On Reading Richard Giannone

In his memoir Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire, Richard Giannone, emeritus professor at Fordham, writes about his mother’s slow decline and his care for her in her final days. Central to the story is Giannone’s long-time partner Frank. After Giannone’s mother’s death, as Giannone begins immediately to care for his aging sister, he becomes more keenly aware of all the way his life is intertwined with his partner’s. For instance:

When Frank and I returned early evening that Saturday to our apartment in the Village, I was still shaken. By 2003 Frank had been with me for twenty-two years. Our partnership was repeatedly tested in the fire of social defiance and in the emergency room with family members and each other. Characteristically, Frank spoke not a word. He put down the bags with clean laundry, pulled me against him, and held me tight. Frank’s grip was so firm that his Parkinson’s got his arms wedged hugging me. We were caught, locked, immovable. We laughed. The sinews of our attached muscles held the love that bound us through the tight spot with Marie [Giannone’s sister].

I was home. I was in my faithful friend and partner’s shelter.

I chose this except almost at random. Virtually every chapter is filled with similarly tender moments of quiet intimacy.

It’s these kind of glimpses into gay life (among other things) that make it hard for many Christians today to imagine that there could be anything wrong with being gay. You can’t read a memoir like Giannone’s and easily draw evidence that having a long-time sexual partner of the same-sex diminishes one’s life. On the contrary, Giannone’s partnership with Frank was precisely what enabled him to care for his dying mother and sister, and what sustained him when they were lost.

And this is the reason comparisons of homosexuality to other sinful behaviors often ring so false. Homosexuality is like racism? If that’s the case, then why are the fruits—hatred and alienation in the latter case, humanizing care and love in the former—so obviously different?

The traditional Christian proscription of same-sex sexual partnerships does not require us to draw such specious comparisons or to say that there is nothing good at all in gay partnerships. On the contrary, even Karl Barth, who uncompromisingly rejects homosexual partnerships as out of step with the Creator’s intention, writes that such unions are often “redolent of sanctity” (Church Dogmatics III/4, p. 166) because they are about the struggle to give and receive love. In his essay for First Things yesterday, Aaron Taylor made this point very effectively.

I also think here of the passage from C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy in which he reflects on the homosexuality he witnessed at his boarding school in his adolescence.

People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this. But why? … If those of us who have known a school like Wyvern dared to speak the truth, we should have to say that [homosexuality] was, in that time and place, the only foothold or cranny left for certain good things. It was the only counterpoise to the social struggle; the one oasis… in the burning desert of competitive ambition. In his unnatural love-affairs, and perhaps only there, the Blood went a little out of himself, forgot for a few hours that he was One of the Most Important People There Are. It softens the picture.

According to Lewis, a misdirected expression of eros may still be seen as a seeking after truth, goodness, and beauty. And Christian faith can and must acknowledge that, even as it seeks to point eros to its real fulfillment in Christ.

6 thoughts on “On Reading Richard Giannone

  1. Wesley, wow, you took me by surprise today — good for you! I immensely appreciated this brief post. Thank you for having the boldness to write and share it. I won’t mind publicly admitting that often I long for that kind of intimacy, as expressed in Giannone’s memoir, sometimes intensely so — Lord, help me.

    Also, I used to think that such a long-lasting, intimate union between two males was impossible. I suppose it is not as rare as I once believed.

  2. Pingback: On Reading Richard Giannone » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  3. This is one of the reasons why I have considered an accommodation view. I don’t believe its God’s original intent to have same-sex relationships. But, I think in some situations that it could be more life-giving to have a partner–the good that can come than a situation where single, celibacy has not been attainable and leads to destructive behavior and psychological problems. But, each person has to heed their conscience.

  4. I am 69 now, and I’ve been in a committed, sexually intimate, monogamous relationship with my partner for nearly 14 years. We are to be married in July. I would be emotionally devastated if I lost my partner and, with him, the wonderful intimacy that we enjoy. I assume that I could become celibate again, but only out of necessity.

    I can remember professing celibacy when I was much younger, around age 25-35. Maybe I am alive and healthy today because I was celibate then. But on the other hand, my youth passed me by, and it will never return.
    Celibacy seemed like the only option for me back then, because there were too many hurdles to being sexually active. There was no marriage, there were no domestic partnerships, and gay men everywhere were confused and self-loathing.

    My own feeling is that celibacy may be a foot dragging itself in the past. We are now free to step out of fear and shame and embrace our sexuality, to live it fully, just as other people do.

    Although I realize that everyone has to follow his/her own conscience about these matters, especially given the variety of influences that are brought to bear on us, it still pains me to see healthy young men choosing a path of celibacy. The pain is associated with my own personal regret, of course.

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