[Guest post by Eve Tushnet]
(since apparently today is my day for Rocky Horror references.)
Anyway, I spoke in Denver at Theology on Tap! This is a quick summary of what I said. Count yourselves lucky to get it in writing btw—I am still learning how to make this presentation SHORTER and borderline coherent. A lot of this is stuff you all have heard many times from me, but people expressed interest in having a post about it. Sorry for length.
There may be video and/or a Denver Post story later so I will post that as I receive it.
I started with a brief bio: I was born in 1978, raised atheist/agnostic/Reform Jewish. I came out to myself around age 13 and to my family sometime shortly afterward. I’ve led a charmed life—despite being a super-weird kid I wasn’t bullied, and my family was wonderfully accepting of my sexual orientation—and I think that background meant that I lacked a lot of barriers which make it harder for other people to come to the Catholic Church. I became Catholic at age 20. I didn’t know any other lgbt Catholics—I didn’t even know of any others—at that time.
Most of the talk was based on the concept, “things I wish I’d known when I converted.” But I do think I approached the biggest question in more or less the right way: I tried to find out why the Church teaches what She does, but when the answers I received were baffling or insufficient, I asked myself, “Which do you believe more strongly: that gay sex is morally neutral, or that the Church has the authority to teach on human sexuality?” And very much to my surprise, I was more certain of the second thing.
And really even since then, no matter what I learn about possible theological groundings for the Church’s position, it has come down to trust and to a sense that, as the disciples somewhat disconsolately point out, “Lord, where can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Since then, however, I’ve not only met other lgbt/same-sex attracted Catholics. I’ve found resources which simply weren’t around when I converted (this is where I plugged Wesley’s book!). Two of the best resources I’ve found are by people who, I’m pretty sure, reject the Church’s teaching in this area: Frederick W. Roden’s Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture and Alan Bray’s The Friend. You can think of that as a sign of Catholics’ failure to catechize in this area, or you can think of it as a sign that the Church’s beauty is attractive even to those who don’t accept Her in Her fullness. I think both of those explanations are true…. Anyway most of what I said about those two books can be found here. I talked about art and prayer as means of sublimating eros, and about vowed friendship, and friendship as a sacrificial form of love.
I said that initially I conceived of my task, as a lgbt/ssa Catholic, as basically a) negative (don’t have gay sex) and b) intellectual (figure out why Church teaching is the way it is). I now think of it much more as the positive task of discerning vocation: discerning how God is calling me to pour out love to others.
I gave examples of vocation, including friendship, art, and service, and talked (not nearly as clearly as I would have liked) about how one might sublimate and therefore express same-sex desire through those pathways.
I noted that every vocation has characteristic crosses and characteristic forms of loneliness, and that I had been quite naive and spiritually unprepared for those crosses. They included jealousy of friends who were marrying and having kids, resentment or anger toward the Church, and (this is the one I’ve struggled with the most) lack of accountability. When I lived alone there was nobody to watch over me except God.
I said that I tried to address these issues through prayer (especially prayer to St Joan when people in the Church hierarchy are being unhelpful, and prayer to Oscar Wilde), service, spiritual direction, and being much more honest and vulnerable with my friends than I’d like to be. I volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, and I think that’s been especially helpful for me in terms of same-sex desire not only because it allows me to serve women, but also because it really makes obvious to me the crosses which come with heterosexual practice. That keeps me grounded and saps the urge to self-pity.
I emphasized that there’s a huge variety of paths out there and people need to find the ways of being Christian which work for them. They don’t need to conform their self-understandings to the most common or easily-intelligible ones available. I gave the example that other people often talk about my “struggle” with homosexuality, and that—while perhaps this is just me preferring femme metaphors to butch ones!—I don’t think of it as a struggle at all. I think of myself as needing to surrender more to God, rather than to fight harder for chastity.
I closed with the same story I told at the end of my Fordham presentation, and I’ll just quote it from the essay I wrote for them:
A couple of years ago I received a poignant email from a man who said, among other things, that he did accept the Church’s teaching and was trying to live up to it. But he still wondered: What happens if I change my mind? What happens if, years from now, I look back on my celibate life—will I regret it? Will it seem like an enormous waste?
I think it depends. If one’s celibacy is purely rule-following, then yeah, once you no longer believe the rules I think probably you’ll regret the sacrifices you made to follow them.
But if you pour out your love for others in friendship and service, if you offer your struggles and your need for surrender as a sacrifice to Christ, if you love God and those around you as deeply as you can in the best way you understand right now—I think even if you change your mind later, that won’t be something to regret. One of the biggest truths about love is that it’s never a waste of time.
So that was the speech. The questions were really fascinating and totally different from anything people had asked me elsewhere! Probably the most new-and-different one came from a priest who asked, essentially, whether chaste gay/ssa Catholics should come out, to change the culture. I said that it wasn’t everybody’s responsibility to jump on that particular grenade, but that in every case I’d seen in which people did go through that coming-out process, it had been positive overall for them. It made them more vulnerable to those they loved, and I think that ultimately strengthened many of their friendships.
The one thing I’d fight back on was one aspect of the framing, which is that both before and after, the people organizing the event made reference to an upcoming vote on civil unions. Now a) I am basically pro-civil unions, although I think there are big issues especially around religious liberty, but b) what I actually said in my own speech was that I was not making any political claims, and that there are lots of different political pathways which I think are open to faithful lgbt Catholics. I didn’t talk more about that because I assumed somebody would ask me about civil unions or gay marriage in the q&a, but oddly, no one did! So I hope that means I made my point without having to yowl too much about it. Overall the organizers were fantastic and I’m super-grateful (and they got a huge, wonderful crowd!), but it does seem important to push back on this one point.