Conversation 3: Be Fruitful

Conversation 3: Be Fruitful


So how did this all start? The dating, the break with celibacy, the return to celibacy, and whatever weird in-between, back-and-forth thing you’re doing now.

It was July 4th, 2016.

Independence Day. So dramatic.

I know. I don’t do these things on purpose.

You one hundred percent do.

Shut up. I didn’t this time. Anyway I was at my sister’s house for one of our big family gatherings. I should tell you, my relationship with my family is a little complicated.

Most of them are.

Yeah. But I don’t mean complicated like we hate each other, which is what people usually mean. Can you imagine having seven siblings and liking all of them quite a bit? We’re all still in touch. We’re all still, somehow, magically, Catholic. We all see each other with at least some regularity. Nobody’s feuding with anyone, at least as far as I know. When things get tough for one of us, we work together to figure out a way to help.

That’s amazing. What’s the complicated part?

I’m not actually sure, but for whatever reason, family gatherings have almost always made me feel like shit.


I think it’s all the kids.

I thought you loved kids?

I do. And they love me.

So what’s the problem?

So, of my seven siblings, six are married and one is engaged. A few of them were married almost before I can remember. I’ve watched them build up their families. In the midst of poverty and shitty living situations and stress and depression and a whole assortment of hereditary neuroses, they’ve created these incredible, weird little communities. They’ve put their kids first. They’ve passed down to their kids all of the things that mattered most to them, just like our parents did for us.



And you want that too?

I guess that’s it. I try to remember that everybody’s calling is different. But sometimes I just feel like such a piece of shit. Like, they don’t really have time for themselves, because their whole lives are devoted to caring for these little ones. That was part of the deal for them when they got married. Meanwhile I’m over here playing with my synthesizers, going to bars with my friends, and staying up all night reading webcomics.

Not having any time to yourself doesn’t sound super great, though.

I know. I’m romanticizing it. If I spent a week in one of their lives, I guarantee I’d be running back to my apartment with my tail between my legs. But I do want to give myself to something the way they give themselves to their spouses and their kids. That’s not easy to do as a single person.

You could maybe go to a soup kitchen once in a while.

Okay, I could try way harder. But I don’t think you can really have a life that’s essentially self-giving if you’re just putting together this kind of patchwork of volunteerism. You have to commit yourself to something, don’t you? And it can’t be just anything!

What kind of thing should it should be?

I don’t know. I think it has to come from a place of love. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think my siblings said to themselves, “I ought to have a life that is essentially self-giving, so I shall now find a suitable spouse, so that we can procreate and dedicate ourselves to the well-being of our offspring, thus building up the Kingdom of God.”

I know people like that.

I do too, but I…am…trying…really hard to learn not to make broad statements about other people’s lifestyles, even people I think are weird, so let’s get back to the story.

Featured Photo by Benji Aird on Unsplash
Grandfather Photo by O.C. Gonzalez on Unsplash

9 Comments on “Conversation 3: Be Fruitful”

  1. Ariel says:

    Where is the 2nd part

      1. Anna O'Neil says:


        Hey, I’m really grateful for you being willing to talk about all this stuff. I think the duty of straight people (Any people who are trying to understand marginalized people’s experiences) is to listen way, way more than we talk. And to do that, we need people willing to do the talking, and talking about it can’t be much fun.

        1. Thank you, dear!

          Thinking about it isn’t fun, but writing about it, thankfully, sort of is.

  2. James Heaney says:

    (1) This is a good series. Thank you.

    (2) What webcomics? I mean, if I’ve been missing the opportunity to make Lost Orb of Phanastacoria jokes with you all this time, I’m going to have to start making up ground fast. Or if you’re into Dinosaur Comics, I probably need to take this series of posts and rewrite them in that format. 😛

    (3) I don’t know whether this is part of the train of thought you are chugging through in this series, so leave it for another day if it’s a distraction, but it is a puzzlement to me.

    Some years ago, a young Catholic lesbian I love very much presented me with a ten-page defense of homoromantic, exclusive, celibate partnerships as a reasonable answer to the yearning for community that gay Catholics feel. Her yearnings were similar to the ones you obviously feel: she wanted to give her life to something, and specifically to some*one*. (She also shared your objection to making her life a “patchwork of volunteerism,” which is an eloquent way to put it — that is something, but it’s not *enough*.)

    I’m trying to compress a very lengthy two-way exchange into a paragraph here, but my reply was essentially: the yearning for self-gift and for community are perfectly reasonable, but the only reason the marital community (the family) involves an *exclusive* relationship is because exclusivity is in the nature of fertile sexual intercourse. If you’re not having fertile sexual intercourse, there’s no reason for the community to be exclusive. Many should be welcomed into the work of the community in order to grow closer to God and one another. And we already have non-exclusive, homo-something-or-other, celibate partnerships: religious orders. So it seemed to me (and still does) that the logical way to answer this yearning is to join (or found) a religious community or order.

    But I was keenly aware at the time that I was not in her shoes, and thus my logic might be incomplete. (At the time, I was dating the woman who is now my wife, and it’s hard not to feel a bit hypocritical for telling her to avoid romance while pursuing it myself.) Moreover, since we are not Vulcans, logic is not necessarily sufficient to answer these yearnings of the heart. And, sure enough, she found my reply inadequate and has gone on to pursue precisely the sort of celibate homoromantic relationship she discussed back then, and which you seem to be pursuing now.

    But I’ve never quite understood this. What is it about exclusive, romantic love that is so especially attractive compared to other forms of Christian community? Is it just the fact that our modern culture can’t conceive of deep interpersonal love and communion outside the romantic context (in which case Spiritual Friendship is the answer)? Is it the dearth of religious orders that don’t follow the gendered straightjacket (orders for women: teach kids/serve the poor; orders for men: get ordained a priest [a separate vocation!] then teach college and preach the Gospel)? Is it the plain fact that so many religious orders openly discriminate against queer Catholics? Or is there something more going on here — some longing in the human heart (at least for some people) that cannot be answered in a religious community?

    I’m not trying to say, “Fit into this little Catholic box I have drawn for you so I can stop thinking about the challenges of queer Catholic life! Get thee to a nunnery, Prever!” I just always figured, if I didn’t get married, I’d end up finding my calling as a Jesuit professor or something, and then I happened to get married, so that settled that. But it seems like my LGBT Catholic friends are alienated from the notion of religious community in a way I never was.

    1. James Heaney says:

      Oh, good Lord, that got wordy. It looked more reasonable in 8-point font.

    2. Thank you for the thoughtful response! I hope you will forgive me for not engaging this question here, and I hope I’ll be able to answer at least some of these questions in upcoming posts.

      The webcomic I’ve been reading is Questionable Content. It’s delightful, and I’ve had over ten years of them to catch up on.

  3. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

    Messers Gershom and Heaney,
    We need to FOUND a Caholic order for queer monks, brothers and priests–and for more reasons than just to preserve chastity in same-sex relationships. With the advent of hand-held technology, the world–particularly the developed world–is increasingly a lonely place for almost everybody.
    And this order of “queer” priests must include our heterosexual friends (like you, Mr Heaney). I think this is indicated by what Mr. Gershom says about his family; they may be good and wonderful people, but I suspect, from what he writes, that they’re leaving him our of their family relationships, at least from time to time. The Orthodox say that no one is “saved” alone, but that we are all saved “in community.”
    In any case, whether or not this religious community is ever built in my lifetime, it is an important part of the fiction I write.
    I wish you both luck. You both seem fine people, and good friends.

  4. Mary says:

    Become a teacher. Every day the need is so great, I never finish every task and I have this sense that I have impacted children. It takes you outside of yourself immediately and every day forces you to perform on the spot and become selfless. Private school might be best for you.

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