With gay marriage being the second most talked-about socio-political issue, my nature demands that I sort out a definitive position on the matter. This is going to be a long post, and I know it’s going to upset some people. If you’re going to write me just to tell me that, trust me, I already know. Save your breath.
“That’s disgusting” he said in a low voice, malicious, with just a hint of fascination and I followed his gaze toward two men shopping together a few clothes racks away. I don’t know if they were a couple, but judging by the stereotypes I was familiar with, both were obviously gay.
I smiled and shrugged, then turned away, worried about being caught staring, ashamed of my friend’s rudeness, ashamed of my discomfort in the proximity of gay men, and moreover, ashamed of my shame. If I were really a good, chaste Catholic girl, I would share in my friend’s revulsion at this vagrant display of uncloseted homosexuality. I should take my discomfort as an instinctive sign that I was right to recognize sin and shy away from it, indignant. Two men with frosted hair shopping together? How dare they! Don’t they know there are children around?! Instead I felt nothing but confused sympathy for the men who were possibly unaware of the contempt emanating from my shopping companion’s stare. And I was just sure that I would be declared a bleeding heart humanist were I to defend them, even in the name of good Christian charity. In fact, I feared that that was what I was. And anyway, because my opinions on the matter were vague, half-formed and possibly with more emotional foundation than intellectual–I have had gay friends and some of my family members are gay– could I say anything that would not contradict the Church’s teaching? “Well, they seem like nice people” would be beside the point. So I said nothing.
For a long time, I had a hard time making a decision on where I stood with the whole issue, and I avoided it. I couldn’t make myself believe that homosexuality was a choice. People don’t choose to have life be any more difficult than it has to be, and I don’t think anyone– Catholic, secular, gay or straight or otherwise– can deny that gays have it tough. Even setting aside the obvious things like prejudice, the pool of partners is clearly more limited than that of heterosexuals, making the opportunities for heartbreak even more abundant than it already is.
And if it’s not a choice, if people really are “born that way,” how can we Christians, whose whole religion revolves around Love and acceptance of the Will of God, treat other people, having no more control of their lot than we, with such hatred?
But then there was the “problem” of the Church’s teaching that the lifestyle is a sin, that it’s unnatural. And the Church’s teaching makes sense to me. Men and women’s bodies were built specifically for each other.
If someone had never heard of homosexuality and I told them the things that go through my head when I see a good-looking guy, they’d say: You want to put your what in his where? It’s common sense. Gay sex makes about as much sense as eating chalk, and pica is still recognized as a disorder by the APA1. Last time I checked.
[That’s Steve Gershom, a Catholic, celibate, gay man. I cannot recommend his blog enough, as it’s one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever read and gives a real-life, Catholic perspective the likes of which I haven’t seen anywhere else. His take on chastity is one of the best I have ever read, and applicable to everyone.]
Anyway, I was confused, until I first heard the term, “SSA:” Same Sex Attraction. As in, “He has Same Sex Attraction,” not “He is gay.” Finally, the vague opinions I had on the subject started to come together and make sense. Yes, the lifestyle is wrong, and acting on the attraction would be a sin. The inclination towards such a thing, a defect. No one wants to think of their friends or family or themselves as defective, but it’s true. And more importantly, it made me understand something that deep down, I think I already knew: that “SSA” is just one of the many defects we can put in the blank spot after “He/She has…” He/She has a tendency to be selfish. He/She has trouble concentrating during Mass. He/She has a drinking problem. He/She, has heterosexual temptations against purity. The tendency towards our own personal weaknesses, each unique as our fingerprints, is a defect found in all of us. Same Sex Attraction is just one of the many hallmarks of a fallen race, one of the literally countless shapes that the cross of temptation takes. Being tempted toward a vice is not a vice itself, as even Our Lord was tempted.
Then there was the matter of whether or not such a temptation can, or even needs to be, expelled entirely. “Prayed, willed or even married away,” as some believe. Elizabeth Scalia writes,
I have a theory that our gay brothers and sisters are, in fact, planned, loved-into-being “necessary others,” and that they are meant to show us something of God from a perspective that we cannot otherwise broach. I suspect art is a part of it. I do not presume to guess what attractions Michelangelo felt, but I could not view his stunning work throughout the Vatican and in Rome without recalling a quip someone (I believe Camille Paglia) once made, that when gays were closeted and presumably less active sexually, their energies had been subsumed into creating transcendent, living, time-smashing masterpieces. Now that they were “out”, said the wag, their art was mundane, mostly unmemorable, often lazy and insubstantial.
I know I am entering deep and destructive currents by even daring to swim here, but homosexual questions are all around us—gay marriage, certainly is at the forefront (and there again, we may actually have some instruction from Christ, in Matthew 19) but there is also the issue of recognizing the many homosexuals in our church who are excellent, joyful priests, faithful to their vows and their flocks—and they are questions begging for temperate, reasonable and loving dialogue.
Elizabeth, who wonderfully states that gays are “loved into being,” focuses mainly on homosexual influence in art, and I agree with her. But I would press further with the belief that people with SSA are called to celibacy, towards something even more noble. I propose that [y’all, this is where I take a deep breath and baricade myself behind my computer screen] many men have SSA because they are called to be priests. Of course, I’m not saying all of them are– I wouldn’t like it if I, a single girl, were told that since I may never get married, ought to just become a nun. The single life is a vocation as well as the married and religious life. I’m just saying that it fits.
The issue I’m tackling now is that I have to stand here, with a firm grip on what I believe now: that SSA is real, intentional by God, but a call to celibacy. How can I, an ignorant little straight girl, tell anyone else, “Sorry, but you’re just going to have to deal with it or burn in hell.” And yet, I’m Catholic and to pretend I believe otherwise would be hypocritical and dishonest, so I might as well just say it. [UPDATE: Believe you me, I want there to be some kind of a loophole, but Matthew 19, as Elizabeth cited, makes the situation pretty clear.]
I am trying not to sound as though I pity celibate gays. Perhaps I don’t know the troubles of Catholics with SSA, but as a young, single, Catholic girl, I’m no stranger to celibacy or the struggle that goes with that, and the discipline it demands to not even let your thoughts wander into dangerous territory. But celibacy is not the worst state to be in. In fact, St. Paul would argue that lifelong celibacy creates a climate in the soul that is perfect for obtaining heaven, and St. John Chrysostom says:
…celibacy is, as we said, an imitation of the angels. Therefore, virginity is as much more honorable than marriage, as the angel is higher than man.
But why do I say angel? Christ, Himself, is the glory of virginity…
So it’s entirely likely that the soul of a celibate gay man could be in better shape than a straight, married man’s. And celibacy is something not only catholic gays are bound to, but also single heterosexuals.
Furthermore, to pity them seems to imply that their SSA is the beginning and end of their being. Or really, that anyone’s sexuality is all there is to know. While theirs is a cross I can’t begin to imagine carrying, God never sends anyone one too heavy to walk with.