Jonathan Rauch’s brief memoir, Denial: My Twenty-Five Years Without a Soul, published recently as a Kindle Single, describes how powerful it can be to find that your previous unnamable self has a place. For much of the story’s first half, Rauch tells about trying to interpret his same-sex attraction as “envy.” He would admire the muscles of his friends and tell himself that that admiration was his longing, as a bookish, skinny kid, to have the same kind of body. But as the story finishes, he realizes that was dissembling: “I had resisted imagining myself as a homosexual or even imagining that it might be possible for me to be a homosexual, because I had supposed that to be a homosexual is to lose any possibility of a normal life.”
Near the end of his narrative, Rauch says this:
And as I write these words, I have been married for going on three years. Married. The very word is a miracle to me. The young boy sitting on the piano bench structured his life, shaped his personality, twisted and then untwisted himself, around the certain knowledge that he could not love in a way which could lead to marriage; and so he grimly determined that he could not love at all. But he was wrong. He underestimated himself and he underestimated his countrymen even more. They and he have found a destination for his love. They and he have found, at last, a name for his soul. It is not monster or eunuch. Nor indeed homosexual. It is: husband.
Gaining the conviction that your love can find its place is a life-altering discovery, and it makes me think of an old post from Eve Tushnet, in which she mentions Rauch, among others:
I’ve written before about how I experienced some fairly intense childhood alienation of basically exactly that kind. I felt like I had no place in the world and couldn’t have one—shouldn’t have one, hadn’t earned love or self-respect. Becoming Catholic, I should say, was in part about accepting that I could be loved by Someone who genuinely knew everything about me. In order to be really Catholic you have to accept healing and love, and there are times when that’s very hard for me, still; it’s still somewhat baffling to think that I might be made in the image of God. (I mean, what does that make God?).
I have no real sense of why I associated that sense of alienation with my sexual orientation. One obvious possibility is homophobia; I certainly don’t remember ever hearing anything antigay until I was in junior high, and my parents had gay friends etc etc, but it’s impossible to prove that I wasn’t somehow affected by subtler and pervasive cultural bigotry. Anyway, point being, I’ve said many times that it was such a relief to come out to myself because it seemed like I could finally explain that alienation in toto; and because being gay wasn’t something I thought anyone should be ashamed of, I could finally put all of that unhappiness and sense of homelessness behind me! I don’t know that this relief is especially common for gay teens, but I do think a lot of gay people did have that childhood sense of intense separation, of being cast out.
And since virtually all gay people are raised by heterosexuals, the home in which we grew up doesn’t provide obvious models for the kind of relationships we want to form. It’s hard for us to know how our own love stories can fit in to our family story, the family model we grew up with. (Yes, I realize that a lot of straight people can say the same thing, but walk with me here for a moment.)
Gay marriage promises that, for those of us lucky enough to grow up with parents in a loving/good-enough marriage, we truly can fit our own futures and dreams into the family story we grew up with. We can step into our parents’ shoes. You all know that I think this promise is based on some really false beliefs about sex difference and family structure, but believe me, I feel the power and attraction of the promise.
And this longing for home is one reason the Church’s silences, clinical language, and general lameness w/r/t speaking to actual gay people is so frustrating. Because the truest and best alternative to the home promised by gay marriage is precisely the home promised by Christ, the loving embrace of the Holy Family. When I say that the cure for alienation is in kneeling at the altar rail, this is not especially believable if the actual Catholics you’ve known were clueless at best and bullying at worst.
Anyway, I continue to believe all the stuff I’ve said in prior posts about gay marriage, but I thought it was important to throw this out there as well. The longing for home is even more powerful to me, and even more beautiful, than the longing for honor which also animates the gay-marriage movement.
What Rauch is saying was so powerful for him—finding that his previously unnamable desires could be channeled and understood to have a place, a destination—is something several of us are trying to explore with regard to a theology of friendship. Rauch was not alone, as a young person, in believing that if he acknowledged his sexual orientation, then all hope for a “normal” life of love would be lost to him. I wonder what other possibilities might have seemed viable to Rauch if he had heard the Church clearly saying—and showing—that friendship, not just marriage and parenthood, is a recognized, honored form of love too.