When All Gay Desire is a Desire for Gay Sex

A response to Katie Grimes’ response to Eve Tushnet. 

You can learn a lot in nightclubs. One evening, I was out dancing with some friends at a local bar, when a man approached one of the women in our group. She turned to him, and they danced. Then he got a bit handsy. Then he got more handsy. Then she told him to back off.

This doesn’t always happen. Sometimes men will approach one of the women, and the two will dance for a bit, having pretty innocent fun at the moment, and then move on when the song is over. There are two kinds of men at nightclubs: men who want to have fun at the club, and men who want to “have fun” after. For the second group of men, every interaction is just one small step in a longer series of actions leading to the bedroom. They’re wholly incapable of enjoying a song or a dance, because they’ll always want something more.

In a sex-crazed culture, intimacy is rarely tied to a single moment. It’s simply a small part in a series of acts leading to sex. This is especially true for sex and porn addicts, who have trained their senses to desire one thing, to make every action a means to get that one thing.

This is the way in which many conservatives have come to understand same-sex desire as “intrinsically disordered”: all such desire is so disordered because all such desire is simply a mask for a desire for sexual activity. This is further confirmed by some same-sex-attracted Christians who see all of their own desires as so disordered. Unable to distinguish between a contained intimacy and an intimacy which is simply a step towards a further intimacy, their past (or current) sexual activities have trained them to see their desires in a very particular way. They’re incapable of enjoying a dance as a dance, because they’ve trained themselves to only use dancing for sex. For them, same-sex attraction is like alcoholism: they can no longer enjoy a drink, because for them a drink has become solely a step towards drunkenness.

Katie Grimes adopts this commonly conservative view of same-sex attraction in her recent piece, “Gay and Catholic? A Response to Eve Tushnet.”

I won’t here spend much time on Grimes’ theological interpretations. Indeed, her application of Catholic theology needs little discussion here. One must first understand the subject of application before one applies. I need not quarrel over theological matters with Grimes. Her problem is not simply a misunderstanding of theology; it’s a misunderstanding of gay people.

Grimes completely equates Eve Tushnet’s understanding of lesbianism with “the desire for gay sex.” Grimes understands sexual orientation as solely this desire, and it is through this lens that Grimes interprets Church teaching. If this is what it means to be gay, then I would entirely agree with Grimes that “this is exactly what homosexual women and men ought to do, seek to eradicate their orientation towards what the magisterium classifies as the categorical evil of gay sex.”

Tushnet, however, has never promoted such a reductive view of what it means to be a gay person. She has written on how being gay has much to do with how we love. Love, however, can be had without sex, just as sex can be had without love. In The Atlantic, she has written how for her “the call to love takes the form of service to those in need, prayer, and, above all, loving friendship.” Thus, Grimes’ critiques of Tushnet are generally unhelpful, because as it turns out, when talking about sexuality, Grimes and Tushnet are talking about different things.

Rather than the stinted understanding of being gay that Grimes advocates, Tushnet’s (and most gay people’s) understanding of being gay is much more holistic and complex. For us, same-sex desire is no more reducible to a desire for gay sex than Thomistic theology is reducible to decontextualized syllogism. People, like theologies, demand a whole. And understanding them begins with docilitas, rather than presumption or prejudice. Those without a disposition of docilitas will find themselves wholly unprepared, not only to enter into theological mysteries, but also to enter into the mystery of the human person. Like the sex addict or the alcoholic, whose sensual wisdom is clouded by lustful appetite, the prejudiced theologian will find his or her wisdom clouded by politicized unrealism. The danger is not only that theology will be misunderstood; it’s also that the human person will be largely unseen.

Chris DamianChris 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. He can be found on Twitter @UniversityIdeas.

74 thoughts on “When All Gay Desire is a Desire for Gay Sex

  1. I agree with you that terms like “gay” or “same sex attraction” can have multiple components for some people, only one of which is desire for sex with a person of the same sex. However, I believe while the desire for gay sex may not a sufficient descriptor for some, it is a necessary component of being “gay” or having “same sex attraction” because without this sexual component, what remains is a merely platonic affection that can occur in anyone including heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. I plan on exploring this issue in greater depth in my blog Confessions of a Gay Evangelical Christian coagec.wordpress.com.

    • You said, “…what remains is a merely platonic affection that can occur in anyone including heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.”

      I would agree, except that we live in a culture that largely forbids platonic attraction to members of the same sex, especially between men. This is especially the case in conservative evangelical circles where I grew up. So, many of us identify as “gay” merely as a statement of our refusal to accept the narrow constructions of masculinity placed upon us by the culture.

      • I agree with you that society places restrictions on even platonic attraction between two people of the same sex, and I believe it is both unfortunate and against scripture. I believe people with same sex attraction can be examples to the world and the church that godly and deep affection between two people of the same sex is both possible and desirable. I understand your reasons for then identifying as “gay”, but my sense is that it would then confuse sexual attraction and platonic attraction and the word would be used in a way that the rest of the world would not understand.

      • The two are only confused because you insist on conflating them for purposes of making your argument.

        I would define “gay” to mean that someone exhibits a persistent degree of attraction–whether aesthetic, interpersonal, or sexual–to members of the same sex in excess of that accepted by the socially constructed gender norms of his or her culture.

        The gender norms of nearly every culture condemn the experience of persistent sexual attraction to members of the same sex. There’s much more variation between cultures on the issues of aesthetic or interpersonal attraction.

        I don’t think that the confusion lies with me. To the contrary, the confusion lies with my Freud-influenced culture that improperly assumes that all same-sex attraction, even aesthetic or interpersonal attraction, is necessarily disguised sexual attraction.

        I do believe that, as Christians, we must resist the urge to embrace same-sex sexual relationships. Even so, we must also resist the culture’s tendency to enforce a rigid, unbiblical view of masculinity and femininity that tends to question the legitimacy of same-sex relationships of any sort, even those where sex isn’t anywhere in the picture. We seem to do a decent job at the former, but a miserable job at the latter.

      • I would propose that the sexual attraction and platonic attraction would be confused because the word “gay” as used in the wider society always includes an element of sexual attraction (a necessary condition). Words are socially constructed means of communication. As such, if there is a meaning of a word accepted by a vast majority of people, using that word to mean something different causes confusion in language and communication. Perhaps you are advocating a broadening of the word “gay”. I have no objection to that, but such broadened term will inevitably lead to confusion with those who hold the generally accepted definition until the broadened term gains general acceptance. This, as well as the issue of gay identity, is something I plan on addressing in my blog.

    • I don’t have any straight male friends who would snuggle up with me on the couch to watch anime or play video games together. By the same token, a husband and wife are not just friends who have sex together. I find such perspectives problematic and too simplistic of human experience.

      • I think your experience of not finding such affection among heterosexual friends is due to our homophobic culture that frowns upon same sex non-sexual intimacy. Other cultures don’t have such rigid barriers, and ours to can change as homophobia is combated. I certainly agree that husband and wife do not just have sex, but that is why sexual intimacy (or at least the possibility of it) is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition of marriage.

  2. Katie Grimes, here. Your commenter “coagec” is spot-on. I never said being gay or lesbian is just about sex but that sexual desire is a “necessary component of being ‘gay.'” It is that alone that I am talking about.

    For example, pointing out that all tigers have stripes (that “stripes” are a necessary component of being a tiger) does not mean that one is “reducing” tigers to their stripes.

    If one is not sexually attracted to one’s own sex, then he or she is not gay or lesbian. You seem to be saying that one can be gay or lesbian without being sexually attracted to one’s own sex and, I’m sorry, that is just not how definitions work.

    I think we have come to levels of extreme silliness when we want to say that sexual orientation has nothing to do with sexual desire. 😉

    As for not understanding gay people, I myself am gay. Also, as I stated at the end of my post by linking to a previous post of mine (maybe you did not read my entire post, I am not sure), I do not think homosexuality is like alcoholism, at all. http://womenintheology.org/2011/12/15/homosexuality-is-not-like-alcoholism/

    • Hi Katie. Thanks for your comment. It certainly does not reduce a tiger to its stripes to simply point out that a tiger has stripes. But it might reduce the meaning of those stripes to say that tigers must groom their stripes to be attractive when some tigers think their stripes look better ungroomed. I’m simply pointing out that you claim Eve must groom her stripes in order to be a tiger, while Eve thinks she can be a perfectly good tiger without grooming them, even if she may want to from time to time (I don’t know if she does, but I suppose it’s possible)

      • Perhaps I should put it differently. C. S. Lewis once wrote:

        “Clare, in fact, is doing what the whole western world seems to me to have been doing for the last 40-odd years. When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be bridled. Absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice; to your acquisitive impulse, avarice. Even sleep must be resisted if you’re a sentry. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is “four bare legs in a bed.””

        As I wrote above, you seem to me to be treating sexuality quite differently from Tushnet. Eve treats desire as a desire, while you treat desire “as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people.” Though, admittedly, your comment seems to treat it in a different way from Lewis’ progressive friends. Even they treated desire as desire, while it seems to me (I could be wrong) that you treat desire as a characteristic, as if hunger were the same thing as hair color and sleepiness were the same thing as sleep.

    • Definition fail. Try again. There are tigers without stripes (a snow white bengal). There are gays who don’t desire gay sex (asexual homoromantics). Are both of these things highly unusual? Yup, you betcha. Buuuuuut your definition of tigers gotta apply to all tigers, or it ain’t a tiger you’re defining! Ditto with the gays.

      Educate yo self. Use Google. Expand yo mind. And the pics of the little tiger cub without his stripes are heart-crushingly cute.

      • But you never explained to me what Google was! How can I know things without your guidance?

        An asexual may be attracted to her own sex, but her attraction isn’t sexual. So such a person falls completely outside the scope of what I’m talking about. And if her asexual attraction is sexual, then what I’m saying applies to her.

      • Never claimed to know anything about asexuals. I am talking about people with a sexual orientation. People who have no sexual orientation are not relevant to this conversation.

      • You didn’t, that’s true. You claimed to know about ALL gays (a bold statement). Some asexual people say they are gay. If you think they are wrong, why not just say so.

      • It would seem to me that, if asexual is not a sexual orientation, then “gay” would be a subspecies of “asexual” rather than “asexual” being a subspecies of “gay”. Now if “asexual” is a sexual orientation, then surely “asexual” is a subspecies of “gay” but then everything I said applies to them.

      • OK, I guess I’ll shut up now. I’m on the fence in this debate, and was hoping you’d come up with something more impressive to convince me, but the logic as it stands has holes big enough to sail a fleet of aircraft carriers through. Which isn’t to say that Mr. Damian has come up with anything better!!

        As I see it, everyone agrees all gays are sexually attracted to the same sex.

        Your claim is that we need more in order to be “gay” — is it not? That the sexual attraction has to include a desire for some kind of sexual act with some person of the same sex? That although gay can’t be reduced to gay sex, the idea of being “gay” is still meaningless without the desire to do the horizontal tango with a same sex partner? That the very idea of being gay without wanting gay sex is as absurd as the obviously INSANE idea of a tiger or a zebra without stripes (sorry … couldn’t resist :P)?

        If “No” to these questions, there’s no disagreement except y’alls obvious disagreement about the rights and wrongs of gay sex — but no disagreement about what it means for gays to be gay. If “Yes,” asexuals can’t be gay, since they don’t want to do the horizontal tango with anyone.

        There just ain’t no other option, except you have a new definition of logic to accompany your interesting definitions of tigers, zebras, and gays.

        Over and out.

    • Katie Grimes:

      Reginald kind of came at you hard there. Have you ever heard of AVEN? It is a website for asexuals. What he was referring to was what was called Affectional Orientation. I hope it catches on as it seems to offer a way to differentiate easier. With it you wouldn’t just be homosexual but could be homosexual homoromantic (or asexual homoromantic, alternately – not you but hypothetically, I mean). I wanted to respond since I don’t think he gave the actual website and I loathe “Google it” responses since my OCD kicks in and demands I correct it.

      I wish this stuff would be adopted so that this could be cleared up. These confusions seem to be a big part of why Spiritual Friendship sometimes feels like Semantic Argument Fest 2014.

      • I think part of the reason Spiritual Friendship doesn’t adopt definitions of these sorts of things is that most people won’t know what we’re talking about. Even I’d never heard the phrase “affectional orientation,” although it makes sense now you say it. Adopting hugely precise definitions of things wouldn’t stop the semantic arguments because there’d be a bunch of people who disagree with the definitions.

        I can only ultimately speak for myself but I think most of the writers here are not interested in semantic arguments. It just so happens that the most common criticisms others decide to make of our writing have to with semantics, whether that’s one group saying “you can’t be Christian because you’re gay,” or another group saying, “well you can’t really be gay if you believe sodomy is wrong.” Its unfortunate, but it seems to be the way the cookie crumbles right now.

      • I meant more accepted at large by the culture but you are right not to use such specific terms. Your foes would undoubtedly use it as a point to argue against you and claiming you are trying to confuse matters for. I don’t blame the writers here for not using it by any stretch.

  3. Do you disagree with the statement that same-sex attraction is intrinsically disordered? Or do you think that same-sex attraction is intrinsically disordered, but other people misinterpret what that means?

    If same-sex attraction or homosexuality has nothing to do with same-sex sex, then what is it? If you just want to be intimate friends with members of your sex, you’re not gay.

    • It depends on what you would define as “same-sex attraction.” If by that is meant a desire for sexual activity, then yes. If it signifies general desire/attraction, then not necessarily (though it could be).
      The question of whether same-sex attraction or homosexuality has nothing to do with sex is complicated. I think that is often a part of it, but there’s a secondary question of where to direct one’s sexual energies. As with all desires, they are formed in part by how we act on them. So as we learn to direct our sexual energies into tender care, fraternal love, etc., our desires are reformed as well. All desires can be directed towards more or less or less order or disorder. I remember talking to a husband about how his desire for his wife gradually transformed throughout their marriage into a greater tenderness towards her. I’ve found a posture of tenderness to be very helpful in forming relationships.
      I think that a lot of young people realize they are sexual beings as they mature and start gaining sexual interest in others. This interest, however, needs formation, and it can develop in a variety of directions. The key is to develop it into chastity, into an integrated self where desire and tendencies are formed according to one’s state of life. I hope that helps

    • The term ‘bromance’ tends to be applied to homosocial relationships between straight guys. Are ‘romantic friendships’ something else if one or both of the guys are gay?

      • That’s a great question, Joe. In my experience, I’ve found that being gay can add a unique color to a same-sex friendship, whether that other friend is gay or straight. There are certain things that I’ve found gay people are especially attuned to in others, and I’ve found that gay people are often able to serve their friends in very unique ways. Of course, straight people are good at these things too. It’s not necessarily a matter of “better” or “worse.” Rather, I’ve found thinking about it as a “difference in color” as the most helpful way to look at it. I hope that helps

  4. Can one not “have” sexual desire along with a firm desire to contain that desire within acceptable limits? Is it any less “disordered” for a straight man to have sexual desire toward a woman he is not married to? Of course sexual attraction, when it exists, is an integral part of a chaste relationship. What is very deeply disordered is the subordination of moral principles to these sexual attraction.

  5. It may be a language barrier – I’m not fluent in Catholic – but the author states that:
    “this is exactly what homosexual women and men ought to do, seek to eradicate their orientation towards what the magisterium classifies as the categorical evil of gay sex.”

    My first (and so far, only) instinct is to ignore such a command, based on the decades of history the ex-gay movement has of spectacularly failing to make the vast majority of its subjects straight. I can no more make myself never hungry to avoid gluttony than I can make myself not “be gay” to avoid gay sex (for what it’s worth, I’m just over a quarter century old, still totally gay, and still celibate; I expect to be totally gay till the day I die).

    Anything that smells of a mandate of orientation change seems simply ludicrous to me, and I can’t take it seriously. But then, maybe it’s just the different vocabulary…

    • Please don’t confuse what the author says with catholic magisterium. The author is interpreting the magisterium from her own perspective but she is not the magisterium.

      • Because I heard way too much Catholic bashing growing up as a fundamentalist Baptist, I like to assume the best of Catholic teaching when I don’t understand it. Thus, I assume that the Catholic authors here at SF and others with similar views have the most reasonable interpretation, contrary to what is in question here.

        And for what it’s worth, based on what people around me say, it seems that the magisterium has a better grasp of the distinction between orientation and actions than most Protestants do. Just saying… 🙂

  6. As a Christian who has as struggled with various forms of sexual brokenness, I totally agree with “coagec”. 

    Personally, I like to separate same-sex attraction from same-sex *sexual* lust/desire. The second is sinful based on the teaching of Holy Scripture (I would respectfully add that the God’s Word rather than the Vatican has the authority to bond consciences) whereas the first is not sinful.  

    I do not find it helpful to think of deep, intimate non-sexual friendship as gay. It is simply human. And Christ, as the only perfect human, shows us best what this looks like.

    I would also like to add that in some cultures intimate friendship between men of the same gender is not considered gay at all. I went hiking with some Indian friends (all male) and one of them held the other’s wrist while the other put his arm around the first guy’s shoulder. As an American I was quite startled but these international students who had just come to the United States were blissfully unaware of how we Westerners tend to conflate deep friendship with sexuality.

    I don’t yet know whether God has planned marriage or singleness for me, but I pray that either way I pray that I will have the strength to pursue holy sexuality in the context of deep friendship.

  7. “So as we learn to direct our sexual energies into tender care, fraternal love, etc., our desires are reformed as well.” Sorry but this is an absolute scam, people who do “indulge” in sexual activity are quite as able as others, sometimes much more, to so direct their energies as to care, love fraternally, etc…

    • I don’t think we disagree. I know many married couples who have used their love for each other to love others as well. This, it seems to me, is an intrinsic part of having children. For example, a couple has a sexual love for each other, which often results in pregnancy and is carried through in loving care for the child

  8. Excellent. This same ‘disorder’ can be seen in all of our highschools and colleges as well, among heterosexuals as well as homosexuals. Dancing, music, all these things are to be enjoyed as something in their own right, not merely as foreplay.

  9. As a same-sex attracted person who feels no desire to have sex with anyone, am I not a lesbian? And moving from there, what is included in everyone’s definition of “sexual attraction.” Someone above said that a gay person who doesn’t want to have sex is only feeling platonic love, but I believe that this would make more people uncomfortable if they really unpacked what this means: Kissing, cuddling, sharing beds, etc., are not the sex act. What if a person wanted to do those things with someone of the same sex but had no desire at all for actual sex? Are they not gay?

    (Please do not respond to this comment telling me that such a person would be sexually repressed. Give the scenario the benefit of the doubt.)

    • LM, this is perfectly legitimate. I would have stayed with my former partner if we had been of the same mind. I wonder if in your mind is it more of a preference for a same sex companion or is it more who you fall in love with and sex is not going to play a factor?

      • I would say that with some of my closest friends, I desire a closer bond physically that would doesn’t reach sexual proportions. I still consider the person a friend and only apply “partner” status if it was something the other person desired. I currently have a close spiritual friend who feels similarly.

        My main curiosity is just whether or not this is still a “lesbian” relationship. I mean, according to above definitions, I can’t be a lesbian unless I’m desiring sex; yet, many Christians I’ve met have wondered at homoeroticism in my friendships despite the fact that there is no actual sex act or desire to have that sex act.

      • I wouldn’t worry too much about definitions and terminology then, all they do is limit us, and you are, from what I can see unique 🙂 …but we need terms in order to represent a thought, unfortunately our thoughts are never fully known by each other, to which I am thankful for God’s ongoing grace. Thank you for giving me much to ponder.

    • I think that kissing, cuddling, sharing sleep, etc. are sexual, if they are not actual sex. (The line may be especially blurry for same-sex couples – what is or is not “actual sex?” I can see different answers for different couples.) A woman who wanted to kiss another woman and be friends with her would be a lesbian, but a woman who wanted to be friends with other women without kissing or doing much touching at all would not.

      I think the argument being made is that you are not a lesbian if you desire only “close friendship” with other women, with no particularly sexual or romantic or physical element.

      • Hey Rachel

        I was wondering if you considered that kissing, cuddling and sharing the same bed can be non-sexual ie, not lustful, between those of the same sex (even two gay people)- sleepovers, watching tv on a couch, sharing a hammock, saying goodbye or showing gratitude – being affectionate and demonstrating that physically, bonds people together in a healthy way. I think to take that one step further for someone who is celibate and gay finding close friends they can bond with or live with, would add a family dimension to their life.

      • I’m not sure of the point you’re trying to make. Are you trying to say that you can be a lesbian without wanting to do anything sexual or romantic with women? Would you also like to kiss and cuddle with men? If you specifically want to do these things with women because you are attracted to women, then it seems to me that they are romantic and sexual and, therefore, lesbian. If you were not sexually attracted to anyone and didn’t want to do anything sexual or romantic with anyone but wanted to have friendships only, wouldn’t you be asexual, not homosexual? There are definitely people who are asexual.

      • I think what Kathy is saying that your conception of what is sexual is too broad.

        Nobody would say that cuddling a pet or a child is inherently sexual.

        Cultural customs are the basis of a different perception for adults.

      • Hey Rachel

        thanks for the clarifying question. The point is not all physical contact (that you described) is sexual aka lust or sexual desire. I had a friend in my late teens who was a boy and we were close. It was non-sexual and dating was never discussed but we leaned on each other and were affectionate. Sex never entered the picture we were just friends. I am glad I experienced that.

        I wonder sometimes if our church culture has defined too many harsh boundaries between men and women and gays and so on, so much so that even healthy touch and intimacy has become suspect and frowned upon. We are taught we can only have closeness and intimacy with a spouse in marriage. Possibly, if I went back in time, if M and I were going to a church at the time there may have been questions or accusations or pressure to not spend time alone together. Touch is constantly sexualized in our culture and we are constantly told what we should desire in the media. Perhaps there is a reason people are drawn together that is not sexual and perhaps there is more to relationships than just finding someone to marry.

      • I think that those are great points! We have a real need for physical contact, and when you’re not married and a child sitting on dad’s lap anymore, there often aren’t healthy ways to meet that need.

        I’m not sure that the boundary between sexual and non-sexual friendship and affection between a man and a woman is as clear-cut as we would like it to be, though. From my experience and the experience of many friends, if a man and a woman spend a lot of intimate time alone together, at some point at least one of them will feel romantically drawn to the other.

        Also, think about the situation of a married woman. Would it be ok for her to be physically affectionate with another man besides her husband? I don’t think so. Is that because it’s sexual? It seems that way to me.

        Maybe the problem is that we define “sexual” to mean sex, or leading to sex, or wanting sex, when there can be a sexual/romantic relationship that never involves sex, per se. Was that the point of the whole thing to start with?

      • Well, Rachel, how do you suggest meeting physical contact needs?

        In our culture, many assume that any physical affection between members of the same sex (especially men) is automatically a sign of sexual attraction, even though two heterosexual same-sex friends can hold hands without such suspicion in other cultures (including Muslim culture, one of the least gay-affirming cultures in the world).

        The Jonathan-David friendship and examples of brotherly kissing show that god does not believe such.

        I believe it is quite acceptable for a married woman to show some physical affection to another man. I think the proper boundaries vary based on individual vulnerability to temptation.

      • yeah Rachel I don’t think we need to get too bogged down in the details and definitions and whys and what fors because each situation is different. Granted it is unusual for opposite sex people to be close friends and affectionate especially when they have spouses so of course it would seem awkward but that is not the point I was originally making with regards to the importance of what our conversation was wrestling with.

        Originally you were referring to certain signs of affection as being sexual only. And I was speaking in terms of those who are celibate gay christians who are not going to get married, and are chaste, having relationships which afford them intimacy and sexual integrity without being questioned on whether it is sexual. Instead my view would be despite their sexual orientation those types of contact could be appreciated as part of a friendship.

  10. I remember a counseling session a few years ago where my counselor mentioned that the question was how to eradicate my sexuality without changing what was “essentially me”. (Some context: I was in reparative therapy, which I have since left.)

    The term eradicate really burned into my soul. I was unsure why until discussing this with a close friend. He suggested that our sexuality is so foundational to who we are as beings, that to suggest an “eradication” was to suggest removing something very close (inseparable?) from who I was as a person. We are not asexual beings, as convenient as I sometimes think that would be. God created us with sexuality. It is a gift.

    When I stumbled across Wesley Hill’s book and subsequently, this blog, I resonated with they way that he (and SF) sought to acknowledge the “gay”/”homosexual” part of who I was as a person. When my counselor spoke about “eradicating” my sexuality, I internalized that something fundamental to who I was was wrong. Something that God himself could not stand the presence of. It caused me to question my very beloved-ness. (Here I refer to beloved-ness in the sense it is used by Henri Nouwen; see especially, “Life of the Beloved”). When I read Hill and SF, I began to hope that maybe God could redeem my sexuality, not just implement a scorched earth policy that would leave me desolate.

    Because of this, I understand Chris Damian’s aversion to Katie Grimes response to Eve Tushnet. In her blog, Grimes writes,

    “…if the magisterium speaks the truth when it classifies sexual relationships between people of the same sex as unconditionally evil, then this is exactly what homosexual women and men ought to do, seek to eradicate their orientation towards what the magisterium classifies as the categorical evil of gay sex.”

    As I’ve explained “eradicate” really hurts. How can I “eradicate” something that seems so fundamental to who I am?

    But. And here’s where I start to feel some ambivalence. From one of Chris Damian’s comments:

    “The question of whether same-sex attraction or homosexuality has nothing to do with sex is complicated. I think that is often a part of it, but there’s a secondary question of where to direct one’s sexual energies.”

    I’m sorry. But part of my sexuality is that I want to have sex with guys. Period. Is it all of it? I think not. But is it a part of it? YES. It is demonstrated in the roots of the very words Chris is using. (Homo*sexuality*; same-sex attrition) If it weren’t, then being “gay” would not be problematic vis-a-vis church teaching.

    I think the dialogue around “friendship” here at SF has to walk a fine line. On the one hand, being gay is not just about wanting to have sex. On the other, part of being gay is have a sexual desire for something that God has said isn’t something we should pursue. We can’t forget either side.

    After reading this post, the comments, and some of Grimes’ blog post, I’m also wondering if part of our problem centers around definitions. Writing this response, I tried to suss out if the words “homosexuality,” “same-sex attraction,” and “gay” were used in any deliberate and/or differentiated way. I think the answer is, “no”. (And yes, I must acknowledge that I’ve also used the terms interchangeably.)

    One final note: I think we also have to acknowledge that this debate is infused with the tendency to essentialize “homosexuality”. I’m just not sure that it is an essential — much less binary — category.

  11. I have to agree with Josh here when he says: “I’m sorry. But part of my sexuality is that I want to have sex with guys. Period. Is it all of it? I think not. But is it a part of it? YES. It is demonstrated in the roots of the very words Chris is using. (Homo*sexuality*; same-sex attrition) If it weren’t, then being “gay” would not be problematic vis-a-vis church teaching..”

    I can understand where both sides are coming from. The issue is we don’t have the ability to eradicate or kill this desire that we have. And we are trying to cope with that reality. It is a very real part of who we are. So when Katie parrots the conservative view that we can’t have this division between attraction and action, it causes us to cringe because even though she is right that in some ways it doesn’t make sense–on the other hand that is the reality we have to live.

    There is something amiss in our attraction otherwise we could act on it as we want to do so. This is where the theological language of temptation vs. sin comes in. Everyone feels all kinds of attractions. Even Jesus felt attractions to people he could not have. To be sexual, to have attractions, to desire sex–even to desire sex with those whom we cannot have is simply normal. Its part of being a human being. We were not biologically created to switch on for just one person. Puberty hits and that’s it. To want to have sex with someone is not wrong. The problem is having sex in the wrong context.

    So to feel desire, attraction of all kinds–that is part of our humanity. But we are not always to act on these for a variety of reasons. I personally think that procreation is a part of the definition of marriage and that sex is intended for marriage. So, I don’t think my attractions are sinister so much as they are not conducive for what sex and marriage is aimed toward–the creation of family.

    I am kind of rambling. I guess I am saying I completely understand Katie’s point. But I also think its possible to have a neutral attitude toward same-sex desire–without having to try to force an eradication that is not possible anyway. And simply acknowledge that sex is intended by God for a particular purpose. And though we all might have various kinds of sexual attractions and to various people since that is what puberty does to us–that we are only meant to act on it in a particular context. In that sense, I can say I am gay and that’s just the way I am. But also realize, I am in some sense as Jesus said–the eunuch from birth who, therefore, doesn’t marry.

  12. First, sincere question: Grimes is being interpreted by many as a homophobic conservative. But I read her as a liberal on the sexuality question seeking to demonstrate that no middle way is possible because Church teaching is “all or nothing”…but trying to prove this in order to advance sexual liberationism, NOT ex-gay.

    Which reading is correct?

    • Your liberationist reading is the correct one, If the traditional position is made out to be more strict and detached from the reality of gay people’s experience than it actually is, its easier to dismiss it as — surprise! — too strict and detached from reality.

  13. As for the substantive point: I would disagree with the notion that “desire for gay sex, while not the only part of being gay, is the essential or defining part.”

    To me, this represents a total miscognition about the way emotions and desire work in general.

    Being gay is about an emotional experience. If you want to say something like “it’s essential that you be aroused by the same sex” even, fine. But “arousal” is a physiological and emotional reaction. It isn’t a “desire” until it engages the will to direct it towards “doing something with it.” Until then it’s experiential “raw material” that has no determinate behavioral telos.

    But I’d even define gay as not necessarily needing arousal. It’s essence is being “attracted to” members of the same sex predominantly or overwhelmingly. But sexual attraction is not equivalent to “wants to have sex with.” It is an emotional experience that, like Chris’s salient example, might express itself just as a desire to dance in the nightclub, or give a cute guy a second glance on the bus.

    Indeed, I’d argue that the primary component of attraction is visual: it’s most usual construction as a particular desire is simply in the desire to behold/look at. Straight men don’t stare or gawk at other men in this way. When they appreciate make beauty it’s either cold and theoretical, or in the form of bro-ish bodybuilding envy or competition. And yet, a magnetized pull towards male-specific beauty is also a far cry from wanting to have sex with the person. Often the desire is just to look, or flirt a little, and those butterflies are gay even if the person has never had any desire to go further physically.

    By an analogy, just look at any emotion. Anger, for example. It’s not a “desire for violence.” It’s an emotional experience that provides a spectrum of scripts one could pursue, but in itself none of them are essential. The defining feature is the cause (perceived injustice), not the specific reaction. Sadness is even more like this; it’s an emotion defined as something like “perceived loss”…but it doesn’t translate into any particular desire to do something. It’s an experience…how that experience is expressed or how we construct a desire to react in terms of specific action…is up to us. There are constructive and destructive reactions.

    Gay isn’t defined by “where it tends towards.” It’s defined by “where it comes from,” ie, a warm fuzzy feeling in reaction to the sex-specific beauty and values of members of the same sex. Attraction, even of this gender-based form, is not some sort of funnel tending towards sex acts unless the person chooses to construct it that way.

    I know I’m gay when a cute guy at the cafe says something funny when the transaction is over and I get a warm feeling and desire to keep glancing at his face as I eat. I know straight men don’t experience this. Nor do authentic asexuals (by any coherent definition). And yet this homoromanticism is a long way from undressing him with my mind or wanting to jump him right there on the counter. To me, at least, it can be enjoyed as an end in itself without any notion that it’s supposed to go further, or that’s it’s alleged “natural fulfillment” is being frustrated. Just like I can be angry without wanting to be yelling or punching someone, but instead use the energy to motivate a constructive way to correct the injustice.

    • But no one denies that desire, gay or straight, runs a whole gamut, like any other passion, only that it s disingenuous to claim that, at one of its ends, one is sexually aroused by people of ones own sex, or that investing oneself into other types of love, friendships, etc… will in any way lessen or cancel this.

      • No my point is more that: desire as such is always voluntary in that we choose how to construct or order it. We do not choose our emotional experiences, but emotional experiences are behaviorally indeterminate until a determinate particular behavioral expression is chosen.

        In other words, there is such a thing as sublimation, and not just as a “re-directing” of an emotion that would “naturally tend” in one direction, but rather all possible expressions are equally sublimation because both were equal choices from the start. I can hit someone when I’m angry, or I can do something constructive. The emotion itself has no bias in favor of one or the other, and we don’t problematize all anger just because one extreme expression someone can choose to order it towards (in terms of setting it on a particular determinate desire) is murder. No: emotions are object-less until we make a choice to determine an object.

        Arousal is not bootstrapped to sex acts. It’s not as if the only coherent interpretation the will can make of arousal, of how to adequately express its fulfillment, is a sex act with the stimulus provoking it (for one because that immediately raises a question: WHICH sort of sex act? Hence my point about “determinate vs indeterminate” horizons here.)

        At it’s root it’s actually very ambiguous as the famous “bridge experiment” shows:

        http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misattribution_of_arousal

        My only complaint about that model is that I’m not sure “misattribution” is really the right way to describe subjective experiences. Yes, the causation treated empirically by the scientific method (changing variables etc) might suggest one construction. But is it really right to say “you weren’t really that attracted to her, you were just afraid of heights on the bridge?” Or is it really something more like “in the high-stakes context of a rickety bridge, you became more attracted to her.” I guess my point here is: the subject chooses how to interpret the meaning of their own emotional experiences, even if the raw material of the experiences itself is involuntary.

    • Defining attraction primarily as visual seems to take “male” experience too much as “human” experience.

      And I see no reason why asexuals aren’t allowed to have warm fuzzy feelings, unless we’re subscribing to the tired old idea that all attraction is ultimately reducible to the physiological urge to mount and rut.

      • If an asexual has such feelings in any way linked to people’s gender/sex (either sex or both)…they aren’t asexual in a robust way. They might just be a person who has no predilection for genital acts, but that alone does not eclipse sexuality or sexual orientation.

        For example, you see all sorts of talk these days of treatment (drugs or psychotherapy) for older people, married women maybe, who have lost their sexual desire. Or survivors of sexual trauma who actively freak out about sex acts and seek to actively avoid them.

        But it would be silly to say these people have “be one asexual” just because they have a lack of motivation for sex acts, no longer get aroused, or even have an active aversion to sex.

        A married woman in love with her husband hasn’t become “not heterosexual” just because she’s lost arousal or a desire for sex. A rape victim isn’t “asexual” just because there is an aversion to sex. Such people still date, identify by their orientation, fall in love and express it other ways, etc. A desire for sex acts is not essential to defining orientation.

      • Verily! But you are defining asexual in a way that would exclude an asexual person being gay or lesbian — which was precisely my objection to Grimesianism as I outlined above.

    • Well said, Mark.

      I agree. I too tend to define myself as gay primarily based on aesthetic preferences. In other words, I generally find that I’m more aesthetically attracted to the male form than to the female form. On that basis, I identify as gay, at least in the US. Even so, I find that I’m generally more attracted to women at other levels, and therefore would tend to seek a woman as a long-term partner.

      I work for a Belgian company and spend a fair bit of time in Europe. In Europe, I don’t typically identify as gay, as I find that European definitions of masculinity do not necessarily exclude those of us who have an aesthetic preference for the male form over the female form.

      In that sense, it’s impossible to define “gay” without examining one’s cultural context and the culture’s norms for masculinity and femininity. In certain cultures (e.g., Brazil, southern Italy), saying that you’re “gay” means that you want to have sex with people of the same sex. It’s no accident that those cultures are much more tolerant than North American culture of expressions of non-sexual same-sex attraction. But in North America, where masculinity is defined much more narrowly, identifying as “gay” simply means that you’re acknowledging that you don’t fit comfortably within the culture’s definition of masculinity. In that sense, my identification of myself as gay is something of a politically subversive act whose aim is to delegitimize the culture’s definition of masculinity and replace it with something along the lines of the view that prevails in much of western Europe, and especially in France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

  14. I don’t think anyone believes Katie to be either homophobic or conservative! She has certainly made it clear on her (group) feminist theology blog that she is neither. She is a lesbian Catholic who is passionately angry at the deadly history of homophobia as well as the present magisterial teaching about gay sex being always an intrinsic evil no matter how loving or committed it is, and who sees damage to herself and other gay people coming from that. Thus she criticizes both the magisterium and LGBT people like Eve and others who blog here who claim to be proud self affirming gay people while also accepting the church’s ( or scripture’s, in the case of more evangelical folks) mandate of celibacy. I actually agree with her on the church’s position, personally, but also believe in honoring people’s diverse vocations and theologies, the sacredness of their experience and their sacred right to name themselves and their commitments–key principles of feminist and other progressive theology! So I argued repeatedly and fruitlessly at her blogpost which Chris links here that she should stop attacking this group of people and see the great good they are doing especially for their main audience of other traditional LGBT folks. The ironic part and what may be confusing is that as Chris points out she absolutely agrees with the homophobic arch conservative haters who also agree that sexual attraction is the only or central part of gay identity and who thus attack traditional/celibate commited LGBT folks seeking a third/middle way for “identifying with their sin” by claiming anything good about the orientation and for saying gay instead of same sex attracted–ideally “struggling with same sex attraction” to make sure everyone gets how horrifically disordered destructive it is.

  15. [Pre-script: please forgive me if this is a duplicate comment–it didn’t show up after I logged in so I am reposting] I don’t think anyone believes Katie to be either homophobic or conservative! She has certainly made it clear on her (group) feminist theology blog that she is neither. She is a lesbian Catholic who is passionately angry at the deadly history of homophobia as well as the present magisterial teaching about gay sex being always an intrinsic evil no matter how loving or committed it is, and who sees damage to herself and other gay people coming from that. Thus she criticizes both the magisterium and LGBT people like Eve and others who blog here who claim to be proud self affirming gay people while also accepting the church’s ( or scripture’s, in the case of more evangelical folks) mandate of celibacy. I actually agree with her on the church’s position, personally, but also believe in honoring people’s diverse vocations and theologies, the sacredness of their experience and their sacred right to name themselves and their commitments–key principles of feminist and other progressive theology! So I argued repeatedly and fruitlessly at her blogpost which Chris links here that she should stop attacking this group of people and see the great good they are doing especially for their main audience of other traditional LGBT folks. The ironic part and what may be confusing is that as Chris points out she absolutely agrees with the homophobic arch conservative haters who also agree that sexual attraction is the only or central part of gay identity and who thus attack traditional/celibate commited LGBT folks seeking a third/middle way for “identifying with their sin” by claiming anything good about the orientation and for saying gay instead of same sex attracted–ideally “struggling with same sex attraction” to make sure everyone gets how horrifically disordered destructive it is.

  16. Laura,

    I merely object to Katie’s effort to generalize her own experience of what it means to be “gay” to the rest of us…without taking account of how our experiences may be different from hers and yet we still elect to identify as gay.

    • Identity isn’t so simple as that. Generally, identity requires a sort of “two out of three” dynamic. You have to have 2 of 3: self-identification, recognition by the group, assignment by outsiders.

      So take being black. Someone may not self-identify as black…but it’s not that easy; you can’t just unilaterally “opt out.” If white people see you as black, and other blacks recognize you as black…you are, whether you like it or not. Or if you self-identify as black, and other blacks recognize you as such…it really doesn’t matter if white people don’t think you are. Or, again, if you self-identify as black, and generally society would say you were black…then the desire of other blacks to say you aren’t doesn’t make it so.

      If you have two out of three, your identity is true.

      Well, the same goes for gay. This is why the “SSA” crowd’s desire not to be gay doesn’t really work: based on the standard definitions used by society (in which gay is just the social construction of same-sex-attracted)…they’d be called gay by outsiders, and the rest of us gays know they’re gay (and everyone refers to them as such behind their backs). They can’t just unilaterally opt-out.

      But someone can’t unilaterally opt-in either. If someone self-identifies, then they’d better be recognized by either the group itself, or seen as such by outsiders (which makes you a member by default even if the group itself “doesn’t want you.”)

      Of course, there can be disagreement within a group over who really belongs, and there can be disagreement or vagueness among outsiders. And sometimes group recognition can be based on self-identification, in part, or on outsider assignment, in part. Or sometimes outsider assignment can be based on self-identification, in part, or on group recognition, in part. And sometimes, even, self-identity (though the factor most “under our control”) can be based on outsider perceptions or in-group recognition as “one of us.”

      Intersubjectivity and identity are complicated. But my point is self-labeling isn’t the end of the story, nor is it sovereign as a determining factor.

  17. I don’t know a whole lot about theology, but isn’t the big problem with Grimes’ post that she confuses concupiscence with sin? She argues that if the homosexual act is evil, the desire and affinity for homosexual sex is evil, and therefore it is not possible to be gay and be an orthodox Catholic. Well it is true that both can be called evil, but they are not the same kind of evil. The first is a sin, the second is a consequence of the Fall, so yeah it is evil, as is the experience of temptation, and sickness, and death, but it is not a freely chosen evil, it is not a sin. There is nothing wrong with saying that we suffer this or that kind of temptation! I think one of the reasons a person might make a point of saying that they suffer from homosexual temptation might be because in the past it was not so much ‘the love that dared not speak its name,’ but that it was the temptation that dared not speak its name. And that is not a Christian attitude! None of us human beings needs to be ashamed of the fact that we are tempted. That right there is a big reason why someone might want to state that they are gay, even if they are celibate and gay. And then further, there may be aspects of the experience of being tempted in a given way that are not bad, and might even be good. These aspects might not be unique to this experience, but in a particular person are clearly related to that experience, so that may be another reason why a person might state that they are gay and celibate. It’s not a contradiction in terms and it can be useful in communicating one’s experience to others. I think Tushnet goes over this on her blog, yet Grimes does not even address Eve’s arguments.

  18. Pingback: Some Clarifications Regarding Sexual Orientation and Spiritual Friendship | Spiritual Friendship

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