The term “gay” can be both descriptive and constructive. It can be used as a term to describe particular emotions, sentiments, orientations, and actions. Or it can be used as a means by which one identifies oneself and one’s relation to the world. The word “Catholic” is always both constructive and descriptive. It describes one’s religious affiliation, but it is also a means of identification and construction; it becomes a center upon which one builds one’s life. It is not used merely to describe one’s beliefs. Rather, it dictates a way of life and has a command and affect on how we view ourselves. An identification with “Catholic” implies radical change and carries constructive force.
I think in my past I resisted the term “gay” partly because of its constructive power. I didn’t want to begin to identify with what is commonly called the “gay community,” of which I was rather suspicious, even if parts of it were attractive. I didn’t want my way of life and belief to be constructed in relation to an identification with “gay.” But I think I also resisted “gay” because I didn’t see sexual desires for other men as a fundamental part of myself. Rather than identifying with those desires, I found a more fundamental identity in how I lived out my sexuality.
I look back to a letter to the editor I wrote while a freshman at Notre Dame as an historical example of this resistance (a letter in which I, admittedly, lied about my sexual desires): “I am a man. Regardless of my psychological, spiritual, or emotional inclinations, my physical body has a natural sexual orientation. My body is naturally created to be complemented by a woman… Putting ‘sexual orientation’ into our non-discrimination clause would be degrading to both heterosexuals and homosexuals. It would seem to define us by our desires, rather than who we are. By our inclinations, rather than by our choices… I am defined by my expression of those desires… According to God, my sexual orientation is: chaste, or at least in pursuit of chastity. This chastity exists in abstinence in single or religious life, or selfless, monogamous love in marriage.”
While I now regard my opinions at that time as incomplete, I do have a certain appreciation for them. Looking back, I find them to be a rather good response to the popular uses of “sexual identity” I had been exposed to at the time. Further, I see them as a rather helpful grounding, upon which my views of sexual identity and orientation could expand in the future.
I also believe these views helped to keep me from feeling “discriminated against” or “oppressed” as a teenager. Unlike many of my professors and peers in my early undergraduate years, I took seriously the Church’s insistence upon chastity and celibacy outside of marriage. I had the same calling as every other unmarried Catholic: a calling to celibacy and chaste living. This was not a teaching that was “set apart” for me. It was a teaching for all Catholics, and, insofar as the universality of this teaching is appreciated, arguments about “discrimination” diminish in significance. On the other hand, it makes little sense for proponents of premarital sexual intercourse to oppose same-sex sexual intercourse or for “birth control” marriages or remarriage after divorce to be acceptable while same-sex marriages are unacceptable. However, if the sexual act is seen as the “marital act,” an act of selfless giving that is open to life within the context of lifelong marriage, then the Church’s teachings on sexual intercourse between same-sex partners begin to make more sense. At least, this is how I view the issue.
I suspect that I’ll need years of reflection to come to a sufficient understanding of how I got from there to here, and how my ideas have progressed and developed to where they are now. I have written on the importance of the Church’s development on these issues elsewhere, and I will not rehash those arguments here. I will only say that my ideas have developed, and that they will continue to do so over the course of my lifetime.
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.