Friday, September 17, 2010

Further Thoughts on Homoeroticism

I've received a lot of positive feedback by email about the post recommending my friend's gay traditionalist blog a few days ago.

However, I would like to discuss two things that came up in the comments thread of that post. I posted them there, but they got rather long and so it makes more sense just to do a post about it:

1) I think what one of the posters said about there being no real openly homosexual Saints is an important point.

Of course, it could just be because, in the past, sexual preference was not conceived of in the same essentialized way as it is today, as an identity, etc. And yet, surely temptations of all sorts have been experienced in the past, and usually there are Saints who shared peoples experiences.

All sorts of Saints experienced, it is implied, heterosexual temptation (and had to throw themselves into thorn bushes, lol) but this particular experience is covered up or denied as "scandalous" or whatever. Give me a break! It's all the more ironic given how much of a subtext homoeroticism has been in the culture of mandatorily celibate clergy for much of history.

Pope Benedict will beatify Cardinal Newman on Sunday. Here is a man who, it is quite clear to anyone who is not blind, was homosexual (at least in the Victorian construction of that; which may be somewhat different than how it is constructed today) and in fact was by all accounts involved in some sort of tender, though beyond-a-doubt celibate, relationship with another man, Ambrose St-John. Call it a "romantic friendship" or what you will, the point remains the same. (The fact that Benedict himself gives off a rather strong vibe is additionally ironic).

And yet, all sorts of articles (like on Fr Z and similar) were vehemently denying that Newman was homosexual. Partly because they don't want to see him co-opted by the liberal "gay" agenda, I suppose...but there is also a real sense of homophobia one gets reading them. Especially since Newman was celibate (and there is no doubt he was, even among the liberals), then why such reluctance to admit merely that his romantic attractions were to men? Why the continued stigmatization of homosexuality, even separate from questions of unchastity?

They're taking someone who could be a great model for a spiritually-creative, satisfied but also chaste, non-repressed (if necessarily discreet) homosexuality...and denying it. Maybe Newman is seen as already too subversive in other ways, given his definitively Modern existential angst and his paradox of free-thinking orthodoxy (what we strive for here).

But, subversion is just what we all need, in some sense, against authoritarianism. A subversion, like Christ's or Rosa Park's...which is also spotlessly innocent, so they can't use anything against us (because the Accuser will use whatever he has against us). So I would definitely encourage people to not be afraid to adopt Newman as their own, and simply ignore the panicked denials of his homosexuality.

2) I am a bit disturbed that the comments still tend to take an essentially "negative" view of homoeroticism. I would be wary to equate homosexuality merely with "a Cross" to be carried or as a "temptation" or to compare it to pedophilia or eating disorders. I mean, there are always some points of valid analogy between any thing and any other thing that exists...but I worry those sort of attitude implies the very sort of stigma that needs to be avoided.

As the Catechism itself explains: "Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others."

All sexualities have their particular burdens, even asexuality. Yet one's sexuality is a paradigm for thinking and feeling about the world that colors pretty much everything, and it extends far beyond just sex or even romance.

Homosexual (and third-gendered/"transgendered") people have a particular difficulty in the Church and in conservative society, because models of a proper outlets are not readily available, whereas liberal society offers some very clear and appealing models. But among the orthodox it is seen as a stigma or a disease or a tragic flaw or a disorder or even (among fundamentalists) a sin, etc.

The asexual can easily be a celibate. The bisexual can ultimately find an opposite-sex spouse whose existence gives them sexual release and more mental and emotional freedom to be comfortable with their same-sex feelings as well.

Homosexuality, however, well...the Vatican is throwing around the term "intrinsically disordered"! And the expectation of how a homosexual should integrate their sexuality is basically to "struggle with" the "same sex attraction" (a patronizing terminology) and see it "as a cross"...but to also be silent and invisible, or else to treat oneself as some sort of recovering alcoholic or mental patient.

I would be wary about groups like Courage, even, for this very reason. There is, firstly, the fact that there have been known to be crazy "ex-gay" threads in such movements that try to actually "cure" homosexuality. I won't discount the idea that human sexuality can be very fluid for some, especially the young, or that many gay men have insecurities surrounding masculinity (though that becomes a chicken-and-the-egg question), but the "reparative" mindset has been shown to be ridiculously damaging and unhealthy. But even beyond that undercurrent, there is also simply the troubling notion of homosexuality purely as a negative to "suffer"...or if it is seen as a positive, it is only a positive because it is negative, because it is "a cross". It sounds like it would all be some sort of AA meeting.

There are no doubt crosses that go along with homosexuality, just as there are crosses that go along with married or celibate heterosexuality. But the attitude that would see a diversity in sexualities as purely a "bad" result of the narrow. I mean, different races and cultures and ethnicities are in some sense a result of the Fall too (or different languages the result of Babel). And yet we now celebrate and try to preserve a diversity of languages, a diversity of cultures, etc...even when we recognizes the division they can lead to (even war). Well, at least I do; obviously, some trads do seemingly want their own globalizing narrative (a Eurocentric one).

It's why the "Big-D Deaf" resent attempts to treat deafness as a medical condition or a "disability" (though not all the hearing impaired agree or identify with that "culture"). But the Deaf see their condition as a unique experience to be celebrated, a unique way of seeing the world and experiencing reality and communication, a unique way of structuring thought, even, that is a needed separate perspective.

That's not to say we approve of certain acts (or of the fact that some Deaf try to deliberately deafen their children). No, ultimately there is no "sex" except the natural act. The rest is just masturbation with another person's body. But impotent heterosexuals can't marry either, yet people seem to sympathize with their plight a lot more, approve of companionate relationships for them, etc., than they do for homosexuals, who are still treated, in terms of pastoral approach, in a way (however well-meaning) clearly tainted by cultural stigma against homosexuality that extends well outside the bounds that the mere moral question about behaviors might justify.

There is also the problem of meeting people where they are, and simply ignoring the real personal difficulties of homosexuals involved in potentially committed relationships with people they are apparently expected to just cut off entirely, even when there is deep affection and intimacy and humanizing love, just because of one moral flaw in the relationship regarding misguided physical expression of that love. It is not surprising at all many take it so personally; it's a very personal thing!

"Some are born eunuchs, some are made so by men" (and for some it is a complex psychological interaction of both biological and environmental factors, lol) But I don't think Christ's statement there was at all a negative one. In fact, He seemed to be viewing it as a gift ("those to whom it has been given"). Of course, Christianity takes (or at least took) a positive view of celibacy for everyone. The disciples' reaction on hearing Christ's absolute prohibition of divorce ("Then it is better not to marry at all!") is indicative of a view of marriage as actually the greater cross, in some sense, ironically.

Anyway, my point is, I'm sensing still a view of homosexuality and homoeroticism as still something just negative, a burden to bear, a cross to carry, as some affliction like cancer that people need prayers for. But I don't think that ultimately is going to be an appealing model for many.

Homosexuals need to be offered clear ways to celebrate and relate positively to their sexuality. Besides the offensive caricatures that the neocons and rad trads seem to portray it all as: you know, going to "Pride" parades and being flamboyant, using club drugs all the time, and sleeping around with members of the same sex. That's not to say those things don't happen, but let's address those things, then, specifically...not generalize to viewing homosexuality as some sort of crazed bacchanal.

This shouldn't be so hard: sexuality extends far beyond sex, to all facets of personality, and a healthy integration would see sexuality in all parts of life. I think people more intuitively see this with gender than sexuality; most of us instinctively act "as men" or "as women" even in areas just like conversation or how we relate to people or think or approach tasks, even tasks that are not self-evidently gendered.

And yet, there is still a ton of shame heaped on the idea of comfortable day-to-day homoeroticism. I'm not talking just about effeminate affections or "gay" indicators or "culture" either. I mean breaking down the emotional barriers (and they exist in repressed heterosexuals too, trust me) of compartmentalization, of denial, of repression, that leave people sapped of vitality, rigid, emotionally constricted, and ultimately embittered or just sort of phony.

I think we all know or suspect some people in our lives (especially among the religious) of holding themselves back, keeping others at a distance, being constantly on guard and not spontaneous, all because they are perpetually over-conscious (in their attempts to deny or constrain it) of parts of themselves (sexual or otherwise) that are really no big deal and should really just become a constant, but low-key, background noise.

I think I asked before on this blog: if a man sacrificed his life for another man because of his love (and I do mean eros) for him, would we see this as shameful or bad? If someone is made brave or incited to prayer or to self-improvement or betterment out of love for a member of the same sex, or even just to be more appealing to the same sex generally...are we to condemn it? If someone's charisma or zeal comes from a throbbing pulse of homoeroticism at the core of their being...if that energy magnetizes their life and relationships, are we to throw it all out as disordered?

Well, I think you'd lose a lot of artists, a lot of professionals, a lot of priests, and probably a lot of the Saints. If you look to, say, some of Plato's dialogues, I think you see there a model of homoeroticism that is at once ennobling (considered "better" than heterosexuality, even) but also, ideally, chaste. Yet such a potential model has been lost in both conservative and liberal narratives.

In some ways, the attempted "domestication" of the homosexual by the liberal movement, the "normalization" can be seen as an attempt to tame the subversive element inherent in homoeroticism as much as the conservative model of repression. There is nothing more threatening to the establishment than someone who can't be satisfied within it.

But isn't that sort of subversiveness what we need these days? Because of this, I wouldn't be surprised if a certain sort of chaste homoeroticism is actually a major force that eventually empowers the restoration of tradition and counters the secularization of society.


sortacatholicnomore said...

At the end of the day, the brutal homophobic Vatican culture is all about preserving the clerical caste. The gay laity are just collateral.

The gay laity are treated like untouchables because the intricate lattice of tacit agreements, blackmail, and homoerotic relationships that cannot be breached at any cost. It's public domain that a very healthy portion of the clergy is is simply divine. (Just couldn't help it). The Vatican would rather maintain the sexual psychosis that keeps the troops in line.

What galls me about contemporary Catholic morality is the conviction that all but the faggots are able to cooperate with grace. Somehow we've got to go to Courage and get butchened up or just take in silence whatever verbiage is dished out to us. No one ever told me that it is my right and responsibility to cooperate with grace on the same terms as all the other believers. I had to leave active participation in the Roman Church to learn that I am finally and truly my own moral agent.

Who Am I said...

I am not going to affirm or deny whether or not Blessed Cardinal Newman was homosexual or not (that isn't my place). If it's true, awesome, if not, ok. But you see with all the "controversy" surrounding him as a potential Saint (I still don't get how proclaiming someone Blessed isn't "officially" saying "They received a Crown of Glory.", but I digress.), particularly the notion that he MAY have been homosexual reveals something else at play. You see it isn't so much that a person who lived a chaste life and happened to be homosexual is cause for uproar (at least I would hope not), but it's all the OTHER implications. You see if there were a Patron Saint of Homosexuals, it would cause a revisiting of pastoral care towards such individuals. It would mean that said individuals would have to be treated like EVERY OTHER sinner. There would no longer be the whole "Well at least I'm not gay/a lesbian." card, but rather a leveled field of sinners (after all, we're ALL sinners.). But that isn't even the larger issue, you see the bigger issue here has to do with the sex abuse scandal. Following the sex abuse scandal, homosexuals were used as the scapegoats for the problem. The problem with that isn't that there wasn't some level of homosexuality involved in SOME cases, but that they painted with too broad a stroke. You see if the individuals had truly been homosexual, they could have engaged in the same activity with other consenting homosexuals of legal age. The fact that these individuals directed it in the way they did speaks to a deeper issue, namely that of pedophilia, ephebophilia and hebophilia . The latter two are nowhere (at least to my knowledge) mentioned in ANY of the reports surrounding the sex abuse scandal. Why is that, when according to practically EVERY news source the latter two are the cause. Why was it easier to just say, the homosexuals did it, instead of addressing exactly what went on there. I'm not blaming The Church, but what went down in those parishes is down right sick, but I digress. Is it possible that if proven that indeed Blessed Cardinal Newman experienced those tendencies that the issue of homosexuals in the clergy would have to be revisited ? No longer using homosexuals as a scapegoat, but rather addressing the fact that you have sickos gay or straight who would be capable of that.Would that be too much to ask of people ?

sortacatholicnomore said...

First off, let me apologize for using the word "faggot". I refer to myself as a faggot simply because I want to reclaim/destigmatize that word. Others find it deeply offensive. My apologies for applying it to gay Catholics in general.

The Catholic sex abuse nightmare has little to do with responsible, consensual adult gay relationships. In fact, it has little or nothing to do with appropriate and healthy sexuality across the human sexual-gender spectrum. Did some of the abusive priests self-identify as gay? Sure. But many were stuck in a peri-pubescent sexual infantilization that was acted out in grotesque ways.

The *phile terms are similar to the SCOTUS invention of "trimesters" in Roe. Before Roe, few if any doctors measured gestation in thirds. Similarly, the *phile terms are merely discrete manifestations of a singular cancer: the purposeful stunting of sacerdotal sexuality under the not-so-veiled pretext of complete ideological control through clerical sexual annihilation.

So ironic: the medieval Han Chinese originally bound women's feet in imitation of the royal ballet of Peking. Pointe steps, how noble a caste! Yet by the 19th century even the poorest women were mutiliated: no man would wed an unbound women even if many men were repulsed by the festering feet.

And so, the medieval rise of monasticism and the celibate ideal calcified at Trent nobly intended to raise the educational and moral standards of the secular clergy. Now, we the laity are wedded to the festering wounds of chains of abuse: the sexual-emotional mutilation of the clergy and the subsequent destruction of many youth.

Newman is our saint. I do not doubt that he and Ambrose St. John lived a happy and chase life -- the very ideal and beauty that is male love. Yet I am sure even he would recoil at the chaste nobility now emptied of any justification.

Tony said...

*le sigh*

Max Hanlon said...

The problem here, I think, is that a great many heterosexual men (perhaps the majority?) are deeply repulsed at the thought of two men having sex. The other sexual sins don't bother them in quite the same way. They might say that adultery is just as bad or worse as a life-long, committed gay relationship, but of course they don't really believe it. Adultery seems reasonable sometimes to them, but gay sex is just unthinkable, because they find it SO gross.

The difficulty with these attitudes is, of course, that they imperil our ability to be a Church that welcomes all sinners to repentance regardless of what an individual has done. In fact, my experience with such people is that they'd prefer homosexuals not to repent and come back to Church, because then they'd have to love them just like any other repentant sinner, which they'd like to avoid.

And in the midst of all this craziness, the example of Jesus is completely ignored. The God-man, let us remember, was severely criticized by the enemies of our Holy Religion for having dinner with literal prostitutes. And now the people I have in mind don't mind prostitutes so much as gay people, celibate and otherwise.

So now we're left with an extremely compromised Gospel, proclaimed by hypocrites who would prefer us all to be asexual.

God have mercy upon us all.