Monday, August 29, 2005

"Coming Out" as a self-fulfilling prophecy

Our Courage chaplain had an article in the last issue of First Things on how teenagers and even tweens are being encouraged by public schools to identify as "gay" (or "straight" or "bi" or "transgendered" or whatever), contrary to their current pedagogy in every other field of student endeavour -- i.e., don't label yourself, don't form cliques, etc. That prompted me to write the following note to him:


One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how eager the Gay Activist crowd are to convince teens to "come out," while at the same time insisting that sexual orientation is determined at birth or (at the latest) the earliest pre-sexual years of one's life. But look, even if the Gay Activist crowd is right and "sexual orientation" is some determined-for-life facet of one's soul, then if it's determined at 12, it'll still be determined at 20 or at 30. So why the eagerness to convince teens to self-identify? To ask the question is to answer it -- "coming out" as a recruitment tool -- self-definition as self-fulfilling prophecy.

Speaking personally, God protected me well by never forcing me to "come out" to myself until I had my first serious love-crush on a male friend, at age 24. By which time I was in the process of coming back to the Church and, even apart from that, was just mature enough to handle better an unconsummated, unrequited crush with grave potential for sin.

But god-knows-what I would have done had I had Comprehensive Sex Education as a teenager or gone to a high school that had a Gay-Straight Alliance or whatever. I had had "feelings" for as long as I could remember, but just always shunted them off to the side and gave them no significance. Not from shame exactly -- more out of innocent incomprehension. My father never had The Talk -- the self conscious, Eugene-Levy-in-AMERICAN-PIE "Son, your body is undergoing some changes now that may confuse you. Let's discuss the birds and the bees" bit. I didn't even know what an erection meant for most of my teen years -- and not from not having any.

And although I was a media junkie as a boy, this was before the Gay Moment in the culture. It was not until about the 1985 death of Rock Hudson that expressing contempt for homosexuals became socially unacceptable and gays became an Official Oppressed Minority rather than some pitiful eccentrics at best and a bunch of perverts at worst. My musical tastes as a boy (and even a young man) were Gay Stereotype Central Casting and I was completely unaware of it. I liked Sweet, David Bowie and glam-rock in the early 70s without ever picking up anything "queer" (in both senses) going on. Nor did I know that camp or disco -- Hot Chocolate, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Cher, Sylvester were my favorites -- was for poofs and fairies (to use the terms I probably would have used at the time, and without really knowing what they meant or what they referred to). When I was about 30, I was discussing Erasure's ABBA-ESQUE with a 23-year-old coworker, and she was stunned that I was oblivious to what she called the "obvious" homosexuality in them or in Depeche Mode, who hit it big in my early 20s. Looking back now, I can hardly believe I didn't recognize at least "something."

Every time I think to do so, I thank God for keeping me innocent and allowing me to grow up in a world that allowed it for as long as it did. A kid is not competent to make the kind of life-decision that "I'm gay" or even "I'm same-sex attracted" or any other formulation. Kids are too susceptible to advertising and cultural cues, and while this has one set of implications for the sales of Fudge-Coated Sugar-Munchies breakfast cereal, it's rather higher stakes here and the plain fact is that our cultural image of homosexuality is too tied to ephemera and detrita -- you like "Will and Grace" and all that.

Now the way things turned out in my own case, I've never had any sexual desire for women at all and have come to accept (in some sense and however grudgingly) that this is how God wills it and my most extravagant prayer is just to have no sexual feelings at all. Still, it's hard for me to believe that had I been potentially at least somewhat straight, that had the "gayness" of these cultural icons I identified with pre-consciously been made a conscious fact, that it might have encouraged some straight version of me to wrongly self-identify -- thinking that all these baubles of gay culture "proved" I was gay. (I mean, did no breeder ever dance to "YMCA"?)

And had I been told in Sex Ed class or by GLSEN that "you're gay and that's super" ... well, one never knows. You become what you do and you do what you become. You justify what you do and you do what you justify. You become what you justify and you justify what you become. (Those sentences are true of all human behavior). And, to put a gentle point on it, my years of peak hormones (the early 80s) were the most dangerous years to have been engaging in the gay lifestyle.

Defining oneself too early, or in one's teenage years, is crucially damaging without any discernible concomitant benefit ("if it's determined ..."). And this is true EVEN IF one accepts the language of "sexual orientation" and "identification," and even the morality of homosexual actions. Nothing is lost by keeping teens, even gay or "pre-gay" ones, innocent of sex or sexuality for as long as feasible. Your gayness or straightness will assert itself soon enough, if it's determined, and there's plenty of time to get screwed up by sex and all its ancillary issues as an adult. And to the extent there are any waverers, too much "gayness" might lead them to overinterpret a few innocent facts or a few innocent fleeting crushes that might go away later in life. Heck, even that Fundamentalist Fag-Basher Kinsey graded his men from 1 to 6, not A or B, and acknowledged changes over time. Our implicit anthropology of homosexuality is just too binary and deterministic (you're gay/you're straight with nothing in between), which when combined with the above-mentioned frivolities, just makes for a poisonous understanding of the soul, quite apart from the specific morality of homosexual actions. While on the other hand, it also include our time's most curious dogma (and that's saying something): that a "straight" man can one day "realize" that he is really "gay", but a "gay" man who one day decides he is really "straight" has become "self-hating", "inauthentic", or "in denial." Huh?

The personal intro post

I hate doing these. Particularly since I have little to say, owing to my decision to post at this site anonymously, for reasons that I think should be obvious.

What can I say? I am a Roman Catholic male, around 40, in the diocese of Arlington, Virginia. Though I don't get to go to meetings as often as I'd like because of scheduling issues, I am a member of our local chapter of Courage, which is a Church spiritual support group for people with same-sex attractions who wish to live chaste lives in accord with Church teaching. I say "wish to," because, well ... I have some severe shortcomings and have to admit an addiction that is out of control.

I may provide more detail later on the event that forced me to admit this, but frankly I'm not experienced in the "public confessional" mode of discourse (in fact, I pretty much hold it in contempt) ... one reason I'm starting this blog only now despite having been involved in the blogosphere under my own name for years. But this addiction was something I had to admit for the first time in my most recent confession, the prompting event for this site. Still, I love the guys from our chapter, several of whom have become my friends (one might have even saved my life), and our chaplain, who is also my regular confessor (first time in my life I've had one ... and I find it discomforting, frankly, but this is how it must be).

I wrote a note to Courage Online back in October explaining, in the context of John Kerry and John Edwards' mentioning Mary Cheney, why I prefer to remain in the closet, which I will repost at the end of this note. To be honest, I really do prize the public persona I have of a devout conservative Catholic yuppie, I have a good job that lets me work with my mind and live without material care since I have no family to support, and I'm sufficiently masculine-acting that I'm only certain of having been "accused" of being gay against my will once in my life. But my SSA is pretty comprehensive -- that is, I have no sexual desire at all for women, never have, and the thought of sex with a women fills me with as much disgust as (I imagine) the thought of sex with men does most men. Unlike a lot of guys in my situation, I never had a girlfriend-for-show throughout high-school or college, but I was (and am) studious enough that this was not considered remarkable -- "he's just the class bookworm," etc. Anyhow ... here's my Apologia for the Closet at Courage Online. It ran under the subject line "I hate the Democrats":

Despite the provocative subject line, this is actually on-topic (I think) and the point isn't (really) partisan politics.

I remain closeted to my family and to most of the world, primarily for a cluster of reasons that crystallized around Wednesday night's debate -- what John Kerry did to Mary Cheney (and Edwards did a few days before that). I will never be a public homosexual, because -- no matter what you do, what level of discretion you try to maintain, what other things you think of the world, whatever difficult accommodations you might reach with your own family or church -- none of it matters. It's all sand. The Abortion Party takes you as their charge, their ward, their pets -- personal property fit mostly for turning into their poster child. That's the world we live in, and that party has the loyalty of (loosely speaking) half the country. And this is so whether we like it or not, depressing as it is.

Even some self-identified gay writers have written that there was once a time (the "bad old" pre Stonewall days and for even a time after that) when the closet was the one absolute of gay life -- the one thing inviolable, that no homosexual would ever violate. From Mutual Assured Destruction, if nothing else. Every so often, I get tempted to maybe just chuck the closet, tell my family about my struggles with homosexuality and quit denying it to the outside world. But as difficult as the closet is, these incidents are nice sinus-clearings. They show that, in this day and age, living outside it doesn't give you any more freedom or security from public humiliation and worse. Now, washing other people's dirty laundry in public, "outing" people to at least part of an audience, referring to other people's family situation in a way about which you have good reason to think they'd rather you not -- these are all now an acceptable form of political discourse. And from the party that is "pro-gay" no less (there's at least a certain perverse consistency in people who despise homosexuals "outing" them). I fear the culture wars and their viciousness ... it's just depressing in its ... depressingness.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Homosexuals and the priesthood

I hope this UPI article linked to at Catholic Light is wrong. Here's the original article from the Manchester Guardian-Observer, which UPI picked up. The original states that:

The new Pope faces his first controversy over the direction of the Catholic church after it was revealed that the Vatican has drawn up a religious instruction preventing gay men from being priests.
The controversial document, produced by the Congregation for Catholic Education and Seminaries, the body overseeing the church's training of the priesthood, is being scrutinised by Benedict XVI.

Now obviously, anything written by secular reporters about Church teaching requires a few grains of salt. For example, this article itself is fairly incomplete merely as journalism -- i.e., it has no sourced material to back up its principal point in the form of direct quotes (not unexpected) or even indirect ones (quite strange) from sources either named or unnamed. Further, same-sex attraction is not exactly the topic on which they're most attuned to the subtleties (note the reference to "gay men" in the first paragraph). And the Guardian-Observer is something less than the journalistic outlet with the greatest sympathy for religious orthodoxy.

But nevertheless, and with all these appropriate caveats noted, I'm still starting to fear the worst. This is not the first such report I've read in the past few months. It's made The Word from Rome last month. The night of Benedict's election, I had dinner with my Courage group and, as ecclesial nerds are wont, we kicked around ideas about what the new Holy Father's first encyclical would be about. And when I suggested homosexuality and the priesthood, our pastor, who is very orthodox, nodded sagely at me. I don't know whether he had inside info, but he didn't laugh at my suggestion.

Many US bishops are faced with seminaries with a reputation now or in the recent past as a hotbed of “Pink Palace” dissent, and the Lavendar Mafia there might make it difficult for a homosexually-inclined man even with the best of intentions. And so as part of a general cleaning out of the Augean Stables there, including equal efforts against heterodox teachings, poor formation and indiscipline, I think it a reasonable exercise of a bishop's governing prerogative to, as a temporary measure, refuse men with homosexual inclinations until things can get straightened out (uh … so to speak) and a better environment provided for everybody. Indeed, I live in one of only three or so dioceses in the US which has such a rule.

But what I don't see is how any blanket ban on ordaining any homosexual person could be compatible with the Church teachings on sexual morality and homosexuality, as stated in CDF letters and the Catechism for the last 30 years. It's not simply that Father John Harvey and Father Benedict Groeschel, who've been done heroic work for decades with Courage, have both come out against an absolute ban on seminarians with some SSA and said such a blanket ban would not address the problem of clerical sexual abuse. But it's also that one of the most important documents, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons was even written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger himself. Here are some samples:

What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable. What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God's liberating grace.


The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.

What I don’t believe the Church does or can teach is the kind of blanket rules that leave no room for discretion and particular cases, and so no room for the liberating grace, which Cardinal Ratzinger describes, to work in a particular man’s life. What I also object to is the (Ratzinger's words again) "demeaning" and "reductionist" assumption, on which the Church's Ultramontanes and its Andrew Sullivans are at one, that orientation always implies behavior. And a per se ban would cement that degrading belief. To have a blanket ban is essentially to treat men with SSA as an "essential" class, the most important characteristic of which is his SSA, rather than his being a human person made in the image and likeness of God. A per se ban would, to use some high-falutin' language, turn homosexuality into ontology, define a man by his temptations and/or sins. And so reverse the Church's entire response to the modern homosexual moment. I'd like to believe that is not possible.