Conversation 4: Metanoia

Conversation 4: Metanoia

So you were at this Fourth of July thing…

So I was at this Fourth of July thing. Sometimes at these family things I can forget myself and just play with the kids, just be joyful with them, be everybody’s fun uncle. This wasn’t one of those times. By the time the fireworks were done, I was deep down in this hole of self-pity. Not a good scene.

So while I was driving home, I was thinking about my commitment to celibacy. People would ask me sometimes, “When did you decide to be celibate? What did that decision look like? How did you reconcile yourself to it? What was your reasoning?” Etc., etc.

And that was the only question I ever got asked where I felt like I had to scramble to make something up. But my answers sounded less and less convincing to me. Finally I started telling the truth: I didn’t decide to be celibate. It wasn’t a decision. I’d just never allowed myself to consider anything else.

Well, I mean, how could you? You’ve always believed what the Church taught.

I know. It’s a dilemma. Actually, that dilemma is bigger than just the gay question. Gil Bailie says somewhere that growing up Christian is like learning all the answers before you’ve learned to ask any of the questions.

And you love to ask questions.

I love to ask questions. But it feels strange to ask questions when you know beforehand which answers you’re supposed to arrive at. And it feels shitty to be stuck in a way of life that you never actually chose, especially when it’s a way of life that seems less and less worthwhile all the time.


So how did you go from feeling rotten about your life to making the decision to date?

I don’t know. William James has this really great image of what a religious conversion is like: he talks about a many-sided die which gets nudged and nudged, and each time it rocks a little and then rocks back to where it was. And then one time it gets nudged just far enough that its center of gravity shifts, it tilts just a little too far, and it comes to rest on a different face. It’s still the same shape as before, but its whole orientation to space is different now. What used to be its base is now dangling up in the air somewhere, and what used to be peripheral is now central.

I just know that when I got into the car in New Hampshire, I was oriented one way; and when I got out of it two hours later in Massachusetts, I was oriented a different way. I knew what I was going to do, even though I don’t remember exactly when I started knowing it.

So this was a religious conversion, for you?

Not religious, I don’t think, but certainly some kind of conversion, some kind of metanoia. Something shifted really deep. That was almost two years ago, and it has shown no signs of un-shifting, and I really don’t want it to. Even if I end up deciding to remain celibate for life, I don’t want to be the same kind of celibate I was. But I’m still trying to make sense of the world from this new viewpoint.

What do you mean, “same kind of celibate”? How many kinds of celibate are there?

I have no idea.

But where do you see this all ending? And when?

I have no idea.

You don’t have a plan?

God, no!

Featured photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash
Swimming Photo by Martin Sattler on Unsplash

57 Comments on “Conversation 4: Metanoia”

  1. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

    ” I don’t want to be the same kind of celibate I was….”
    You don’t have to be. You need a religious community. And it has to be one that is prepared to accept the love you have to offer. I’m afraid you’re going to have to go back into the “gay community,” and try to find people as deeply spiritual as you are. We do exist.

    1. [comment removed by SG]

      [I’m doing my best to keep this combox a place where we all assume that everyone else is doing their best. -SG]

    2. T.J. says:

      [comment was unhelpful and has been removed. -SG]

  2. Abba says:

    I wish you could talk to Ima about this. She was wise; I’m not. I keep thinking about this verse from Proverbs: “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” Anyway, I’ll keep praying.

    1. Thanks so much for the prayers. I often wish I could talk to Ima about this, too.

  3. Abba says:

    Here’s another thing. Re: “But it feels strange to ask questions when you know beforehand which answers you’re supposed to arrive at.” Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” So obedience comes first, understanding afterwards.

    1. That’s a good point. But I followed the doctrine for 20 years and still didn’t understand. Maybe I just wasn’t patient enough.

  4. Sharon says:

    You are so very thoughtful. No one has all the answers. We stand, we fall, hopefully, we keep getting up until the Master calls us home. Prayers to you.

    1. Lilimarlene says:

      Beautifully stated.

  5. Ben says:

    FWIW, Steve, one of my best friends here in small town Kansas is gay and a lifelong Catholic. She knew she wanted to have kids by artificial insemination, but she wanted to find a wife first. So she was dating for several years, but it’s small town Kansas, and she wasn’t willing to lower her standards, so she made the decision to stop dating and just have a kid on her own. Her local priest here was not supportive and would not baptise her daughter, but her parents’ priest in Pittsburgh was happy to. She and her baby are planning to move back to Pittsburgh where there’s a Catholic community that supports her. I know you’re on your own journey, but I thought I’d share where hers has led. She has not questioned her Catholic faith in coming to terms with who she is and what she is called to do, because the faith she was raised in was big enough to include her. I hope yours makes room for you!

    1. I’m shocked and saddened that the priest would not baptize her daughter. I’m so glad to hear she’s being supported now. Thank you for sharing the story.

  6. A says:

    I just wrote out about seventeen paragraphs and then deleted all of them. No one needs to hear the inner babbling of my brain. I’ve read this three times. I’ve been following your posts for … three years. I’m very fond of you and your ideas, and the art of how you write. It’s very nice and your posts are always something to look forward to. After reading this for the third time, it made me cry. Life is just . . . Sometimes. I’m about to write another seventeen paragraphing so I’m going to stop myself. Basically, my hearts been burnin’ up with prayers for you today. I don’t think Christ was satisfied with your bitter celibacy. He wants your whole heart, given freely. So this is the start of the wild ride that is the life of faith, the toss of the dice. He loves you enough that He’s going to hold your hand through it all. You’re very brave. Much braver than me. Hang in there, J.

    1. You’re so sweet! Thank you!

  7. Charles says:

    “But it feels strange to ask questions when you know beforehand which answers you’re supposed to arrive at.”

    Lifelong gay Christian here, also facing this dilemma. I explain it to myself this way, “My *head* apprehends that I must be chaste and celibate, but my *heart* does not *comprehend* this truth.”

    So, do I handle this tension in a healthy way? No. I swing back and forth between being a good religious boy (Divine Liturgy every Sunday, daily prayers, reading saints’ biographies, etc.) for months at a time, then I sex it up on Grindr, etc. for months at a time.

    Lord, have mercy.

    1. I hear you. That’s part of why I wonder whether settling down with a handsome man who loves Jesus might not be a better solution.

      1. Charles says:

        Oscar Wilde and Andy Warhol, pray for us!

        1. Robert Bruce Lewis says:


      2. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

        Chastity is in the eye of the beholder, and the “beholder” is Jesus Christ.

      3. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

        So, now I see that you are Jewish, as well as gay and Catholic, which means I have even more in common with you than I thought at first. I know that being gay and Catholic is your main conundrum, but I’d also like to know how you reconcile Judaism and Catholicism, because I have the same issue–with, perhaps, the different spin on it that my Jewish parent rejected Judaism, and I wish he hadn’t.

      4. Norm says:

        Hey Joey, I’m rediscovering your writing after following more closely several years ago when I was going through my own coming out process. I’m catholic and gay, but made the decision several years ago to settle down with a handsome man who loved Jesus. But settling down with one man hasn’t settled my desire to sex it up on Grindr. Just thought I’d share. And let you know that your words have meant a lot to me over the past seven years – and still do today.

        1. I’m glad that you found a handsome man who loves Jesus. 😊

          I imagine that the desire to sex it up on Grindr never completely goes away. I know a very happily married straight man who nevertheless battles temptations to adultery.

  8. Lofrasso says:

    Hi, Joey/Steve, I thought I’d tell you how it was in my case. I, too, didn’t decide to be celibate. In fact, I wasn’t for most of my adult life. But then, little by little, tragedies began to beat me over the head and to bring me to the ground. In the end, after much suffering–the story of which I’ll spare you–I ended up offering up my sexuality to God in exchange for grace. Not a commercial transaction; it wasn’t “I’ll give you my chastity if you give me grace”; it was more like: “God, please, accept my chastity, or whatever remains of it, I’ve used it up so much. And I beg you to please grant me the grace of your eternal love.” In other words, salvation. For Himself first, from myself second. I’ve been more often than not ever since in a very dark night of the soul, but I have not once thought of going back. In fact, whenever temptation has been strongest (and I’m sure you know how strong fleshly temptations can be), I have prayed: “God, please, grant that I never, ever, have sex anymore. That is, grant that I never ever give you up. Please forbid that a sexual partner ever attempts to break this vow.” Perhaps it has helped the I’ve come to the absolute conviction that nothing short of God Himself could ever fulfill my need for Love. May God bless, Lofrasso.

    1. Charles says:

      Yes, thanks. And pray for us who have not yet fully surrendered.

  9. T.J. says:

    [comment was unhelpful and has been removed. -SG]

  10. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

    What I particularly admire about you, sir, is your openness and honesty–and your marked unwillingness to live in the “closet.” You have a fine sense of the importance of living in communion with others, whether it be family, friends, fellow Catholics or lovers. You are absolutely correct that the modern obsession with romance as the only truly meaningful purpose of life is the main factor in killing all other forms of loving relationships. Have you ever considered how the modern Christian Churches help to facilitate this obsession by playing down the Gospels’ message of the greater importance of chastity and celibacy? Christ Himself occasionally denied His own mother, and seemed to insist that He was bent on changing the very meaning of “family.” In any case, I think the closet kills, in terms of stultifying us emotionally, and I also think I have myself suffered from the Church’s unwillingness to welcome gay folk publicly; a public embrace could perfectly well substitute for an active sex life, because it enfolds one in what can substitute for a “family” –in what, it seems plain to me, Christ actually intended to substitute for family.
    Soon I will be moving to a large city wherein there are chapters of both “Courage” and “Dignity.” While I appreciate the message of “Courage,” I do not like the secretiveness that they seem to maintain on their website–nothing public but the name and telephone number of the priest to contact–no “events,” no “organizations,” no directions to supportive parishes–just the name of a priest, with the implication that “confession” is all that is needed. What is the point of a “support group” that is kept out of sight of heterosexual brothers and sisters? On the other hand, “Dignity” is much more of a fellowship, apparently. I probably will end up enrolling in both, but telling the priests and members of “Courage” that the secretiveness is unacceptable.

      1. T.J. says:

        I wish to apologize, I seem to have misconstrued both your articles, and some of the comments, I agree with Robert Bruce Lewis in this post, I had merely perceived that what you were saying was that you were searching for another (male) romantic partner, and were heading toward sin, based on this post, I see more of what you mean, and (believe) that you are more seeking close familial relationships, I appear to mistakenly have construed your search as a search for romance, sex, and kids, as opposed to a search for intimacy (defined as “in-to-me-see”).

        1. I don’t think you have misconstrued my articles. I removed your comments because I did not find them helpful, and did not think others would find them helpful either. I appreciate your good intentions and I ask for your prayers.

    1. Stephen says:

      Hey Robert Bruce, ( great name )
      I cant vouch for everyone’s experience with various groups, ( Ive dabbled in two or three ) but as to the Courage website I can see events, resources, testimonials, as well as email and phone for local chapters. Perhaps it has changed recently? I haven’t been active with courage locally, but Ive been to a few national conferences and other retreats and had a great time. I became well connected with people all over the country with no shortage of fellowship opportunities. Can’t say I have taken advantage of all that has been offered to me, but they don’t seem to be keeping their events a secret.

      I will say that as an organization I think they have a history of trying to provide the opportunity for anonymity for those that may want it. Perhaps they have done that to a fault? I dunno, but the last conference i attended was a great time intellectually, spiritually and socially. Next conference is at Villanova University in July. Not sure if I’ll be able to go to that one, but would be interested to hear your feedback if you are able to. Peace.

      1. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

        Stephen, please Google “Courage, Houston,” and you will see what I mean. I am moving there soon, and if you could help me by providing something beyond the information provided there, I’d appreciate it.

        1. Stephen says:

          Well as a guy that spends a lot of time online for his work, not the best web presence I admit, but there is a phone number and email provided. Have you reached out to them to get more info for Houston? I agree that it would be great if local chapters had their own landing page, website or facebook page with upcoming events etc.

          If you don’t get a timely or immediate response when you reach out to Houston’s chapter contact, call the national office (203) 803-1564. I’m from the east coast myself, but I did meet a couple guys that came up from Texas for an event that was held in May near Philly. I think they were from San Antonio, but I’ll reach out to them. I’d be glad to be in direct contact with you as well if I can be any further help. Besides, then I can say I had contact with Robert the Bruce and that would be pretty frickin cool.

          1. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

            Well, you are very kind, and I appreciate your help, but I think I better explain something to you: I have no intention of making a phone call to any representative of any organization that is so clandestine as to put up only a telephone number and a priest’s e-mail address. I will have nothing to do with any lgbtq person who is closeted, or who maintains closeted relationships with others. That offends against all of my deeply-held beliefs about precisely what is wrong with most gay men–especially us white men. We enjoy a privilege in society and even in the “gay community” which is based on dishonesty. It may be that I support Courage’s philosophy of chastity and solidarity with the Church, but I do NOT support their refraining from a demand of open embrace by the institutional Church. Even if I am a chaste and celibate gay man, I’d rather be embraced by sodomite “sinners” who are honest about who they are and what are their conditions in life than by a group of “discrete,” complacent conformists. I’ve grown up and lived all of my life–even my professional life–among ultra-privileged folks who won’t work for the “change” they claim they want. I’m done with that!

          2. Stephen says:

            (As to your comment below) Oh goodness, that it quite a sweeping and harsh assumption. There are so many varied experiences in regards to sexuality and self acceptance that I’m not willing to place those kinds of judgements or demands on people. I’ve never described anyone as a “sodomite sinner” or “discrete complacent conformist”, but I’ve never met any particular type of person who cornered the market on being more honest about who they were or their conditions in life. Both the sinners and the pious can have their delusions.

          3. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

            Stephen, I’m probably not nearly so judgmental as I made myself seem in the comment you refer to. However, for reasons of economy in my relationships, I don’t engage much anymore with folks whose views of these situations don’t align closely to my own. In the past, for reasons of “charity,” I became entangled in relationships with people whose character I could discern from the outset did not qualify them to be “appropriate” friends to me. I suppose I have actually lost whole years of my life trying futilely to repair those relationships.

  11. Don says:

    Joey – I doubt you’ll remember, but we exchanged several emails when I came out at age 59 four years ago. This conversation has greatly helped because I’ve been going through something similar. My situation is a little different because of my age, but I also feel like “I didn’t decide to be celibate…. I’d just never allowed myself to consider anything else.” In a way, it was easier before I finally accepted that I am gay because I could always use “I just haven’t found the right gal yet.” But now that I admit the truth, I find myself craving just the type of thing you are describing. I’ve always wanted to get married, have kids, etc., but I never realized that I wanted that with a man, not a woman. And I resent that I can’t have that. I keep telling myself that, anyway, I’m too old, too overweight and out of shape, etc. for that to happen. But I also realize that, although I can always drool over some good looking guy, that’s not what counts, and it is something that could happen – but it won’t. I have come to a place where I can accept that I will be celibate for the rest of my life, but I resent it. I also resent having to “hide” my orientation because “the older people would have a hard time with it” and “you may make mothers of small children uncomfortable”. To me, that’s like saying that I have some incurable and contagious disease or that I am a pedophile, just because I’m gay. Is it wrong to want people to know that I am still me, and that there are a lot of people like me out there who need to be loved. I can get bitter and resentful.

    But at the same time, God keeps showing me how much he loves me, and it’s an almost constant “I love you.” Even though you see yourself as broken, I see you as a beautiful tapestry. I love you more than the drops in the ocean. And on and on. I keep asking myself how He could love me, doesn’t He see how broken I am? And yet, I still hear “I love you, I love you as you are. You say you are not worthy of My love, but I have chosen you as my own.”

    Music speaks to me:

    “You see worthless, I see priceless
    You see pain, but I see a purpose
    You see unworthy, undeserving
    But I see you through eyes of mercy”

    “But if it’s true You use broken things
    Then here I am Lord, I am all Yours”

    So I guess what I’m saying is that as messed up as I think I am, that’s okay. I’m looking for answers to questions I don’t even know I have. I don’t know what to do with these wants and desires. But I have no doubt in my mind that God loves me. I guess we’ll stumble through this all together.

    I’m not really sure why I wrote this, maybe because I needed to vent. But, for what it’s worth, here it is.

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Don. I’m sorry that people make you feel like you have to hide.

  12. Lydia says:

    It’s good to hear from you. Thank you so, so much for sharing.
    For the last few months, I’ve been struggling with questions…at least sort of similar to the ones you’ve brought up in this series of posts. I especially appreciate the point about the effects of being Christian since childhood. One of these, at least in my case, is a pressure to deny that any part of it is unsatisfactory in the first place because we were given the right answers right away so that means we should Have Life Figured Out, right? But the truth is we don’t, and speaking and hearing the truth (or writing and reading it) is a good thing.
    I also like Charles’s comment about head knowledge vs. heart knowledge. I’ve been praying the father’s words from Mark 9:24 and that God will help me to live how He wants me to, whatever the heck that means.
    I will definitely keep praying for you, too.

  13. Kay says:

    Thanks so much for all of your blog posts–your honesty throughout the years has made a real impression on me, and has helped me to go deeper in my own journery. I have some thoughts and questions that I think might be better discussed via e-mail–would it be possible for me to get your address? Thank you!

    1. Thank you! I’ll send you an email.

  14. Rob says:

    I hope you find peace very soon, brother! It may take many years, but peace at the end surely comes.

    As you know, there are many in the world who remain celibate without willing it, either because they couldn’t find a partner, or because they divorced and never found another person, or are widowed, or have an illness (erectile dysfunction), etc. Celibacy is more common than we tend to think, even if it is not for your reasons. I myself, am straight, have longed so much to get married, but in my 30s I have never even had a single girlfriend. Courtship is not my thing, and I can’t even land a single date, after 15 years of trying. I still on time, but I know never finding the one is a possibility, and accepting that for me, I know, will be very painful. It would require rewiring my illusions. But I know that peace at the end will surely come. If some people find happiness and fulfillment as single people, I know I can, even if it may take significantly longer for me to see my situation as very meaningful. I will not always feel frustrated.

    Your situation is very different, but I am pretty sure there is light at the end of the tunnel for all of us, even if we reach it at different times.

    Praying for you, brother. You will have peace.

  15. Stephen says:

    I read this yesterday, I wish I hadn’t. First I was just bummed out. Read a little more and made a comment on some one’s comment. Later the post settled on me. I remembered when I first bumped into your blog a few years ago. Then I was angry, then pretty seriously discouraged. I get weakness, I get artful rationals for sin. I empathize. Still,…. pretty bummed out. Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off if this were still the “love that dare not speak it’s name”. Taboo can have it’s individual and social benefits.

    1. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

      WHY should you be “bummed out”? You’ve heard of the phenomenon called “the dark night of the soul,” right? He’s just being honest about a “celibacy” that seems to him to be purposeless and dry at this point in his life. Sex, I think, is beside the point he’s trying to make; it’s not nearly so important as being in love. Everyone needs to be in love with Someone. Without love, life is purposeless, and one can live without sex (often very nicely), but–I don’t know about you–I can’t live without love, and, apparently, neither can Joey. It speaks well of him.

    2. R says:

      Hi Stephen,
      I understand what you mean. I’ve also been following this blog for years. When I read this, I was, at first, deeply discouraged as well. I know it’s not fair to put all of these hopes and expectations on Joey because he’s only a human person, and he is allowed to feel discouraged and disheartened and disillusioned with certain aspects of the Catholic faith (and it’s very understandable if he does). But man, it is difficult to see a support structure I somehow found online crumble a bit before my eyes. It’s not that anyone, especially Joey, had a responsibility to provide that structure — that encouragement and hope and inspiration — to me in the first place, so I can’t be upset that it has evolved into something else now. But it’s still difficult, and it still makes my heart ache a bit, mostly out of a feeling that I don’t know where — or to whom — to look now. Most of the time I know that God is enough for me, but reading this begs the question: what if He is not?

      To Joey (I hope it’s okay that I’m calling you Joey),
      Thank you, nonetheless, for writing all of this. It’s a continued privilege to get to follow your story. I will be praying for you in all the ins and outs and ups and downs. Let me know if there’s anything specific that you’d like me to pray for, and it’s done. Your blog was here for me when life didn’t seem to make much sense, and now I would love, in some small way, to be there for you. When I first found this site, I remember staying up late into the night just reading post after post of yours, feeling peaceful for the first time in a long time. Thank you for all the gifts your writing has given me. Praying that you experience the deep peace of God that your writing has kindled in me in the past, that you experience the overwhelming love of Christ as he draws you near, and that you have a community of true friends to walk beside you through the calm and the storm.

  16. Stephen says:

    Your right and I don’t live without love. Various forms of love have many joys of course, but aren’t always easy. Joe was some one I had found encouraging because he was trying to live love in the same way that I was. Part of an extended experience of brotherhood I suppose. Now that is apparently not the case. That is discouraging to me ( a bummer ) and I’m just being honest about that.

  17. Robert’Bruce Leeis says:

    Don’t let it discourage you; I think you may still consider him to be your “brother”. My own dearest “brothers” are a couple of straight men. By the way, I prefer my middle name. Some jerk told me ten years ago that it sounded “gay,” and when I told him about the Scottish King, he was not impressed, so I resolved to be called by it for the rest of my life—which helped whilst I lived in Asia, because my students couldn’t promote “Lewis.”

  18. Robert Bruce Lewis says:

    I typed the above on my damned IPhone, which I generally hate to use as a device, and that’s why my name is wrong.

    1. Stephen says:

      Bruce it is, but I’ll privately hold onto the fact that I met a Robert the Bruce if that’s ok with you. Thanks for the good word and the conversation.

  19. Bee says:

    Sending you a prayer and strength, from one gay Christian to another. The Spirit (the Helper, and Counselor) is always walking with us, guiding us, and soothing us, even when things are bleak and it is hard to see.

    1. Bee says:

      Also, I really appreciate your honesty, it gives us all permission to be honest about things.

      1. Stephen says:

        Thank You Bee.

  20. Lookingforanemail says:

    Joey, is there a way for me to contact you for advice? I would really appreciate your perspective on some things right now. Thanks. xoxo

    1. Yes, of course. I’m at steve.gershom [at] gmail [dot] com.

  21. RM says:

    I’ve followed your blog for years. You truly are an inspiration. I know what it is to suffer. I think God knew that the only way I could be chaste as a straight woman was married with the constant distraction of children. It’s still a work in progress. 🙂 I know you are still trying to figure out this whole celibate or not thing, but remember we were created for eternity. The union we feel with others sexual or not is a glimpse of what we will experience in the next. As someone who struggles a lot to relate to other people it gives me hope to keep an eternal perspective. Doesn’t make dying to self any easier, but we all yearn for greater intimacy because we were made for heaven!
    Your sister in Christ,
    PS please pray for my brother who identifies as transgender and has ssa and learning disabilities. He constantly struggles, but I have hope.

  22. Bridget says:

    I’m a woman who is straight, has been married for 17 years, and has 3 kids. I love the church and I’m sure I’ll be married until one of us dies. (Most likely never again if he dies first, no matter what age I’m at.)
    I really wish I could explain to you what a “healthy” marriage is really like. I know that when I was single and on the other side of the “dream” of marriage and a family I thought it would be much different than it is.
    The truth is that, even though I’m married to the right man, Jesus really is and always will be the only man who has never broken my heart. I am the same me with or without my spouse. He doesn’t fulfill anything inside of me and neither do my kids. I love them and would die for them, but it’s still just me and God. No relationship will ever change that. No matter who a person is with, or one’s degree of celibacy, gay or straight, we’ll all still just be left with only ourselves and our maker. You “fighting” for some other sort of relationship and the “struggle” you have is just a distraction from the cold truth of the universal human condition. This race we’re all in is just a distraction.

    I love you and my heart is with you.

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