The Catechism teaches that, while all people are equal in dignity, God also makes differences among people. “These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular ‘talents’ share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods.”
I have not always appreciated the ways in which God has made me different. For a long time, I used to pray that God would make me stop being gay. It gave me particular struggles. It made discernment difficult. It was painful. All I could see was a disordered and broken part of myself that I’d rather do away with. I had failed to grasp the truth that, as C. S. Lewis once put it, “every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’”
I recently read an article about a restaurant in Colorado that employs forty “developmentally disabled adults.” I think that, for many people, a first reaction upon hearing about the restaurant would be: “Well, that’s kind of the restaurant to give them jobs.” But while offering employment can be an act of charity, the article isn’t about serving the needs of the developmentally disabled. It’s about seeing developmental disabilities in a new light.
One of the employees, Crysta, is autistic. Her autism “makes her exceptionally talented at dicing vegetables.” Apparently, Crysta’s even better than a machine, and she loves her job. When the co-owner, Athan Miller, discussed Crysta’s work, he said: “We capitalize on that part of her heightened ability… We just have to find each person’s heightened ability, capitalize on that, and they become a really productive worker.”
Miller’s approach to his developmentally disabled employees seems, to me, exactly the kind of approach the Church should take with its gay members. Somewhere, hidden beneath (or perhaps above) a “disability”, is a gift. This gift is easily overlooked because of the obviousness of the disability. But it’s there. And it’s something the Church needs.
Part of being gay is learning how to purify particular impure desires. But this is only a small part of what being gay means to me. Somewhere, beyond the mere “disorder,” I began to realize that God had given me gifts that many of my “straight” friends didn’t have in quite the same way: a particular kind of empathy, an acute understanding of others’ personal sufferings and loneliness, intense loyalty, a strong desire for emotional intimacy, a unique appreciation for certain forms of beauty.
I came to discover that I loved my friends, especially my male friends, in ways that were different from my “straight” friends. I came to realize that being gay comes with particular kind of love, a love that can be dangerous if disordered, but that can also be very life-giving if ordered well.
Advising gay youth can be very difficult, because adolescents are in a difficult stage of life. For some adolescents, same-sex-attraction can be transitory, but for many, like me, it sticks around. So if a high school student came up to me and told me he thought he was gay, I hope I’d tell him something like: “Well, this might be hard for you. But know that everything God offers you is a gift. Seek to draw yourself more fully into the Church and to discern how this might be a gift in your life and in others’ lives.”
This is not at all to say, “Do whatever you want with this gift.” But it is to take note of the fact that, as one of my professors once put it, the resurrected Christ is the disabled Christ. He’s the Christ with wounds in His body. Christ’s wounds are disabilities, but they are not “mere disabilities.” They are the signs and sources of our redemption. They are God’s greatest gift. And God’s desires to take our own disabilities, and turn them into redeemed gifts as well.
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.
Thanks for this, Chris. My own coming-to-terms with my queerness was really heavily impacted by my son’s diagnosis with autism. It forced me to reconsider the entire notion of “disorder,” to see that what appears as disorder in our present life is ultimately ordered towards the eschatological glory of the resurrection. As Christ said of the man born blind, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Very beautiful perspective.
Chris, per usual, a provocative piece. Bravissimo! I’m particularly interested in this line from it: “Part of being gay is learning how to purify particular impure desires.”
I’d love to hear in more detail your thoughts as to what are such desires and why do they need to be purified? How are these desires (if at all) distinct from any desire that any human experiences? In this case, I’m particularly thinking of Dante’s Canto XXVII in Purgatorio. Although Dante shows the “sodomites” running in the opposite direction of those “hermaphrodites” (i.e., heterosexuals), both sets engage in analogous/parallel purgings to refine their desires.
Don’t all of us require a purging of impure desires? How might the purging of heterosexual desires AND homosexual desires be a gift for all humanity? I would love to hear your thoughts on this, Chris! Thanks!
Indeed. All people are called to purge impure desires. The point I was trying to make was that people tend to think that being gay means *only* purging impure desires, while, in fact, this is just one small (albeit important) part of it. These impure desires can be many and varied, among them being a desire for extramarital sexual intercourse, a preoccupation with disordered forms of beauty (such as pornography), or an idolization of others over your commitments to God. Really, both gay people and straight people struggle with this, although in different ways. But the gift doesn’t come only from the purgation. It also comes from the pursued of good things that are a part of being gay, like being inclined towards certain kinds of intimacy, a particular understanding of others, etc.
Well-reasoned and stated, Sir! Thank you for this reply! Keep on writing, Chris–you have a great deal to share. Buon Natalé!
Thank you for your post. It seems that when “gay” is discussed, the perception of many is that it exclusively refers to sexual-identity. But in reality, a person who identifies as homosexual, likely has a brain that is structured differently than a heterosexual brain.This different structure manifests in a variety of ways–only one of them being sexual.This is just one part of the package. We must remember that there are many good things in our gay brains, too. We have talents and understanding and sensibilities that might not be there if we had brains like our straight brothers. Let’s focus on those and allow God to use them for His purposes. I don’t support the idea of “gay exceptionalism” as the Muse article defined it, but just as all of us have a cross to bear, all of us have been given gifts that can further the Kingdom of Christ. Sometimes the thorns and the gifts come tangled up together.
This is beautiful: “I began to realize that God had given me gifts that many of my “straight” friends didn’t have in quite the same way: a particular kind of empathy, an acute understanding of others’ personal sufferings and loneliness, intense loyalty, a strong desire for emotional intimacy, a unique appreciation for certain forms of beauty.”
So many of us ask God to remove our sufferings- in my case it is to remedy my heart-affection regarding my adopted son. I thought that God’s ultimate answer would be for me to have my feelings change. I still wait and hope for that conclusion. In the meantime, God has used my weakness to draw me and others to Himself in a way that never would have been possible if I was “whole”. His goal is not my comfort. His goal is His glory and my maturity. And this lack in my life had accomplished both.
Very much well said Sir. I wouldn’t add a thing. Every word you have spoken has been my life’s cry. As Lesbian, in love with Jesus, my struggle has been, how do I use this for HIS glory. As of right now I’m pursuing studies in hopes of figuring out what to do.
I know there are other gifts God has given me. Unfortunately my fight with my same-sex attraction limits my ability to “walk” in my gifting. Especially when I or my community feels that I have fallen into temptation and I am “unfit” to operate within the church. In that moment I am always stripped of some or all of my church/ministry activities.
My question is, how do I “…purify particular impure desires”?
How should I?
That’s a really hard question; it’s almost always something that needs to be addressed on a person-by-person basis. Joshua Gonnerman has been doing a really great series on “Tools for Chaste Living” (https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/08/26/some-tools-of-chaste-living-introduction/). You may want to look at some of those things. I think cultivating chaste friendships is very important, especially the kinds of friends with whom you can be totally honest and who can help to keep you accountable while not being overly judgmental. I’m sorry that your community feels that, at times, you are “unfit” to operate within the church. I’m generally not a fan of churches taking that approach.
I think that prayer and fasting are also good, as well as service and study. Also find people who you think are good role models generally and seek to imitate them or to get their advice when needed. Reading the lives of the saints can also be helpful.
Great stuff. Thank you.
Chris, I am not sure if you have published that you were unhappy that I did not interview anyone I wrote about, but I think someone else wrote taht you were. I would be happy to talk to you for a follow up piece i am preparing for next week. Can you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a time?
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So if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that the purpose of being gay is so we can act as supportive agony aunts / shoulders to cry on for our straight friends.
How considerate of God to give them yet another advantage in life! Not only do they get a shot at love, marriage and children, but they also get their very own emotional lackeys whose sole purpose in life is to pander to their masters’ every mood shift.
Nice to know that God created me solely for the purpose of making life easier for his favored children. I guess my own desires, wants and needs must merely be deceptions of the Enemy that will disappear just as soon as I start to fawn on the ones God really loves.
Does anyone else balk at the idea of playing Mammy in a world full of Scarlett O’Haras?
Hi Stephen, Thanks for your comment. I do think those are things that gay people can offer others. But I don’t think those are the sole things gay people have to offer, or that the reason people are gay is solely to offer those things. I just gave those particular things as examples, but the truth is that each person, gay or straight, has particular gifts to offer for their own fulfillment and to enrich the lives of others.
You’re contradicting yourself. You claim that your own experience is not archetypal and that your approach to life as a gay man may not work for all of us. But then you quote C.S. Lewis (every disability conceals a vocation), which at the very least implies that being gay is a disability inflicted upon ALL gay people by God for the express purpose of providing everyone else with convenient agony aunts.
I don’t have any problem with this as an individual view. You have a perfect right to see yourself as no more than a comfort station for others. Maybe you’re right. Maybe your only purpose here is to stroke others on the head and say “there, there, poor diddums, never mind” whenever they stub their toes or don’t like what Santa brought them for Christmas.
Yes, maybe that really is your purpose here, the reason why God created you. But it certainly isn’t mine. Straights who pour out their trivial sob stories to me looking for compassion and understanding are going to be sorely disappointed. So Mommy burned the meatloaf and Daddy bought the wrong model of Porsche and they can’t get a girlfriend because no female with a nose and half a brain wants anything to do with their mindless self-absorption and lack of personal hygiene. Quite honestly, who cares? Let them work out their problems for themselves rather than bothering me with them.
I was not created merely to pander to overprivileged and self-involved straights. They have enough advantages in life. My life does not belong to them. If it did, it wouldn’t be a life. I’d be little more than a compassion dispensing machine. I mean, what would I do when there was a lull in the flow of heterosexuals needing support? Would I just shut down? And what about you? If you don’t have a weeping straight in front of you, do you go into hibernation and stare into the middle distance with a vacant expression on your face until the next one comes along to pour out his tale of trivial woe? Or are the long hours between sob stories filled with prayers, penance and self-mortification à la St. Catherine of Siena? If your vocation is being there for others, what do you do when there are no others to be there for?
Maybe that’s too hard a question for someone of your age. Maybe I should come back to you in ten, twenty or thirty years time and see how you answer it. The prospect of endless hours of solitude with no spoiled children to look after and just your own existence and your own emotions to contemplate may well not have occurred to you yet. But it will. Then let’s see how you feel about this “vocation” of yours.
Thanks for your comment! I think I agree. Brokenness, disability, is simply a part of being human. I’d argue that even Christ experienced this, as a man who was (and always will be) wounded. But like Christ’s wounds, our wounds can be redemptive. Of course, different people experience disability in different ways. Some are more directly confronted with their disabilities, and these people can offer something to others who are struggling with their brokenness or haven’t had to confront it as directly. For gay people, especially given our culture today, and especially those in Christian communities, brokenness is an extremely in-your-face experience. This experience doesn’t only have to be bad, though. It can be creative in a way, if only we be willing to let it be so.
Wow I am disabled? Can I collect social security disability? Way to paint all gay people with a wide brush. Yes we are empathetic. The fact that you generalize about gay people shows you have no wide experience with gay people. Gay people are as varied as straight people and it is frankly insulting that you lump gay people this way.
Hi Tim, thanks for your comment. I think if I were to rewrite this (maybe I’ll do another post), I’d write how everyone experiences disability in one way or another. This is not unique to gay people; it’s a part of the human condition. But part of human flourishing is discovering the beautiful things that can be discovered in our disabilities.
I also hope I didn’t paint with too wide a brush. All people experience things differently. Here, I was mainly speaking of my experiences and some ways in which I have looked at how I relate to the world.
Sorry but gay people are not “disabled” because they are gay and the fact you lumped gay people in with people with autism is not only insulting to gay people but it is also insulting to people who are truly disabled. It minimizes people who truly are disabled.
I hope I haven’t been insulting. If I have been, I apologize. This certainly wasn’t my intention, although, again, I apologize if I have been. I just worry that sometimes we see disability as only a nasty and terrible thing. Which sometimes it is, but sometimes disabilities can be beautiful things too. I know so many people who have siblings, children, friends with disabilities and who feel so enriched by them, who look at the joy on their disabled children’s’ faces and are moved to joy themselves. I certainly wouldn’t wish a disability on anyone, but I don’t think disabilities have to be simply bad things either or that a disability condemns someone to an unhappy and unfulfilling life. I think it can do quite the opposite.
The insulting part is saying that gay people are disabled. Gay people are not disabled because they are gay and as I said before it diminishes the real disabilities that are out there.
Also, the disability isn’t the primary reality. The gift is the primary reality, but it sometimes doesn’t always become clear to us except through the lens of a disability. Here, I’m arguing for a new way of looking at disability, in which disability isn’t simply a bad thing, but may be a means to deeper realities, such as our gifts
Hi Chris. Very thoughtful post and responses to the comments above. I’m noticing that some here are not really understanding what you are meaning by saying that gay/queer desires or behaviors are a type of disability. I am studying therapeutic recreation currently and have benefited from researching new approaches to disability such as the “social model” and the “welfarist model”. These approaches would tend to yeild the same sort of conclusions you have arrived at with respect to homosexuality.
Those like Tim and Stephen above seem to be stuck presupposing that by ” disability” you must only be using it in the quite outdated “medical” sense along with all of its negative stigmas. This is unfortunate because you are really on to something. Perhaps in future conversation, you could direct others to recent work in the revision of our society’s approach to disability. The fact of the matter is, homosexual desire and behavior is in many circumstances and for many people just as harmful to their own wellbeing as conditions like autism, blindness, and deafness. And I agree with you – the brains of people who have gay tendencies ( there is more to it than just the sexual part) are able to function in ways that “straight” brains typically are not used to doing. These should be focused on and encouraged inasmuch as they do not lead to the disordering of the sexual parts.
The comparison of gay sexual orientation to “disability” is also a very troublesome one for me. I do not view the fact that I am attracted to and love my partner as some sort of affliction or defect that I must learn to live with. I do not view my gayness as broken, disordered or in any way defective — and I think that’s a very toxic message to convey to LGBT people.
The use of the word “toxic” does not intimidate me.
” If homosexuality is a disease, let’s all call in queer to work: “Hello. Can’t work today, still queer.” ~Robin Tyler
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