Monday, June 18, 2012

Nobody Loves Me, It's True – Not Like You Do

When Chris first met me, I was in the closet, but obviously a dyke. I had short eggplant coloured hair, came to school dressed in a toga, and interacted with men as though I were a pugilistic brain-in-a-vat. I was not very much like the normal girls – and that's what's attracted him to me. I thought that gender was totally socially constructed, that complete autonomous independence was the ideal state for a fully realized human being, and that woman could be saved by reason alone. These were significant obstacles that lay in his way on the path to courting me, but he saw them more or less the way that a knight sees a dragon. From the earliest days of our friendship, he saw the person that I had the capacity to become. He draws an analogy to Michelangelo seeing the statue of David inside of a piece of marble: the statue was already there, complete and perfect, but there was an awful lot of chiseling that needed to be done in order to bring it into sharp relief. He got out his tools, and he got to work, chipping away at the hard exterior that I had built around my heart, slowly removing whatever would give until I started to resemble a woman more than an armoured tank.

During the early days of our courtship he wrote me a message reading “Shine on you crazy diamond,” and he has continued to use that phrase, and the song that it refers to, to exemplify the way that he sees me. A crazy diamond. A strange, multi-faceted, unique, rare and therefore valuable individual. A mad and wonderful one of a kind.

When I tried to conform myself to the standard of stereotypical traditional womanhood, I did not, in his eyes, become a better wife. I became a fake. It was as if I had taken myself to some existential jewelers, had turned myself in and replaced the real me with a piece of paste. The social capital that I gained in doing so wasn't worth it, not for me, and certainly not for the man who had fallen in love with the genuine article. When he married me, he expected to get a sincere gift of myself – not an inauthentic gift of some other woman whom I could only pretend to be.

Chris never wanted me to give up my “masculine” qualities and interests, because he never saw them as masculine. To him it was fascinating that I was able to be intellectual, rational and stoic in a way that was distinctly feminine. My bizarre emotional landscape made it possible for him to interact with me in ways that he could not with other women. Moreover, he really appreciated a lot of the deeper feminine virtues that I do possess, but which do not conform to any of the stereotypes of femininity discoverable on prime-time TV: my thrift and providence, my maternal patience and forgiveness. He perceived this deeper strata of profound femininity which lay beneath all of the queer, gender-atypical traits that made me doubt my womanhood, and that alienated me from other girls.

For him, then, my decision to accept my queerness is not a decision to move away from, or reject, my femininity, but rather a decision to move towards acceptance of my real femininity. He's seen me go through a lot of difficult personal development before, he's been there, my faithful companion and helper, for over 15 years. He's watched and assisted while I slowly submit myself to the difficult and wonderful process of becoming the imago dei which was imprinted in my soul at the beginning, and he's not afraid. My gender confusion does not alarm him. My same-sex attractions do not alarm him. My struggle with my sexuality does not alarm him. He always believed that I would come through it in the end, and that the person who emerged would be flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone.

(Part 9 of 12)

18 comments:

  1. Midwest Courage guyJune 18, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    I think we're all "crazy diamonds," and one aspect I don't like of our cookie cutter society is that we're all expected to BE a certain way, to conform to the way the world expects us to. The older I get, and the more I realize that we're all just a bit "weird," or wired differently than those around us, no matter how much we try to adopt the status quo, the more I think how truly odd God is. My go to always is this: he created the duck billed platypus. What is that thing, anyway??? :-)

    What I question is ascribing the uniqueness of you, the "crazy diamond" aspects of you which give glory to God, and how you truly do reveal the imago deo within yourself, to your being "queer."

    I think we're all a bit quirky, and indeed queer, but not in the sense that the term is being used these days on your blog and on others. I would submit that your quirkiness and mine have nothing to do with our homosexuality, but everything to do with the weirdness of God. Your "queerness" is the same oddness of God reflected in the duck billed platypus, reflected in an ostrich putting its head in the sand, and reflected in you, uniquely as a woman, who is fully woman, who is fully feminine, and in no ways, ever, in the mind of God, "a dyke."

    I do hope we can have lunch at the Courage Conference! I'm as quirky as the next guy with SSA, but I think it's a gift to reflect the oddity that is God, and I don't ascribe any aspect of my personhood that is fascinating to the fact that I'm attracted to other men. I think it's rather a boring aspect about my person and I wonder why so many seem of late to be clinging so strongly to the identification of being queer to so many things that are good in them. Especially when the very things which seem to be defined as inherently associated with "being queer" can be seen in people who've never experienced SSA. I've known some very "manly" women who've never been attracted to women.

    Anyway, the conversation is good, and I look forward to continuing reading your posts.

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    1. Hey MCG! Good to hear from you again, and yes, I do hope that we can do lunch at the conference.
      I hear everything that you're saying about quirkiness not necessarily being related to "queerness" in the modern sense of the word -- and on solely ideological grounds I think it's absolutely true. The problem is that, as Joshua Gonnerman pointed out in an earlier comment, the queer identity is socially constructed. It's the way that our society understands and construes people who don't fit in very well with the standard models for masculinity and femininity. To use a really geeky analogy, it's kind of like a computer OS: I personally run Linux, and if I want to run a Window's program, I have to get a Windows emulator, because Linux won't naturally support it. The Modern Western Culture 2000 OS will only run a certain selection of masculinity/femininity software packages, and when I try to run my entire personality on it, I keep getting error messages saying "That trait is male. Would you like to download the MWC2000 male edition?" To which, of course, I say no. The problems are especially aggravated if I run the Catholic distribution. I've tried running several of the standard, well-supported femininities, but they're just not me... Anyways, if you download Q++, you can write little programs that resolve the compatibility issues, and then you can run any custom sexuality that you want. The only problem is that it seems to come pre-loaded with gay sex pop-up adds, and I haven't figured out how to disable them yet... :)

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    2. First, can I say: What a blessing to have such a loving and supportive husband! Second, can I say: love the whole Q++ thing!

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  2. Wow how beautiful and blessed you are.

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  3. Midwest Courage guyJune 19, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    I guess the question that comes to mind when I hear that "queer" is socially constructed: should we choose to embrace it, just because it is socially constructed? I often think about the gift God gave to Adam of naming the creatures God had created. We have mastery over the earth, and God has given us the gift of reason to look at the world and create a systematic understanding of what we see, such as the various taxonomies of the animal kingdom (to keep the analogy going).

    This suggests to me that God delights in us using our reason to "figure stuff out," and to continue to define and label what we see in the world around us, as well as within the world of man.

    However, just because man has the freedom to name things, and to describe things, and indeed to socially construct things, it doesn't mean that man is always correct in his way of defining or seeing the world. Racism is a social construct, for example, which is irrational and opposed to reason, and is clearly one of those things which Isaiah talked about in 29:16:

    You turn things upside down,
    as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
    Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
    “You did not make me”?
    Can the pot say to the potter,
    “You know nothing”?

    I guess my point is this, as someone who has never embraced the social construct about me "being gay," I'm intrigued why those of you who find it important, choose to embrace it enthusiastically. It's never been important to me, and indeed I've consciously chosen not to embrace it about myself, and so I find it a bit alien when I read the current discussions going on. But I also wonder if that's a function of my age, growing up as I did in the 70s and 80s when homosexuality was so often associated with the sadness of AIDS, and when "gay pride" was ACT-UP and other angry movements that caused me (and so much of the rest of society) to be very leery of what it must mean to embrace a "gay identity." A lot of damage was done back then, on both sides, but the ACT-UP crowd, now long forgotten, left an indelible impact on me when they burst into St. Patrick's Cathedral throwing around condoms!

    Today is a far cry from those days, with shows like Glee and Modern Family, and so many celebrities who have come out, as well as teaching the normalcy of homosexual acts within the schools. Perhaps it's a function of age, but the source of my rejection of the social construct of "being gay" is many and varied, and ultimately, I just don't find it that interesting about my person, (or anyone else, for that matter) compared to all the other aspects of who I am. The "crazy shiny diamond" is pretty shiny and crazy without my homosexuality. I think that facet is the least shiny and crazy of all, so I'm intrigued by those younger than me who seem to feel at home where the Rainbow flag flies and who embrace their queerness. It's interesting to realize how differently people can see the world, even if they live with similar experiences and your posts are helpful in understanding this a bit better. I still don't know what I think about it, other than it's very foreign to me, and I wonder about the wisdom of it because of that, but that could indeed be my own prejudice. Though I think we who are older, and who haven't lived under the Disneyfied glorification of homosexuality which we see now in culture, have some great insights as well. I think there is far more associated with homosexuality that is associated with sadness, and literal death and destruction, than is good about it. I fortunately didn't lose any close friends to the AIDS epidemic, but many of my friends did. It's hard to celebrate something that has caused so much pain in the lives of so many people we have loved, as well as in our own lives. I hope you all take this into consideration too.

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  4. I'm not at all sure that what's going on is an enthusiastic embracing of queerness. I hope that isn't an adequate description. In my view you're right that gayness is not the most important nor the most interesting aspect of my being, but it is part of my being. It's here, and I have to have an attitude about it in order to survive. I think it important to be realistic about who and what I am, in order to get a good grip on how to do what I know I must do. If I try to deny those aspects of my personality that make it easy to be drawn into a given sin (in this case homosexual practice) I give away precious and vital things. Among them is the ability to build adequate defenses. One is far more able to deal with an enemy one can see than with one that sneaks up on one unawares. One also gives away the opportunity to present ones denial of self and of temptation to God as a living sacrifice. Further, one tends to stifle the real and wholesome love that motivates one to help another, and the knowledge one may have of what struggles ones brother is having. Being tempted in the way I am tempted makes me neither better nor worse than other men, but, yes, it does make me different, and able to do different works for my Lord

    A young friend, now in his early 20s who is struggling with sexual identity, had no suspicion at all when he told me (in a time of crisis) that he had heard that I am gay. "I am," I responded. "You never told me," he said in an accusing tone. "It wasn't important," I said, but told him that now that the subject is open I'm able to tell him why, though I am as I am, I do not need to do as they say I should do. If I can help him to remain celibate, or, if, God forbid, he should fall, to make holiness his target, my acceptance of who and what I am will have borne fruit.

    Queerness is a hard road. I would not have chosen it, but it is the road I find myself walking. I am glad that you are able to face it as you do - but that's not the way I feel called to walk.

    Let's be in prayer for one another.

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  5. Midwest Courage guyJune 19, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    Thanks for the comment Ed. I certainly don't want to offend by stating that what I see is an "enthusiastic embracing" of one's queerness. Perhaps I'm not understanding the subtlety of the argument, but the more I read about the topic, the more it seems a joyful embrace of queerness. I don't know what to make of it, to be honest. I'm not suggesting that it's necessarily wrong--it's just that this is foreign to my experience, and I find the discussions fascinating.
    I do wonder about what you wrote, here:
    "If I try to deny those aspects of my personality that make it easy to be drawn into a given sin (in this case homosexual practice) I give away precious and vital things."
    I don't think those of us who reject a gay identity are denying those aspects of our person that make it easy to be drawn into the sin of homosexual practice. I'm keenly aware of it in my life--I know that if I don't watch myself, and if I start dwelling on the handsomeness of a fellow I might pass on the street, I could easily fall into lust. I don't think the WAY it's labeled has bearing on one's awareness of it.
    "Among them is the ability to build adequate defenses. One is far more able to deal with an enemy one can see than with one that sneaks up on one unawares."
    I actually think that embracing the gay identity is actually the sneakiest way Our Enemy can use to bring temptation upon a person unawares. When we start celebrating this part of our person, and that we feel at home when we see the Rainbow Flag, as I’ve read in some places, I think there are far more near occasions of sin than for those who see it merely as a disordered component within themselves.
    "One also gives away the opportunity to present ones denial of self and of temptation to God as a living sacrifice."
    Why is that? I do that every day, in the same way that any man who is tempted to lust after a woman does. I don't see the connection between accepting that one is gay, as being necessary for someone like me to be a living sacrifice. That seems strange to me.
    "Further, one tends to stifle the real and wholesome love that motivates one to help another, and the knowledge one may have of what struggles ones brother is having."
    How is love stifled, or less wholesome or real by rejecting a gay label? I don't get it. I share struggles with all kinds of brothers of mine, and my own struggles help me to understand theirs. I'm confused.
    "Being tempted in the way I am tempted makes me neither better nor worse than other men, but, yes, it does make me different, and able to do different works for my Lord."
    Now, this I agree with! :-)
    "If I can help him to remain celibate, or, if, God forbid, he should fall, to make holiness his target, my acceptance of who and what I am will have borne fruit."
    Praise be to God! But, I don't think that embracing an identity as gay is necessary for the Holy Spirit to work with people like your young friend. I am happy to speak about this part of my life, but I don't identify as gay, and yet I'm able to help young people and have a ministry towards them. I just spoke to 200 college students last week in Illinois, and joyfully spoke to them about the good news of the Church. I don't think the necessary door to ministry of people like your young friend is the door of "gay identity," but it seems in this reply to me that you think we need to embrace that gay identity in order to truly be Christ to people, with your talk about love and being living sacrifices.
    Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but it sure reads that way to me.
    Regardless, let's indeed keep each other in prayer.

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  6. I've had a few revelations this week-end concerning the issue of 'uniqueness' (queer); and, what that means in our world. First, I predate Stonewall by a few decades ... prior to Vatican II, and the subsequent turbulence and some outright damage to Holy Mother Church. So, I've lived in the world when society was in the closet, gone through the turbulent 60's, etc. In some ways, I've "been there, done that, bought the t-shirt".

    For me, for awhile, I embraced the word queer, because it was not about the aesthetics of gayness, but it was a word filled with liberation for me. It was a release from being shamed by my same sex attractions; and, finally owning them and being able to breathe. It was the answer to the Nina Simone song, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.

    Now, after much reflection (spurred by you, Melinda and your Blog and others here), I feel for myself, the word queer is hampering my spiritual growth. It's become more an exercise in narcissism and vanity; and, keeps me out of the community of my neighbors. The less I concentrate on my same sex attractions, the more I practice chastity, the greater I concentrate on how I'm exactly like others, the more I'm attracted to Our Lord and Our Lady; the healthier I become ... spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.

    I struggled awhile with the feelings that the Church has no place for me. They didn't understand me, blah, blah, blah. Then not long ago, I became acutely aware that the Church is exactly where I need to be; and, I needed to be the change I wanted to see in others. Paraphrasing, President John Kennedy's Address to myself: Ask not what the Church can do for me, but what I can do for the Church. Holy Mother Church is a hospital for the sick; and, I sure qualify.

    Queer is now a word for me that I no longer need; and, what's more I don't want. Now, I no longer want to be 'apart from', but 'a part of'. Because I struggle with some issue that some others don't have; surely, they struggle with issues that I may not have to deal with. But, struggle we all do; and, that's now quite liberating for me to recognize our common, fallen nature. We're all simply beggars showing, and being shown, by other beggars where to find (B)bread.

    Same Sex Attraction is one of the greatest gifts God has given me as a weakness (among many others), because it's exactly what I need and in the measure I need it. "He allows evil that a greater good can come from that." The far greater gift is chastity; and, how I as a single, Catholic woman can be used by Our Lord to accomplish His Will.

    And, yes, Midwest Courage Guy, I too think personal age has much to do with the whole identity thing. But, the 'in your face' gay stuff, is very disorienting for everyone. Ephesians 6:12 comes to mind: "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places."

    In closing, thanks again, Melinda, for your brilliant and thought provoking writings, your courage and honesty in baring yourself; and, givings us folks a place to share.

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  7. Midwest Courage guyJune 19, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Rereading my post, this sentence in particular, didn't come out the way I meant it, one of the problems of the blogosphere:

    "I don't think the necessary door to ministry of people like your young friend is the door of "gay identity," but it seems in this reply to me that you think we need to embrace that gay identity in order to truly be Christ to people, with your talk about love and being living sacrifices."

    What I mean is that I think one can as effectively minister to other men and women with SSA, regardless of how one labels oneself, but it seems to me that you think that NOT embracing the gay identity is an impediment to both chaste living, of sacrificial love, and of ministering to others. Perhaps I'm misreading you however.

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  8. Midwest Courage guyJune 19, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    I can't say enough of a hearty "Amen" to what Teresa said. I'm with you on this, sister!

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  9. We're really on the same page, expressing it differently. Chastity is our calling and for most of us with SSA chastity becomes a call to celibacy. We are all different in how we handle our peculiar circumstances, and all of us can err grievously by straying too far from center toward one extreme or the other. Yes, there are those who boast of their 'orientation' and make a big thing of it, as if it was the most important thing in their lives. That is clearly wrong. There are also those who try to deny the reality of that in them. either by unhealthy suppression or by testifying (as I did for a considerable period) to a 'healing' that is little more than illusion and self-deception. This is also a placing of the one aspect of personality in a central place, and is just as wrong. As I told my friend, SSA is not (or should not be) such a big deal. I am a lot more than sexuality. Overemphasis and denial are both, to my mind, open gates to Satan's sneakiest wiles, as, in both cases the defenses are weakened or absent.

    I much like your approach, as described, for you -- but, for me, if for no one else, I'm afraid it would leave me resentful toward God and hampered in the things he's called me to do. I need to be open and honest and accepting of the state in which I find myself. And I am able to use my awareness and understanding to help others through the same minefield.

    Basically, all I'm really saying is that none of us are qualified to judge the way in which others deal with these things -- but each of us needs to map out, with God's help and direction, our own path to holiness in Christ. I admire what you describe of your path, but I part company when there is an appearance of getting me to adopt that instead of the one my feet are upon.

    Let's pray for one another and encourage one another. We all need it.

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  10. Ed, I was going to add another comment precisely speaking to the topic of your second to the last paragraph. We need to accept each other, where we meet one another. That's one of the glorious beauties of Holy Mother Church. A Benedictine couldn't handle being a Dominican, nor could each of them handle being a Franciscan, etc.

    So, yep, you're right, Ed; at least, from my perspective. We have no idea how God work's in our own soul let alone our neighbor's. If someone, for whatever reason, needs or simply wants to identify as gay, queer, or as a person with same sex attractions; married or single, that is their journey, their story, their life in Christ. Perhaps, tomorrow they may see themselves differently. You did, Ed; and, so did I.

    If we're about the business of loving Our Lord thru chaste behavior, wherever he takes us; we can link arms on our journey. Just my .02 cents.

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  11. Hey all,

    Love the discussion, and thank you. I always think of the way in which John Paul II talks about people receiving their identities from others in the *communio personarum* and how that has implications that go so far beyond sexuality.
    Midwest Courage Guy, I see your point about adopting or rejecting social constructs; I think part of what I'm getting at is that social constructs really aren't just things out there in the world, like alligators or duckbilled platypi, that we can "name" objectively in quite the same way as Adam named the beasts. Notice that Adam's response to Eve is very different: he doesn't behold Eve and name her "I dub thee woman," but rather cries out, "Here at last is flesh of my flesh..." She reveals him to himself in a way that is indelible, a way that he cannot choose to accept or reject, because it is a part of his own humanity.
    I've been a pretty strict voluntarist for most of my life, and have really struggled to accept the truth that my identity is not my own little masterpiece that I can form and shape as I will. Accepting my culture's name for the way that I am, the word "queer," is for me a part of my acceptance of my relationship with society, and my need to embrace the human community rather than trying either to placate it, or to keep it at arms length. It's funny, because Theresa above talks about the word "queer" being one that prevented her from accepting the community of others by putting her homosexuality front and center. Two different experiences, based on two different understandings and two interior relationships to the same cultural idea.
    I guess ultimately I think that Leonard Cohen is right: "There's a grain of light in every word." There is also, I would add, a shadow of darkness in most of them. But ultimately, our human words are tools, and self-identifying words are techniques by which we form ourselves, allow others to participate in our formation, and offer ourselves as a gift. If the technique leads towards a greater realization of the truth about oneself, it should be used. The moment it leads away from that truth, it should be discarded. This will vary from heart to heart, and may also change within the same heart over time.
    I would also note that when we reject culturally received identities, this can do a certain violence to our persons. Not an irreparable violence, but a real, felt loss none the less. I think there's often a sense in which people must return to the place where they started and know it for the first time. This process can allow the redemption and resurrection of those things within the self that we have put to death, a rediscovery of what they are in a purified form.

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  12. I'd like to ask a question. Is it just, loving, and good for ministries of whatever stripe, focusing on homosexuality, to force its members to speak only the language they've chosen? Does this not smack of treating homosexuals as children (as women and African Americans were regarded years ago), incapable of knowing what's best for them; and, an unwillingness to meet people where they're at? People, perfectly capable, of working out their salvation as anyone else in community.

    I think you've spoken a bit about this in your comment above, Melinda. This does violence to a person's personal journey; and, in my opinion only, is belittling to one's personhood and speaks of enforced authoritarian dominance, almost cultic, stripping persons of their own personal discoveries. It tramples on ones vulnerabilities; and, makes compliance, not personal growth, as the barometer of acceptance to the larger group.

    I'm not attributing bad motives to any of these groups; but, I've always, always been amazed with these groups and their secret handshake words of how one is to speak of oneself. And, if one doesn't comply, you've suddenly crossed over to the dark side; and, become an outlier.

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  13. Midwest Courage guyJune 20, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Melinda. I'm wondering if you could flesh out a bit what you mean by this particular thought:

    "I would also note that when we reject culturally received identities, this can do a certain violence to our persons. Not an irreparable violence, but a real, felt loss none the less."

    I'm trying to think of other culturally received identities that someone might receive, and that if rejected, would do violence to the person. Also, I'm trying to understand in this case, how rejecting "queer" would do violence to someone, especially since I'm someone who has rejected it. :-)

    Thanks!

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  14. "Complete autonomous independence was the ideal state for a fully realized human being."

    This is so true. I also really liked how you hit on true femininity (or masculinity) residing on a deeper level than the superficial manifestations we see in popular media.

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  15. Lovely story. Thanks, Melinda.

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  16. Happy Canada Day! I hope you have time to put up another post in this series soon. Thank you!

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