In January, I wrote about my struggles with same-sex attraction (SSA), while living out my vocation as a Catholic wife and mother. The article was picked up by several Catholic websites and secular blogs. I wrote the article anonymously and considering the vitriol of the comments that followed, I’m glad I did. Especially after reading one man’s enraged, sentence-by-sentence dissection of the piece on a site called Facepunch.
There seemed to be three main objections to my testimony:
1. I’m not a “real” lesbian so I shouldn’t be calling myself one;
2. I’m living a false, inauthentic life that’s unfair to my husband and children and that’s bound to self-destruct; and
3. I’m harming people who struggle with SSA by suggesting they can overcome their sexual orientation.
I was struck by how important labels are to people. At times, multiple commenters were arguing over whether I was lesbian, bisexual, or straight. Some claimed I was never a lesbian (despite living as one) or that I hadn’t been with a woman long enough. Which begs the question–how long does one have to have to engage in homosexual acts before it’s acceptable to be called gay or lesbian? Because apparently, three years is not enough.
I’ll admit I titled the article “Confessions of a Recovering Lesbian” to get it in front of those who wouldn’t be interested in reading one titled, “Embracing Catholic Chastity.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there really isn’t a label that fits a person like me. I’m not attracted to men, so I’m not heterosexual or bisexual. I’m not living out my attraction to women, so I’m not a lesbian. What’s most accurate is to say that I’m attracted to women, but I’m most attracted to one man–my husband. And that the emotional, spiritual, and physical bond I have with him entirely eclipses the attraction to people of either sex. Is there a label that encompasses all that? I think so: married.
But even if detractors couldn’t agree on what to call me, they at least agreed I’m a fraud. The people willing to let me call myself a lesbian insisted I was just stifling my “real” self, which would inevitably emerge when I encountered “the next Nora.” Though we live in a culture that celebrates girl-on-girl pornography and threesomes, my poor husband is an object of pity because I’m attracted to women. No one wanted to consider what kind of amazing man it would take to inspire such loyalty in a woman.
I think my biggest mistake was stating I struggle with SSA “on a daily basis.” This gave the impression my waking hours are consumed by the struggle to desire my husband and not to desire sexual union with a woman, which is simply not true. I’m a mother of nearly half-dozen children; like most women in that situation, most of my life is consumed by how I will be meeting the needs of my family, not how I can fulfill my sexual desires.
Most of the time, my SSA isn’t an issue because I’m spiritually fulfilled by God and intellectually, physically, and mentally fulfilled by my husband. But there are times, as I said, when I’m struggling to get “in the mood” (and show me a woman—lesbian or otherwise, who doesn’t) and it’s those times when I’m most vulnerable to the thoughts and images I know will get the job done. Just as straight people are vulnerable to infidelity when their marriage is floundering, I’m vulnerable to thinking about the easy camaraderie of a woman when I feel emotionally estranged from my husband due to a fight or just the daily grind of life.
People who interpret these temptations as evidence I’m suppressing my true self have an immature understanding of what love—especially married love—actually is. It’s true that love is often sparked by a sexual attraction, and ours was no exception. But love is ultimately expressed in action, not in feelings. I watched Titanic along with everyone else, but all I could think about was how what Rose and Jack had was infatuation, not love. Love is making dinner and doing laundry after a full day at work because your wife is puking her guts out from morning sickness. Love is sacrificing time to yourself so your husband can go on a retreat to get closer to the Lord. Love is wiping the vomit off your terminally-ill wife’s aged face…changing your comatose husband’s adult diapers…caring for her even after she has forgotten who you are. Love is the Cross.
I’m human and I struggle with temptation at times; who doesn’t? But I also accept that the Church speaks with the voice of Christ, so I accept that my homosexual desires are disordered and ought not to be indulged. I’m not especially disciplined or faithful, but I have an unshakeable trust that God will provide all the graces I need to resist SSA and build a happy, fulfilling marriage. Marriage and family life are the means by which God has chosen to sanctify me, with SSA just one of many afflictions He’s trying to rout from my soul. And not even the worst one, at that.
Which brings me to the third criticism readers of my testimony had: that by sharing that I’m happily married, I’m proposing marriage as an effective “cure” for SSA. I wasn’t and I’m not. Marriage is a call to lifelong union, not a “treatment,” and it’s not the answer for every person who struggles with SSA. One of the things I love about Catholicism is that it admits to multiple paths to holiness, or vocations. For people who have a deep revulsion to being intimate with the opposite sex, marriage is almost certainly not their vocation. But we are all called to a vocation; whether that’s marriage, religious life, or the single life is something only the person can answer through prayerful discernment.
Can a person be “cured” of SSA? Yes, sometimes. And sometimes not. Homosexuality is a complex pathology that has biological, psychological, and spiritual causes and only God knows the full extent of why and how a person experiences SSA. And only God knows why He calls some of us to greater holiness through marriage, while others are called to holiness in religious communities or as a single person within the world. To those who claim it’s cruel to deny those with SSA the joy of physical union, I can only point out that the Church does not force anyone into a life of chastity.
It’s rare to find a person today that isn’t broken in some aspect of his or her sexuality. But to be healed, we must first admit we’re sick. Most people, even most Catholics, are unwilling to admit that SSA is a disorder in the first place. In the past, those who suffered this affliction were victims of prejudice and violence. Now our sins are celebrated as an expression of our deepest selves. Few know how to offer the truth in love, as Jesus did. If Our Lord were with us today, we’d almost certainly find him in the gay bars—healing those willing to admit they need Him, with a final, gentle call to “go and sin no more.”