive indication of how a same-sex attracted man ought to live, and we are content to just throw the word “disorder” around and figure that we’ve dealt with it, we don’t really have any right to wonder why it is that gay men are leaving the Church.
It’s also a matter of how we sound to the rest of the world. If you say to a secular straight person, “I’m primarily attracted to men — but I’m not gay,” you just sound like you’re in denial. If you say to a secular gay person, “You’re not gay — you’re just same-sex attracted,” then he’s going to think you are being patronizing. (Because, sorry, you’re being patronizing.) But if you say to a secular person, “I’m gay, but I’m celibate” — then, in my experience, they want to know more. You can tell people, often for the very first time, what the Church actually does teach about human sexuality. You might get lucky and start a conversation. You might even start a friendship.