As I suggested earlier, I think this whole sexual identity debate thing has kinda run itself into the ground for me. To those of you who don’t spend as much time reading Christian/Catholic blogs and magazines as much as I do, here’s a brief synopsis of what went down.
Back in 2012, Joshua Gonnerman wrote a piece for First Things called, Dan Savage Was Right. The piece is far more mild than the provocative title suggests, but the fact that Gonnerman referred to himself as “a Christian who is committed to chastity and who is also gay” raises some eyebrows. That led to him penning a second piece: Why I Call Myself a Gay Christian. That in turn brought an article written by Daniel Mattson: Why I Don’t Call Myself a Gay Christian.
Ever since then, I’ve seen various salvos fired from both sides, and I’ve written some things about it here on this blog. This debate has been percolating for a bit, but what is particularly notable in the past two years is how it has spilled out of the internet forums and personal blogs, and onto publications like First Things.
While it has been an interesting debate which has given me some things to think about, I feel like the debate has run its course, and that the whole debacle doesn’t look terribly evangelizing. Given how hostile the culture at large is to the Church’s teachings on sexuality, people who are 99% friends shouldn’t spend energy squabbling amongst each other like this. I mean, there have been valid points on both sides, but at this point, it’s potato potahto to me.
People shouldn’t freak out if an orthodox Christian refers to themselves as, “gay”. Christians who refer to themselves as living with same-sex attraction as somehow being self-hating. Both terms have their difficulties. The latter is more anthropologically precise, but for that very reason also clunky as hell. The former certainly has a suspicious genealogy and prevents anyone from ever reading Nietzsche’s The Gay Science without snickering a little, but it is also one syllable and clicks with most people. These days I tend to switch back and forth between both. I’ve voiced a lot of complaints about the left-right spectrum, yet I’ve also called myself a right winger; I’ve grumbled about how gay/straight is an artificial construct, and yet I’ve referred to myself as gay. Because, dammit, reductionist as it may be language has a life of its own, and it doesn’t bend easily to your pomo/traditionalist will.
It’s kinda similar to the controversy over singular “they”. Whatever sort of moral concerns might be had over the erasure of the gender binary in our discourse in this instance got quickly swept away by linguistic drift – the vernacular generally just mutates without any moral rhyme or reason. Words and phrases become detached from their original connotations, form new ones, etc. This is why it is important to have a somewhat artificial language like Church Latin, or technical philosophical jargon so that we can make sure we’re all on the same page (and this is also why attempts to force pronouns like “hir” and “ze” into everyday speech will likely never catch on).
There are important points underneath all of this: traditional Judeo-Christian sexual morality was never meant to be evaluated with modern constructs like heterosexuality and homosexuality. Is it really so easy to drive a wedge between same sex desire and concupiscence, since romance is inevitably eros is inevitably sexual? SSA is actually ASS spelled backwards, etc. But unless you are, say, helping to draft a document by the International Theological Commission or something, debates over the correct terminology quickly become tedious and divorced from reality. I mean I feel kind of like I’m navel-gazing just writing this post.
I do take issue with the “gay Christian” moniker though, but in the same way that I don’t like, “libertarian Christian”. It’s not that people who identify as libertarians can’t be Christians – it’s that the identity shouldn’t modify our Christian one. I am a Latin Rite Catholic; that should theoretically give you all the info you need about me qua religion.
I’ve a feeling that some of this does flow from people on both sides generalizing from their own experiences, and being a bit weirded out when someone doesn’t fit into the mold. Outside of questions relating to sexuality, I’ve noticed how easy it is for peoples’ personal spiritual experiences to become incommensurable, and hence attempts at advice can go awry.
The point of this post isn’t to say that people should or shouldn’t have a gay identity. But rather that it seems like there should be more constructive ways to talk about same-sex attraction and chastity than this.