This is the first in a series of posts looking at my Catholic Faith, and how it relates to my life and my sexuality.
For a time now, I have been engaging in intense self-reflection, considering the direction that my life seems to be taking and the ways in which I can develop as a Catholic and as a human being. It seems to me that many Catholics today are confused about their relationship to the Church and its teachings about sexuality. Many are unsure of whether they can find a place in the Church. They feel alienated by misunderstandings, confusions, misrepresentations, unjust caricatures, and unfounded discriminations.
I count myself as among these Catholics. And I’ve realized that, if I am going to get past these obstacles, it is time for me to be open about myself and to reach out to others who are like me.
The main point of this post is the firm and frank admission: I’m gay.
So what do I mean by that? I believe that the term “gay” can be both descriptive and constructive. As a descriptive term, I am using it simply to say that I experience a predominant attraction towards men, of the sexual type. I am still not sure what I mean by “sexual attraction,” although I am not using it merely to describe feelings of lust. Nor am I using the word “gay” to describe an intention to pursue an unchaste sexual relationship with another man. I am making a distinction between orientation and action, and here I am using “gay” to refer to a particular orientation.
Some prefer the term “same-sex-attraction” (SSA) to the term “gay,” and I’m certainly comfortable with using “SSA” language. It allows for a somewhat expansive view of what sexual attraction is. This attraction is not merely a desire for sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex. Rather, it is a plethora of desires that can be directed towards a variety of ends, the highest of which being spiritual friendship.
But here, my admission is that I’m “gay.” I see some import in my identification with this particular term for a variety of reasons. First, the broader culture operates in terms such as “gay” and “straight.” So if I’m going to engage the broader culture, I have to, in a certain sense, “speak the language.” I will have to be, in a way, bilingual, translating the “language” of Catholic thought and culture into terms and words that contemporary secular culture can understand. I do this with an aim to transform secular language and culture, as always happens when Christianity encounters a culture; but first Christianity (and I) must be willing to learn the language and to speak it as it is.
Secondly, categories such as “gay” and “straight” do have a place, even if they are not sufficient in themselves to describe the complexity of human experience sufficiently. People will always be bigger than the words we use to describe them, but, if we are to communicate at all, we must use words. So, while we must never simply “reduce” people to the words we use to describe them, it is still good to use descriptive words to gain a fuller understanding of others. Indeed, if we refuse to use categorical terms, we cannot speak at all. (For example: if we didn’t recognize the category “homosexual,” the Church would be unable to speak about its teaching on homosexual acts.) No two people experience sexual attraction in the same way, but we can see, in a certain sense, “broad outlines” of sexual attraction and group these outlines into categories. I see myself identifying in many ways with others who understand their identities as being bound up with what we call being “gay.”
As human beings, we always seek to find others who can understand our experiences and who can offer advice, aid, and support with this understanding. “Gay” is currently the best word that reaches out to others who experience the world in a particular way that is quite similar to my own experience. Like every man, woman, and child, I long to understand and to be understood. So, in trying to understand my experiences of sexual attraction, I sought out other gay Catholics and Christians, especially (though not only) those who had committed themselves to lives of celibacy. Without having some categories of sexual attraction, this would not have been possible.
There are those who would say that identifying with the word “gay” is a distortion of human identity, that it is reductionistic and confines someone’s entire identity to just one aspect. This is a danger, but this is hardly what I (and my celibate gay friends) are doing. Human language can only work in broad categories. We create words for things, even though words have a danger of confining things. People will always be bigger than the words we use to describe them, and words will always have the tendency to give us narrow views. But this danger shouldn’t keep us from using words. I am a man; I am American; I am single; I am 5’10”; I am hungry; I am tired: I am happy: I am sad; I am studious; I am foolish; I am fallen; I am sinful; I am hopeful; I am inquisitive; and I am gay. I’m not just any one of these things, but I am all of these things. You could ask me to not categorize myself in terms of my sexual identity because I am not just my sexuality; but if you’re going to do that, you might as well not ask me to categorize myself at all.
In the coming days, I will be releasing a series of follow-up posts that seek to lay out how I view myself, my role in the Church, and my relationship to my sexuality. I plan to address the following topics:
- Why am I saying this? Why now?
- My early education
- This is “gay”
- So how should you respond when someone tells you a story like mine?
- The meaning of vocation
Chris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.