I’m so used to being gay and Catholic, I forget how strange that sounds.
I forget that, for some people, “homosexual” describes something like a different race, or maybe even a different gender. I forget that some Christians think I’m the worst kind of pervert (but a pervert they have to treat nicely), and some secularists think I’m the worst kind of hypocrite; the former because I’m sexually attracted to men, and the latter because I don’t do anything about it.
Read the last part again. Yes, I’m attracted to men; no, I don’t sleep with them, for the same reason that a lot of Catholics don’t sleep with people they’re not married to. But you’d be surprised how often people hear the first part (gay) and not the second (celibate) — even though the second is the only part that’s up to me.
I wrote a whole article once about what it was like to be a celibate, gay Catholic, and what was the first response in the combox? “Repent!!”
Not that everyone who finds out that I’m gay is like that. Overwhelmingly, the people I’ve told — mainly family and close friends — respond with compassion and even admiration. Usually it’s something like “I’m honored that you trust me enough to tell me this.” But even the most understanding people don’t always understand what I mean, if only because (unlike me) they haven’t had the last 14 years to figure it out, and because “I’m gay” is not a simple sentence.
I’m not very sensitive about the word “gay,” but some of us in the Gay Catholic business prefer the phrase “same-sex attraction,” or SSA. I find it more accurate than “gay” or “queer” or any of the others, just because it suggests that homosexuality is something I have rather than something I am. That’s the way I think of it. So the idea of gay culture, gay rights, gay marriage, gay anything really, is foreign to me. You might as well talk about gluten-intolerance culture, or musician’s rights.
Which is not to say that I don’t strongly identify with those parts of myself that people often conflate with being “gay.” I’m musical, I’m verbal, I’m intuitive, I have a strong aesthetic sense. But men with SSA don’t have a monopoly on those things, and the fact that I have those characteristics doesn’t mean I belong to some special culture; it means I’m myself, and not anybody else.
I also don’t mean to trivialize the experience of having SSA. Sex isn’t everything, but as anyone with any kind of sexual dysfunction knows, it’s an awful lot. Put the sexual aspect together with the other things that homosexual men and women often experience — depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, a sense (however false) of being utterly different — and you have a heavy cross.
I’ve experienced healing in every area I mentioned above, but nobody’s healing is complete this side of heaven. Loneliness can be the worst part: not the absence of friends, I’ve got those, but the effort of forging out a way to live in a society that constantly tells us that romantic love is anyone’s only shot at real happiness, and that celibacy (not to mention virginity!) is some kind of psychological disease.
And there’s the question of friendship. I love men, and I always will. That’s not weird, that’s not strange, that’s not even gay. But it’s not as simple as “look, but don’t touch” — chastity is a question of the heart and soul and emotions. You deal with it, you pray and seek advice, you offer up the incidental pangs, and you get on with your life. And none of the things I deal with are unique to gay men or women. Being straight isn’t a guarantee of having a healthy, shiny, pre-integrated sexuality; it just means the whole beautiful, messy concerto is in a different key. Nobody gets to sit this one out.
It does get better. If anyone had told me ten years ago what my life would be like today, maybe just showed me a video of an ordinary Tuesday evening in the life of contemporary Steve, my eyes would’ve bugged out. I never had any idea things could be this good, that I could be so confident, that I would so often feel like smiling for no particular reason.
You will be wondering how I got from there to here. There’s no quick answer. It took lots of prayer and hard work, and the love and patience of brothers, sisters, mentors, and friends. If you are looking for a good place to start — for yourself or someone you know, or just because you want to understand the whole thing better — I recommend browsing around People Can Change and Courage. I recommend picking up a copy of Fr. Harvey’s The Homosexual Person, Melinda Selmys’ Sexual Authenticity and Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting.
And maybe the most important thing: you can do this, but not alone — and the Church may be your greatest ally. Maybe you don’t understand yet why the she teaches what she does; but don’t quit listening. Maybe you don’t feel Jesus’ love in the Mass; so then go more often, not less. Maybe you ran into a priest who didn’t understand; so find one who does. Most of all, don’t accept any easy answers, from the right or from the left. The quick way is rarely the right one, and the long way around is well worth the trip.
Steve Gershom graduated from a Catholic liberal arts college and currently works as a web developer. He blogs regularly at stevegershom.com.