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)