Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I've Travelled So Far But Somehow Feel the Same

When I first wrote Sexual Authenticity, I was hoping to be able to help fill what I saw as a hole in ministry to the homosexual person. Courage was there for people who were committed to Church teaching but struggling to live it out, and for those who were seeking to recover from sex-addiction. NARTH existed for those whose homosexuality was a source of such deep suffering that they were willing to make substantial financial and temporal commitments in order to completely uproot it through therapeutic means. Dignity catered to those who wanted to reject the Church's moral teachings and embrace homosexuality outright. What this left out was a means of reaching out to those who might be interested in adopting, or at least considering, the Church's teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, but who also wanted to embrace and celebrate the non-lustful aspects of the “gay” identity. I felt this gap, but I hadn't articulated it clearly in my mind – when I pitched the book to OSV, I billed it as a book that would try to reconcile the two “sides” of the Culture War, a book that would look at the issue of homosexuality from both angles. I deliberately decided that I was going to split my research resources in half: half of what I read would be from the Catholic/Christian “side” and half would be from the LGBTQ “side.” My goal was to take the first step towards framing a discourse that would bridge the seemingly impassible chasm between rainbow-land and Rome.

I believe that I made one serious error in framing that text (I made more than one, but there is one that stands out to me as particularly problematic): I wrote as though I was a Catholic talking about homosexuality, rather than writing as a Catholic homosexual. The result of this was that for the first couple of years after the book came out, I had a ministry that was devoted almost entirely to working with the EnCourage crowd, the distraught families and friends of LGBTQ-identified young people. It was good work, necessary work, and I enjoyed doing it, but I always felt a certain frustration: I wanted to be reaching out to the sons and daughters and brothers and sisters of the people who were writing to me, I wanted to be helping to resolve the situation that was causing so much pain to so many families, but all I had to offer was the consolation of the Stabat Mater, a hand to hold while mothers and fathers watched their relationships get nailed to the Cross.

When I started to talk about myself as a homosexual Catholic, sometime in the winter of this year, my work changed overnight. Suddenly my private e-mails were from other Catholics with same-sex attractions, other people who were wrestling with the problems of homophobia within the Church, of misunderstanding from their families and parish communities, of loneliness, of feeling rejected or degraded in the eyes of God. In those letters I saw mirrored all of the fears and anxieties, the black despairs, and moments of utter exhaustion that I had been holding secret within my own heart for fear that they would be a cause of scandal. I saw the same frustrations with Mother Church – a Church whom we loved, and yet whom we always felt, on some level, didn't quite love us as much as She claimed to. I saw that everything that I had been holding back, that I had been failing to admit, those were the things that I needed to be saying: not in order to spread confusion, but in order to extend the embrace of solidarity. The lack that so many of us saw in the love of the Church militant, that sense of coldness and distance, that sense of being an object of concern rather than a subject of love, that lack started with myself. It started with my own unwillingness to hold out my hands and share my wounds with others, so that they would recognize Christ in me.

Actually repenting of this was not easy. It meant opening up the closet in my heart where I had locked up my inner gay child. It meant letting that part of my personality breathe, acknowledging its presence, and accepting the sufferings associated with actually experiencing same-sex attraction (rather than repressing it so that it only came out in my dreams and in those unguarded half-conscious moments between waking and sleeping). It also meant reaping the joys of loving a part of myself that cannot be reduced to mere homosexual lust: the part that rejoices in piebald beauty, that loves Oscar Wilde and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rob Halford and Freddy Mercury, that cries out with joy “O happy fault, O happy sin of Adam, that has earned for us such a redeemer!” and revels in irrational beauty. Lastly, it meant placing myself in the line of fire, becoming vulnerable to the experiences of rejection and isolation that so often plague the homosexual children of a Church which is struggling to manifest a genuine affective love for Her queer sons and daughters.

All of which sounds very generous and noble when it's put like this. But doesn't it have a dark side as well? I'm a wife, after all, and the mother of six children. Where do my husband and my kids fit in?

(Part 8 of 12)


  1. Did we miss part 8? Or i this one misnumbered?

  2. Hi Melinda,
    What would you change about your book now, looking back at the way you have changed your perception/experience in the past several months? Anything?

    1. Several things. I think that I naively assumed that my lack of experience with homophobia was more or less par for the course -- it should have occurred to me that my experience growing up/living in Toronto (a city whose slogan was "Diversity Our Strength," emblematized by the familiar triangular prism and rainbow motif) might have been different from other people's experience growing up, say, in the American South. I'm half and half on whether I would be more critical of reparative therapies -- I'm really conflicted on that score, because I'm personally really put off by the psychopathologization of homosexuality, but there do seem to be people who feel that they've genuinely and deeply benefited from those therapies. I would do a more sophisticated analysis of that in any case. I also think that I would devote more attention to the experiences of celibate Christians with SSA. Other than that, I'm not sure -- I would have to reread the text. I'm reflexively self-critical, and often find that I'm less displeased with my own work than I think I would be...

  3. Hi Melinda,

    Another excellent, excellent Post. You've been able to accomplish in your life what, you know full well, many (maybe most) can't do. So, yep, you were the Poster Child of 'leaving behind', 'changing' what you were, and entered the 'privileged' world of married persons w/children. Metaphorically speaking (using Tim LaHaye), you'd been Raptured; and, we were Left Behind. Please understand, that was only my perception.

    I cried when I read your book, because it was another story, another journey that I could never take. It was my own fear, my own hurt, my own jealousy and self-pity manifesting itself; and, closing out the goodness of your story. Somehow, it seemed "God loved you better" than me.

    Long before you started this series, I felt a sense of joy of what God had performed in your life and in the lives of your husband and children. What Manifest Grace. But, I could only beyond my ego, self-centeredness when I actually experienced that Our Lord loves me ... just as I am. That grace transformed my life; but, I'm still a woman with same sex sexual attractions.

    So, in the language of the street, Melinda, "you go, Girl!" Within the struggle and suffering lies grace and peace; and, there are any number of others lifting you up in prayer, sharing your journey.

    Thank you, again.

  4. Indeed a wonderful and liberating series. God called me out of a very active participation in the gay lifestyle and put a wonderful woman in my life. For fifteen years I was a visible "ex-gay", in denial, knowing deep down inside that nothing had really changed. After she died, I slowly stopped lying to myself. I am what I am, a man with strong same-sex attraction, called to a life of holiness. Having come to accept myself as I am, I'm finding opportunity to be of some help to men with this kind of struggle. As an "ex-gay" I could not have done as I am doing (poorly, but try6ing) - as a celibate gay I have experience and Christian insight to share. God does all things well! Keep it up, Melinds. This is powerful and valuable.

  5. Dear Melinda,
    Having read much of your book and being inspired by your way of exploring the chasm between rainbow-land and Rome, I really feel that your personal journey only enriched those reflections you provided. I certainly don't feel for a moment as if the impact of the book is lessened; I could see through each page the movement of the Spirit and the inspiration of God - you wrote (and write) with such charity and a desire for Truth and the Kingdom. So, He has been and is at work because no matter how broken we little instruments are, it is His desire to use us. Thank you for saying yes to Him at every step and for the courage to share even more of this journey with us. We are such mysteries, even to ourselves, and this is really a gift from God - to discover how little we know ourselves and to unite the little we know to the little we know of Christ and surrender to the mystery of His Church.
    God bless you,

  6. Thank you for this series, and I admire your efforts in writing it. Hopefully this is in the segments to come, but I still am unclear about the claim you are making about the essence of "queerness" outside of the disordered attraction. For instance, there are many who love Hopkins and so forth, are artistic, poetic, especially sensitive to beauty (even including an aesthetic appreciation the beauty of their own sex without having a sexual desire for it), introspective, and might even have shy or awkward personality traits which cause them to feel lonely, misunderstood, and out of place in an average crowd, and yet who are wholly heterosexual (in thought and desire as well as in practice) and who would never identify as "queer". What is the difference between them and the "queerness" you are explaining?

    1. That is a really great question, B., and one of the most difficult one's the talk about in working out this whole tangle of experiences! Obviously, I can't speak for Melinda, but allow me to just hazard my own response briefly.

      Firstly, I think that the category of "essence" is not helpful in these discussions. A familiarity with the history of sexuality suggests that what we are talking about here is very much something that is socially constructed.

      I recall Melinda's post, "Leggo my Micronarrative," in which she writes: "When I say that the psychological narratives are subjective, and that they are constructed, I don't mean that they bear no relationship to reality -- to be perfectly honest, I think that subjective reality is more real than objective reality because the objective material universe is transient, it is that which will pass away, whereas the heart of the human subject is eternal." Subjective realities are still deeply real. My response to your question (again, I cannot speak for Melinda) would be: these same traits are, indeed, experienced by a number of people who are not queer. I know a number of people who are quite straight, but exhibit a number of these traits.

      But when these traits are considered subjectively, another question arises: "What place does this have in my understanding of myself?" Here is where the difference seems to lie. For me, delighting in Hopkins is, to a certain extent, a function of my queerness; there is some sense in which, as a fellow homosexual, he . . . belongs to me, in a way he doesn't belong to the heterosexual person. Similarly, traits of aesthetic sensitivity, etc., are experienced by a number of heterosexuals, but there's a sense in which, in my own self-understanding, in my construction of my narrative of who I am, those traits are significantly connected to the fact that I am queer.

      So, while objectively, heterosexuals can and do exhibit the same traits, they do not play the same role for them subjectively as they do for me, or, I would guess, as they do for Melinda.


Please observe these guidelines when commenting:

We want to host a constructive but civil discussion. With that in mind we ask you to observe these basics of civilized discourse:

1. No name calling or personal attacks; stick to the argument, not the individual.

2. Assume the goodwill of the other person, especially when you disagree.

3. Don't make judgments about the other person's sinfulness or salvation.

4. Within reason, stick to the topic of the thread.

5. If you don't agree to the rules, don't post.

We reserve the right to block any posts that violate our usage rules. And we will freely ban any commenters unwilling to abide by them.

Our comments are moderated so there may be a delay between the time when you submit your comment and the time when it appears.