Cross-posted from Catholic Authenticity
The BBC has an interesting story today on an “intense” friendship between John Paul II and philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. The story itself is quite beautiful, but it’s also interesting to see the reactions that circle around it. On the one hand, someone at the BBC seems to be doing their best to milk a little bit of salacious click-bait out of the matter (as a writer, I suspect the hand of an editor in this – the lines that hint at non-existent intrigue seem a little forced, as if they were added or augmented after the original draft.) On the other hand, some of the comments that I’ve seen on FaceBook make it clear that a certain portion of the Catholic world would have been scandalized even without the BBC’s help.
I’m reading Rachel Lu’s essay critiquing Spiritual Friendship in Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction. I have much to say about it—first that it’s much more articulate and well-argued than most of the criticism that I’ve read of our “movement” such as it is. But more importantly, because it is more articulate it’s actually possible to figure out what seems to be the bottom line. And it’s a massive misunderstanding.
Lu writes, “it’s also fairly clear that, in entertaining the possibility of a special, erotically tinged friendship, Spiritual Friendship writers are looking for a relationship that would be unique to same-sex attracted people, which has no natural counterpart among the married, or among single people who nevertheless are attracted to the opposite sex.”
Basically, she seems to be talking about celibate gay partnerships. There has been a certain amount of back-room discussion on how SF should deal with such relationships. The answer has basically been, with caution.
Early Sunday morning a young transwoman, Leelah Alcorn, left a suicide note on Tumblr before walking out in front of a truck. She believed that she would never be able to successfully transition, that she would never be able to live a full life as a woman, that it was impossible for her to live a full life as a man.
Leelah’s mother posted that her “son” had gone for a walk and been hit by a truck. It’s a post that has been reposted, reblogged, tweeted and proliferated all over the internet, and there’s been a lot of hatred poured out on Leelah’s parents. As is often the case in teen suicides, Leelah blamed her parents for her unhappiness. I don’t know whether this is justified in most cases or not. I know that I when I was a suicidal teenager, my parents really had nothing to do with it: I was clinically depressed, and not interested in seeking help.
Leelah, however, was interested in seeking help. As is too often the case in LGBTQ suicides, her parents’ religious beliefs prevented her from being able to access that help. She was taken to counselors, but only to ones who wanted to forward a particular ideological agenda in conformity with her parents’ beliefs. According to Leelah’s suicide note, her parents isolated her from her friends, removed her from school, and prevented her from having access to any network of support from outside of the house.
This is one of the talks that I gave for Trinity school for Ministry last weekend.
Beyond the Culture Wars: Listening to LGBTQ people in the Parish Today
I’ve been told that there are two types of people in the world. There are people who work from the particular to the general: they start with a single concrete example and then they work out from there, deriving principles along the way. A lot of contemporary writing, especially writing for women, is in this style. You pick up a woman’s magazine and the story almost invariably begins with a little slice of life, someone’s particular story, or a cute event that happened while the author was baking apricot crumble. There are other people who work from the general to the particular. They start with grand universal theses and then slowly focus in their particular area of interest. Everyone who has ever attended high-school knows that this is the way that we are taught to write the introduction to a formal essay. You start with a grand statement like “Star-crossed love has been a perennial fascination since first human beings began to tell stories around the fire,” and you end up with a tight, focused thesis like “Romeo was a trumped up playboy, and Juliet was a ditz.”
I’ve been rooting around on the internet for Christian resources aimed at helping transgender people and their parents. It’s a bit of wasteland. Most of the articles that you can find aren’t even intended to be helpful to someone who is dealing with this – the pastoral needs of trans people seem to get eclipsed by the political drive to defend marriage and sexual complementarity. What does exist tends either to vilify transfolk, or it oversimplifies the issues.
I think that there are several key misconceptions about transfolks that allow that largely negative response to be perpetuated. I’d like to briefly treat six of them here.
At the request of Jeremy Erickson, I’ve decided to rework a post that I wrote a while ago on my own blog. At the time I was responding to a minor internet skirmish that erupted when Josh Gonnerman posted his First Things article about being gay and Catholic. Critics claimed, not always in entirely charitable terms, that gayness was not compatible with the Catholic faith.
The foundation of their argument will probably be familiar to a lot of the readers here at Spiritual Friendship: being gay involves identifying with a form of lustful disorder, and every Christian should devote themselves heart and soul to stamping out every last trace of lust from their heart in order to be worthy of Christ.
I think that this kind of rhetoric is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be gay. Homosexuality as defined by the Catechism refers solely to same-sex lust. But gayness is not the same thing. Being gay is not reduceable to having, or desiring to have, homosexual sex. It is a way of relating to other people, a way of appreciating human beauty, and a way of relating to one’s own gender. Most people who identify as chaste, gay Christians, are referring to involuntary currents of homoeroticism and gender-queerness that run through the personality. Some Christians appear to believe that these currents are so fundamentally disordered that the only proper response to them is one of outright warfare, that the personality must have surgery performed on it in order to eliminate every vestige of queerness in order that it might be rendered fit for salvation.
One of the questions that I’ve encountered several times is how I could, as a queer Catholic, consider something which is disordered to be a gift. Basically the argument runs as follows: perhaps gifts may come as a result of a disorder, but the disorder itself is never a gift. For example, a cancer patient may receive courage and growth in holiness through her cancer, but the cancer itself is a tragedy not a treasure!
I’m naturally inclined to disagree, but it would seem insensitive to tell a cancer patient that their illness is a gift from God — and to be fair I would never suggest that someone suffering is obliged to imagine their suffering in that way. Grief is normal, including anger and rejection of pain and the desire for it to just go away. But of my own sorrows, I can speak.
(Sorry, Ron, for stealing for your title)
We’ve written a lot here at SF about Crisis Magazine’s profiling of the “New Homophiles” over the past couple of weeks. I think a lot of the response is because this is the closest that we’ve come to direct engagement with the people that tend to cause us frustration: the people who seem to be responsible for behaviours that we would characterize as “homophobic.” For me, at least, there’s always a hope of being able to engage in constructive dialogue both with the LGBTQ community, and also with those within the Christian community who struggle to be able to present an even remotely charitable response to homosexuals. In one of Ron’s earlier blog projects he used the image of a bridge, and I always thought it a very beautiful image for what it is that we try to do: we are attempting to make of our lives, our thoughts, even our bodies a bridge connecting the Christians church with LGBTQ people.
The response that we’ve received from Crisis shows us that, at least with some people we still have an awfully long way to go. Today Ron tweeted a link to the forums at Suscipe Domine, which you shouldn’t read unless you have a deep desire to go home and cry into your oatmeal. (As you can see, I’ve included the link in order to help you in this project. Please consider offering up your tears for the GCN conference this weekend.)
I’ve just broken Josh Gonnerman’s first law of staying sane on the internet: I went and read some of the comments on Chris Damian’s Crisis article. I probably had the same reaction as most other Spiritual Friendship readers who made the same mistake. It seemed like the responses had nothing to do with the article. I rankled at the too-familiar accusations of “relativism” “spreading confusion” and “pride.” Damian’s article seemed to so clear, so lucid, so charitable and full of good will that I couldn’t understand how it provoked that kind of response.
Then my husband suggested that instead of getting angry I should try to think about the Crisis readers the same way that I think about people on Truth Wins Out. When an ex-ex-gay says something that I really disagree with, or calls the pope emeritus Pope Palpatine XVI, I very quickly and easily forgive them. I understand where they’re coming from, I see their hurt and I don’t feel inclined to blame them if they say something insensitive about my faith. So my husband suggested that I try to find a way of relating to and understanding the way that Crisis readers feel when they post the kind of comments that make my blood boil.
I know that Wes closed the comments on his last post because Frau Luther had taken offence—and justly so. I wanted to weigh in, though, because I’m the writer for Spiritual Friendship who has the experience of being the lonely hausfrau and I think that talking about what hospitality looks like, not only from the point of view of single people longing for inclusion in family life but also from the perspective of people with families who are willing to open their doors, is important.
I want to say right up front that I get completely what Katharina is talking about. It’s not that she’s overwhelmed because she made bad choices or any of the other things that some people in the com-box seemed to imagine. It’s that she’s a mother with multiple kids, and being a mother is frustrating a lot of the time. I have six. Lonely single people often don’t appreciate the loneliness of being stuck in a house day in, day out with a group of people whose conversation consists primarily in blaming one another for the large hole in the fabric of your sofa (and you just replaced that sofa. Like a month ago. Because your autistic kid ate large holes in the last one), and in babbling endlessly about who is in love with whom in Artemis Fowl. Yes, I love them. Yes, I’m happy that I had them. Yes, there are times when they are just so cute it breaks your heart (my two year old, for example, has recently composed his first song. It goes “I love you! I love you too! I LOOOOOOVE YOOOOOOU!!!” He sings it with incredible emotion and vocal expression given his age.) But there are also times when you are sitting in a dark corner digging your nails into your pillow and wanting to die—or else kill the children/husband. But generally suicide looks like the more rational option. On those occasions if I read about the sufferings of my celibate brethren I think “The biggest problem you have is that you have too much time to yourself? Seriously? Poor baby. Why don’t you go watch a play and drink a frappacino until you feel better. I’m gonna go change my fifty-seventh poopy diaper of the day.”