Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sexual Healing

I've always been pretty open, if selectively or discreetly so, but I decided to "officially" come out as gay recently. I don't update this blog with substantial posts anymore, but I thought it was important to make this clear here, given the role this blog played at a certain stage of my development, my spiritual journey (and, indeed, my social and romantic life). From now on, though, using the Internet for identity-craft is not a high priority for me (in fact, it is probably downright unhealthy for both my psyche, my relationships, and my Faith).


Petrus Augustinus said...

What does this mean exactly? Are you a practicing homosexual, thus sinning and confessing homosexual acts or are you simply a person with SSA who practices abstinence as per the Church's teaching? I'm not trying to be hostile here, I have my troubles with the sixth as well, just asking.

Nick said...

Don't you mean you've come out as Gaye? Seriously though, I would be heartbroken to find you have or are leaving the Church because of this. I've seen it happen. Good Catholics struggle with sin, with porn and masturbation being one of the most common struggles.

A Sinner said...

Petrus Augustinus: The dichotomy you present is false and laced with disgusting bigotry.

"What does this mean exactly?" It means exactly what it says: I'm gay. Nothing more, nothing less. Everyone understands what this means; it is an identification of sexual orientation. Only the odious conservatives try to introduce confusion by feigning it themselves.

So I don't buy into your strange little linguistic dance of "gay vs. SSA", "practicing vs. struggling", and this strange paradigm of "lifestyle."

I do not identify with the term "SSA" except in the most trivial descriptive sense. I identify as Gay. I am an out, proud, and avowed homosexual.

If it's that hard for you to understand: that statement says nothing one way or the other about my sexual activity, which is none of your business one way or the other, and I won't indulge prurient curiosity about it or my spiritual state. But, suffice it to say, either way I reject a paradigm of "struggling."

A Sinner said...

Nick: I'm sure I'm not leaving the Church, and am a bit troubled that's where people's minds go immediately. I understand some people's decision to go, given the intense homophobia that comes from the conservative wing of the Church, but I've always been a Renegade, and so my attitude (ala this blog) has always been "Bring it on." I've been out to friends for 10 years now, so it's not like this is a new discovery for me that for some reason would suddenly affect my Faith. My reasons for coming out are tangled up with certain events in my familial and romantic life and certain evolutions in my spiritual life and philosophy, but don't worry: I'm still Catholic.

Nick said...

This kind of talk is just baffling to me because it is impossible to be Gay and Catholic.

To be Gay is to endorse a self-destructive lifestyle, and any such lifestyle is antithetical to the Gospel. Even if you still believe in the tenets of the faith and are in a state of grace, that is an anomaly and not found in the Gay community or creed.

Having same-gender attraction is a disorder, not something to boast about. One can be open about it, but only in so far as they make it clear it is a struggle, not something to be embraced as a legitimate identity.

Robert said...

@Nick: IDK about your understanding of SSA. You seem to have something amiss. You speak about it as if it were a disability. Which is fine, but then you add "One can be open about it, but only in so far as they make it clear it is a struggle, not something to be embraced as a legitimate identity." If someone is already admitting it's a disability (some malformation in the brain), then why must they mention it only in the context of struggle? Why is their a need for the double negative? Not only am I disabled (due to some chemicals in my brain), but I have to struggle with it and pine to be normal. Rather I think the Deaf in America have a better way of dealing with their condition. They embrace it as a different way of life. The live with what they have and recognize it as having its own culture.

To continue on, your accusation that gays can't embrace the Gospel without coming up with a new sexual orientation narrative is wrong. First, I don't believe that “To be Gay is to endorse a self-destructive lifestyle”. How could it? Morality, good and evil is composed of discrete acts, finite points on a timeline. There are no lifestyle sins, any more than there are plumbing sin. Even if I were to grant that being Gay is 'antithetical' to the Gospel, would it be anymore so than current heterosexual expectations? Speaking as a Midwestern American here, my local culture seems to accept hooking up (as long as you use protection), serial monogamy, sterilization and if you do get married, contraceptive sex. Although I'm doing philosophy with the devil here, at the very least members of the gay community have the good taste not to tarnish marriage in the way that many heterosexuals do.

A Sinner said...

Well, thank you, Nick, for pontificating on what it means to be gay, what it "is to endorse," what its "creed" is, with what broad brush the community may be painted and, most especially, what sort of identity is illegitimate and what other (religious) identities it is incompatible with.

I am baffled myself, really, as you seem to be a lot more "dogmatic" about "the gay agenda" than even most gays are! As I said to Petrus, the only thing being gay describes is a sexual orientation. These other things you read into it about "endorsements" and "lifestyles" are your own associations. Such views may be common among gays, but they certainly aren't considered essential or anything like that, anymore than to identify as Black is to buy into a racial essentialism or a particular political ideology of social class.

I basically agree with what Robert says here. I don't think I'd call homosexuality "a disability" (in fact, I'd probably balk at that if taken in the usual sense), but I strongly agree that the expectation of a posture of mourning and self-flagellation in addition to the difficulties already associated with one of the biggest, and strangest, positions taken by conservative homophobism in recent years, alongside their bizarre dance-of-labels game.

Nick said...

Maybe this will get us on the same page: Do you think having same-sex-attraction is just as disordered as having pedophile attraction or Porn attraction? I'm not speaking about the actions themselves at this point, but rather the attraction.

There is a tendency to conflate 'disorder' with 'sin', but that's what I'm trying to avoid. A disorder is not a good thing, and thus even if one is not acting on the disorder, the disorder is not something to be proud of.

That's why someone should only identify as gay or pedophile or porn addicted or whatever in the context of it being a battle for their soul and purity and a lamentable state in which one must embrace their Cross. But that's not what is meant most often. Rather, what one means by "I'm Gay and Catholic" is that it's no big deal, just as if someone were to say it's no big deal to have issues with Pedophila or Porn and be a Catholic.

Petrus Augustinus said...

I don't get it, what is so false and bigot in the dichotomy of practicing gay and abstinent gay? These are existing categories. And how can you reject the paradigm of "struggling"? Wouldn't you say that a gay Catholic, who attends the sessions of a gay converter and wants to change struggles with SSA?

A Sinner said...

Petrus: Yes, I probably would say that poor soul is "struggling," which is exactly why I'd reject such a paradigm. The ex-gay path has been shown time and time again to be destructive and filled with hypocrisy.

As for why I'd reject the "abstinent vs. practicing" dichotomy, I think it suffices to point out that we are not in the habit of distinguishing between "chaste and unchaste" heterosexuals (unless we're talking about the cold rebuke that the divorced-and-remarried or cohabiting receive). We don't demand that dating couples assure us that they're not having premarital sex (though, many are) nor even do we probe to make sure they toe the line on the abstract theory. We don't demand that married couples assure us that they're not using contraception (though, many are) nor even do we probe to make sure they toe the line on abstract theory.

I'm gay, I feel that says something important about my personality and identity in a world where familial and romantic relationships "structure" people's lives and form a significant part of their identities. If I know you, I may speak to those relationships. Beyond that, you'd probably have to be a really close friend to even begin to hear anything of the intimate details.

A Sinner said...

Nick: We're not on the same page, and I don't expect to be on the same page as you.

Comparing homosexuality to pedophilia or addiction just shows how depraved your thinking on the matter has become. So, short answer: no.

Everyone's sexuality, or desire more generally, is to some degree broken since the Fall. However, we do not believe in Total Depravity. I see my sexuality (which happens to take the form of homo-sexuality) as something to be celebrated and embraced.

I think Rob's analogy to the attitude of the "big D" Deaf community is a good one ( and analogous in many many ways.

So, no, it isn't a big deal. Lust is something everyone deals with in seeking integration in their sexuality, and I think trying to artificially impose a theoretical image of perfect integration has proven itself harmful. I believe people following love will be led by grace to the right place in the end, and am not too concerned about putting constraints on that.

But what my boyfriend and I (should I acquire one) are doing or not doing, or how we reconcile that with our spiritual life...would not be any of anyone's business, frankly. I'd expect, however, the decency of accepting us as people, and our relationship as a valid human relationship (whatever sin you might worry it sometimes contains) and of accepting our positive identification with our love and sexuality (however broken or fragmented it may or may not be).

Nick said...

I don't see how you can speak of sexuality being "in some degree broken" and that everyone deals with Lust if something like homosexuality is affirmed as normal. Lust is whatever the appetite has a strong urge towards, but if there is no such thing as a 'disordered appetite' then Lust ceases to be wrong. In fact, it becomes a perfectly normal thing, at which point I don't see how you can construct any principled basis to oppose those sexually attracted to animals or children. As for man's fallen nature, I don't see how you can construct a pro-homosexual relationship within Eden, especially given "a man will cling to his wife and the two will become one flesh".

And given the very clear prohibitions and warnings on homosexual acts in Scripture and Tradition, making it clear the urge itself is wrong, I don't see how one can avoid living a lie in trying to be Christian and blissfully chaste Gay.

I speak from the 'vantage point' of strict systematics and consistency. If a given argument has the ability to undermine the moral order, then I don't consider it a sound position to take.

A Sinner said...

I'm unsure of what you mean by "affirmed as normal," or why the conversation would be framed in terms of normativity.

I'm also intrigued as to why you bring Eden into this. It's not at all clear to me that there would have been gays in Eden. But so what?

As for "opposing," I don't oppose people. If I take a stand against enacting certain desires, it's only because there are clear victims who are hurt or have their rights violated or need protection. But I am not in favor of protecting people merely from themselves. Something like bestiality clearly represents a misfiring of desire and obviously lacks anything of the fullness of the humanizing potential of sexuality. But it is, in that sense, tragic. It makes me sad or concerned, I guess, not angry or outraged or indignant; there is brokenness in all sexuality now.

I don't claim to be blissfully chaste, but I also don't reduce homosexuality to its lusts, as if someone who achieved perfect sexual wholeness and integration would cease to be gay in any meaningful sense; the New Jerusalem is not Eden restored, and Christ bears His wounds to this day.

As for undermining the moral order, I don't believe in a moral order so fragile that it is (apparently) constantly under threat from imagined enemies.

Petrus Augustinus said...

@A Sinner: I feel like you're missing the point here: you cannot compare heterosexual couples and homosexual "couples". A heterosexual couple can be unchaste and sinful, but working their way towards marriage while two person of the same sex can never even be a couple. According to Church teaching "Under no circumstances can [homosexual acts] be approved." and "Homosexual persons are called to chastity." I assume you know that as it is clear from your writings.

It is not that I want to hear the intimate details I just don't understand how you can't see this: you can't use your sexuality to adopt it as identity, especially if said type of sexuality is inherently disorder (again, according to Church teaching, I'm not talking about my private opinion here). You coming out as gay and feeling that says something about your personality is as if I'd come out as a marriage-hater, who prefers short-term, ex-marital relationships with women. Nobody knows what happens, we might not even sin, but still, identities like this are not no be embraced: they're both unnatural and contrary to the Faith and natural law. (And still, pre-marital heterosexual sex is just a mortal sin, a homosexual act is a very grievous sin that is said to cry to God for vengeance [the second out of the four].)

In short, I'm baffled how can you accept (any) sexual preference as identity or something of an identity-enhancer, a person is so much more than his/her sex life. Also, I'm still at a loss how can you be a calmly practicing Catholic (I hope at least you don't receive Communion) and gay. For me this is like Catholics for Choice. There's no such thing.

A Sinner said...

"A heterosexual couple can be unchaste and sinful, but working their way towards marriage"

It is fascinating you should say this. It's part of a huge double standard, and in fact some reactionaries disagree; for example, there is a church near me that won't marry cohabiting couples unless they "go back" and cease living together for 6 months. The implication is that, under one interpretation, their sinfulness renders everything invalid and so can't be "moving towards" anything unless they first end the "disorder" of their situation and become foils for the Church's teachings about extra-marital activity. I would disagree, of course; Paul said better marry than burn, and that policy would seem to reject that logic.

As for "can't be a couple," I'm not sure even what you mean. Outside marriage, "couple" is a social construct, and people are free to label their relationship that way if they wish. I'm unsure of how exactly you're understanding "real couple," but the idea is clearly something along the lines of an "ordering towards matrimony" which heterosexuals can "still have" even if they're sinning or something like that. This is a typical understanding since 1986 and the "objectively disordered" language, which wound up creating a homophobic understanding of gays as, essentially, subject to a sort of Total Depravity in their sexuality, as opposed to "regular" concupisence like anyone else (ie, a bad object as opposed to a good object out of context). I, however, would disagree with this understanding and how it constructs sexual orientation in general. Obviously the progression is less straightforward (or gayforward) than for heterosexuals, but I think that the same basic principles hold in terms of "moving towards" full integration, at least in an analogous way.

Of course people are more than their sex life. "Identity enhancer" is probably closer to the truth. When people identify as gay, rarely are they claiming that this is their essence or species or even the most important facet. We are socially constructed into many categories; age, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability status, sex, sexual orientation, etc. It's no big deal. But if someone asked me "Are you gay?" and I said no, that would be a lie.

Robert said...

Everyone is on the same page that gay means same sex attracted, right? They both mean the same thing. The only thing that seems to be amiss is what other ideas are drawn to the forefront of our minds when we hear each of these words. When people hear same sex attracted, they think a pious preacher's son in a button down, trying to get control over his desires. When people hear the word gay, they immediately assume there is leather and getting yourself clean in the YMCA showers. But in truth all of these things are just associations that we make with the words that have nothing to do with the meaning of the words themselves (which are actually synonyms). You could have a SSA man who spends his weekends in a bath house; just as a you could have a gay man living a celibate life. A counter example of this is when I say the words “I have a girlfriend”. What is the range of meanings of this? It could mean that I and a woman are prayerfully discerning whether or not God is calling us to a vocation with each other. It could also mean that we are in yet again another serially monogamous relationship that ends each night with passionate premarital contracepted sex. Both of these are possible scenarios wherein I could truthfully say “I have a girlfriend”. The difference between the words girlfriend and gay/SSA is that for most people the word girlfriend is a neutral word (i.e. people don't instantly start thinking of the good or bad meanings of that word) whereas with gay people instantly start thinking of sodomy. In short, SSA and gay are synonyms. They both mean “I have a sexual/romantic attraction to people of my sex” and that is all these words mean. The associations people make with these words form no part of the definition.

Petrus Augustinus said...

A Sinner: Hmm...interesting. "Couple" may be a social construct but it's so much more if you're Catholic, even outside marriage. My only problem here is, how can a gay "couple" "move towards full integration, at least in an analogous way" if "homosexuals are called to chastity" as per Church teaching? Between two persons of the same sex who are romantically attracted to each other doesn't moving towards full integration mean that they're gonna engage in a homosexual act somewhere down the line? And if they do, it isn't just the act that's a grievous sin: the conscious path that leads down to it is, as well.

So it's not just that for gay "couples" the progression is less straightforward than for straight couples: it means that for gays there is no such progression, no such path, as dating should be something leading up to marriage and two persons of the same sex can do anything they want, they can even call their cohabitation marriage, even the government can call it that, it won't be it.

The Church is pretty clear on this: chastity or Courage.

Robert said...

Full integration is always going to be either a married couple living and acting in harmony with nature or strict chastity. These take time to develop. Don't be fooled into thinking that the vocation of marriage is realized as soon as you have a ring on her finger. No, rather marriage (in the vocational sense) is process that people work towards even after the big party. Similarly I don't think many religious and priests have a completely integrated sexuality at the time of profession. I think many of them slip up and sin in various ways. Perfect celibacy is something to move towards over a lifetime.

The double standards for gay men in the Church are strange. If you live with one man, sing music and engage in learning, the arts and play dress up, you're a sick sinner. If you live with many men, sing music and engage in learning, the arts and play dress up, you're a monk—lol. But my point here is perhaps we could see two gay men living together and moving towards celibacy as a miniature monastery lived in the secular world. So how could all this work out for a gay couple? I envision two gays living together, supporting each other on their life long spiritual journey towards chastity. They will slip up and engage in sodomy, but over their lifetime perhaps towards the end they will achieve a chaste lifestyle that they share with another. I mean even Cicero writes about how in old age the passions become less intense. By the time these two gays are old, they will have lessened the passions and are possibly living a chaste life which is shared with another man. So are each of them called to celibacy? Yes, but perhaps we could see their living arrangement as a way of making their other into a spiritual helper along that journey. Essentially I'm saying we could envision a way of allowing two men to live together and achieve an integrated sexuality.

Some might object to this vision, because it allows us to be complacent in the sins of people. Some may see it as allowing people to get out their sexual desires until they become old enough that those flames die to embers. This is true. But we do the same with the married. Some couples will engage in contracepted sex for nearly the entire duration of their marriage, except of course when begetting their planned 2.5 children (in America at least) and after the woman has gone through menopause. The Church doesn't require these people to bring in proof that they are having natural sex. The Church tacitly accepts that many of these couples are sinning together, but the Church hopes that over time (and with nature's help) they will achieve a fully integrated matrimonial vocation and until that vocation is realized it is dealt with in the confessional.

Of course all of this writing only deals with the integration of sexuality in these vocations and speaks to none of the non-sexual facets of the vocations. But since people who object to gays living in the above mentioned ways object on sexual grounds, I only addressed this issue.

A Sinner said...

Thanks Robert, that was a really fascinating take on it.

I think that what would be important to emphasize in your vision over and against Petrus's "there is no progression" is that a committed relationship, even a sexual relationship, is not merely something super-added to a process of sexual integration, but for many or most people is probably THE way forward for achieving it.

There's a logic in Paul's "better to marry than to burn" about this, I think.

Now, the simplistic interpretation of this statement is rather horrible; something along the lines of celibacy is ideal (for everyone), but since it "isn't given" to all, then we have to recognize some sort of concession to human weakness.

While certain liberals have made a poor argument for gay relationships in this way, the actual implications of THAT version of the logic are that both heterosexuals and homosexuals should get married to the first person of the opposite sex who comes along in order to secure a sort of "bare minimum" legitimate sexual release, because beggars can't be choosers. I...would not be a fan of this interpretation, obviously.

However, there is a less simplistic kernel of logic that can be found in Paul's statement inasmuch as it implies something like: for many people, the "solution" to the brokenness of, say, fornication or not actually ever "quitting" or ever actually achieving abstinence...but rather involves simply moving forward, through the brokenness, to the higher integration (in this case, married life) that such a path leads to. This is why I think that church which won't marry cohabiting couples is so wrong. Their idea is that the situation is depraved and so can't ever be allowed to appear to organically "segue" into something good. A real traditional, theology, however, would point out that fallen concupiscence is not depraved, however, merely fragmented, but the "fragments" still point to The Good. As such, the way towards greater wholeness or integration may be "following the fragments" even when all the pieces are not there, or don't (yet) fit, and trusting that following love in grace will expand the horizons of desire towards whatever wholeness DOES look like for yourself. For example, once a friend was expressing concern about premarital sex, and whether he should find a different girlfriend who would be more likely to abstain. The catch being, this would almost certainly have to be some churchmouse whom he would not be compatible with at all. I told him, "I think it's really more important to find someone you can see spending your life with than to find someone who you can abstain for two years with." If he's planning to eventually get married, the problem "takes care of itself." I think desire more broadly probably works this way. If we authentically follow love towards the Good, even in fragmentation, the pieces of the puzzle will assemble themselves, but not necessarily all at once.

A Sinner said...

The way towards greater wholeness in desire may not be refusing to engage broken desire, to compartmentalize it and refuse to touch it on account of its fragmentation, but rather to engage it nonetheless "in trembling and fear" (for there may be dead ends!) I would never recommend avoiding a relationship merely to avoid sex, and indeed I think that if repression or emotional castration is ones solution to the fragmentation of desire...this cannot be considered a solution at all.

I simply cannot hold to a philosophy that somehow thinks the person who hooks up friday, confesses saturday, and goes to church better, "as long as he's struggling," than someone who has accepted a committed relationship. The first is sheer (failed) compartmentalization, the latter is at the very least a step towards (much) greater integration.

Which I think is the other important point I'd make. Petrus speaks of couples dating as something that should be "leading up to" marriage, but it isn't actually that straightforward. Some bizarre conservative notion of "courtship" might work that way, but the way it generally works in our culture is not nearly so teleological. Most people still get married in the end, but people do not go on the first date intending marriage. It's not even on their mind, necessarily, except as a shining light in the distance. But for most people in their teens and early 20's, a relationship is for companionship (or even sex!) in the present. You can't bracket permanence, of course, deliberately...but most people are just "going with the flow" and taking things a day at a time and "seeing where it goes." And, lo and behold, for most people this process of maturation and growth, of following desire at its own organic pace, does eventually lead to marriage, even through various forms or stages of brokenness or fragmentation along the way.

Chastity (in other words, sexual integration) represents maturity, and is a holism everyone is called to grow towards. But in many ways it is a light in the distance, a vocation to an eschatological model, and the specifics of what "final form" it takes is bound to be something the individual will only learn by experience in their lives as they follow love. It is certainly not something I believe in artificially imposing from without; it would always have to be something (like people dating "seeing where things go" but still eventually getting married) that emerged organically without any sort of theoretical constraint or premature commitment.

A Sinner said...

I'm really not interested in discussing this anymore. I'm Gay. I'm Catholic. I hope to have a boyfriend and partner someday. Our sex life would be nobody's business. Whatever I may do, I'm not the pawn of this ideology, or the foil of that one. People are people, they have their private lives, they don't hurt anyone, they don't claim their lives represent some sort of total philosophical consistency. I glory in my infirmities! Get over it.

I'm closing the thread, but I'll end by sharing some quotes from one of my favorite philosophers on this issue, quotes which I didn't always agree with but which now make so much sense to me and which I totally agree with. They don't necessarily describe my own current situation exactly, but I think the essential principles behind them are absolutely solid, incredibly insightful, and I wish I'd realized it sooner:

"For many of us, the warmth of the physical embrace of the one for whom we share a romantic bond feels to have the power to melt our stone-like hearts once again into flesh. Speaking from my own experience, even where a relationship has, ultimately, failed, its humanizing warmth is still able to penetrate behind the wall of a recoiled, embittered, closed selfhood and leave one opened, though wounded- yet for the very openness- hopeful and thirsty for a less artificial encounter with life- life as a gift to be received richly in measures beyond one’s control. That is how a romantic relationship was able to loosen me from what I now regard as a dangerous and, ultimately, egoistic practice of religion, centred more on the crafting of an identity to protect me from my own sense of self- fragmentation and the terror of the hollowness of modernity, than on discovering authentic spiritual freedom."

"Presently, I would say this is the foundation of my attempt to reconcile faith and sexuality. My sexuality is a bare existential fact, and I feel that I have to be able to trust myself in some measure, yes, myself in its own needs and desires, whereas if there is no trust to be had, I find no point off of which to launch the spiritual quest as well, and I really do then become a slave to the Church institution, where obedience-in-conscience is exchanged as a total suspicion of one’s own ability to navigate through life.

This is not to say we are wholly good, that we can trust ourselves infallibly. Rather, that is why the Tradition is necessary, to lead us into a dialogue of tension and growth and so that, in the grappling, we might come before the truth and assent to it in conscience.

I am, personally, presently, suspicious of people who can not trust themselves in some foundational measure. [This is not what I understand as the emptiness of the Marian Heart!] Especially where that concession of our fallenness becomes the raison de etre of the Church’s Magisterium and the function of Tradition. I think that attitude threatens to turn the Church into the spectre of a ruined Ego trying to sooth itself by painting the world after its own wounds."

A Sinner said...

"I still hope to strive towards catholicity and let orthodoxy be a shinning light for me, because its appeal is irresistable, but I can no longer be part of a religious ideal that permits its practicioners no room to deliberate, experiment, and explore themselves, but gives them only the option of taking refuge in an embattlement."

"When I suppressed my sexuality (I can recall, for example, in a moment of frustration tearing to shreds a tasteful erotic picture of a man that I had set aside, an act symbolizing my henceforth freedom from my desires), I found myself becoming quite unhealthy in respect to the practice of my religion. While it remains true that, in lust, I can see down a path that would have me utterly self-enclosed and base, I can see, ironically, a very like path in religion---a kind lobotomy on life. One exchanging the heights of spirituality for base, indiscriminate matieral living that can only end in hollowness and vanity. The other, forgoing the excitement and adeventure of the romantic and emotional bonds that give such joy and being instead dissolved upwards in a disinterested, colorless fire.

And I can't help but feel that there are many examples of this in the Catholic world- in the clergy and in many of the most devout who toe the line in every respect to the Catechism. They become inflamed for an abstract world of ideas, often beautiful ones, whose limits and prescriptions they are constantly crusading to impinge down on the rest. But are they emotionally barren? Do they feel terribly alone? Is the passion of their orthodoxy the fire of persistent self-denial? Is this a different but inverse self-enclosure?" [The answer is yes...]

Wisdom: be attentive!