Friday, November 11, 2011

Loneliness and Gender

There's been more than one occasion where I've been talking to someone who has strong, even compulsive same-sex attractions, and where it is clear that the fundamental underlying issue is a profound loneliness. Many reparative therapists have argued that SSA is basically caused by a failure to connect properly with same-sex peers during childhood and adolescence. One formulation of this theory is the EBE, or “Exotic becomes erotic” hypothesis. According to this account, a person's sexual attractions are formed on the basis of a feeling of difference, distance, and therefore desire. It's very similar, actually, to the account of desire that Socrates gives in the Symposium, where he suggests that distance and lack of a thing are absolutely essential to Eros (love, desire, attraction.) So basically, if an adolescent is starved for same-sex companionship, that desire will become sexualized in the heady atmosphere of high-school hormones.

There may be something in that. Research (even research done by people sympathetic to the gay cause) suggests that teenagers with same-sex attractions are more likely to be drawn to solitary activities. The chicken and egg phenomenon of course exists – does the “difference” involved in being gay cause a person to be alienated from “straight” peers, such that they naturally turn to solitary pursuits in order to amuse themselves, or does the interest in solitary pursuits lead to social exclusion and from there to this EBE sexuality and hence homosexual attraction. Frankly, I think that it's one of those inextricably linked phenomena, where you have two factors that feed into and play off of one another, and where neither of those two factors are wholly or exclusively responsible for the result that you get.

In any case, irregardless of which side of the pro hoc propter hoc divide you find yourself on, the fact is that a lot of people with same-sex attractions are lonely – gay because they're lonely, or lonely because they're gay, it really doesn't matter. The loneliness itself is worth discussing, because regardless of which is the cause, and which is the effect, there is no question that sexual temptations of any kind are amplified by loneliness.

The difficulty is that no matter how you slice it, most people in the LGBTQ crowd really and actually are different. Not everyone, but most. It's something that I still deal with in my own life, because frankly all of the personality traits and weird gender-attributes that made me think I was lesbian in the first place are still here, and they're not going away. It means that it's difficult, in many cases, for LGBTQ people to form friendships with straight folks – and especially with straight people of their own gender. I've met a lot of lesbians who think that straight girls are just weird. For gay guys, it's often even harder because the general opinion of most men, if you get them outside of a context where they feel that they have to be politically correct, is that gay men are effeminate and fruity. This leads to emotional distrust which is difficult to overcome.

Reparative therapy tends to try to deal with this by getting people to adopt behaviours and interests that are more typical of their gender, in order that they'll be able to become more acceptable and better able to make friends. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, there are things that are kind of like that that I do myself. On the other hand, I think it's really important to do that in a way that is “natural,” in the sense of being compatible with my own personality. What this means, in terms of Catholic outreach, is that it's really, really important for Catholics to understand that the “faggy” or “butch” behaviours of LGBTQ people aren't necessarily affectations, and they're not necessarily some sort of psychological disorder that needs to be overcome. They're differences, but it is the responsibility of those who would become Christ to the world to accept and love those who the rest of the world is inclined to reject.

6 comments:

  1. Melinda, would you mind elaborating just a bit on your last point? Specifically -- and I don't mean to be insensitive -- that I tend to see same-sex couples where one is very obviously the "feminine" one in dress and mannerisms and the other is clearly very "masculine." Where it's almost like they are as opposite as two can be without being man and woman. It's hard not to draw the conclusion that some inner dissonance is being manifested. I am probably not the only person who has wondered this, and would honestly be interested in your thoughts on this sort of phenomenon, whether it's really as common as it seems, and what else might be behind it. Seeking to understand and not merely assume...thanks.

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  2. This makes lots of sense and I have often thought this. I think is is very hard for men to accept more androgynous or creative men as one of the guys. The Church as a whole must address what being a man is from a spiritual point of view in a strong way. This is where Theology of the Body can be of great help. For example: a man's natural duty is to protect. This action can take many forms in many areas. For example, an artistic man can be a "custodian of beauty" as an artist, and still be manly. This concept is from JPII. Yet Christian men often make fun of the more artistic type men. At World Youth Day this year, I took a group of young people to the Prado Museum and we looked at a painting done by a painter who was only 22 at the time. I posed to the young women and men in the group: Imagine that! Creating a masterpiece at your age, and doing it 3 or 4 hundred years ago! They agreed that it was amazing and took much more discipline than they have.

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  3. Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice
    in the church where a wedding has been
    Lives in a dream
    Waits at the window, wearing the face
    that she keeps in a jar by the door
    Who is it for?

    All the lonely people
    Where do they all come from?
    All the lonely people
    Where do they all belong?

    Father McKenzie writing the words
    of a sermon that no one will hear
    No one comes near.
    Look at him working, darning his socks
    in the night when there's nobody there
    What does he care?

    All the lonely people
    Where do they all come from?
    All the lonely people
    Where do they all belong?

    Eleanor Rigby died in the church
    and was buried along with her name
    Nobody came
    Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands
    as he walks from the grave
    No one was saved

    All the lonely people
    Where do they all come from?
    All the lonely people
    Where do they all belong?

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  4. Melinda, I enjoyed this post and I loved Sexual Authencity--I recommend it all the time when anyone says Catholic and gay in the sentence...
    Would you mind elaborating on what you said here..
    all of the personality traits and weird gender-attributes that made me think I was lesbian in the first place are still here, and they're not going away.
    Could you tell me what those traits and attributes are? Just like the previous commenter--I am trying to just understand-
    Thanks, Katie

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  5. I was interested and surprised to read: "It means that it's difficult, in many cases, for LGBTQ people to form friendships with straight folks – and especially with straight people of their own gender. I've met a lot of lesbians who think that straight girls are just weird." For me, it is quite the opposite. I am ssa and Catholic, but for me, it has always been that I was much more comfortable around women (straight or gay). I have actually tried to work on my relationships with men to find more balance, and it is NOT easy. Just thought I would speak up, though I may be the exception rather than the rule . . .

    ReplyDelete

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