I’ve been a tad more hopeful lately that my spiritual life can be more than the garbo it has been lately. It’s a kind of, I dunno, sweetness and sense of wonder that has fallen upon me these past couple of days. I haven’t felt that way about my faith for a while. The bad news is I’m still going to inflict you guys with my tormented thoughts. We still have to navigate the labyrinth.
I accidentally mentioned something serious in my previous post about us as a culture not being too comfortable with same-sex affection/intimacy which isn’t sexualized. Which is part and parcel of a culture that tends to rate sexual love as the highest form of love, and sleeping with someone as the most profound mode of communion with the Other. To intentionally withdraw from this is seen as a sort of withdrawal from love itself, as something sad or even willfully perverse.
So it’s an uphill battle for anyone who wants to be chaste, especially if you don’t see that translating into married life, or into consecrated religious life – there just aren’t the cultural/communal resources there to help you live that out in a manner which is healthy and loving.
This can be compounded if you’re gay and want to live according to Church teachings. Not just from stuff outside the Church, but from within. On multiple fronts. But I’m going to focus on one right now.
It’s popular rhetoric in conservative Catholic circles to describe homosexuality as something you are a victim of, as an affliction which should be removed if possible, and, barring that, should be highly compartmentalized. People “suffer” or “struggle” with same-sex attraction, and this is a qualitatively different thing from merely saying that a person struggles with lust. This sort of struggle can be sanctifying, but there’s nothing redeemable about the thing you’re struggling with, any more than there’s anything redeemable about cancer. There’s nothing shameful about it (or is there? Given how many people are apt to emphasize the grossness of it because to do anything less is to be complacent about sin), but you are, in a sense, a tragic figure.
I’ve given this idea a fair shake. I did want to be that poster boy convert. Give solid proof that I wasn’t some sort of gay trojan horse (and here I brush upon another point of contention, which is the all the bad faith, suspicion and shibboleths). For some time I was affiliated with Courage, which is the only Papally sanctioned Catholic ministry on this issue, and which more or less takes the AA approach: homosexuality is viewed in terms of addictions and temptations that need to be overcome through prayer, accountability and fellowship. I can’t say my time spent there was entirely a wash – I made some good friends who I value highly – but its core left me rather cold.
Part of this is my own background. There’s the image of the guy who discovers his attractions for other men and is devastated by it, and a lot of that language of affliction and suffering does indeed imply that, on some level, those attractions are to you an unwelcome visitor.
This has never been the case for me; coming to terms with my feelings as an early teen was surprising, but rather undramatic, and since then I’ve always felt comfortable in my own skin. Haven’t had much interest in or longing to be straight. It never felt like I had been mugged of some normal life that should have been mine. Being told that this aspect of my life confines me to celibacy in my Church is a hard thing, but understandable; to be told that I should view this aspect of my life in a purely negative light involves a degree of psychological dissonance that I’ve never been able to overcome.
“Ah, but maybe you’re just so disordered on this issue that you can’t see how afflicted you are, and you need to put your trust in someone who sees your situation more objectively.” Well, do note that here we’re moving beyond a healthy self-doubt and the idea of checking our moral blind spots against an external source (something that the Church does indeed do for me in the area of sexual ethics) and towards a more thoroughgoing doubt about the validity of one’s own experiences, and its in that sort of doubt that spiritual abuse can thrive.
But also I can’t help but wonder if this doesn’t also involve a degree of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you really do internalize the idea that your entire experience of eros is an affliction and a curse which likely won’t go away while you live, does this not introduce a sense of futility which makes it more difficult to resist acting upon it in the most unhealthy ways? If you look upon your attractions only as, say, something which is only good for tempting you to anonymous sex with strangers, or to pornography or whathaveyou is it any wonder that you can wind up having difficulty overcoming those vices?
Having said all this, there is indeed the kind of person who experiences homosexuality as something entirely unwanted, a wound upon their masculinity/femininity and something which acts as an impediment to a married life that they deeply desire. I don’t have an easy answer to that, because as much as I want to say that this way of looking at it only invites more pain and heartbreak, I also don’t want to just say that someone’s experiences are invalid. But it’s not the place I live in.
Now, if we do take seriously the notion that same-sex kanoodling isn’t God’s plan for sexuality then, yeah, the desire for said kanoodling is in some manner an experience of fallen human nature. But the manner in which grace interacts with our fallen nature is complex; and, even in the eschaton, implied to not just be a simple mashing of the reset button where we become the people we would have been had we never left Eden. Our wounds somehow will be transfigured, like Christ’s wounds.
I suppose what I’m getting at is: same-sex lust is bad, but is same-sex eros entirely reducible to lust? Or is there something here that can be tempered and purified into a good that could not be obtained otherwise? A lot of side-B people have tried hard to parse this question, and it’s always felt kinda abstract and hair-splitting to me. But now it strikes me as a rather urgent one to think about. After all that’s gone on, I find it hard to believe that this aspect of my life exists only to burn me.
But, like I said, I’m hopeful. Not too long ago, it felt like my battles were pointless, God silent and withdrawn. That defeated me. But it does strike me, at the moment, that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Human ugliness and my own folly haven’t prevailed over God’s love, and in some unfathomable, mysterious fashion God remains the ultimate love I seek. Maybe that sensation won’t last. I can’t speak for tomorrow, and I don’t feel I have easy answers. But if I can remember that, I may be ok.