Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Raw Tact, Part I: I'm a Real Boy

One of the things I've particularly wanted to do with Mudblood Catholic is communicate something of what it feels like to be a gay Christian to straight Christians. I want to do this for a number of reasons, one of which is, naturally, narcissism. But I think there are better reasons for bothering to write about this so often and in such detail:

1. This is quite possibly the hot-button issue for the churches in America in this generation. That doesn't mean it will be in the future, but we are not yet in the future. Christians should most certainly be wary of having our agendas dictated to us by the World, which can almost be forgiven for not having the best interests of the Church in mind; yet at the same time, if we do not meet this challenge competently, it may mean ruining our credibility with this particular generation.

2. Theologically, there's a lot at stake. I unhesitatingly espouse the doctrine of the Catholic Church on this subject. That being said, it doesn't take traddie fanaticism like mine to see that, whatever theology you hold on queer issues, it's important. Human relationships and happiness, the spiritual significance (if any) of gender and sex, the sacrament (or not) of marriage, the right methods of interpreting Scripture, and, in the last analysis, what role the historical beliefs of Christianity play in defining doctrine, all hang in the balance. Just not answering the relevant questions, or providing only tentative answers, will not serve.

3. People are getting hurt. This is such a commonplace that we are approaching desensitization. Segments about anti-gay bullying and teen suicides are a staple of the news; Christian magazines and blogs are spattered with pieces on homophobic theology and hypocritical pastoral decisions. The agony of being trapped in the closet and unable to admit whom you love, or, alternately, the intense suffering of an unexpected and lonely celibacy -- these things are bordering on becoming memes. (Give George Takei a few days, and he'll probably have a legitimately hilarious take on both of these archetypes.)

And now, to help deal with all three of these important social issues, I'd like to ignore them completely for a moment.

My name is Gabriel and I am twenty-five, living in Baltimore. I come from California originally -- I mean, to the extent that I come from anywhere: my dad was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot. We'd moved six times before I turned eighteen; I'd visited four continents and been in seven countries. I've always been extremely bookish, not that that's exceptional in my family -- I have a particular liking for fantasy, poetry, theology, and literary criticism (for all four at once, try almost anything by the brilliant and neglected Charles Williams, such as The Descent of the Dove; I'm rereading The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers at the moment, an excellent sic-fi/fantasy fusion novel, while waiting for another of his books, The Stress of Her Regard, to be delivered by all-knowing Amazon). I'd like to write for a living myself; I'm working on a Gothic novel at the moment, and a collection of poems. Most of my writing deals, directly or indirectly, with the conflict between my religion and my sexuality; I realized I was gay around age thirteen, and then converted from Calvinism to Catholicism about seven years later. Neither aspect of my life has resolved the other, and oddly enough, I'm not sure I want them too -- the tension causes suffering, obviously, but it can produce a lot of beauty, too. I thought for a long time about becoming a priest, and/or a monk, but those callings aren't really for me. I'm also a music fanatic -- I have a particular turn for electronica and indie, as well as their roots in prog rock and so forth; just recently I managed to vastly expand my collection of Pink Floyd, thanks to my dad; and I suddenly found myself getting into blues and soul and their descendent genres recently -- I've always loved Billie Holliday, to whom Nina Simone, Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Fiona Apple, and Rachel D'Arcy have more recently been added. (Seriously, even if you ignored all the others, watch that Rachel D'Arcy video and then reflect on the fact that this is her singing without any of the protective layers of technology habitual to the industry, because she is gorram amazing.)

Why the autobiographical detour here? Well, I wanted to introduce you to some gay people. I am the gay man I know best, so I introduced you to me. And why? Because there's no point in paying attention to any of this unless you do so in a personal context.

Society is made up of people and the decisions they -- we -- make. It isn't made of anything else. Whether you want to reform society, or conserve society as it is, or to reform some parts of it and conserve others, nothing whatsoever can be done unless it is done by people and about people. Trends, statistics, movements, they're all useful fictions. They are really useful; but they are, also, really fictions. There is no person whom you can authentically relate to through general ideas. There is no ideal gay, no ideal lesbian, no ideal American, no ideal Christian, no ideal Catholic. There are only the women and men that you meet. Get to know them. Get to know the useful fictions only as it helps you interact with real, living, breathing, drooling people.

I mean to spend this series explaining some of the fictions that I think are most useful -- which means exactly one thing: the fictions that I think are realities for most LGBT people, or most Christians, or most Christian LGBTs. But none of these rules of thumb will mean anything -- anything -- unless preceded, and trumped, by actually knowing and caring for the people here concerned. And you can't do that by reading a blog. Or a book. Or a tweet. All this stuff can help; that's why I'm writing this. But you can only relate to people by going out and doing it.

I've called it Raw Tact because that brings together the two things most badly needed in Christian-queer dialogue: total honesty (instead of ideology, half-truths, equivocations, don't-ask-don't-tell tactics, and the like), and extreme sensitivity (instead of moralizing, unimaginative sympathy, and so forth). Both are needed by both sides. It is an incongruous turn of phrase, which I think is good; it's hard to hold raw honesty and tactfulness together. But it's high time we did. I don't think we'll make any progress until we do; otherwise we are left to choose between an honesty so brutal that it won't help anybody, and a compassion so undisciplined that it can't figure out how to.


  1. Helpful, again! So, thanks, again!

  2. Hello, Gabriel Blanchard! I found your blog because of shameless self-googling, and I'm delighted to find that it's a great Catholic blog! Your explanation of indulgences and Purgatory is so clear that I think I'll memorize it.
    Incidentally, another of my books, Declare, is fairly overtly Catholic -- enough so that some reviewers condemned it as a "Catholic tract," which it wasn't, but which was a sort of flattering accusation anyway.
    And of course I love Charles Williams.
    -- Tim Powers

    1. I'm glad you like it! I'm going to spend the next hour or so in mind-blown fanboy gibbering, please excuse me.

  3. Hi Gabriel - Nice to meet you!

    I'm a person who is Christian, gay, married, and old enough to be your father (alas, the day I've rued for so long - the one where I would use that phrase - has finally come to pass).

    You say: "...Because there's no point in paying attention to any of this unless you do so in a personal context." I couldn't agree with you more. If you have any interest, I've been jotting down some of my thoughts about the importance of relationship in deliberation here:

    I'm very much looking forward to your perspectives as you move forward in this series.


  4. As a "divorced" Catholic who himself knows a thing or two about "the intense suffering of an unexpected and lonely celibacy" — and the reasons why they must nonetheless be embraced — I too will be following this discussion with interest!


  5. Glad to get to know you a bit better. I like it when men get personal on their blogs. I love story. People are more interesting than issues.