Friday, May 2, 2014

For All the Good Moms and Dads

I promised that I was going to write about "The Third Way." Tonight, I'm not going to give a complete review. I'm just going to address a single point.
It's a point that a lot of people sweep under the carpet, they say "Well, that's some people's experience, and you can't deny the right of those people to speak about their experience." True enough. Or they say, "The film had so much else right, and it didn't exactly say this..." Also true. But the point is not a little one. It's a very large one, and it's caused a lot of scandal and a lot of grief over the years.

It's the question of what causes homosexuality. "The Third Way" doesn't make any outright claims about this, but it subtlely advances a thesis that is deeply harmful: homosexuality is caused by poor parenting, a lack of love from the same-sex parenting, or else by sexual abuse which parents do not adequately address.

The film-makers had access to other narratives. I went to a lot of trouble to ensure that I didn't say anything in my interview that could reasonably be construed as supporting the "bad parents = gay kid" narrative. I did that for a very good reason. It had nothing to do with a political agenda, a soft succumbing to the pro-gay forces. It had everything to do with the fourth commandment. "Honour thy father and thy mother."

I'm gay. I've been gay since as long as I've had a sexuality worth speaking of. I remember back in highschool when all of the other girls had crushes on boys, and they asked me, "Who do you have a crush on?" Desperately, I surveyed the available males, chose one that seemed nice enough, and said, "Him." I later learned that girls think about the boys that they have crushes on, that those boys are important outside of the conversations where you have to have a crush or else...what's wrong with you? It's not that I didn't have a crush on anyone. I can recall precisely who I was crushing on at that moment. She was beautiful, with this enchanting upturned lip and the most soul-melting brown eyes. But obviously I couldn't have named a girl.

I'm gay, but I don't see any reason whatever to think that my parents are to blame. I'm the oldest of eight children. When I was growing up, my mother had an cross-stitch that she had made hanging beside the door as we exited our home. It showed a picture of a nest, and was accompanied by the words "There are two important gifts that we give our children. One is roots, the other is wings." My mother's entire parenting style is summarized in this simple proverb. Even though she was insanely busy when I was growing up (and she's still insanely busy now) I always knew that I was loved, that I was supported, that she was proud of me and that she was there for me no matter what I did, believed, or chose. Even though my father was busy trying to provide for a family of eight, I had a tremendous amount in common with him. We did things together, he recommended books to me, took me on skiing trips, and taught me how to build a deck. I'm close to all of my siblings, male and female. When I compare my relationships with my family to the relationships that my friends have with their families what stands out is not that my family of origin was lacking, but that it was exceptional.

I owe it to my parents to state this, clearly, plainly, and publicly. I'm not angry at the producers of "The Third Way," but I'm a little disappointed. I tried to make sure that I offered them an alternative narrative, the necessary material with which to say "Sometimes someone with an absolutely f***ing fantastic family ends up gay. And it's not because she was sexually abused. It's because...honestly? We don't know." We don't know. The Catechism has the humility to state this plainly and and honestly, but for some reason the Catholic media struggles to acknowledge that this might be true. We want a scapegoat, someone to blame for homosexuality, and in the post-psychotherapeutic cultural landscape parents are a perennial sitting duck.

So today I'm giving a shout out to all of the parents of gay kids. A lot of you are great people. Fantastic people. Ordinary saints. People like my folks.
Don't let anyone tell you that it's your fault.


  1. I never understood the 'having a crush' on others when I was in school. Boys don't fully develop until they are 18/19 years of age, and for women around 16. I never had a crush on boys, either.

    Girls can be awkward too.

    My daughter is going through the same thing in middle school. She doesn't get it. Boys are gross and they stare at you funny.

    I'm not even gay.

    But this superficial-sexuality of crushes, just isn't real. It is like having a view of believing there is a soul-mate out there for you only leads to higher rate of divorce.

    ""A study of 1,400 married men and women shows that people who hold soul mate orientations are 150% more likely to end up divorced than those who do not.""

  2. I watched the film yesterday. It started out strong, and then devolved into a mess of platitudes. I had hope for it when I saw that you were interviewed. I came away wondering if you were disappointed in the not so subtle assertions about the causes of homosexuality.

    I'm not gay, but many of the ideas in this film also crossover into general discussions of sexuality from a Catholic perspective. Why is there so much reliance on natural law arguments when talking about sexual morality? By that logic, kissing must be immoral because our mouths are designed for eating, drinking, and to a lesser extent, breathing. I have a difficult time with natural law arguments to prohibit all other types of sexual expression.

    I would not show this film to any gay people I know. It leaves the viewer with too many unanswered questions which aren't likely to be answered by the theological "experts" in the movie.

  3. I generally liked the film. Yes it did have a bit of drama/cheese factor to it in spots, but the witness that was given in it was valuable and moving and there was excellent production value throughout. It's casting a wide net for Catholics and non to realize the Church's teaching on the subject. It is a good antidote to the general malaise of media in the popular culture.

    I appreciate your sensitivity to parents and the caveat to respect the fourth commandment. Does this mean however, that the witnesses in the film who did mention parents as part of their equation, aught not to have? I hope there is a way to be honest about this in their stories and obey the fourth commandment at the same time.

    Is there is enough "Catholic Media" regarding the origins of homosexuality to make the statement that a "Catholic Media" is looking for a scapegoat on the subject? Perhaps I don't take in enough media to notice it. Your right that sometimes we don't know the origins of SSA within ourselves, but sometimes we do. At least some of them.

    My own story is more along the lines of your own when it comes to my relationship with my parents, but Ive met many in recent years who were not as fortunate. They have been Moreman, Jewish, Protestant and Agnostic as well as Catholic, who accredit a portion of their homosexual development to the relationship with one or the other parent. As a result, I don't mind that being part of the narrative of the film because it's very real for a lot of people.

    That said, I'd have liked the alternate narrative you tried provide given at least a few seconds of time, because that is real too and part of your authentic witness.

  4. Hi, Melinda:

    "Cringeworthy cheese factor" LOL!

    Yeah, the swelling music, the emphasis upon suffering - not that there isn't suffering involved (absolutely) - but there is something lacking in the sense of mystery to many of these Catholic apologetic media. And human beings are mysterious, and perhaps nowhere more mysterious than in what draws us to others and who we are drawn to.

    In these kinds of videos and interviews, you and Joey Prever and the others tend to shine forth amid the clunky narratives and questions. (I would love to see what Flannery O'Connor would say about this stuff).

    BTW, what's with the ruins that the protagonists of the video were wandering through? It looked like a bombed-out church.

    1. Yes, I had objections to the music and the random me it felt like the film was confused between talking about the Third Way and a "Come Home to the Catholic Church" advertisement...which is too bad because I enjoyed a lot of the content, otherwise.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this, Melinda. I was unable to watch all of The Third Way due to my crappy computer, but I am desperately weary of the parental-wounding trope (as you know :) ). The damage it can do and has done to families is ghastly, and the certainty with which it is so often advanced totally belies the really quite shaky ground upon which it rests, both as to statistical evidence and as to its actual explanatory power in theory (after all, nobody proposes to explain heterosexual attraction by a lack of affection from the opposite-sex parent, for instance).

    And @ Gavin, ooh, yeah, Flannery O'Connor would really be something on this ... :D

  6. Huh, I didn't think that's what they were doing. I thought they were trying to debunk the "bad parenting" trope by super-imposing Joey's clip about how is parents "tried to offer the best they could give" to all their children. I thought they were attempting to do the opposite.

    1. Bingo. The criticism assumes a superficial viewer--which might, however, be correct

  7. My parents weren't bad, and neither were my cousin's, and we both struggle...the Third Way made a point about school peers, and for my story, extended family behaviors also rounded out my gravitas toward same-sex relationships. SSA development occurs both i in and outside the family of origin, imho.

  8. "The Third Way" is offensive, and I feel sorry for the people who watch this video without skepticism. It doesn't take much skepticism to realize that many gay people are born into a beautiful life, meet someone of the same sex, and live happy together for the rest of their lives. I love how the LGBTQ community has gained so many rights. Many people of this community have adopted children in need of care and have provided them a wholesome life. It's simply beautiful. Shame on the producers.

  9. Bravo Melinda! I'm still amazed that so many churches and reparative therapists still cling to the abuse theory in regards to what causes homosexuality. If that were the case then the incidence of homosexuality would be far more prevalent. Thank you for your courage to come out and say very simply, 'we just don't know'.


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