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)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Eros and Eschaton

Below is a post I wrote for Ethika Politika in response to their critique of my "Looking to Desire".

The editors have kindly invited me to engage with the criticisms of my work which they offered in their post “Is Homosexual Desire Basically Good?” The point of contention is whether or not Eve could have experienced disordered desire while in a state of innocence. It would seem to me that if we assume that a concupiscent or sinful desire can be experienced by innocent nature, then the original sin would not have been the taking and eating of the fruit, but rather the gaze which Eve turns towards it when she sees that it is “pleasing to the eye,” and so forth. According to such an account, she would commit the sin of covetousness the moment that she entertained a desire for the fruit, and the rest would be only a formality. Her nature would thus have fallen the moment that she perceived the fruit as desirable.

This seems to me to be problematic. It would seem that she experiences spontaneous desire (simplex voluntas) at the moment when she apprehends the fruit and it attracts her as good. Classical moral theology differentiates between such a spontaneous desire and the more voluntary forms of intentional desire which occur when the will is engaged. In post-lapsarian man, the aspect of desire which arises prior to consent may be effected by concupiscence, that is, a fallen nature may perceive the good in an object which is evil, as, for example, when a sadist feels attracted to the pain of other human beings. In Eve, however, concupiscence could not have existed prior to the exercise of her volition towards an undue object. This would seem to indicate that her spontaneous desire for the fruit was grounded in the perception of genuine goods, and that her desire became disordered because she chose to appropriate what she ought merely to have appreciated. If she had refused the temptation, had gazed upon the fruit, seen that it was pleasing, good and desirable, and had then given praise to God for having created such a thing without entertaining in her heart any intention to procure it for herself, then there would have been no original sin, and hence no concupiscent desire.

There are, however, admittedly difficulties in applying such an analysis to the desires of historical man. Since the fall, it has been common for men to experience spontaneous desires for undue objects, what the scholastics referred to as “valleities.” These non-culpable concupiscent desires are distinguished as morally neutral -- a helpful distinction for priests dealing with scrupulous penitents. The ethical dimensions of desire become significant only when volition begins to be engaged, that is when the soul begins to covet and to contemplate the means of obtaining that which it desires. For instance, David may first have had a velleity for Bathsheba, then allowed his eyes to linger a little longer than they ought on her body bathing in the moonlight. He might then have experienced a concupiscent movement of the flesh, consented to the pleasure thereof, and proceeded deliberately to the cultivation of unclean phantasms. But it gets worse. He then lays plans to carry out the very act of carnal indulgence, summons her to his boudoir, and finally consummates his unlawful passion for the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Obviously his complicity with the temptation would have increased with each voluntary movement of the will towards the accomplishment of his goal.

It seems clear that same-sex desire may be a non-culpable valleity, provided it is not intentionally indulged, but as such it would still be “disordered,” that is, it would still be a desire for an undue object. The question, then, is whether or not there is any sense in which the erotic dimensions of another woman might be a due object of contemplation for a woman such as myself.

Within the Christian tradition, there is a tendency for erotic desire to be understood solely in terms of the desire for sexual union, that is as a kind of love proper to the spousal meaning of the body and the sexual relations between women and men. Plato suggests an alternate understanding of eros: the Platonic eros is simply desire as such, especially desire for that which is beautiful, whether that beauty is found in the body of a youth, or in the Athenian constitution, or in the contemplation of God. There would seem to be some analogous sense in which the Platonic eros is related to sexual eros – philosophically speaking they are definitely distinct phenomena, but existentially speaking they are intimately related and it is not difficult for the heart of man to confuse or blur such neat abstract distinctions. My personal suspicion is that the true point of meeting for these two forms of eros is the eschatological horizon: that Plato's non-sexual eros is a kind of desire, analogous to spousal eros, which is properly an expression of the soul's desire to be intimately united with God. This is why Socrates proposes an erotic movement from the contemplation of the beauty inherent in the body of man towards the contemplation of beauty as such. If we may be so bold as to translate the Socratic experience into the terms of Christian theology, it would seem that he is proposing a contemplation of the erotic dimensions of the human body solely in relation to the imago dei, without reference to the concupiscent desire for sexual intimacy.

Is such a thing possible? I believe that it is. I will not claim that it is common, or that it is easy, or that it is often to be found amongst men in its pure form. I would, however, be loathe to condemn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as the fruit of a wholly disordered eros. There is no question that Michelangelo spent a great deal of time contemplating the beauty of Adam, including the spousal meanings inherent in his body, in order to produce this work. Michelangelo himself appealed to a Christianization of the Platonic eros when describing his experiences of masculine attractiveness, God “in His grace, shows himself nowhere more / To me than through some veil, mortal and lovely, / Which I can only love for being His mirror.” Although it seems that the great Master's attractions were not wholly uncolored by lust, it would also seem, at least to me, that the images of male beauty which have inspired the Christian world for over 500 years are visible evidence of a redeemed and ordered Platonic desire.

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)

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)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stay A While to Share My Grief

Sorry...my series is on hold for another day or two. I'm not doing all that well, so I'm going to ask readers for prayers. I need to grow a thicker skin. A much thicker skin. Seriously. I don't know what made me think that it was a good idea to put myself this far out in the open, on-line, where anyone can come along and tear off a piece of my flesh at will. Anyways, Robert Sungenis has written a response to my "Looking To Desire" post. I'm not going to link to Sungenis' post. Please let me put in a very strong caveat lector for my same-sex attracted readers: don't hunt it down on-line and read it. It probably won't be as bad for you as it was for me, because the slanders, detractions and rash judgements will not be peppered with your name, but we all know that he's never actually met me, and that he's really just saying what he believes to be true of all of us. I thought that I would be okay, that I could take it like a man, and not let it get under my skin. I was wrong. My husband warned me that I probably didn't want to know, but I didn't believe him...I've still got that Stoic hangover and it often causes me to feel that I can be much more emotionally bullet-proof than I actually can.

The big problem is that I suffer really badly from what I call "the Kafka Effect," that is to say, the effect described in Kafka's "The Trial" and "The Judgement," where people come to feel that they really are guilty just because they're accused of things. (It's actually true: that really does happen. Darren Brown did a really interesting episode of The Experiment where he tried to see if a person could be made to confess to a murder they didn't commit just by tapping into their reserves of free-floating guilt, by accusing them and making them doubt themselves. It worked a charm. In less than twenty-four hours, this guy was down at the police station putting his hands up to a crime that had never actually even occurred. Apparently it happens in real life as well: in a significant percentage of DNA exoneration cases, the accused confessed to the crimes that they were later exonerated for. Consider that your official social justice factoid for the day.) In any case, I've been mightily assured by people who actually know me that my initial shocked disbelief was the right reaction, that the accusations are unfounded, and that Sungenis does not have a secret Eye of Sauron that allows him to see into some dark recess of my heart where even I am afraid to look.

So pray for me. Like I said, I'm taking it badly and my confidence is pretty severely shaken. It doesn't matter that it's not founded on anything more than presumption and prejudice, it still stings like a son-of-a-bitch. Hopefully by tomorrow I'll have pulled myself together, and I'll be up to posting part 7.

Love you all, Melinda

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Am I What I Am?

A long time ago, my spiritual director told me that what I needed were friends. Female friends. Not just people who were married to my male friends, or people whom I invited to parties because they were friends of my husband, but real friends of my own. According to Father Vit the reason that women need female friends is so that they can complain to one another. Women, he said, need to complain, otherwise they keep everything inside and it comes out in other ways – they take it out on their families, their husbands. Men don't want to listen to this, and they're not any good at it, so women need to call each other up to bitch.

That was all fine and good in theory, and I made some half-hearted attempts to carry it out, but I was very good at making excuses. The women that I knew didn't pick up the phone. I didn't have anything to complain about. I had sisters to talk to. I didn't have time to get out of the house with all of those children to take care of, and I didn't have a driver's license, and I didn't know any people, and I'm totally socially inept. Those kind of excuses. My husband told me “If you really wanted to do this, you would get it done. The reason you have no friends is that you work on it for about ten minutes a month.” I really resented that, crossed my arms, pouted, and insisted that he didn't understand how hard this was for me, and how hard I was trying, and how it wasn't my fault.

Then, in the early part of this year, God decided to weigh in on the controversy. Due to an absolutely inconceivable set of blunders and miscommunications involving incompetence on a level that is normally impossible to people other than myself, my long-distance got cut off. The long-distance drought lasted for months, during which I whined to my husband about how lonely and isolated this was making me. He said, “You never tried to call those people when you had long-distance. Now you want to load six children into the car and drive ten minutes into town to use a payphone?” I girded my loins, grit my teeth, engaged my advanced emergency Stoic willpower, and decided to wait it out. I still had e-mail. I could still send people letters....you know, theoretically, if I wanted to. Then my phone line went down. Now I was stranded, without internet, without e-mail, without a driver's license, without a telephone, without, in short, any possible way of contacting the outside world.

Finally, after years of excuses, I hit my breaking point. I realized that I actually literally could not survive without significant contact with other human beings. Human beings outside of my family who would actually talk back – not just people who received my various missives into the darkness in the form of articles published in the Catholic press. When, after a couple of weeks, the phone finally came back on-line, I called people. I called one of my closest friends (admittedly, the wife of one of my male best-friends – but only because he went and married an old acquaintance of ours), and she said, “Did somebody die or something?” “No.” “Oh. I figured that something terrible must have happened, because you never call.”

Having made the leap into the unknown, I also followed up a second lead on human social interaction: I joined a blog community of other chaste same-sex attracted Christian intellectuals. I figured that I could complain with Mantis and Egypt about my kids, and my husband, and my various normal, straight-woman type problems, but I also needed people to talk to about this homosexuality thing. Mostly for research purposes, of course. Because I was different. I wasn't really gay. I was married with six kids, and hadn't deliberately entertained any lesbian fantasies in over thirteen years. So that meant I was straight. Right?

Within half an hour of being on-line, I realized that that was bullshit. It's hard to entirely describe the feeling that I had, reading what other people were posting, what they were thinking, how they were relating to their sexuality, to beauty, to their faith. There was no sense of horror at all, no sense of my worldview or self-concept crumbling, just an immense relief. I thought, “Here, at last, are people like me. I'm not completely alone in the world. I'm not just the really, really weird girl who doesn't think and feel and talk like other people. I'm not just strange and socially awkward and out of place. I'm queer.” That word fit so well. The lovely “q” sound, the euphonious Victorian twang, the fact that it was a pejorative that had been reclaimed in self-defence, that it described a state of sexual otherness which didn't necessarily connote any particular kind of sexual behaviour whatsoever. Queer. Other. Exile.

But an exile travelling towards the promised land – and no longer travelling alone.

(Part 6 of 12)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

This Loneliness Just Won't Leave Me Alone

I don't want to give the impression that the problem with my conversion narrative was entirely due to circumstances beyond my own control. The truth is that I succumbed so easily to the pressure to give a reasonable facsimile of the idealized ex-gay trope because I had managed to produce for myself the illusion of conforming to that trope. With a little psychological trompe l'oiel, I had made my homosexuality disappear. I had whisked it away by the simple expediency of stoically stamping out almost all traces of sexual desire in myself. I didn't experience SSA because I hardly experienced Eros at all.

The problem with Stoicism is that it works like magic...not like stage magic, but like the kind of magic where you sign away your soul on a dotted line. If you're any good at it, Stoicism pays massive dividends up front, but sooner or later the debt gets called in and it's bone crunching time.

I was very good at it.

For nearly ten years I stoically repressed my sexuality. Then, when I was pregnant with my sixth child, the collections officer came calling. I was trying as usual to be holy and heterosexual, but found that I was increasingly lonely, anxious and wound up instead.

Okay, lonely doesn't cover it. I wrote a novel in which the main character, Germanicus Kirkman, was a martyred, highly erotophobic Stoic trapped in the bottom of a malevolent supernatural Well which was outside of time, space, and existence. He was even lonelier than me, because he had no hope of any contact with people other than himself. Over the course of some hundred-thousand words, Germanicus became increasingly more and more insane, literally torturing himself within his own imagination as he tried to cling to virtue, to be perfect all on his own strength. He was ruthlessly rational, unable to be weak, trying to dominate every single one of his passions by the strength of his own will, unable to accept or forgive himself, unable to receive love.

I identified with him completely. For about six months, I could not stop writing this novel, every single night. It took over my life. I wrote it compulsively, and I could no more put it aside than you can escape from the logic of a dream. My subconscious had taken control of me, and it would not be silenced until it had spilled out every last drop of its complaint.

In some ways, living as Germanicus was wonderful. My pain threshold shot through the roof. All temptations save pride became laughable. I could look on my own sufferings with marvelous indifference. I could face insult and injury and be vexed with no man. I could be superhuman. Or inhuman. Depending on your point of view.

Only I couldn't get the novel to come to a proper resolution. I wanted Germanicus to triumph, to save himself, but every ending that I tried came out wooden or incoherent.

Finally, I showed the manuscript to my husband. He said, “You need to take this to a shrink, not an editor.” I was unbelievably angry with him about that, but slowly I began to realize that it was true. I wasn't writing about a character in a weird speculative horror situation. I was writing autobiography in archetypal guise.

(Part 5 of 12)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Doubled Up Inside

What I didn't count on when I wrote my book, was that it was going to lead me to direct engagement with a public discourse. I would be drawn into the cultural currents. I would be expected and pressured in countless subtle ways to dress up my discourse in the right linguistic uniform, to show which side of the culture wars I was on. No matter how much I disliked the ex-gay narrative, no matter how much I wanted to avoid being paraded like a pet peacock, an example of a successfully reformed lesbian, it was going to happen.

My father in law warned me. He said, with a wisdom that I couldn't recognize, “People are going to try to use your story for their political ends.” I was just so happy to be able to speak; it was part pride, I'll admit that. The pleasant vanity of hearing one's own voice on radio, of sitting in a television studio and talking about oneself. I was also terrified, paralyzed by stage fright. My husband wanted to discuss what I was going to say, how I was going to avoid sounding plastic or saccharine, but I just wanted to plug my book and get out alive.

When I went on Catholic radio for the first time the host, a well-meaning pious woman, cornered me. She said, “So you heard God speaking to you in your heart?” I fumbled. I stuttered. I said, “Yes. In a sense,” or something like that. When the interview was over, I hung up the phone and sat staring at the wall, wondering what had happened. My husband asked, “How did it go?” I said, “I told them that I heard God speaking to me in my heart. I gave a classic conversion testimonial. I didn't mean to.” He said, “Next time, we'll get you ready before you go on.”

My next radio interview was better, so I figured that I was okay when EWTN invited me down to appear on the Abundant Life. Then I got there, and I realized that I wasn't in Canada anymore. I was in Alabama. The women at the EWTN mass were all wearing pretty skirts, and many of them had their heads covered. Black people worked all of the service jobs, and they referred to me as “ma'am,” in this weird way, as if slavery had never really come to an end. People would ask me what I was there to do a show about, and I would say “homosexuality. I used to be a lesbian.” Then they would talk about the gay agenda, and Prop 8, and how the gays were taking over the schools. It was so strange, this presumption that since I had left my lesbian lover behind I would therefore look on homosexuality with fear and loathing. I smiled and nodded, because I didn't know what to say.

Eventually I got to the studio where I was greeted by Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a reparative therapist from NARTH who was to be appearing alongside me on the show. He was the expert, the doctor. I was automatically, in some way, cast in the role of the patient, the one who had been successfully treated and reformed. Only I had never been treated. I had never been to any therapy. I had never been repaired. There was a sort of awkwardness in that which got under my skin.

Then, at some point during filming when the camera was off, Dr. Fitzgibbons turned to me and in a hushed tone of voice that suggested he was sharing an appalling secret with me said something about “gay bowel syndrome” and rectal cancer. I was stunned. I didn't know how to react to that. Was I supposed to be horrified? Disgusted? Shocked? In disbelief? I was none of those things. I just sat there, waiting for Rod Sirling to pop out and explain how I'd gotten into the Twilight Zone.

I got another jolt of cognitive dissonance a little later in the program, when the host turned to me and enthused “You're so honest!” I was suffering from culture-shock and intimidation in the presence of an expert, and I was giving a really wooden, highly expurgated account of myself. I was behaving so artificially that when my husband later tried to watch the show on YouTube he couldn't make it through more than five painful minutes. I didn't resemble myself at all, yet I was being praised for heroic authenticity.

I felt like a fraud. I'd written a book about how the Culture Wars mentality was wrong, and suddenly I was in the thick of that war, an artillery piece in the battle against the Gay Agenda. Moreover, I knew that the politicization of my sexuality was an obstacle to the work that I actually wanted to be doing. I was producing the kind of ex-gay narrative that appeals to good Catholic mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who dearly want their loved one's to be able to acheive a full, vibrant, healthy, happy heterosexuality – the kind of ex-gay narrative that has failed the LGBTQ community so badly because it falls afoul of the real experience of many people with SSA.

I was fast becoming the very stereotype that I had so pointedly criticized in the opening chapter of my book and I didn't know where I was going to find the courage to go back to being myself.

(part 4 of 12)