Thursday, June 7, 2012

Open to Scorn Just Like Me

The decision to see myself as queer is not something that happened overnight. There had been cracks opening up in the shell of my putative heterosexuality for some time, and I'd been increasingly frightened and conflicted about that. On the one hand, Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in,” on the other, accepting my own queerness meant relinquishing a comfortable position within the Culture War, it meant stepping out into the unknown, and it meant being really honest with myself in a way that was both humbling and scary.

I remember reading a post by Joshua Gonnerman about “owning” our Christianity; the idea that at some point we have to stop trying merely to conform to a simplistic cultural construct, a card-board cut out of sanctity, a stereotype of the “good Christian.” The teachings of the Church have to become real, they have to imprint themselves on the personality in such a way that they are intertwined with it, married to it, so that Christ becomes me and I become Christ but without losing my own identity.

This is a frightening process because the path that Christ followed is not a safe one. There are plenty of places along the way that are homey, welcoming, cozy, and secure, but the temptation is to believe that truly doing the will of God involves arriving at one of these way-houses and then staying put. It's the same spirituality that prompted Peter to suggest that they put up some tents on the Mount of Transfiguration, the same spirituality that caused him to plead with Our Lord not to go to the Cross. It's a spirituality of fearfulness, a natural fearfulness to be sure, but a fearfulness that prevents us from becoming what we are truly called to become. It's a spirituality which says, “Oh. I've never heard that before. I've never seen that before. This makes me uncomfortable. You're playing with fire.”

It was a spirituality which, this winter, I realized I could not afford. I realized that by calling myself a “former lesbian,” the term which I had uncomfortably compromised with in order to describe myself in the propaganda for my book and other various commercial productions of myself, I was trying to eke out a comfortable identity. “Former lesbian” implied an “ex-gay” narrative, but it tried to shilly-shally away from the political implications of that. It made me acceptable, predictable, safe, but at the same time, somewhat dishonest. People on both “sides” of the debate consistently believed that I was peddling some sort of “orientation change,” that I was claiming to have been miraculously delivered from homosexuality. And in a sense, in spite of all of my caveats, circumlocutions, and nuancings, I believed that too.

This winter, I realized that it was definitely untrue. I was not a “former lesbian.” I was a queer girl who happened to have had a stroke of extreme good fortune: a wonderful straight man, a man who loved me for who I was rather than for who he wanted me to be, decided that he was going to court me. He spent four grueling years working his ass off to try to break down the various defences that I had surrounded myself with. He made it clear that I could trust him. He asked me to take him in, without asking me to change. There was no reason for him to think that this would work, nothing but a fool's hope to keep him going, and yet he was sure that I was the one. That love was the only thing that set me apart from any other homosexual woman. I hadn't been changed, merely saved – not saved from homosexuality, but from the loneliness, isolation, sexual frustration, and homophobia that other same-sex attracted Catholics face all the time.
When I realized this, I saw that my choice to eschew a homosexual “identity” was not founded on a devotion to truth, but on a kind of pride. I used to tell myself that this was the Catholic way, that having a “gay” identity meant identifying with my sin – but now I realized that refusing to identify with my sin actually put me in the position of that Pharisee standing at the front of the Temple praying, “Thank God that I'm not like all those queers...” It allowed me to believe that I had left my homosexuality behind, that I had fixed myself, that I had achieved the impossible miracle which so many others hoped and prayed for: I had bent down, and by the strength of my own will I had pulled the thorn from my flesh. Yet the truth was, I had done no such thing. I was not a “former lesbian,” but a homosexual woman, still standing in constant need of Christ's grace in order to make straight my queer ways. To deny that I was queer was to deny that I was same-sex attracted, to deny that I was just an ordinary sinner: beautiful, beloved, fallible, fumbling towards redemption with my little wild bouquet clutched tightly in my hand, broken and imperfect, waiting for the Bridegroom to return.

(Part 7 of 12)


  1. Brava! Bravissima! This is my favorite installment of yours yet. :)

  2. Go Melinda!
    You speak for many of us and do it beautifully.

  3. Midwest Courage guyJune 7, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    I hope that you will consider having some conversations with some of us at the Courage Conference, who've wrestled with this as well--but have arrived at a very different conclusion about our queerness, or our gayness. I think that most of the very public conversations that take place in the blogosphere over at Spiritual Friendship, or with Ron Belgau, Eve Tushnet and company are really focused on this notion of embracing our queerness. I think those who don't choose that, like me and so many others in Courage, don't publicly talk about it, but we have certainly wrestled with it too, but arrived at a very different conclusion about the human person. I'm personally looking forward to hearing and seeing you at the Conference, but as I read your blog, I realize in so many respects, you see the world through a very different lens than most of us do at Courage. And that's OK, and I hope it will result in some good conversations, all the way around.

  4. Hi Midwest Courage guy,

    Thanks for the comment. Actually, I should probably do a post at some point about the reasons why someone, like yourself, would choose *not* to identify -- my spiritual director reminded me recently that there's no single "right" way to deal with any spiritual problem, that there are many different ways and that each person has to carefully discern the one that works for them... and of course what works today might be different from what will work ten years from now. But I'm certainly looking forward to the conversations :)

  5. If you haven't. be sure to read about Saint Mary of Egypt, a saint so highly regarded in the East that fifth Sunday of Lent on the Byzantine calendar is devoted to her. She had some very severe sexual issues. Instead of being miraculously healed upon her conversion and repentance, she spent the remainder of her life living in the desert and struggling with temptations.

  6. Hi Melinda,
    So, I haven't read your book yet, but how do you feel about it now? In reading this series of blogs (especially this one, it sounds like you are deepening some ideas about things and being "queer" (to use your word). I have no idea if people can change or cannot change their orientation. It sounds like you are saying that many people with SSA cannot because it is a part of their core identity.
    Therefore, that means that one shouldn't bury that part of them, shouldn't try to eradicate it because one simply can't eradicate whom they are. It is quite impossible. Knowing all that, there is still the call to God's holiness in all areas. And in our sexuality, the question becomes, how does one take their homosexuality and make it "gift" as God desires all of us to do, in whatever state we find our life.

    So, I think what I'm reading is that the problem you face and many people with SSA face is a constant "attack" from fellow Christians demanding that they change who they are, when instead, they should simply BE who they are (irregardless of whether it is "disordered" or not (which is irrelevant)), and pursue the virtues of chastity wherever we find ourselves.

    Is that it?


  7. Melinda,

    I don't know why but this last post of yours made me cry! In a good way I think. I'm a bit confused though from reading your various posts about how you feel and think about being 'queer'. Sometimes you seem to portray it as a good thing, and at other times something undesirable. I'm also left wondering what exactly you mean by the term.

  8. Midwest, I am delighted to hear you say that! I think it's quite clear that what we are trying to feel our ways to is, as you say a different lens than that used by most folk at Courage. I've known too many people at Courage who have insisted that we have to do it there way, so I am delighted to hear someone recognizing the difference, and saying that it's okay to look at these things differently!

  9. Hey Melinda, I can only imagine the difficulties you and your family are going through with stepping out into the unknown and facing hostile reactions from many different directions. But, as an older, queer, Catholic woman, I'm holding you and your family close in prayer as one small way to help you weather this storm.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being courageous enough to share all this with us. You're a welcome port in the storm for those of us who wrestle daily with this; and, find our comfort in the Arms of Our Lord and Lady ... and, now you come as a welcome gift.

    Dancing thru my tears, and praying for you and your family.

  10. Dan S.

    I think that I mostly agree with what you're saying here... Basically, I think that a queer identity is about more than just same-sex attraction -- same-sex attraction is usually a part of it, though not necessarily. I've known some trans people whose sexual attractions are for the opposite biological sex. The Catechism and the teachings of the Church only really deal with homosexuality *qua* homosexuality, that is as sexual relations between two persons of the same sex and the desire to engage in such relations. The competence of the Magisterium doesn't extend to all of the other issues -- the psychological, sociological and anthropological dimensions that lie outside of the realm of faith and morals. Unfortunately, in practice the theological term "homosexual," defined solely in reference to the desire to have gay sex, is constantly equivocated with all of the other elements of gender-queerness, aesthetic preferences, and sexual otherness that are also a part of most LGBTQ identities.
    In other words, people end up getting pressured to "change" elements of their personality that are neither a) disordered, nor b) changeable without doing violence to oneself. Untangling this is a long and complicated process -- in this series, I'm trying to express how that process has gone for me thus far, but I recognize that I'm still a work in progress.

  11. Anonymous,

    You wanted to know what I mean by the word "queer," and why it sometimes seems to be a good thing, and sometimes a bad thing. I think that a lot of what I'm trying to do with this series is to explore what it is that I mean by "queer," and its relationship to my femininity. I'm still working out for myself how I define it -- I know it means being "not straight," being different from most women in ways that are common amongst SSA women -- and also having a lot of things weirdly in common with gay men as well. Like most human realities, there are elements of queerness that are good, other elements that are bad, there were advantages and disadvantages to trying to be "straight," and there are advantages and disadvantages to thinking of myself as queer. I wouldn't say that either of these approaches are "the right one," it's more a matter of trying to find the best way to be chaste and happy given my own circumstances and temperament.

  12. We're all works in progress, Melinda. And, I just want to say: I usually love the stuff on your blog, but this series you've been doing just blows me away. Excellent, excellent, excellent stuff.

  13. Thanks for this series, Melinda! I have been at the receiving end of a vicious attack over defending the gay identity for Catholics (it was over on Catholic Answer Forums), so I know how much it stings and how much courage you've shown in not letting the haters shut you down.

  14. Fellow Canadian, eh!June 9, 2012 at 11:21 PM

    Melinda, I owe you my thanks as well for both your insight and perseverance - I've enjoyed reading everything you've had to say. I will keep you in prayer during our Corpus Christi procession tomorrow, and I look forward to future writings! :)

  15. I'm an atheist, so while the whole 'god' part of it flows up my optic nerves and out the back of my head, I commend you on your choices and enjoy your reasoning. You folks are talking religion.
    I won't be.

    Evolution by Natural Selection gives you its stamp of approval as well. Most queers or gays who live 'the life' do not procreate. Even in the modern world, it's a hassle to do so regardless of the availability of third party wombs, anonymous sperm, and medical implantation of embryos. For the average breeder, reproducing isn't a hassle and happens while they're having a heck of a good time despite their efforts against it.

    If you manage to get married long enough to have a few kids and then go live with someone of the same sex, it really doesn't matter. Your job is done.

    People are often under the impression that being homosexual (and by this I mean specifically, having an overwhelming desire to mate with people of the same sex) is either a choice or genetic. Of course, it's neither.

    It's the grand sum of smaller things, including happenstance, acting in concert over years. It gets directed by something(s) early on and then each successive choice or event is made with momentum in one direction. There might be a neurological momentum (a gentle breeze for example, blowing things a certain direction toward same-sex attraction). What previously was a free choice or neutral event becomes a biased choice or biased event, and soon marginal thought streams become occasional fantasy. Fantasies are reinforced and become habit, and in time an identity is formed. That's it. By that point, the brain is wired. And it will not rewire itself straight by sheer luck, naturally, even if the momentum (hormone, neurological difference etc) was shut down.
    Likewise, it can't be reasoned back or even forced back through therapy or willpower.

    Despite the claims that adult brains can change dramatically, they cannot of course, as we all know. It is not because the brain can't make lots of new connections just as fast as it did during childhood--it can and does. It is because the brain has already been wired and there are all of the legacy connections constantly firing and reinforcing themselves as life rolls on. Adding a new neural path does nothing to negate the old one. They compete with one another, and the original one has much more influence and ability to self-reinforce, all things being equal.

    It's one thing to build a city on an empty sprawl with piles of wood and bricks. It's another to raze a city and rebuild it where it stood while people live and work there.

    It can be done but is effectively impossible. What isn't impossible is building the city 'right' the first time or making changes early on in the build phase. If someone reaches adulthood having a fully formed a same sex attraction to the extent that love and devotion is bound up in it, that is not going away.

    Science could save the day and end the suffering and, as you put it, loneliness, isolation, and sexual frustration queers endure. But they will not because politics will not allow it. However, science has a firm footing in identifying homosexuality as an anomaly that can and should be dealt with.

    If you look at the fundamental purpose of love and its rituals, it is to reproduce. The purpose is not to write poetry and have a fluttering heart and dance around all glassy eyed. No. Those are just byproducts. The purpose is to get in there and make a baby.

    Being strictly gay impedes a person's ability to procreate if it doesn't block it altogether.

    In the future, if politics aren't involved, this sort of thing will be corrected in the brain during childhood. But that's a big 'if' on the politics of it.

    I apologize for any offense in this comment, and I certainly understand if it is deleted.

  16. Tim Simmons, I've been battered over at Courage and Ladies of Courage trying to get some breathing room over the straight-jacket terms allowed w/in Courage. I had to step away else I transgress, "To Thine Own Self Be True", and commit spiritual suicide.

    Melinda, you're carrying a lot of water, so-to-speak, for a lot of us. If there's some way other than prayer to help out, please give a shout out.

  17. I'm getting a lot from you sharing your experience. In the Catholic/Christian world I'm under constant pressure to redefine myself, to use this word and never that word, to admit I'm not really 'saved' unless I stop saying I'm gay (even though I always throw in the chaste/celibate bit).
    I think God has excellent reasons for you to be speaking out this way. You are a blessing to many.

  18. Just want to echo Teresa's last comment. Whatever we can do to help!

  19. First off, totally love the narrative! As a Catholic who's attracted to both genders in different ways and on different levels, this has been a very confusing topic for me, as I try to follow Church teaching but also am adamantly pro-LGBT rights. I've never commented before, but this website actually played a huge part in my decision to follow Catholic teachings. So, thanks for that =)

    Secondly, I was wondering--what do you think about trans* issues with regards to Catholicism? I am very supportive of trans* rights and extremely opposed to discrimination/violence towards the non-cyssexual, but am unsure how to apply Church teachings on this subject. I do not deal with these issues (although some people, including my mother, have wondered...) but a relative recently came out as FtM, and I've started seriously wondering what the Church has to say about this issue. I'd really appreciate some insight!

  20. Thanks for raising this. There's a lot of ignorance and confusion surrounding trans issues, and I agree with you completely in terms of discrimination, violence, and I would add effeminophobia. The Church says very little about this, wisely I think -- the question of what's going on with trans people is largely a question of medical science which lies outside of the competency of the Magisterium. She's made a few gaffes in the past, weighing in on scientific questions as though they pertained to faith and morals, and it's been an on-going PR disaster for centuries (*cough*Galileo*cough*). I'm assuming that She wants to avoid that, particularly in an area where a lot of pain and harm could be caused by a few words hastily promulgated in ignorance. She is clear that in cases where there is no hormonal or biological reason for a person to be trans, that this is to be considered a psychological disorder -- but that leaves open the question of whether any significant number of trans people really lack a hormonal or biological basis for their trans-genderedness or trans-sexuality, which is something that is simply not yet known. She also suggests that gender reassignment surgery is to be considered a mutilation, but that it may be permissible in cases where a person is suffering sufficient psychological distress -- distress which is resistant to other forms of treatment -- that the surgery could be considered to a be a life-saving intervention. Also, it's possible to get a dispensation in the case of intersex conditions if a person had a gender medically assigned to them at birth, and then later comes to believe that the doctors misdiagnosed their true gender.

  21. Thank you, thank you Melinda for being so open and honest about this issue!

    I'm a celibate middle aged female. I spent years trying to change my orientation but after 10 years I finally accepted that it was here to stay. Many of my fellow same sex attracted christian friends gave up as well and became partnered with someone of their own gender. I gave serious thought of doing the same but for me I couldn't reconcile my faith with my sexuality. I also have friends who went thru the same ministries that I did and stoutly claim to no longer have same sex attractions, to the point of being defensive about it which makes me wonder how much truth there is to their claim. But on the other end, my friends who have gone the opposite direction I suspect at times wonder why I deny myself that same happiness that they've found with a partner.

    It's so difficult to be in what I call 'no man's land', that place in which I refuse to embrace my gayness by acting on it but I also refuse to act like it's no longer there. So in being true to myself I often feel as if I offend both sides so that's why I so appreciate your blog and your continued honesty about your own journey.

    This series you are doing is brilliant and so poignant!!!

    You will be in my prayers. Thanks again for your voice about this issue and your willingness to walk a line that is often frowned upon and not welcomed by either side of the fence when it comes to this very complex issue.


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