Is celibacy the new ex-gay? or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the clickbait

The Catholic Church’s explicit teachings on homosexuality are actually rather slim – meriting only three paragraphs in the Catechism. (2357-2359) And, naturally, those paragraphs have been picked apart to death by just about everyone who has an interest in this stuff and a blog.

But trying to apply them to my own life has been something of a complicated affair. When I first made the decision to live a chaste life – understanding that that decision meant in my case that I would have to be celibate, I drifted towards an approach which was problematic to say the least: if I was going to be celibate, I would just ignore my desires and sexuality. Sweep them under the rug entirely. I would live as if I was literally a eunuch.

While this sort of white-knuckle approach did accomplish in the short term the goal of continence, there was a problem in that this was actually a kind of repression – an attempt to avoid the messy work of actually integrating my sexuality into my rational self. I was setting myself up for falling hard, and for becoming a sort of living caricature of a celibate man.

So I changed my tack on that – something which coincides with my increased willingness to talk about these things on here, not only because of who might be listening in, but also because my thoughts on something often need to be written down before they can coalesce or develop.

And my attitude towards the identity game has shifted around a bit. After my conversion, I wasn’t quite sure what to call myself, as I had clearly made a break with the gay community, but also didn’t see myself as one of those ex-gays.  This is a problem that seems to be particularly acute for Christians on my boat as, lacking much of a vocabulary ourselves, we tend to just pillage one side or the other for words to use, resulting in the inevitable misunderstandings. I banged pretty hard on the “only use SSA” drum (something which is well-documented here), but I came to view that approach as a bit pointlessly pedantic. I don’t really have anything against the term – it’s just that I don’t think what is at stake is worth policing people over how they articulate themselves. These days I just use whatever turn of phrase will cause the least offense/confusion to whoever I’m talking to.

All this is a way of saying that these past years haven’t been static for me, and that they have taken place in strange territory which, although certainly not new, has never been mapped out much in public before now. I find it difficult to fit it easily into a lot of the narratives floating around.

Which is tricky, because we like easy formulae. When I was a university freshman, I was actually interviewed by a local gay newspaper about coming out. When I read the article, I remember being irked about how the interviewer tried to read between the lines of what I said – “he paused, recalling previous incidents of bullying/homophobia”. It went something like that. There is something of a formula for the “coming out story”, and what happened here was an attempt to fit my life into its contours, even though it didn’t fit. And there’s a similar formula for the “conversion story”. Both tend to have an easy template: paint the previous life as black as possible, and make the new one as rosy as you can – or, if continuing difficulties must be admitted, they must quickly be deflated. “But I’m fighting the good fight.” But, dammit, peoples’ lives tend to be more complex than that. Mine is, at least.

I think I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog about the increasing visibility of Side-B Christians/Celibate Gay Christians/Same-Sex-Attracted Christians who practice chastity/chaste friends of Dorothy/orthodox Christians who are fabulous/I can spend all day doing this and you can’t stop me. Irene Monroe, in a HuffPo article, recently claimed that celibacy is the new ex-gay. The gist of it is that, with the recent implosion of the ex-gay world, the line of acceptability in the conservative Christian world has been redrawn from “become straight” to “be celibate”. This completely ignores the fact that people like me have been doing our thing long before Exodus closed up shop, but whatever.

I have noticed that, in conversation with a lot of non-Catholics, mentioning that you are celibate is a bit like casually mentioning that you have a cocaine habit. “Gee that doesn’t seem healthy or natural and you’re gonna explode or something”. And sometimes the sex abuse scandal is roped in, which carries the uncomfortable implication that men who don’t get laid inevitably degenerate into predators. Monroe’s own article seems to balk at the idea of celibacy.

I am led to conclude that most people outside of Catholicism/Orthodoxy don’t get celibacy, and have likely never talked to an actual celibate about what it is like. Admittedly it is not an easily identifiable characteristic. Perhaps someone should make a Celibate Pride Flag (what colours would a Celibate Pride Flag be?). Of similar but more visible circumstance is married couples who don’t contracept. I read a lot of storries of mothers with 4+ children being “tsk tsk tsked” by peers and passerbys. It’s seen as weird, creepy, unhealthy, un-american, etc.

So it is worth attempting to articulate what celibacy is like, at least as I am currently living it out. And it needs to be understood in terms of God, because celibacy is all about God (as is marriage). Many of the critiques and misunderstandings come from a secular perspective – or from a Christian perspective where marriage has been changed from a vocation to a default state that everyone should have.

Indeed if you do not believe in God – if you think that the bread and the wine at Mass remain bread and wine, then celibacy can seem like a rough deal, one which can perhaps be stoically endured perhaps, but not joyfully embraced. I see myself as reappropriating my desires for intimacy and union, not towards women, but towards God. The negative of abstinence serves to make possible a kind of relationship with God that would not be possible. It’s not a better relationship than a married person might have – just a particular one which fits my own life and which I think God wants me to have.

I do not always understand it. I do not always like it. I am not always faithful to it. But every sort of adventure must have its mysteries, trials and pitfalls, and I do think my spiritual life is something of an adventure. And this is also a love story. It’s not the love story I would have wanted for myself a decade ago, but it is the one that I want to define my life now, the one where I find joy and peace.

Take God out of the picture and all this falls apart. So naturally a lot of secular people are going to misread what is going on.

This doesn’t mean that I am attempting to live out a relationship with God as though I were a disembodied soul with no sexuality. That would put me back in the situation described earlier. But how relating to God and others as a man works out is another post in its own right.

So, to get back to the title of this post: no, I don’t find celibacy to be the new ex-gay. It’s a unique beast in its own right.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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2 Responses to Is celibacy the new ex-gay? or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the clickbait

  1. Reblogged this on Medieval Otaku and commented:
    Josh W has a perspective on celibacy which people don’t often hear about. Many gays feel like the Catholic Church is against them because it does not recognize homosexual relationships as legitimate, but Josh W’s example proves that a homosexual can live a life faithful to God. This article reminds one of St. Paul’s letters in that it is better to be single because the single man can be more devoted to God than a married individual.

  2. jubilare says:

    “Many of the critiques and misunderstandings come from a secular perspective – or from a Christian perspective where marriage has been changed from a vocation to a default state that everyone should have.”
    Aye. My situation is different from yours. I’m not gay, not Catholic, and I’m female, but I am celibate and I don’t find a lot of understanding of that state. Most people seem to think I am waiting rather than living, or “repressing” myself rather than seeking after something else. A “celibate pride” flag would at least let the world know that there are such folk outside religious orders, though I wonder if society could ever be convinced that celibacy is a legitimate state of being.

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