Friday, April 27, 2012

Heterosexual Bypass Surgery

I recently had a run in with Father Harvey's argument that there is no such thing as a homosexual orientation, because all people are innately heterosexual. I think this is a lovely and rather clever argument which suffers from only two drawbacks: 1) it uses language in a way that is contrary to common usage, and 2) it's not compelling enough to justify its incomprehensibility.

Point 1 is fairly straightforward. When most people talk about homosexuality as a sexual orientation they're talking experientially, not metaphysically. Unless you happen to be talking to a very committed gay philosopher who believes that his homosexuality forms the ontological matrix of his personhood, this argument commits a category error. The average gay, when he says “I'm homosexual,” means, “I experience predominate/exclusive sexual attraction for members of my own sex.” When he says “My homosexuality is innate,” he means, “I have had homosexual attractions for as long as I've had any attractions at all, and the tendency to have such attractions has probably been with me since birth.” The statement, “you are actually innately heterosexual” is meaningless in this context, because it has absolutely no referrent within his experience. It may be true, but it is true in a way that risks being alienating because it is not recognizable.

Truth should not be like that. Truth is effective when it is coupled with beauty in such a way that it resonates within the chambers of the heart. The heartstrings are plucked so that there is immediate recognition: Yes! That. Ita est. There is no need for a clever argument because it's obvious that the truth has been spoken, that the strings of my heart and the strings of the heart of the other are playing in tune. Christ's statements are always like that. He never argues. He just says things, and if your ears are open, and the heart is properly tuned, then it is obvious that what He's saying is True.

Which brings me to the second objection that I have with this argument. It states that the fundamental sexual orientation of the human person is heterosexual. I politely disagree. I think that the fundamental sexual orientation of the human person is Christological. All men are by nature designed to desire one flesh union with Christ, to be espoused to the Divine Bridegroom. All sexual attraction is merely a sign which points towards this. After the Resurrection of the Body there will be no human marriages – heterosexual marriage, for all of its dignity and loveliness, is a passing and ephemeral thing. The ethical dimension of heterosexuality therefore derives from its role as sign, from the fact that the spousal meaning of the human body points towards this ultimate meaning of human life.

For the majority of people, therefore, heterosexuality serves as a potentially ethical route for the expression of eros. It is not, however, essential. As John Paul II points out in Theology of the Body, eros has a multiplicity of meanings. It is in the Platonic definition that he sees a possible reconciliation between eros and ethos: “If we suppose that “eros” signifies the inner power that “attracts” man to the true, the good, and the beautiful, then we also see a road opening up within the sphere of this concept toward what Christ wanted to express in the Sermon on the Mount.” (TOB 47:5) This is a powerful idea, which suggests an alternative way forward for those who find the “straight” road impassible. Instead of trying to reorient homosexual desire towards heterosexual desire, it is possible to simply bypass heterosexuality and move directly towards Goodness, Beauty, Truth. This is the pathway which Socrates describes in the Symposium, a movement from the appreciation of the beauty of the beloved (in Socrates' account, a beautiful male youth), towards the appreciation of physical beauty in all of its forms, and from there an appreciation of the beauty of the mind, the beauty of institutions and laws, the beauty of the sciences and of knowledge, and finally “drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom; until on that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere,” and “when he comes towards the end will suddenly percieve a nature of wondrous beauty...beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things.”

Yes! That. Ita est.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Courage Conference 2012

I'm going to be speaking at this year's Courage conference, coming up in July (19-22). I've started working on my talk, and I'm pretty excited about it. It's going to be about narratives, looking at different ways of structuring and understanding the homosexual/same-sex attracted/queer experience, and at the ways in which the stories which we tell ourselves about our homosexuality influence the degree to which we are able to change, overcome, sublimate, exploit, or offer up our sexual attractions in order to pursue the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. I'm going to be speaking Friday morning, but I'll be around for the whole weekend, and I'd love to meet some of you in person, so if you've been considering going to the conference, go.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Partridge In a Synchronicity

I was driving from from my daughter's dance class, coming around a curve in the highway, when there was a flash of movement, soaring upward. A small thud sent a shock-wave shuddering through the van, a spray of feathers rose up in the rear-view mirror. It was a largish bird, and I scrupled for the next kilometre or so about whether or not I should go back and retreive it. Finally I turned around in a driveway and backtracked, pulling up on the side of the road just past where I'd hit it. I jogged down the gravel shoulder and out, across the asphalt to where the dead bird lay. It was perfectly intact except for a scattering of downy fluff. I picked it up. It was still warm, its feathers ruffling in the breeze, and its broken neck lolled to one side. Its eyes were gently closed, its brown plumage beautiful, so soft it might still have been alive.

I carried it back to the car in both hands, reconciling with its death. An accidental meeting of two bodies in space, a curious side-effect of my existence, had caused the death of this beautiful thing. I settled it on the seat next to me and drove home.

I have since identified my late-lamented feathered friend as a partridge. It wasn't until after I had plucked, drawn and hung it that my husband pointed out that a partridge is a Christological symbol: the “partridge in a pear tree” is Christ on the Cross. I then looked up. There it was, hanging above my kitchen sink, skewered cross-wise with its little wings outstretched, unmistakably cruciform.

I've been trying to formulate a way of putting into words everything that this means to me. I keep having that phrase, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...” running through my head, reminding me that Christ is my true love, and that I am the beloved to whom He gives the gift of Himself, in this case under the queer guise of roadkill. I suppose also that it conveys in some sense the sense of happy calamity, what Tolkien called eucatastrophe, which is so central to Easter: “O happy fault, o happy sin of Adam that has earned for us such a redeemer.” It reminds me that man lives by gift alone, that gifts lie entirely outside of anything that we can control or predict, that they are wild and improbable, serendipitous and synchronicitous, quotidian and yet infused with meaning. And it points towards the crazy good accident of being alive in the first place, the fragility which underwrites the beauty of existence, the strange and unpredictable chiarascuro brushstrokes by which we are painted into God's masterpeice.

Only God said it so much more eloquently, elegantly, in the crook of a broken neck and a warm breast cooling beneath my fingers.