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An Open Letter to My Gay Sister

As someone who struggles with same-sex attraction yet remains a practicing Catholic, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the “gay Catholic world.” It’s a small world (after all), consisting of a handful of us who have tasted the worldly wisdom on homosexuality, found Christ, and decided He’s worth the suffering, struggle, and sacrifices necessary to be chaste.

A few weeks ago, my browsing took me to a blog by a woman who had been a practicing Catholic just a few years ago, but who calls herself an atheist (after a brief stop in one of the more liberal, enlightened branches of Christianity). On her blog, she detailed coming out to friends. While most offered a nonchalant, “Cool!” it seems that she got a more tempered response from  two faithful Christian friends, who said: “I love you anyway.” This response prompted a thoughtful post about why the “anyway” troubled the woman, who believed that one word negated the previous three.

So much of what she wrote represents the prevailing attitude today and it needs to be addressed. Especially since so many Christians have been cowed into accepting that you can’t believe homosexual acts are wrong AND authentically love a gay person. To that end, here’s my open letter to my (formerly Catholic) gay sister. 

Dear Sister:

Fifty, 30, or even just 10 years ago, if you or I had shared with faithful Christians that we are attracted to women, and they responded with, “I love you anyway,” we would have considered ourselves blessed. But today, such a statement troubles you because it “suggests there’s something wrong with being gay.”

And you’re right: there isn’t anything objectively wrong with being gay. Neither of us do anything wrong in our attraction to women. But we both know that’s not what you mean. What you really mean is, “They think there’s something wrong with me having a sexual relationship with another woman.”

Well, DUH. What exactly did you expect? These were, according to you, avowed Christians. Are you really surprised you didn’t get their full stamp of approval of you living as a lesbian?

Your reaction illustrates what I’ve known for a long time: that most self-identified gay people today don’t want tolerance, but moral approval. It’s not enough for Christians to say, “To each his own” and let others live in freedom. It’s not enough to go on as before, with Christians treating their out-of-the-closet friend the same as always. No, today Christians are expected to actively celebrate homosexuality or we’re branded a “hater” or “bigot.” We must support the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples or we’re against “equality.” (Never mind that gay marriage opens the door to every other kind of union based on “feelings,” including some very unpalatable “marriage partners” who WILL demand their place at the table.)

Not only that, but you’ve bought into the lie that you’re only able to truly love someone if you laud their every action, no matter how much you believe it’s wrong or believe it’s harmful to them. Your Christian friends are supposed to think it’s just fantastic that you’re now living as a lesbian and if we don’t, then we hate you and most likely primitively fear all gay people. There’s no middle ground anymore for people of wildly divergent belief systems to live in respect and peace…now, we must all AGREE about what’s morally good and bad, too.

Oh, I get it. It’s okay to disagree with your behavior, but being gay is who you are. And since being gay is intrinsic, then anyone who doesn’t believe it’s an awesome, beautiful thing to live out must be rejecting you as a person. “I was born this way,” you say. “It’s a natural part of who I am. So who are you to say you love me ‘despite’ this part of myself?”

Maybe your attraction to women is actually innate. Maybe you were never attracted to men and always attracted to women. So what? My husband was born with a fierce, intense personality…a close friend was born with different brain chemistry…my teen daughter was born anxious, as evidenced by pictures of her as newborn with her face clenched tightly in sleep. These innate “orientations” are no less intrinsic to who they are than homosexuality is to you; like your homosexuality, they’re natural and not morally wrong per se. These folks just are who they are.

But here’s the rub: my husband and friend and daughter all accept that these intrinsic parts of themselves can be destructive and they work to master these parts of themselves. They certainly don’t celebrate them or expect others to; my husband isn’t a “proud rager!” and you won’t see my friend in a parade shouting, “We’re here, we’re bipolar, get used to it!” As mature people, they understand that just because something is a natural part of their makeup doesn’t automatically mean that giving free reign to it is in their best interest. Being “born that way” doesn’t ALWAYS translate to “something to be celebrated.”

But maybe you didn’t really expect your Christian friends to celebrate your homosexuality; maybe you just wanted them not to condemn you. “I love you anyway,” they said. Which as far as I can tell, is exactly what Christ says to us. He sees us in all our brokenness and says what your friends said to you. We need to give up this false idea that authentic intimacy—real love, if you will—is based on understanding, because it’s not. Authentic love is based on acceptance. And that means warts and all—the real warts and yes, even those flaws that other people just think I have. (Like being too pushy, which I most definitely am NOT.)

loveanywayIn saying they love you “anyway,” your Christian friends offered you that acceptance, just as God does. Your friends didn’t proselytize you or demand that you convert back to being heterosexual to remain in friendship with them. It’s wrong to ask others to go beyond forbearance of our idiosyncrasies and (dare I say it?) faults and accept as good everything that we think, do, and even are. What an impossible, unreasonable standard to have of our friends, to demand that they think everything about us is just grand—or they can’t possibly love us with the authentic, self-sacrificing love of Christ.

What you really wanted was for your Christian friends to be so moved by the fact that you, you!…someone they know and care about is gay, that they would embrace all of you—including your life as a lesbian—as morally good. But did you ever consider how disrespectful it is to your friends to expect that kind of response to your news? You basically expected them to abandon their moral convictions so you could feel better about your decision to live a certain way. As my husband tells our daughters, anyone who expects you to sacrifice your moral values in the name of “love” doesn’t have a clue what love really is.

Such as view of friendship is self-serving and immature. I eat meat…lots and lots of meat. And I’m pretty sure I can say that my the desire to eat meat—and the act of eating it—are simply part of my makeup. I’ll never be one of those people who go bananas over salad; eating flesh is just who I am. Yet I can’t imagine demanding that my vegetarian-for-moral-reasons friends laud me eating meat as a condition of friendship. Or worse, complaining that they don’t “really love me” if they won’t declare my carnivorous habits morally good.

I said before that love is based on acceptance, not understanding. Let’s go one further: we don’t love people because they engage in morally good behaviors (as we define “good”), but because they possess an intrinsic dignity, a dignity that no behavior (good or bad) can increase or diminish. We may never understand one another—does anyone really, this side of the veil?—but we can recognize and honor that dignity in one another. We can accept each other, even the parts who may not like, which is the basis for all true intimacy.

You said that your Christian friends’ statement that they love you “anyway” troubled you. I submit that says more about you than it does about them and their love for you. I’ve been blessed with friendship from atheists, agnostics, Mormons, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, and even Swedenborgians(!). Every one of these friends held that I was living immorally (by their code) in one way or another: I drink coffee, worship what appears to be bread and wine, and eat animals. I knew they disagreed with me; they knew I knew they disagreed. But because we accepted one another, we didn’t nitpick the friendship. We afforded each other the freedom to be wrong, but supported and helped and suffered with each other “anyway.” That’s love and it’s the real deal, even with an “anyway” tacked onto the end of it.

Yet even if one of these friends had rudely chastised me for doing something they fervently believed was not only wrong but harmful to me, I wouldn’t have been troubled by it. Their rudeness would have bothered me, but not the essence of their criticism. Why not? Because I’m secure that I’m doing nothing morally wrong by drinking coffee, eating animals, and worshiping Jesus under the guise of bread and wine.

The only time another person’s disapproval bothers you is when you suspect they may be right…we’re most defensive when we know we’re doing, but want to convince ourselves we’re right. If you really are a “proud lesbian” who’s absolutely sure she’s on solid moral footing, then your Christian friends’ responses would never have troubled you. In fact, they could have offered a far darker and uglier response and at best, you would have felt pity for their misguided  rudeness.

The fact that so many of my fellow gay sisters and brothers can’t be satisfied with “I love you anyway”…that they can’t abide anyone even thinking homosexual acts are wrong…that they are willing to shout down and crucify anyone who subscribes to the traditional Christian beliefs about sexuality and marriage (Mozilla CEO, anyone?)…these things confirm for me that “God’s laws are written on the hearts of men.” The United States today is decidedly gay-friendly; every significant area of influences from the media to academia to corporations will applaud your decision to live as a proud lesbian. In the end, though, it’s that voice we can’t escape—the still, small one in our soul—that convicts us “anyway.”

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I’m Catholic. I’m Gay. Now What? (Part 2)

I said in Part 1 of this article that at the root of same-sex attraction (SSA) is the same desire that’s at the bottom of heterosexual attraction: the desire to love and be loved. God himself put this desire for union in us and as Martha says, it’s a good thing. But just as with all good ends, it matters just as much how we get there.

The Catholic Church teaches that while same-sex attraction isn’t inherently sinful, homosexual relations are never part of God’s plan for us. So what is? As my experience, as well as that of Melinda Selmys and others suggests, marriage may be God’s call more than you might think. (And I mean traditional, heterosexual marriage, not gay marriage.) Whether a person is called to marriage or not will depend on whether their SSA is something caused by woundedness or whether it’s more innate. For those whose SSA was caused by abuse or another deep wound, psychological and emotional healing may make it possible to engage in a loving marital relationship.

Evidence, too, suggests there’s a spectrum of SSA, with men who experience SSA being more solidly homosexual and women being closer to the heterosexual side. This is probably why more women than men who have SSA are able to enter into and sustain marriages. I’m a prime example of that and I’ve talked to many women whose SSA, while a temptation, doesn’t impede their ability to connect with their husbands physically and emotionally. Many who commented on my original testimony were happily married despite a history of lesbian relationships.

But what about those who believe they are “born with” SSA? What about the man or woman who finds physical relations with the opposite sex viscerally repulsive? Obviously, marriage isn’t an option for these folks and it’s wrong to suggest they should get married. Too many Christians–even some with SSA– think marriage is a “cure” for SSA. If, like me, your SSA is rooted in a deep emotional wound, the love of a spouse may help heal some of that wound over time. But for any healing to occur, your love for and attraction to your spouse must exceed your attraction to every other person. My marriage works despite SSA because my love for my husband eclipses entirely the occasional and fleeting sexual attraction I have to women in general.

Even so, it’s not my husband’s job to heal me of the wounds that led to SSA; it’s God’s job. When I struggle, I take my weakness to God, who gives me his own strength to conquer it. It would be unfair to put that responsibility on him, just as it’s unfair for husbands and wives tempted toward infidelity to expect their spouse to keep them from straying. There is only one Divine Physician, and it’s not your spouse.

I’ve come to believe that for those with SSA who are not called to marriage, God has a unique and profound plan…a plan that still ends in a splendorous union, just not a conjugal one. Sex, that most intimate tangle of persons where we most profoundly love and are loved, is intended to be a foretaste of heaven. But once we’re in heaven, we won’t need sex or marriage anymore, Jesus said, because we’ll say God face to face. We’ll no longer need the “sign” of sex to point us to our ultimate destiny–union with God–because we’ll be living out the reality of that union. And just as it always is, the reality will be unimaginably richer, more beautiful, and more satisfying than even the best earthly shadow of it.

In our world, where finding your “soul mate” is considered the highest goal of human experience, it’s hard for people to even consider that God could be calling some individuals to live out a most intimate union with Him–exclusive of romantic relationships–here and now, in this life. Yet it’s true. God desires for these individuals to be in a deep intimacy with him even before heaven, not only for their own sake, but as a sign to the world that union with God is our ultimate destiny. Vocations to religious life (all religious life, not just priests and nuns) are one such call, but so is the single life. With the exception perhaps of contemplative religious life, it’s the single person who has the most freedom to cultivate intimacy with God.

Single persons who embrace God’s call to intimacy are greatly privileged. I’m blessed to know such a woman, who is the godmother to one of my children. She’s in her mid-40s, has many male friends, yet seeks union with God above all earthly relationships. It’s clear from talking to her that her relationship with the Lord is far richer and more intimate than what I can cultivate with God in my busy life of being a wife and mother. She is being drawn into that intimacy with God right now, instead of waiting as I am until death for that more perfect union. It’s beautiful to see and at times I think I even envy her. 

A saint (I can’t remember which one) once asked Jesus why He doesn’t call more souls to greater intimacy with him. His answer was, “I do, all the time, but they say no.” One reason it’s so difficult for people to accept that SSA is a disorder is that they can’t imagine our loving God would allow souls to be so afflicted just so they’ll be lonely and miserable if they choose to be faithful Catholics. But what if God permits SSA as a means of reserving some souls for Himself? God permits heterosexuals, after all, to be wounded or even born with specific proclivities toward sin because it’s only through our weakness, our brokenness, that we can admit our need for Him. Far from being a shameful affliction, then, SSA is more likely to be the sign that a soul is set apart by God, destined for a profound and rare union with Him that begins not in heaven, but in this life. If God only ever permits suffering to bring about a greater good, then what greater good could there be  than ordering the soul so that it’s drawn primarily to Him?

Many faithful Christians see SSA as a pitiable disorder and believe it makes the person repulsive to God. Imagine getting to heaven only to discover it was the gay or lesbian person that God specially favored. 

None of this is to say that there won’t be struggle…tremendous struggle for some. For the soul who chooses to remain faithful to God and eschews earthly union with another person of the same sex, the process of growing in their relationship with God will almost certainly be fraught with temptation and difficulties. But just as in marriage, it’s the struggles that strengthen the relationship and draw the couple closer over time. Of course it will be hard; anything meaningful is. But the person who flings himself into God’s arms when faced with his own weakness will never be abandoned.

 

Dorothy Day choose single motherhood over living against the teachings of the Church. She chose God above her most intimate earthly relationship, making her a model for many with same-sex attraction who wish to be faithful, too.

Social justice crusader Dorothy Day probably understood the sacrifices required to choose God over earthly relationships more than most; in December 1928, she ended her common-law marriage to Forster Batterham, father of her only daughter, Tamar, to become a practicing, faithful Catholic. Near the end of her life, after decades of living chastely with God as her primary companion, she wrote: 

“First, when God asks great things of us, great sacrifices, He intends to do great things with us; though they will seem small, they will be the most important. Who knows the power of the Spirit. Second, when we are asked to show our love for God, our desire for Him, when He asks us as Jesus asked Peter, ‘Lovest thou me?’ we have to give proof of it. ‘Lovest thou me more than these, more than any human companionship, more than any human love?’ It is not filth and ugliness, drugs, and drink and perversion He is asking us to prefer Him to. He is asking us to prefer Him to all beauty and loveliness. To all other love.”

Not many with SSA will choose God above earthly relationships, especially with same-sex marriage legitimizing homosexual unions. But Jesus always warned us that “The gate to life is narrow and few will find it.” For the few who do, may God reward your fidelity with courage, joy, and a peace and intimacy this world cannot comprehend. Bless you.

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Conversion Discipleship Faith Formation Offering your suffering Prayer Respect Life Same Sex Attraction Single life Vocations

I’m Catholic. I’m Gay. Now What? (Part 1)

This is the first in a 2-part series. The second part will be published next Thursday, May 10.

Fleshing out the teachings of the Catholic Church is like turning around an aircraft carrier: it’s done slowly and methodically, taking considerable time and care. And she typically only takes on that task when her teachings are under attack. Take contraception, for example…for nearly 2,000 years, “Contraception is immoral” was sufficient for most Catholics to eschew it.

Then the Pill offered couples easy, reliable family planning and suddenly, the Church’s teaching seemed inadequate. Especially when compared to secular feminism and humanism, which touted contraception as the enlightened path to equality for women, more satisfying marriages, and stronger families.

The Church caught up–eventually–with God giving us the profoundly beautiful teachings about conjugal love through John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” as well as modern natural family planning methods that are scientifically proven to be as effective as the best hormonal contraception. Catholic couples today are blessed that they have not only the means to be faithful to Christ, but plenty of compelling reasons to be, too.

We see the same thing happening today with same-sex attraction (SSA). Until now, the Church’s concise teaching was enough: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” (CCC 2357).

The Church also says that “This inclination…constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” But for many people, the call to compassion is hollow. Why? Because this is what they really hear the Church saying:  

We’re sorry you aren’t attracted to the opposite sex. We’ll pray for you to conquer these filthy desires. Sure, you’ll be lonely and miserable for the rest of your life if you’re celibate, but what’s a little suffering to gain heaven in the end?

Then there’s the secular world, which for the most part accepts and even celebrates SSA, claiming the orientation is so innate that it’s analogous to skin color. (And what kind of unenlightened bigot could fault a person for simply being who they are?) The world says homosexual acts are just another normal expression of human sexuality. These messages are more palatable to folks, especially to those who actually struggle with SSA and its stigma. The secular world seems so much more, well, loving and compassionate than the Church does on this issue…so much more enlightened. It’s not, but it’s the perception that’s killing us.

I understand this better than most because I’m a practicing Catholic and I live with same-sex attraction. I’ve known and loved many souls who struggle with it, too. Some of whom are trying to live as faithful Christians and others who live an openly and unapologetically gay life. If what the world says is true, then it’s easy to understand why so many with SSA reject the Church’s teachings. Who wants to be celibate–and thus, alone and miserable–for the rest of their life? 

If living a lonely and miserable life was the only way a person with SSA could be a faithful Catholic, I’d probably have jumped ship long ago. But that’s not God’s plan for us. Instead, God’s plan is so simple, so elegant, that it escapes the notice of even most Christians:

Intimacy.

God wants nothing less than the deepest, most profound communion with his creatures. But for a culture that thinks almost exclusively in physical terms, the only relationship worth seeking is the one that ends in sexual union.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, though. We seek the physical union because we hope it’s the means by which we’ll achieve the spiritual union. We intuitively know that the most sublime joy we can experience is spiritual, not physical. Would any of us suggest that a mother’s overwhelming joy at seeing her new baby for the first time is on par with savoring a good steak dinner? Or imagine that any sensory pleasure could compare to a father’s happiness at seeing the son again that he thought had died in the war, alive and well before him instead? The same is true of marriage. We don’t marry because we want a sex partner at the ready for the rest of our days; we marry because we want to share our soul with another soul. The physical part of the relationship–in healthy marriages, anyway–is simply the most intimate way we express that spiritual connection.

What every human person seeks–regardless of sexual orientation–is spiritual intimacy. We want to love and be loved by the other unconditionally, with such intensity that it scorches the soul. We want this: 

Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you! You were within me, and I was outside; and I sought you outside and in my loneliness fell upon those lovely things that you have made. You were with me, but I was not with you…. You called me and cried to me and broke open my deafness; you sent forth your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness; you breathed your fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you; you touched me, and I burn for your peace.

Would you be surprised to know that St. Augustine wrote this about God more than 1500 years ago? Most people are. God, of course, desires this intimacy even more than we do, which is why he pursues us so relentlessly, no matter how many times we reject him. Even those of us who love God and are engaged in vibrant friendships with him can only dimly comprehend the depths of his love for us:

Is it a small thing in your eyes to be loved by God…to be the son, the spouse, the love, the delight of the King of glory? Christian, believe this, and think about it: you will be eternally embraced in the arms of the love which was from everlasting, and will extend to everlasting, of the love which brought the Son of God’s love from heaven to earth, from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to glory, that love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spat upon, crucified, pierced…which fasted, prayed, taught, healed, wept, sweated, bled, died. That love will eternally embrace you. (English poet Richard Baxter)

The person with SSA yearns for love because he is made for love; we all are. But the love God plans for those of us who suffer SSA looks nothing like the world imagines it to be.

Please join us next Thursday for Part 2, in which I explain why same-sex attraction is a sign of God’s special favor.