Josh Gonnerman has already written a fine response to Austin Ruse’s Crisis Magazine article. There is one point that I wanted to address that I didn’t think he covered, which is the belief within a lot of conservative Catholic circles that any kind of intimate friendship between men and women is “playing with fire.”
I suppose that I should begin by pointing out that I am a convert—that’s true of most of the people here on Spiritual Friendship, but many of my friends and colleagues here are converts from Protestant churches that share this kind of suspicion when it comes to mixed-sex friendship. I’m a convert from liberal Anglicanism via atheism so I was never raised with any of these ideas. It was always just normal for me to have male friends, and it was normal for my male friends to have female friends.
I wrote recently on being gender-queer, and I promised that I write about transsexuality.
Before I do that, I want to give some idea of where I’m coming from on this issue. I recently wrote a paper on transgender and transsexual issues, and how trans identities relate to the traditional Catholic teaching on essential sexual complementarity. The paper was 5000 words long. I could have written four times that. As the foundation for writing I talked to trans people, read their writings, and listened to the stories that they had to tell about themselves rather than just approaching their experience through the filter of the “experts.” I’ve seen my own experience presented by experts often enough to know that there is often something missing in an allegedly “objective” account, and that the something missing is usually the heart of the human person.
I wanted to write a post on transgender/transsexual issues for the Day of Remembrance yesterday — but it wasn’t coming out right. I’m trying again today.
A couple of weeks ago, Ron received an e-mail from someone who was asking about trans people, and who wanted to know whether this is something that we’ll be covering at Spiritual Friendship. We tend to concentrate a lot on the LGB in LGBTQ, but the T, and to a lesser degree the Q, kind of get left out. The reason for this is simple: most of the writers here ID as L, G, or B. We don’t have any trans writers on board yet, and while I consider myself gender-queer that’s not really the same thing.
Cross-posted at Sexual Authenticity.
I wanted to write a follow up to Ron Belgau’s piece on LifeSite’s interview of Joseph Sciambra.
Joe’s story is one of the those pieces of data that needs to be taken into account if we’re going to adequately provide for the pastoral needs of LGBTQ people, but it is a story that needs to be taken into account in the right way. LifeSite, not surprisingly, presents Sciambra as if he were a typical gay man and thus presents his story as the gritty, diabolical reality that underlies the sanitized images of gaydom that one finds in the mainstream media.
Sciambra’s story is perfect for this. It’s horrific. Literally. I write horror. I like The Shining, Lost Highway, Hour of the Wolf, and zombie movies. But by the time that I was halfway through Joe’s memoir I had overcome my capacity to handle the content. It’s also real, and although it would be politically convenient for me to sweep it under the carpet as if it were a very isolated and bizarre account, that would be just as irresponsible on my part as it is for LifeSite to present the story as if it were the norm. Grappling with Sciambra’s experience responsibly involves recognizing that the sadomasochistic porn scene really is a part of the gay community, and that although sexual excess in the gay scene is sometimes overstated by Christians it is also real. How do we address that reality? How do we provide responsible warnings for those who might be at risk of encountering the kind of horrific and predatory community that Sciambra found, while at the same time avoiding alarmism?
I wanted to talk about the difference between a narrative of “orientation change” and one of “mixed orientation marriage,” and how I see that from a Catholic perspective.
I’ve struggled for a long time with the notion of “sexual orientation.” In some ways, the Courage party line, that there are no homosexuals, just heterosexuals with same-sex attraction, is true. Ontologically, theologically, it would seem to be a justifiable statement. The problem is, no one really talks ontologically in daily life. We say “I’m depressed,” not “I am a human being who is experiencing depression,” or “I’m a Liverpool fan” not “I am a person with Liverpool Football Attractions (LFA).”
The difficulty with this in terms of the “gay” debate, is that a lot of people do intend the term “gay” or “queer” ontologically. Today this is perhaps less true than it was in the 90’s, but the basic meme “I’m gay. That’s who I am” is still alive and well and living in San Francisco. This means that if someone like myself, or Josh Gonnerman, says “I’m gay/queer…and Catholic, and chaste,” it raises some eyebrows. Do I mean that I’m “queer” in the depths of my identity, that I am a queer child of God, or am I using language casually, I’m “queer” in the same way that I’m a board-game geek?
I started responding to one of the comments that I received on yesterday’s post, and the response kind of took on a life of its own. Jose Ma writes:
A gay person trying to live the Church’s teaching is a hero in a way that a chaste straight Christian just can’t be. They will always have a legitimate outlet for their needs for affection and sexuality. Gays can’t have that. We can’t get around that fact. Celibacy is a beautiful sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom when freely chosen. When you have to be celibate forever because of things outside your control it’s a lot less beautiful at first.
This concern is really common amongst LGBTQ Christians who find themselves in the position of having to live celibately when they have not chosen this state of life. From a purely academic point of view, it’s an interesting reversal: in the early church, celibacy was a radical and liberating option precisely because it gave people the ability to exercise choice with respect to their sexuality. In most cultures, throughout most of history, marriage has been the unchosen vocation: people were routinely forced into conjugal intimacy through circumstances beyond their control. Although the Mediaevals romanticized the Virgin Martyrs as icons of purity pitted against lascivious Roman governors, in fact the reason that consecrated virginity was a scandal to Roman society is that it undermined patria potestas, allowing young girls to refuse the marriages that their fathers had arranged for them.
I was tremendously impressed by Pope Francis’ recent interview. It’s so full of wonderful insights. Here I’m going to expand on his idea that if, as a Church, we focus excessively on a small handful of sins then the moral edifice will fail, and that the Church should be a field hospital for the wounded.
The difficulty is not with telling the truth about sexuality, it’s with telling that truth in a way that hurts and alienates people. There are two things that I’ve heard repeatedly from other Christians that I think, to a certain extent, illustrate the problem with a lot of the “truth-telling” that goes on in the Culture Wars. The first is the assumption that when I go to speak I must meet with a lot of resistance and persecution from the LGBTQ community. I’ve had a number of Americans suggest that, living as I do in ultra-liberal Canada, I must be on the verge of being jailed for hate crimes. This is untrue. There have been situations where I’ve faced resistance but on the whole I’ve found those situations to be fruitful and instructive. Those are the situations that have taught me how to listen and how to present what I have to say in a constructive and respectful way. Generally once I actually start talking a lot of the anger goes away — and in the cases where it hasn’t, I can see what I did wrong.
I have been thinking about Gerard Manley Hopkins’ idea of inscape in relation to John Paul II’s theology of intersubjectivity. Hopkins believed that everything had a particular essence, an “inscape,” which expressed the spark of divine genius which had brought that particular thing into being and which caused it to speak itself as a gift to the world.
AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.